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Title: Fathers of Men
Author: Hornung, E. W. (Ernest William)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             FATHERS OF MEN



                         BOOKS BY E. W. HORNUNG

                  PUBLISHED BY CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                          _The Raffles Series_

       The Amateur Cracksman.  12mo,                        $1.25
       Raffles. Illustrated.  12mo,                          1.50
       A Thief In the Night. Illustrated,  12mo,             1.50
       Mr. Justice Raffles.  12mo,                           1.50

       Fathers of Men.                               _net_,  1.30
                                                  (postage extra)
       The Camera Fiend. Illustrated.  12mo,         _net_,  1.25
       Stingaree. Illustrated.  12mo,                        1.50
       No Hero.  12mo,                                       1.25
       At Large.  12mo,                                      1.50
       Some Persons Unknown.  12mo,                          1.25
       Young Blood.  12mo,                                   1.25
       My Lord Duke. 12mo,                                   1.25
       A Bride from the Bush.  16mo,                          .75
       The Rogue’s March. A Romance.  12mo,                  1.50


                             FATHERS OF MEN



                                   BY
                             E. W. HORNUNG



                                NEW YORK
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
                                  1912



                          COPYRIGHT, 1912, BY
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                        Published February, 1912



                                CONTENTS

                 CHAPTER                             PAGE
                      I. BEHIND THE SCENES              1
                     II. CHANGE AND CHANCE             11
                    III. VERY RAW MATERIAL             21
                     IV. SETTLING IN                   33
                      V. NICKNAMES                     43
                     VI. BOY TO BOY                    53
                    VII. REASSURANCE                   62
                   VIII. LIKES AND DISLIKES            75
                     IX. CORAM POPULO                  90
                      X. ELEGIACS                     105
                     XI. A MERRY CHRISTMAS            123
                    XII. THE NEW YEAR                 133
                   XIII. THE HAUNTED HOUSE            146
                    XIV. “SUMMER-TERM”                163
                     XV. SPRAWSON’S MASTERPIECE       174
                    XVI. SIMILIA SIMILIBUS            186
                   XVII. THE FUN OF THE FAIR          196
                  XVIII. DARK HORSES                  212
                    XIX. FAME AND FORTUNE             225
                     XX. THE EVE OF OFFICE            240
                    XXI. OUT OF FORM                  250
                   XXII. THE OLD BOYS’ MATCH          259
                  XXIII. INTERLUDE IN A STUDY         266
                   XXIV. THE SECOND MORNING’S PLAY    277
                    XXV. INTERLUDE IN THE WOOD        290
                   XXVI. CLOSE OF PLAY                304
                  XXVII. THE EXTREME PENALTY          317
                 XXVIII. “LIKE LUCIFER”               328
                   XXIX. CHIPS AND JAN                336
                    XXX. HIS LAST FLING               349
                   XXXI. VALE                         360



                             FATHERS OF MEN


                               CHAPTER I

                           BEHIND THE SCENES


The two new boys in Heriot’s house had been suitably entertained at his
table, and afterwards in his study with bound volumes of _Punch_.
Incidentally they had been encouraged to talk, with the result that one
boy had talked too much, while the other shut a stubborn mouth tighter
than before. The babbler displayed an exuberant knowledge of
contemporary cricket, a more conscious sense of humour, and other little
qualities which told their tale. He opened the door for Miss Heriot
after dinner, and even thanked her for the evening when it came to an
end. His companion, on the other hand, after brooding over Leech and
Tenniel with a sombre eye, beat a boorish retreat without a word.

Heriot saw the pair to the boys’ part of the house. He was filling his
pipe when he returned to the medley of books, papers, photographic
appliances, foxes’ masks, alpen-stocks and venerable oak, that made his
study a little room in which it was difficult to sit down and impossible
to lounge. His sister, perched upon a coffin-stool, was busy mounting
photographs at a worm-eaten bureau.

“How I hate our rule that a man mayn’t smoke before a boy!” exclaimed
Heriot, emitting a grateful cloud. “And how I wish we didn’t have the
new boys on our hands a whole day before the rest!”

“I should have thought there was a good deal to be said for that,”
remarked his sister, intent upon her task.

“You mean from the boys’ point of view?”

“Exactly. It must be such a plunge for them as it is, poor things.”

“It’s the greatest plunge in life,” Heriot vehemently agreed. “But here
we don’t let them make it; we think it kinder to put them in an empty
bath, and then turn on the cold tap—after first warming them at our own
fireside! It’s always a relief to me when these evenings are over. The
boys are never themselves, and I don’t think I’m much better than the
boys. We begin by getting a false impression of each other.”

Heriot picked his way among his old oak things as he spoke; but at every
turn he had a narrow eye upon his sister. He was a lanky man, many years
her senior; his beard had grown grey, and his shoulders round, in his
profession. A restless energy marked all his movements, and was
traceable in the very obstacles to his present perambulations; they were
the spoils of the inveterate wanderer from the beaten track, who wanders
with open hand and eye. Spectacles in steel rims twinkled at each alert
turn of the grizzled head; and the look through the spectacles, always
quick and keen, was kindly rather than kind, and just rather than
compassionate.

“I liked Carpenter,” said Miss Heriot, as she dried a dripping print
between sheets of blotting-paper.

“I like all boys until I have reason to dislike them.”

“Carpenter had something to say for himself.”

“There’s far more character in Rutter.”

“He never opened his mouth.”

“It’s his mouth I go by, as much as anything.”

Miss Heriot coated the back of the print with starch, and laid it
dexterously in its place. A sheet of foolscap and her handkerchief—an
almost unfeminine handkerchief—did the rest. And still she said no
more.

“You didn’t think much of Rutter, Milly?”

“I thought he had a bad accent and——”

“Go on.”

“Well—to be frank—worse manners!”

“Milly, you are right, and I’m not sure that I oughtn’t to be frank with
you. Let the next print wait a minute. I like you to see something of
the fellows in my house; it’s only right that you should know something
about them first. I’ve a great mind to tell you what I don’t intend
another soul in the place to know.”

Heriot had planted himself in British attitude, heels to the fender.

Miss Heriot turned round on her stool. She was as like her brother as a
woman still young can be like a rather elderly man; her hair was fair,
and she had not come to spectacles; but her eyes were as keen and kindly
as his own, her whole countenance as sensible and shrewd.

“You can trust me, Bob,” she said.

“I know I can,” he answered, pipe in hand. “That’s why I’m going to tell
you what neither boy nor man shall learn through me. What type of lad
does this poor Rutter suggest to your mind?”

There was a pause.

“I hardly like to say.”

“But I want to know.”

“Well—then—I’m sure I couldn’t tell you why—but he struck me as more
like a lad from the stables than anything else.”

“What on earth makes you think that?” Heriot spoke quite sharply in his
plain displeasure and surprise.

“I said I couldn’t tell you, Bob. I suppose it was a general association
of ideas. He had his hat on, for one thing, when I saw him first; and it
was far too large for him, and crammed down almost to those dreadful
ears! I never saw any boy outside a stable-yard wear his hat like that.
Then your hunting was the one thing that seemed to interest him in the
least. And I certainly thought he called a horse a 'hoss’!”

“So he put you in mind of a stable-boy, did he?”

“Well, not exactly at the time, but he really does the more I think
about him.”

“That’s very clever of you, Milly—because it’s just what he is.”

Heriot’s open windows were flush with the street, and passing footfalls
sounded loud in his room; but at the moment there were none; and a clock
ticked officiously on the chimneypiece while the man with his back to it
met his sister’s eyes.

“Of course you don’t mean it literally?”

“Literally.”

“I thought his grandfather was a country parson?”

“A rural dean, my dear; but the boy’s father was a coachman, and the boy
himself was brought up in the stables until six months ago.”

“The father’s dead, then?”

“He died in the spring. His wife has been dead fourteen years. It’s a
very old story. She ran away with the groom.”

“But her people have taken an interest in the boy?”

“Never set eyes on him till his father died.”

“Then how can he know enough to come here?”

Heriot smiled as he pulled at his pipe. He had the air of a man who has
told the worst. His sister had taken it as he hoped she would; her face
and voice betokened just that kind of interest in the case which he
already felt strongly. It was a sympathetic interest, but that was all.
There was nothing sentimental about either of the Heriots; they could
discuss most things frankly on their merits; the school itself was no
exception to the rule. It was wife and child to Robert Heriot—the
school of his manhood—the vineyard in which he had laboured lovingly
for thirty years. But still he could smile as he smoked his pipe.

“Our standard is within the reach of most,” he said; “there are those
who would tell you it’s the scorn of the scholastic world. We don’t go
in for making scholars. We go in for making men. Give us the raw
material of a man, and we won’t reject it because it doesn’t know the
Greek alphabet—no, not even if it was fifteen on its last birthday!
That’s our system, and I support it through thick and thin; but it lays
us open to worse types than escaped stable-boys.”

“This boy doesn’t look fifteen.”

“Nor is he—quite—much less the type I had in mind. He has a head on
his shoulders, and something in it too. It appears that the vicar where
he came from took an interest in the lad, and got him on as far as Cæsar
and Euclid for pure love.”

“That speaks well for the lad,” put in Miss Heriot, impartially.

“I must say that it appealed to me. Then he’s had a tutor for the last
six months; and neither tutor nor vicar has a serious word to say
against his character. The tutor, moreover, is a friend of Arthur
Drysdale’s, who was captain of this house when I took it over, and the
best I ever had. That’s what brought them to me. The boy should take
quite a good place. I should be very glad to have him in my own form, to
see what they’ve taught him between them. I confess I’m interested in
him; his mother was a lady; but you may almost say he never saw her in
his life. Yet it’s the mother who counts in the being of a boy. Has the
gentle blood been hopelessly poisoned by the stink of the stables, or is
it going to triumph and run clean and sweet? It’s a big question, Milly,
and it’s not the only one involved.”

Heriot had propounded it with waving pipe that required another match
when he was done; through the mountain tan upon his face, and in the
eager eyes behind the glasses, shone the zeal of the expert to whom boys
are dearer than men or women. The man is rare; rarer still the woman who
can even understand him; but here in this little room of books and
antique lumber, you had the pair.

“I’m glad you told me,” said Miss Heriot, at length. “I fear I should
have been prejudiced if you had not.”

“My one excuse for telling you,” was the grave rejoinder. “No one else
shall ever know through me; not even Mr. Thrale, unless some special
reason should arise. The boy shall have every chance. He doesn’t even
know I know myself, and I don’t want him ever to suspect. It’s quite a
problem, for I must keep an eye on him more than on most; yet I daren’t
be down on him, and I daren’t stand up for him; he must sink or swim for
himself.”

“I’m afraid he’ll have a bad time,” said Miss Heriot, picking a print
from the water and blotting it as before. Her brother had seated himself
at another bureau to write his letters.

“I don’t mind betting Carpenter has a worse,” he rejoined without
looking up.

“But he’s so enthusiastic about everything?”

“That’s a quality we appreciate; boys don’t, unless there’s prowess
behind it. Carpenter talks cricket like a _Lillywhite_, but he doesn’t
look a cricketer. Rutter doesn’t talk about it, but his tutor says he’s
a bit of a bowler. Carpenter beams because he’s got to his public school
at last. He has illusions to lose. Rutter knows nothing about us, and
probably cares less; he’s here under protest, you can see it in his
face, and the chances are all in favour of his being pleasantly
disappointed.”

Heriot’s quill was squeaking as he spoke, for he was a man with the
faculty of doing and even thinking of more than one thing at a time; but
though his sister continued mounting photographs in her album with
extreme care, her mind was full of the two young boys who had come that
night to live under their roof for good or ill. She wondered whether her
brother was right in his ready estimate of their respective characters.
She knew him for the expert that he was; these were not the first boys
that she had heard him sum up as confidently on as brief an
acquaintance; and though her knowledge had its obvious limitations, she
had never known him wrong. He had a wonderfully fair mind. And yet the
boy of action, in whom it was possible to stimulate thought, would
always be nearer his heart than the thoughtful boy who might need
goading into physical activity. She could not help feeling that he was
prepared to take an unsympathetic view of the boy who had struck her as
having more in him than most small boys; it was no less plain that his
romantic history and previous disadvantages had already rendered the
other newcomer an object of sympathetic interest in the house-master’s
eyes. The material was new as well as raw, and so doubly welcome to the
workman’s hand. Yet the workman’s sister, who had so much of his own
force and fairness in her nature, felt that she could never like a sulky
lout, however cruel the circumstances which had combined to make him
one.

She felt a good deal more before the last print was in her album; in the
first place that she would see really very little of these two boys
until in years to come they rose to the Sixth Form table over which she
presided in hall. Now and then they might have headaches and be sent in
to keep quiet and look at the _Punches_; but she would never be at all
in touch with them until they were big boys at the top of the house; and
then they would be shy and exceedingly correct, of few words but not too
few, and none too much enthusiasm, like all the other big boys. And that
thought drew a sigh.

“What’s the matter?” came in an instant from the other bureau, where the
quill had ceased to squeak.

“I was thinking that, after all, these two boys have more individuality
than most who come to us.”

“One of them has.”

“Both, I think; and I was wondering how much will be left to either when
we run them out of the mould in five years’ time!”

Heriot came to his feet like an exasperated advocate.

“I know where you get that from!” he cried with a kind of jovial
asperity. “You’ve been reading some of these trashy articles that every
wiseacre who never was at a public school thinks he can write about them
now! That’s one of their stock charges against us, that we melt the boys
down and run them all out of the same mould like bullets. We destroy
individuality; we do nothing but reduplicate a type that thinks the same
thoughts and speaks the same speech, and upholds the same virtues and
condones the same vices. As if real character were a soluble thing! As
if it altered in its essence from the nursery to the cemetery! As if we
could boil away a strong will or an artistic temperament, a mean soul or
a saintly spirit, even in the crucible of a public school!”

His breezy confidence was almost overwhelming; but it did not overwhelm
his hearer, or sweep her with him to his conclusion. She had her own
point of view; more, she had her own coigne of observation. Not every
boy who had passed through the house in her time was the better for
having been there. She had seen the weak go under—into depths she could
not plumb—and the selfish ride serenely on the crest of the wave. She
had seen an unpleasant urchin grow into a more and more displeasing
youth, and inferiority go forth doubly inferior for the misleading
stamp—that precious stamp—which one and all acquired. She loved the
life as she saw it, perforce so superficially; it was a life that
appealed peculiarly to Miss Heriot, who happened to have her own
collegiate experience, an excellent degree of her own, and her own ideas
on education. But from the boys in her brother’s house she held
necessarily aloof; and in her detachment a clear and independent mind
lay inevitably open to questionings, misgivings, intuitions, for which
there was little time in his laborious days.

“But you admit it is a crucible,” she argued. “And what’s a crucible but
a melting-pot?”

“A melting-pot for characteristics, but not for character!” he cried.
“Take the two boys upstairs: in four or five years one will have more to
say for himself, I hope, and the other will leave more unsaid; but the
self that each expresses will be the same self, even though we have
turned a first-rate groom into a second-rate gentleman. 'The Child,’
remember, and not the school, 'is father of the Man.’”

“Then the school’s his mother!” declared Miss Heriot without a moment’s
hesitation.

Heriot gave the sudden happy laugh which his house was never sorry to
hear, and his form found the more infectious for its comparative rarity.

“Does she deny it, Milly? Doesn’t she rub it into every one of them in
Latin that even they can understand? Let’s only hope they’ll be fathers
of better men for the help of this particular _alma mater_!”

The house-master knocked out his pipe into a wooden Kaffir bowl, the
gift of some exiled Old Boy, and went off to bid the two new boys
good-night.



                              CHAPTER II

                           CHANGE AND CHANCE


Rutter had been put in the small dormitory at the very top of the house.
Instead of two long rows of cubicles as in the other dormitories, in one
of which he had left Carpenter on the way upstairs, here under the roof
was a square chamber with a dormer window in the sloping side and a
cubicle in each of its four corners. Cubicle was not the school word for
them, according to the matron who came up with the boys, but
“partition,” or “tish” for short. They were about five feet high,
contained a bed and a chair apiece, and were merely curtained at the
foot. But the dormitory door opened into the one allotted to Rutter; it
was large enough to hold a double wash-stand for himself and his
next-door neighbour; and perhaps he was not the first occupant whom it
had put in mind of a loose-box among stalls.

He noted everything with an eye singularly sardonic for fourteen, and as
singularly alive to detail. The common dressing-table was in the dormer
window. The boy had a grim look at himself in the glass. It was not a
particularly pleasant face, with its sombre expression and stubborn
mouth, but it looked brown and hard, and acute enough in its dogged way.
It almost smiled at itself for the fraction of a second, but whether in
resignation or defiance, or with a pinch of involuntary pride in his new
state of life, it would have been difficult even for the boy to say.
Certainly it was with a thrill that he read his own name over his
partition, and then the other boys’ names over theirs. Bingley was the
fellow next him. Joyce and Crabtree were the other two. What would they
be like? What sort of faces would they bring back to the glass in the
dormer window?

Rutter was not conscious of an imagination, but somehow he pictured
Joyce large and lethargic, Crabtree a humorist, and Bingley a bully of
the Flashman type. He had just been reading _Tom Brown_ by advice. He
wondered would the humorist be man enough to join him in standing up to
the brutes, and whether pillow-fights were still the fashion; he did not
believe they were, because Master Evan had never mentioned them; but
then Master Evan had only been at a preparatory school last spring, and
he might have found it quite otherwise at Winchester. The new boy
undressed with an absent mind. He was wondering what it would have been
like if he had been sent to Winchester himself, and there encountered
Master Evan on equal terms. He had never done so much wondering in his
life; he found a school list in the dormitory, and took it to bed with
him, and lay there doing more.

So there was an Upper Sixth and a Lower Sixth, and then a form called
the Remove; and in the Remove, by the way, was friend Joyce of the
corner opposite. Then came the Fifths—three of them—with Crabtree top
of the Lower Fifth. Clever fellow, then, Crabtree! The bully Bingley was
no doubt notoriously low in the school. The Middle Remove came next, and
through each column of strange names the boy read religiously, with a
fascination he could not have explained, here and there conjuring an
incongruous figure from some name he knew. He had got down to the Middle
Fourth when suddenly his breath was taken as by a blow.

Heriot came in to find a face paler than it had looked downstairs, but a
good brown arm and hand lying out over the coverlet, and a Midsummer
List tightly clutched. The muscles of the arm were unusually developed
for so young a boy. Heriot saw them relax under his gaze as he stood
over the bed.

“Got hold of a school list, have you?”

“Yessir,” said Rutter with a slurring alacrity that certainly did not
savour of the schoolroom. Heriot turned away before he could wince; but
unluckily his eyes fell on the floor, strewn with the litter of the new
boy’s clothes.

“I like the way you fold your clothes!” he laughed.

“I beg your pardon, sir, but where am I to put them?”

It was refreshingly polite; but, again, the begging-pardon opening was
not the politeness of a schoolboy.

“On this chair,” said Heriot, suiting the action to the word. The boy
would have leapt out of bed to do it himself. His shyness not only
prevented him, but rendered him incapable of protest or acknowledgement;
and the next moment he had something to be shy about. Mr. Heriot was
holding up a broad and dirty belt, and without thinking he had cried,
“What’s this?”

Rutter could not answer for shame. And Heriot had time to think.

“I can sympathise,” he said with a chuckle; “in the holidays I often
wear one myself. But we mustn’t betray each other, Rutter, or we shall
never hear the last of it! I’ll give you an order for a pair of braces
in the morning.”

“I have them, sir, thanks.”

“That’s right.” Heriot was still handling the belt as though he really
longed to buckle it about himself. Suddenly he noticed the initials, “J.
R.”

“I thought your name was Ian, Rutter?”

“So it is, sir; but they used to call me Jan.”

Heriot waited for a sigh, but the mouth that appealed to him was
characteristically compressed. He sat a few moments on the foot of the
bed. “Well, good-night, and a fair start to you, Jan! The matron will
put out the gas at ten.”

The lad mumbled something; the man looked back to nod, and saw him lying
as he had found him, still clutching the list, only with his face as
deep a colour as his arm.

“Have you come across any names you know?”

“One.”

“Who’s that?”

“He won’t know me.”

They were the sullen answers that had made a bad impression downstairs;
but they were strangely uttered, and Rutter no longer lay still.

“He must have a name,” said Heriot, coming back into the room.

No answer.

“I’m sorry you’re ashamed of your friend,” said Heriot, laughing.

“He’s not my friend, and——”

“I think that’s very likely,” put in Heriot, as the boy shut his lips
once more. “What’s in a name? The chances are that it’s only a namesake
after all.”

He turned away without a sign of annoyance or of further interest in the
matter. But another mumble from the bed intercepted him at the door.

“Name of Devereux,” he made out.

“Devereux, eh?”

“Do you know him, sir?”

“I should think I do!”

“He’ll not be in this house?”

Rutter was holding his breath.

“No, but he got my prize last term.”

“Do you know his other name?”

It was a tremulous mumble now.

“I’m afraid I don’t. Wait a bit! His initials are either E. P. or P. E.
He only came last term.”

“He only would. But I thought he was going to Winchester!”

“That’s the fellow; he got a scholarship and came here instead, at the
last moment.”

The new boy in the top dormitory made no remark when the matron put out
the gas. He was lying on his back with his eyes wide open, and his lips
compressed out of sight, just as Heriot had left him. It was almost a
comfort to him to know the worst for certain; and now that he did know
it, beyond all possibility of doubt, he was beginning to wonder whether
it need necessarily be the worst after all. It might easily prove the
best. He had always liked Master Evan; that was as much as this boy
would admit even in his heart. The fact would have borne a warmer
recognition. Best or worst, however, he knew it as well as though Evan
Devereux had already come back with the rest of the school, and either
cut him dead or grasped his hand. The one thing not to be suspected for
an instant was that the lean oldish man, with the kind word and the
abrupt manner, could possibly know the secret of a new boy’s heart, and
have entered already into his hopes and fears.

It was very quiet in the top dormitory. Rutter wondered what it would be
like when all the boys came back. Carpenter’s dormitory was downstairs,
but they were all within earshot of each other. He wondered what it
would have been like if Master Evan had been in that house, in that
little dormitory, in the partition next his own. Master Evan! Yet he had
never thought of him as anything else, much less addressed him by any
other name. What if it slipped out at school! It easily might; indeed,
far more easily and naturally than “Devereux.” That would sound very
like profanity, in his ears, and on his lips.

The new boy grinned involuntarily in the dark. It was all too absurd. He
had enjoyed ample opportunity of picking up the phraseology of the class
to which he had been lately elevated: “too absurd” would certainly have
been their expression for the situation in which he found himself. He
tried to see it from that point of view. He was not without a wry humour
of his own. He must take care not to magnify a matter which nobody else
might think twice about. A public school was a little world, in which
two boys in different houses, even two of an age, might seldom or never
meet; days might elapse before Evan as much as recognised him in the
throng. But then he might refuse to have anything to do with him. But
then—but then—he might tell the whole school why!

“He was our coachman’s son at home!”

The coachman’s son heard the incredible statement as though it had been
shouted in his ear. He felt a thousand eyes on his devoted face. He knew
that he lay blushing in the dark. It took all his will to calm him by
degrees.

“If he does,” he decided, “I’m off. That’s all.”

But why should he? Why should a young gentleman betray a poor boy’s
secret? Rutter was the stable-boy again in spirit; he might have been
back in his trucklebed in the coachman’s cottage at Mr. Devereux’s. The
transition of standpoint at any rate was complete. He had always liked
Master Evan; they had been very good friends all their lives. Incidents
of the friendship came back in shoals. Evan had been the youngest of a
large family, and that after a gap; in one sense he had been literally
the only child. Often he had needed a boy to play with him, and not
seldom Jan Rutter had been scrubbed and brushed and oiled to the scalp
in order to fill the proud position of that boy. He must have known how
to behave himself as a little kid, though he remembered as he grew older
that the admonition with which he was always dispatched from the stables
used to make it more difficult; there were so many things to “think on”
not to do, and somehow it was harder not to do them when you had always
to keep “thinking on.” Still, he distinctly remembered hearing
complimentary remarks passed upon him by the ladies and gentlemen,
together with whispered explanations of his manners. It was as easy to
supply as to understand those explanations now; but it was sad to feel
that the manners had long ago been lost.

And, boy as he was, and dimly as may be, he did feel this: that in the
beginning there had been very little to choose between Evan and himself,
but that afterwards the gulf had been at one time very wide. He could
recall with shame a phase in which Master Evan had been forbidden, and
not without reason, to have anything to do with Jan Rutter. There was
even a cruel thrashing which he had received for language learnt from
the executioner’s own lips; and it was characteristic of Jan that he had
never quite forgiven his father for that, though he was dead, and had
been a kind father on the whole. Later, the boy about the stables had
acquired more sense; the eccentric vicar had taken him in hand, and
spoken up for him; and nothing was said if he bowled to Master Evan
after his tea, or played a makeshift kind of racquets with him in the
stable-yard, so long as he kept his tongue and his harness clean. So the
gulf had narrowed again of late years; but it had never again been
shallow.

It was spanned, however, by quite a network of mutual offices. In the
beginning Evan used to take all his broken toys to Jan, who was a fine
hand at rigging ships and soldering headless horsemen. Jan’s reward was
the reversion of anything broken beyond repair, or otherwise without
further value to its original owner. Jan was also an adept at roasting
chestnuts and potatoes on the potting-shed fire, a daring manipulator of
molten lead, a comic artist with a piece of putty, and the pioneer of
smoking in the loft. Those were the days when Evan was suddenly
forbidden the back premises, and Jan set definitely to work in the
stables when he was not at the village school. Years elapsed before the
cricket stage that drew the children together again as biggish boys; in
the interim Jan had imbibed wisdom of more kinds than one. On
discovering himself to be a rude natural left-hand bowler, who could
spoil the afternoon at any moment by the premature dismissal of his
opponent, he was sagacious enough to lose the art at times in the most
sudden and mysterious manner, and only to recover it by fits and starts
when Evan had made all the runs he wanted. And as Jan had but little
idea of batting, there was seldom any bad blood over the game. But in
all their relations Jan took care of that, for he had developed a real
devotion to Evan, who could be perfectly delightful to one companion at
a time, when everything was going well.

And then things had happened so thick and fast that it was difficult to
recall them in their chronological order; but the salient points were
that Rutter the elder, that fine figure on a box, with his bushy
whiskers and his bold black eyes, had suddenly succumbed to pneumonia
after a bout of night-work in the month of February, and that the son of
an ironmaster’s coachman by a northern town awoke to find himself the
grandson of an East Anglian clergyman whose ancient name he had never
heard before, but who sent for the lad in hot haste, to make a gentleman
of him if it was not too late.

The change from the raw red outworks of an excessively modern and
utilitarian town, to the most venerable of English rectories, in a
countryside which has scarcely altered since the Conquest, was not
appreciated as it might have been by Jan Rutter. He had nothing against
the fussy architecture and the highly artificial garden of his late
environment; on the contrary, he heartily preferred those familiar
immaturities to the general air of complacent antiquity which pervaded
his new home. That was the novelty to Jan, and there was a prejudice
against it in his veins. It was the very atmosphere which had driven his
mother before him to desperation. Her blood in him rebelled again; nor
did he feel the effect the less because he was too young to trace the
cause. He only knew that he had been happier in a saddle-room that still
smelt of varnish than he was ever likely to be under mellow tiles and
mediæval trees. The tutor and the strenuous training for a public school
came to some extent as a relief; but the queer lad took quite a pride in
showing no pride at all in his altered conditions and prospects. The new
school and the new home were all one to him. He had not been consulted
about either. He recognised an authority which he was powerless to
resist, but there the recognition ended. There could be no question of
gratitude for offices performed out of a cold sense of duty, by beings
of his own blood who never so much as mentioned his father’s death, or
even breathed his mother’s name. There was a tincture of their own pride
even in him.

He had heard of public schools from Evan, and even envied that gilded
child his coming time at one; but, when his own time came so
unexpectedly, Jan had hardened his heart, and faced the inevitable as
callously as any criminal. And then at its hardest his heart had melted
within him: an arbitrary and unkind fate held out the hope of amends by
restoring to his ken the one creature he really wished to see again. It
was true that Jan had heard nothing of Evan since the end of the
Christmas holidays; but then the boys had never exchanged a written word
in their lives. And the more he thought of it, the less Jan feared the
worst that might accrue from their meeting on the morrow or the day
after. Not that he counted on the best: not that his young blood had
warmed incontinently to the prospect which had chilled it hitherto.
Master Evan as an equal was still an inconceivable figure; and the whole
prospect remained grey and grim; but at least there was a glint of
excitement in it now, a vision of depths and heights.

So the night passed, his first at a public school. The only sounds were
those that marked its passage: the muffled ticking of his one treasure,
the little watch under his pillow, and the harsh chimes of an outside
clock which happened to have struck ten as he opened the Midsummer List.
It had since struck eleven; he even heard it strike twelve. But life was
more exciting, when he fell asleep soon after midnight, than Jan Rutter
had dreamt of finding it when he went to bed.



                              CHAPTER III

                           VERY RAW MATERIAL


It was all but a summer morning when Jan got back into the trousers
without pockets and the black jacket and tie ordained by the school
authorities. Peculiarly oppressive to Jan was the rule about trouser
pockets; those in his jacket were so full in consequence that there was
barely room for his incriminating belt, which he rolled up as small as
it would go, and made into a parcel to be hidden away in his study when
he had one. This was his last act before leaving the dormitory and
marching downstairs at an hour when most of the household were
presumably still in bed and asleep; but Jan was naturally an early
riser, and he had none of the scruples of conventionality on the score
of an essentially harmless act. He was curious to see something of his
new surroundings, and there was nothing like seeing for oneself.

At the foot of the lead-lined stairs, worn bright as silver at the
edges, there was a short tiled passage with a green baize door at one
end and what was evidently the boys’ hall at the other. The baize door
communicated with the master’s side of the house, for the new boys had
come through it on their way up to dormitory. The hall was a good size,
with one very long table under the windows and two shorter ones on
either side of the fireplace. On the walls hung portraits of the great
composers, which Jan afterwards found to be house prizes in part-singing
competitions discontinued before his time; at the moment, however, he
took no kind of interest in them, and but very little in the two
challenge cups under the clock. What did attract him was the line of
open windows, looking like solid blocks of sunlight and fresh air. On
the sill of one a figure in print was busy with her wash-leather, and
she accosted Jan cheerily.

“You _are_ down early, sir!”

“I always am,” remarked Jan, looking for a door into the open air.

“You’re not like most of the gentlemen, then,” the maid returned, in her
cheerful Cockney voice. “They leaves it to the last moment, and then
they 'as to fly. You should 'ear ’em come down them stairs!”

“Is there no way out?” inquired Jan.

“You mean into the quad?”

“That’s the quad, is it? Then I do.”

“Well, there’s the door, just outside this door; but Morgan, 'e keeps
the key o’ that, and I don’t think 'e’s come yet.”

“Then I’m going through that window,” announced the new boy, calmly; and
carried out his intention without a moment’s hesitation.

Had his object been to run away on his very first morning, before his
house-master was astir, as the maid seemed to fear by the way she leant
out of her window to watch him, the next step would have taxed all Jan’s
resources.

Heriot’s quad was a gravel plot very distinctively enclosed, on the left
by the walls of buildings otherwise unconnected with the house, on the
right by the boys’ studies. At the further extremity were twin gables
over gothic arches which left the two interiors underneath open at one
end to all the elements; never in his life had Jan beheld such
structures; but he had picked up enough from his tutor to guess that
they were fives-courts, and he went up to have a look into them. To the
right of the fives-courts was an alley ending at a formidable spiked
gate which was yet the only obvious way of escape, had Jan been minded
to make his. But nothing was further from his thoughts; indeed, there
was a certain dull gleam in his eyes, and a sallow flush upon his face,
which had not been there the previous evening. At all events he looked
wider awake.

The studies interested him most. There was a double row of little
lattice windows, piercing a very wall of ivy, like port-holes in a
vessel’s side. Not only were the little windows deep-set in ivy, but
each had its little window-box, and in some of these still drooped the
withered remnant of a brave display. Jan was not interested in flowers,
or for that matter in anything that made for the mere beauty of life;
but he peered with interest into one or two of the ground-floor studies.
There was little to be seen beyond his own reflection broken to bits in
the diamond panes. Between him and the windows was a border of shrubs,
behind iron palings bent by the bodies and feet of generations, and
painted green like the garden seats under the alien walls opposite. On
the whole, and in the misty sunlight of the fine September morning, Jan
liked Heriot’s quad.

“You’re up early, sir!”

It was not the maid this time, but a bearded man-servant whom the boy
had seen the previous night. Jan made the same reply as before, and no
sort of secret of the way in which he had got out into the quad. He
added that he should like to have a look at the studies; and Morgan,
with a stare and a smile quite lost on Jan, showed him round.

They were absurdly, deliciously, inconceivably tiny, the studies at
Heriot’s; each was considerably smaller than a dormitory “tish,” and the
saddle-room of Jan’s old days would have made three or four of them. But
they were undeniably cosy and attractive, as compact as a captain’s
cabin, as private as friar’s cell, and far more comfortable than either.
Or so they might well have seemed to the normal boy about to possess a
study of his own, with a table and two chairs, a square of carpet as big
as a bath-sheet, a book-shelf and pictures, and photographs and
ornaments to taste, fretwork and plush to heart’s content, a flower-box
for the summer term, hot-water pipes for the other two, and above all a
door of his own to shut at will against the world! But Jan Rutter had
not the instincts of a normal schoolboy, nor the temperament favourable
to their rapid growth. He had been brought up too uncomfortably to know
the value of comfort, and too much in the open air to appreciate the
merits of indoor sanctuary. Artistic impulse he had none; and the
rudimentary signs of that form of grace, to be seen in nearly all the
studies he was shown, left him thoroughly unimpressed.

“Is it true,” he asked, “that every boy in the school has one of these
holes?”

“Quite true,” replied Morgan, staring. “You didn’t say 'holes,’ sir?”

“I did,” declared Jan, enjoying his accidental hit.

“You’d better not let Mr. Heriot hear you, sir, or any of the gentlemen
either!”

“I don’t care who hears me,” retorted Jan, boastfully; but it must not
be forgotten that he had come to school against his will, and that this
was his first opportunity of airing a not unnatural antagonism.

“You wait till you’ve got one of your own,” said the well-meaning man,
“with a nice new carpet and table-cloth, and your own family portraits
and sportin’ picters!”

“At any rate I should know a horse from a cow,” returned Jan, examining
something in the nature of a sporting print, “and not hang up rot like
that!”

“You let Mr. Shockley hear you!” cried Morgan, with a laugh. “You’ll
catch it!”

“I’ve no doubt I shall do that,” said Jan, grimly. He followed Morgan
into an empty study, and asked if it was likely to be his.

“Not unless you take a pretty high place in the school. It’s only the
top dozen in the house that get these front studies upstairs. You can
make up your mind to one at the back, and be glad if it’s not
downstairs, where everybody can see in and throw in stones.”

Jan felt he had not made a friend of Morgan; and yet in his heart he was
more favourably impressed with what he had seen than his peculiar
temperament permitted him to show. Little as their adventitious
attractions might appeal to him, there was something attractive to Jan
about this system of separate studies. It appealed, and not without
design, to that spirit of independence which happened to be one of his
stronger points. Moreover he could conceive a very happy intimacy
between two real friends in one of these little dens; and altogether he
brought a brighter face to the breakfast-table than he had shown for an
instant overnight. Heriot glanced at it with an interested twinkle, as
though he had been at the explorer’s elbow all the morning; but whatever
he might have known, he betrayed his knowledge neither by word nor sign.

After breakfast the two boys sallied forth with orders signed by Heriot
for a school cap apiece; and saw the long old-fashioned country street
for the first time in broad daylight. It gave the impression of a street
with nothing behind it on either side, the chance remnant of a vanished
town. Nothing could have been more solid than the fronts of the drab
stone houses, and nothing more startling than the glimpses of vivid
meadowland like a black-cloth close behind. The caps were procured from
the cricket professional, a maker of history whose fame provided
Carpenter with a congenial topic on the way, but sat sadly on the
failing giant who was there to serve them in the little shop. The caps
were black but not comely, as Carpenter more than once remarked; they
were a cross between a cricket-cap and that of a naval officer, with the
school badge in red above the peak. Jan chose the biggest he could find,
and crammed it over his skull as though he was going out to exercise a
horse.

The day was fully occupied with the rather exhaustive examination
designed to put the right boy in the right form. There were no fewer
than three papers in the morning alone. There was, however, a short
break between each, which Carpenter was inclined to spend in boring
Rutter with appreciative comments upon the striking mural decorations of
the great schoolroom in which the examination was held. There were
forty-two new boys, some of them hulking fellows of fifteen or more,
some quite small boys in Eton jackets; and the chances are that none
among them was more impressed than Carpenter by the reproductions of
classical statuary hung upon the walls of Pompeian red, or by the frieze
of ancient and modern authors which a great mind had planned and a
cunning hand had made; but it is certain that none thought less of them
than Jan Rutter. To pacify his companion he did have a look at the
frieze, but it was exactly the same look as he had cast into the studies
before breakfast. The two had more in common when they compared notes on
the various papers.

“I didn’t mind the Latin grammar and history,” said Jan. “I’ve had my
nose in my grammar for the last six months, and you only had to answer
half the history questions.”

Jan’s spirits seemed quite high.

“But what about the unseen?” asked Carpenter.

“I happened to have done the hardest bit before,” said Jan, chuckling
consumedly; “and not so long since, either!”

Carpenter looked at him.

“Then it wasn’t unseen at all?”

“Not to me.”

“You didn’t think of saying so on your paper?”

“Not I! It’s their look-out, not mine,” chuckled Jan.

The other made no comment. It was the long break in the middle of the
day, and the pair were on their way back to Heriot’s for dinner.

“I wish they’d set us some verses,” said Carpenter. “They’d be _my_ best
chance.”

“Then you’re a fool if you take it,” put in a good-humoured lout who had
joined them in the street.

“But it’s the only thing I can do at all decently,” explained the
ingenuous Carpenter. “I’m a backward sort of ass at most things, but I
rather like Latin verses.”

“Well, you’re another sort of ass if you do your best in any of these
piffling papers.”

“I see! _You_ mean to make sure of a nice easy form?”

“Rather!”

“There’s no fagging over the Upper Fourth, let me tell you, even for
us.”

“Perhaps not, but there’s more kinds of fagging than one, you take my
word for it; and I prefer to do mine out of school,” said the big new
boy, significantly, as their ways parted.

Carpenter wanted to discuss his meaning, but Jan took no interest in it,
and was evidently not to be led into any discussion against his will. He
had in fact a gift of silence remarkable in a boy and not a little
irritating to a companion. Yet he broke it again to the extent of asking
Heriot at table, and that _à propos_ of nothing, when the other boys
would “start to arrive.”

“The tap will be turned on any minute now,” said Heriot, with a look at
his sister. “In some houses I expect it’s running already.”

“Which house is Devereux in?” asked Rutter, always direct when he spoke
at all.

“Let me think. I know—the Lodge—the house opposite the chapel with the
study doors opening into the quad.”

Carpenter’s silence was the companion feature of this meal.

The boys had time for a short walk afterwards, and more than a hint to
take one. But they only went together because they were thrown together;
these two had obviously as little else in common as boys could have; and
yet, there was something else, and neither dreamt what a bond it was to
be.

“Do you know Devereux?” Carpenter began before they were out of their
quad.

“Why? Do you know him?”

Jan was not unduly taken aback; he was prepared for anything with regard
to Devereux, including the next question long before it came.

“We were at the same preparatory school, and great pals there,” replied
Carpenter, wistfully. “I suppose you know him at home?”

“I used to, but only in a sort of way,” said Jan, warily. “I don’t
suppose we shall see anything of each other here; he mayn’t even
recognise me, to start with.”

“Or me, for that matter!” cried Carpenter, with less reserve. “He’s
never written to me since we left, though I wrote to him twice last
term, and once in the holidays to ask him something.”

It was on the tip of Jan’s tongue to defend the absent Evan with
injudicious warmth; but he remembered what he had just said, and held
his tongue as he always could. Carpenter, on the other hand, apparently
regretting his little show of pique, changed the subject with ingenuous
haste and chattered more freely than ever about the various school
buildings that they passed upon their way. There was a house at the end
of the street with no fewer than three tiers of ivy-covered study
windows; but it had no quad. There were other houses tucked more out of
sight; but Carpenter knew about them, and which hero of the Cambridge
eleven had been at this, that, or the other. His interest in his school
was of the romantic and imaginative order; it contrasted very favourably
with Jan’s indifference, which grew the more perversely pronounced as
his companion waxed enthusiastic. It appeared that Carpenter was
following a number of youths from his part of the world, who had been
through the school before him, and from whom he had acquired a
smattering of its lore. The best houses of all, he had heard, were not
in the town at all, but on the hill a quarter of a mile away. The pair
went to inspect, and found regular mansions standing back in their own
grounds, their studies and fives-courts hidden from the road; for the
new boys trespassed far enough to see for themselves; and Rutter at once
expressed a laconic preference for the hill houses, whereat Carpenter
stood up as readily for the town.

“There’s no end of rivalry between the two,” he explained, as they
trotted down into the valley, pressed for time. “I wouldn’t be in a hill
house for any money, or in any house but ours if I had my choice of all
the lot.”

“And I wouldn’t be here at all,” retorted Jan, depriving his companion
of what breath he had as they hurried up the hill towards the town. By
turning to the left, however, in the wake of other new boys in a like
hurry, they found themselves approaching the chapel and the great
schoolroom by a shorter route. It led through a large square quad with
study doors opening upon it down two sides, and nothing over these
studies but their own roof.

“There’s plenty of time,” said Jan, with rather a furtive look at a
little gold lady’s watch that he pulled out in his fist. “I wonder if
this is the Lodge?”

“No—it’s the next—opposite the chapel. This is the School House. Do
come on!”

The School House and the Lodge were like none of the other houses.
Instead of standing by themselves in the town or on the hill, each
formed a part of the distinctive group of which the chapel and the great
schoolroom were the salient features. Their quadrangles not only
adjoined, but there was no line of demarcation to show where one began
or the other ended. In both the study doors opened straight into the
fresh air; but in neither was a boy to be seen as Carpenter and Rutter
caught up the flying remnant of the forty-two.

“Let’s go back by the Lodge,” said Jan, when at last they were let out
for good. But now the scene was changing. Groups of two and three were
dotted about in animated conversation, some still in their journey hats,
others in old school caps with faded badges, but none who took the
smallest notice of the new boys with the new badges, which they had
still to learn to crease correctly over the peak.

And now it was that Rutter horrified his companion by accosting with
apparent coolness a big fellow just emerged from one of the Lodge
studies.

“Do you mind telling us if a boy they call Devereux has got back yet?”
asked Jan, with more of his own idioms than he had often managed to
utter in one breath.

“I haven’t seen him,” the big fellow answered civilly enough. But his
stare followed the retreating couple, one of whom had caught the other
by the arm.

“I shouldn’t talk about 'a boy,’ if I were you,” Carpenter was saying as
nicely as he could.

But Rutter was quite aware of his other solecisms, though not of this
one, and was already too furious with himself to brook a gratuitous
rebuke.

“Oh! isn’t it the fashion? Then I’ll bet you wouldn’t!” he cried, as he
shook off the first arm which had ever been thrust through his by a
gentleman’s son.

A ball like a big white bullet was making staccato music in Heriot’s
outer fives-court; two school caps were bobbing above the back wall; and
a great thick-lipped lad of sixteen or seventeen, who was hanging about
the door leading to the studies, promptly asked the new boys their
names.

“What’s your gov’nor?” he added, addressing Carpenter first.

“A merchant.”

“A rag-merchant, I should think! And yours?”

Jan was not embarrassed by the question; he was best prepared at all his
most vulnerable points. But his natural bluntness had so recently caused
him such annoyance with himself, that he replied as politely as he
possibly could:

“My father happens to be dead.”

“Oh, he does, does he?” cried the other with a scowl. “Well, if you
happen to think it funny to talk about 'happening’ to me, you may jolly
soon happen to wish you were dead yourself!”

The tap had indeed been turned on, and the water was certainly rather
cold; the more fortunate for Rutter that his skin was thick enough to
respond with a glow rather than a shiver.



                              CHAPTER IV

                              SETTLING IN


Jan’s impressions were not the less vivid for his determination not to
be impressed at all; for no attitude of mind is harder to sustain than
one of deliberate indifference, which is not real indifference at all,
but at best a precarious pose. Jan was really indifferent to a large
extent, but not wholly, and the leaven of sensibility rendered him
acutely alive to each successive phase of his experience; on the other
hand, the fact that he was not too easily hurt was of immense value in
keeping his wits about him, and his whole garrison of senses at
attention. Sensitive he was, and that to the last degree, on a certain
point; but it was a point no longer likely to arise that night. And
meanwhile there was quite enough to occupy his mind.

There was the long-drawn arrival of the house, unit by unit, in bowler
hats which changed as if by magic into old school caps, and even in
“loud” ties duly discarded for solemn black. Then there was tea, with
any amount of good cheer in hall, every fellow bringing in some delicacy
of his own, and newcomers arriving in the middle to be noisily saluted
by their friends. Nobody now took the slightest notice of Jan, who
drifted into a humble place at the long table, which was still far from
full, and fell to work upon the plain bread and butter provided, until
some fellow pushed a raised pie across the table to him without a word.
The matron dispensed tea from a gigantic urn, and when anybody wanted
another cup he simply rattled it in his saucer. Jan could have made even
more primitive use of his saucer, for the tea was hot if not potent. But
fortunately there were some things it was not necessary for Carpenter to
tell him, for that guide and counsellor was not in hall; he had gone out
to tea with another new boy and his people, who knew something about him
at home.

Jan was allowed to spend the evening in an empty study which he might or
might not be able to take over next day, according to the place assigned
to him in the school; meanwhile the bare boards, table, Windsor chair,
and book-shelf, with an ironically cold hot-water pipe, and the nails
with which the last occupant had studded the walls, looked dismal enough
in the light of a solitary candle supplied by Morgan. The narrow passage
resounded with shouts of laughter and boyish badinage from the other
studies; either the captain of the house had not come back, or he was
not the man to play the martinet on the first night of the term; and
Jan, left as severely alone as even he could have wished, rose with
alacrity when one in passing pounded on his door and shouted that it was
time for prayers. He was in fact not sorry to mingle with his kind again
in the lighted hall, where the fellows were already standing in their
places at table, armed with hymn-books but chatting merrily, while one
of the small fry stood sentinel in the flagged passage leading to the
green baize door. Jan had scarcely found a place when in flew this
outpost with a sepulchral “hush!” In the ensuing silence came Miss
Heriot followed by her brother, who began by giving out the hymn which
she played on the piano under the shelf with the cups, and which the
house sang heartily enough.

It was one of the many disadvantages of Jan’s strange boyhood that he
had been brought up practically without religion. Mention has been made
of an eccentric clergyman who was the first to take an interest in Jan’s
intellectual welfare; unhappily, his eccentricities had been of such a
character as almost to stultify his spiritual pretensions; and in his
new home the boy had encountered another type of clerical example which
had been but little better in its effect upon his mind. Prayer had never
been to him the natural practice which it is to young English schoolboys
of all shades of character and condition. So he paid very little
attention to the prayers read by Heriot, at this first time of hearing;
but even so the manly unaffected voice, and a few odd phrases on which
it dwelt in gentler tones, were not altogether lost upon Jan.
Nevertheless, when he went up to dormitory, after biscuits (which he
heard called “dog-rocks”) and milk, and another dreary half-hour in the
empty study, the last thing he feared or thought about was the kind of
difficulty which had beset little Arthur in a certain chapter of _Tom
Brown_ which had not appealed to Jan. And all this may be why he was so
much impressed by what happened in the little dormitory at the top of
the house, when he and his three companions were undressing for bed.

Joyce, the captain of the dormitory, who proved to be a rather delicate
youth with a most indelicate vocabulary, suddenly ceased firing, as it
were, and commanded silence for “bricks.”

“Know what 'bricks’ are?” asked Bingley, who occupied the “tish”
adjoining Jan’s, and turned out to be a boy of his own age, instead of
the formidable figure of his imagination.

“It’s your prayers,” said Joyce, with such an epithet that Jan could not
possibly believe him.

“You _are_ a brute, Joyce!” cried Crabtree, poking a clever red head
through his curtains.

“Nevertheless, my boy,” rejoined Joyce, imitating a master through his
nose, “I know what bricks are, and I say them.”

“Obvious corruption of _prex_,” began Crabtree, in didactic fashion,
when Joyce cut him short with a genial malediction, and silence reigned
for the best part of a minute.

Jan went on his knees with the others, though he had not done so the
night before, and his lips moved through the Lord’s Prayer; but in his
heart he was marvelling at the language of the nice tall fellow in the
far corner. It was the kind of language he had often heard in the
stables, but it was the last kind that he had expected to hear in a
public school; and somehow it shocked him, for the first time in his
life. But on the whole he was thankful to find himself in such pleasant
company in dormitory, and it came to him to express his thankfulness
while he was on his knees.

Nothing occurred, as they lay talking in the dark, to modify the new
boy’s feeling on this point; nor had he subsequent occasion to revise a
triple opinion which might well have proved premature in one case or the
other. It revealed on the contrary an unusually sound instinct for
character. Joyce’s only foible was his fondness for free language. He
had a redeeming sense of humour, and it was in treatment rather than in
choice of subject that he erred. Crabtree was irreproachable in
conversation, and a kindly creature in his cooler moods; but he suffered
from the curse of intellect, was precociously didactic and dogmatic, and
had a temperament as fiery as his hair. Bingley was a lively,
irresponsible, curly-headed dog, who enjoyed life in an insignificant
position both in and out of school. The other two had nicknames which
were not for the lips of new boys; but Jan called Bingley “Toby” after
the first night.

Prayers were in houses on the first morning of the term, and nothing
else happened before or after breakfast until the whole school assembled
in the big schoolroom at ten o’clock to hear the new school order. Jan
pulled his cap over his eyes as he found himself wedged in a crowd from
all the houses, converging at the base of the worn stone spiral stair up
and down which he had trotted at his ease between the papers of the
previous day. Now he was slowly hoisted in the press, the breath crushed
from his body, his toes only occasionally encountering a solid step, a
helpless atom in a monster’s maw. At the top of the stone stairs,
however, and through the studded oak door, there was room for all; but
here it was necessary to uncover face and head; and yet none that he
knew of old was revealed to Jan’s close though furtive scrutiny.

Carpenter, who had come with him, and squeezed into the next seat,
watched the watcher in his turn, and then whispered:

“He’s not come back yet.”

“Who’s not?”

“Evan Devereux. I asked a fellow in his house.”

“What made you think of him now?”

“Oh, nothing. I only thought you might be looking to see if he was
here.”

“Well, perhaps I was,” said Jan, with grumpy candour. “But I’m sure I
don’t care where he is.”

“No more do I, goodness knows!” said Carpenter.

And between three and four hundred chattered on all sides with subdued
but ceaseless animation; the præpostors keeping order more or less, but
themselves chatting to each other as became the first morning of the
term. Then suddenly there fell an impressive silence. The oak door
opened with a terrible click of the latch, like the cocking of a huge
revolver, and in trooped all the masters, cap in hand and gown on
shoulders, led by a little old man with a kindly, solemn, and imperious
air. And Jan felt that this could only be Mr. Thrale, the Head Master,
but Carpenter whispered:

“That’s Jerry!”

“Who?”

“Old Thrale, of course, but everybody calls him Jerry.”

And Jan liked everybody’s impudence as Mr. Thrale took his place behind
a simple desk on the dais, and read out the new list, form by form, as
impressively as Holy Writ.

The first names that Jan recognised were those of Loder, the captain of
his house, and Cave _major_, its most distinguished representative on
tented field; they were in the Upper and Lower Sixth respectively. Joyce
was still in the Remove, as captain of the form, but Crabtree had gained
a double remove from the Lower to the Upper Fifth. Next in Jan’s ken
came Shockley—the fellow who had threatened to make him wish he was
dead—and then most thrillingly—long before either expected
it—Carpenter’s name and his own in quick succession.

“What form will it be?” whispered Jan into the other’s ear.

“Middle Remove,” purred Carpenter. “And we don’t have to fag after all!”

Devereux was the next and the last name that Jan remembered hearing: it
was actually in the form below his!

The new boys had already learnt that it was customary for the masters to
take their forms in hall in their own houses; they now discovered that
Mr. Haigh, the master of the Middle Remove, had just succeeded to the
most remote of all the hill houses—the one house in fact on the further
slope of the hill. Thither his new form accordingly repaired, and on the
good ten minutes’ walk Carpenter and Rutter had their heads violently
knocked together by Shockley, for having the cheek to get so high and to
escape fagging their first term.

“But you needn’t think you have,” he added, ominously. “If you young
swots come flying into forms it takes the rest of us two years to get
to—by the sweat of our blessed brows—by the Lord Harry you shall have
all the swot you want! You’ll do the construe for Buggins and me and
Eyre _major_ every morning of your miserable lives!”

Buggins (who rejoiced in a real name of less distinction, and a strong
metropolitan accent) was climbing the hill arm-in-arm with Eyre _major_
(better known as Jane), his echo and his shadow in one distended skin.
Buggins embroidered Shockley’s threats, and Eyre _major_ contributed a
faithful laugh. But Jan heard them all unmoved, and thought the less of
Carpenter when his thinner skin changed colour.

Mr. Haigh gave his new form a genial welcome, vastly reassuring those
who knew least about him by laughing uproariously at points too subtle
for their comprehension. He was a muscular man with a high colour and a
very clever head. His hair was turning an effective grey about the
temples, his body bulging after the manner of bodies no longer really
young and energetic. Energy he had, however, of a spasmodic and
intemperate order, though he only showed it on this occasion by savagely
pouncing on a rather small boy who happened to be also in his house. Up
to that moment Carpenter and Rutter were ready to congratulate
themselves and each other upon their first form-master; but, though he
left them considerately alone for a day or two, they were never sure of
Mr. Haigh again.

This morning he merely foreshadowed his scheme of the term’s work, and
gave out a list of the new books required; but some of these were enough
to strike terror to the heart of Jan, and others made Carpenter look
solemn. Ancient Greek Geography was not an enticing subject to one who
had scarcely beheld even a modern map until the last six months; and to
anybody as imperfectly grounded as Carpenter declared himself to be, it
was an inhuman jump from somebody’s _Stories in Attic Greek_ to
Thucydides and his Peloponnesian War.

“I suppose it’s because I did extra well at something else,” said
Carpenter with unconscious irony on their way down the hill. “What a
fool I was not to take that fat chap’s advice! Why, I’ve never even done
a page of Xenophon, and I’m not sure that I could say the Greek alphabet
to save my life!”

“I only hope,” rejoined Jan, “that they haven’t gone and judged me by
that unseen!”

But their work began lightly enough, and that first day the furnishing
of their studies was food for much more anxious thought, with Carpenter
at any rate. As for Jan, he really was indifferent to his surroundings,
but the excitable enthusiasm of his companion made him feign even
greater indifference than he felt. He was to retain the back upstairs
study in which he had spent the previous evening, and Carpenter had the
one next it; after dinner Heriot signed orders for carpet, curtains,
candles and candlesticks, a table-cloth and a folding arm-chair apiece,
as well as for stationery and a quantity of books; and Carpenter led the
way to the upholsterer’s at a happy trot. He was an age finding
curtains, carpet and table-cloth, of a sufficiently harmonious shade of
red; and no doubt Jan made all the more point of leaving the choice of
his chattels entirely to the tradesman.

“Send me what you think,” he said. “It’s all one to me.”

Carpenter rallied him in all seriousness on their way back to the house.

“I can’t understand it, Rutter, when you have an absolute voice in
everything.”

“I hadn’t a voice in coming here,” replied Rutter, so darkly as to close
the topic.

“I suppose I go to the other extreme,” resumed Carpenter, with a
reflective frankness which seemed a characteristic. “I shall have more
chairs than I’ve room for if I don’t take care. I’ve bought one already
from Shockley.”

“Good-night!” cried Jan. “Whatever made you do that?”

“Oh, he would have me into his study to have a look at it; and there
were a whole lot of them there—that fellow Buggins, and Jane Eyre, and
the one they call Cranky—and they all swore it was as cheap as dirt.
There are some beasts here!” added Carpenter below his breath.

“How much was it?”

“Seven-and-six; and I didn’t really want it a bit; and one of the legs
was broken all the time!”

“And,” added Jan, for his only comment, “the gang of them are in our
form and all!”

They met most of the house trooping out of the quad, with bats and pads,
but not in flannels. They were going to have a house-game on the Middle
Ground, as the September day was warmer than many of the moribund
summer, and there was no more school until five o’clock. Nor did it
require the menaces of Shockley to induce the new pair to turn round and
accompany the rest; but their first game of cricket was not a happy
experience for either boy. Cave _major_, who was in the Eleven, was
better employed among his peers on the Upper. Loder, who was no
cricketer, picked up with a certain Shears _major_, who was not much of
one. Nobody took the game in the least seriously except a bowler off
whom the unlucky Carpenter managed to miss two catches. The two new men
were chosen last on either side. They failed to make a run between them,
and of course had no opportunity of showing whether they could bowl.
Both were depressed when it was all over.

“It served me right for dropping those catches,” said Carpenter,
however, with the stoicism of a true cricketer at heart.

“I only wish it was last term instead of this!” muttered Jan.

There was another thing that disappointed both boys. The Lodge happened
to be playing a similar game on an adjacent pitch. But Devereux was not
among the players, and Carpenter heard somebody say that he was not
coming back till half-term. Jan’s heart jumped when he heard it in his
turn: by half-term he would have settled down, by half-term many things
might have happened. Yet the deferred meeting was still fraught in his
mind with opposite possibilities, that swung to either extreme on the
pendulum of his mood; and on the whole he would have been glad to get it
over. At one moment this half-term’s grace was a keen relief to him; at
another, a keener disappointment.



                               CHAPTER V

                               NICKNAMES


The ready invention and general felicity of the public-school nickname
are points upon which few public-school men are likely to disagree. If
it cannot be contended that either Carpenter or Rutter afforded a
supreme example, at least each was nicknamed before he had been three
days in the school, and in each case the nickname was too good an
accidental fit to be easily repudiated or forgotten. Thus, although
almost every Carpenter has been “Chips” in his day, there was something
about a big head thrust forward upon rather round shoulders, and a
tendency to dawdle when not excited, that did recall the most dilatory
of domestic workmen. Chips Carpenter, however, albeit unduly sensitive
in some things, had the wit to accept his immediate sobriquet as a
compliment. And in the end it was not otherwise with Rutter; but in his
case there were circumstances which made his nickname a secret
bitterness, despite the valuable stamp it set upon his character in the
public eye.

It happened that on the Saturday afternoon, directly after dinner, the
majority of the house were hanging about the quad when there entered an
incongruous figure from the outer world. This was a peculiarly debased
reprobate, a local character of pothouse notoriety, whose chief haunt
was the courtyard of the Mitre, and whom the boys in the quad saluted
familiarly as “Mulberry.” And that here was yet another instance of the
appropriate nickname, a glance was enough to show, for never did richer
hue or bigger nose deface the human countenance.

The trespasser was only slightly but quite humorously drunk, and the
fellows in the quad formed a not unappreciative audience of the type of
entertainment to be expected from a being in that precise condition.
Mulberry, however, was not an ordinary stable sot; it was obvious that
he had seen better days. He had ragged tags of Latin on the tip of a
somewhat treacherous tongue: he inquired quite tenderly after the
_binominal theororum_, but ascribed an unpleasant expression correctly
enough to a _lapsus linguae_.

“I say, Mulberry, you are a swell!”

“We give you full marks for that, Mulberry!”

“My dear young friends,” quoth Mulberry, “I knew Latin before any of you
young devils knew the light.”

“Draw it mild, Mulberry!”

“I wish you’d give us a construe before second school!”

Jan remembered all his days the stray strange picture of the debauched
intruder in the middle of the sunlit quad, with the figures of young and
wholesome life standing aloof from him in good-natured contempt, and
more fresh faces at the ivy-mantled study windows. Jan happened to be
standing nearest Mulberry, and to catch a bloodshot eye as it flickered
over his audience in a comprehensive wink.

“You bet I wasn’t always a groom,” said Mulberry; “an’ if I had ha’
been, there are worse places than the stables, ain’t there, young
fellow?”

Jan looked as though he only wished the ground would open and engulf
him; and the look did not belie his momentary feeling. But he had a
spirit more easily angered than abased, and the brown flush which swept
him from collar to cap was not one of unmixed embarrassment.

“How should I know?” he cried in a voice shrill with indignation.

“He seems to know more about it than he’ll say,” observed Mulberry, and
with another wink he fastened his red eyes on Jan, who had his cap
pulled over his eyes as usual, and arms akimbo for the want of trousers
pockets. “Just the cut of a jock!” added Mulberry, in quite a
complimentary murmur.

“You’re an ugly blackguard,” shouted Jan, “and I wonder anybody can
stand and listen to you!”

It was at this point that Heriot appeared very suddenly upon the scene,
took the intruder by either shoulder, and had him out of the quad in
about a second; in another Heriot rejoined the group in the sun, with a
pale face and flashing spectacles.

“You’re quite right,” he said sharply to Jan. “I wonder, too—at every
one of you—at every one!”

And he turned on his heel and was gone, leaving them stinging with his
scorn; and Jan would have given a finger from his hand to have gone as
well without more words; but he found himself hemmed in by clenched
fists and furious faces, his back to the green iron palings under the
study windows.

“You saw Heriot coming!”

“You said that to suck up to him!”

“The beastly cheek, for a beastly new man!”

“But we saw through it, and so did he!”

“Trust old Heriot! You don’t find that sort o’ thing pay with _him_.”

“I never saw him,” said Jan steadily, despite a thumping heart, “so you
can say what you like.”

And he took a heavy buffet from Shockley without wincing.

“And why should you lose your wool with poor old Mulberry?” that worthy
demanded with a fine show of charity. “One would think there was
something in what he said.”

“You fairly stink of the racing-stables,” said Buggins. “You know you
do, you brute!”

And Eyre _major_ led a laugh.

“Racing-stables!” echoed Shockley. “There’s more of the stable-boy about
him than the jock.”

Jan folded his arms and listened stoically.

“Ostler’s lad,” said one satirist.

“Nineteenth groom,” from another.

“The tiger!” piped a smaller boy than Jan. “The tiger that sits behind
the dog-cart—see how he folds his arms!”

And the imp folded his at the most untimely moment; for this was more
than Jan was going to stand. Submission to superior force was a law of
nature which his common sense recognised and his self-control enabled
him to keep; but to take from a boy inches shorter than himself what had
to be taken from one as many inches taller, just because they were all
against him, was further than his forbearance would go. His flat left
hand flew out as the smaller boy folded his arms, and it fell with a
resounding smack upon the side of an undefended head.

Within the fewest possible moments Jan had been pinned against the
palings by the bigger fellows, his arm twisted, his person violently
kicked, his own ears soundly boxed and filled with abuse. This was
partly because he fought and kicked as long as he had a free leg or arm.
But through it all the satisfaction of that one resounding smack
survived, and kept the infuriated Jan just sane enough to stop short of
tooth and nail when finally overwhelmed.

“Tiger’s the word,” panted Shockley, when they were about done with him.
“But if you try playing the tiger here, ever again, you son of a gun,
you’ll be killed by inches, as sure as you’re blubbing now! So you’d
better creep into your lair, you young tiger, and lie down and die like
a mangy dog!”

It had taken some minutes to produce the tears, but the tears did not
quench the fierce animosity of the eyes that shed them, and they were
dry before Jan gained his study and slammed the door. And there you may
picture him in the chair at the table, on the still bare boards: hot,
dishevelled, aching and ashamed, yet rejoicing in his misery at the one
shrewd left-hand smack he had somehow administered upon an impudent
though defenceless head.

He could hear it for his consolation all the afternoon!

The studies emptied; it was another belated summer’s day, and there was
a game worth watching on the Upper. Soon there was no sound to be heard
but those from the street, which came through the upper part of the
ground-glass window, the only part of the back study windows that was
made to open; but Jan sat staring at the wall before his eyes, as though
the fresh air was nothing to him, as though he had not been brought up
in his shirtsleeves in and out of the open air in all weathers.... And
so he was still sitting when a hesitating step came along the passage,
paused in the next study, and then, but not for a minute or two, at
Jan’s door.

“What do you want?” he demanded rudely, when he had responded to a
half-hearted knock by admitting Chips Carpenter. Now, Chips had
witnessed just the bitter end of the scene in the quad, but Jan did not
know he had been there at all.

“Oh, I don’t exactly want anything. I can clear out if you’d rather,
Rutter.”

“All right. I’d rather.”

“Only I thought I’d tell you it’s call-over on the Upper in
half-an-hour.”

“I’m not going to call-over.”

“_What?_”

“Damn call-over.”

Carpenter winced: he did not like swearing, and he did like Rutter well
enough to wince when he swore. But the spirit of the oath promptly
blotted the letter from his mind. Carpenter was a law-abiding boy who
had been a few terms at a good preparatory school; he could scarcely
believe his ears, much less a word of Rutter’s idle boast. Rutter
certainly looked as though he meant it, with his closed lid of a mouth,
and his sullen brooding eyes. But his mad intention was obviously not to
be carried out.

“My dear man,” said Carpenter, “it’s one of the first rules of the
school. Have you read them? You’d get into a frightful row!”

“The bigger the better.”

“You might even get bunked,” continued Chips, who was acquiring the
school terminology as fast as he could, “for cutting call-over on
purpose.”

“Let them bunk me! Do you think I care? I never wanted to come here. I’d
as soon’ve gone to prison. It can’t be worse. At any rate they let you
alone—they got to. But here ... _let_ them bunk me! It’s the very thing
I want. I loathe this hole, and everything about it. I don’t care
whether you say it’s one of the best schools going, or what you say!”

“I say it’s _the_ best. I know _I_ wouldn’t swop it for any other—or
let a little bullying put me against it. And I have been bullied, if you
want to know!”

“Perhaps you’re proud of that?”

“I hate it, Rutter! I hate lots of things more than you think. You’re in
that little dormitory. You’re well off. But I didn’t come here expecting
to find it all skittles. And I wouldn’t be anywhere else if it was
twenty times worse than it is!”

Rutter looked at the ungainly boy with the round shoulders and the
hanging head; for the moment he was improved out of knowledge, his flat
chest swelling, his big head thrown back, a proud flush upon his face.
There was a touch of consciousness in the pride, but it was none the
less real for that, and Jan could only marvel at it. He could not
understand this pride of school; but he could see it, and envy it in his
heart, even while a fresh sneer formed upon his lips. He wished he was
not such an opposite extreme to Carpenter: he could not know that the
other’s attitude was possibly unique, that few at all events came to
school with such ready-made enthusiasm for their school, if fewer still
brought his own antagonism.

But, after all, Carpenter did not understand, and never would.

“You weren’t in the quad just now,” said Jan, grimly.

Chips looked the picture of guilt.

“I was. At the end. And I feel such a brute!”

“You? Why?” Jan was frowning at him. “You weren’t one of them?”

“Of course I wasn’t! But—I might have stood by you—and I didn’t do a
thing!”

The wish to show some spirit in his turn, the envious admiration for a
quality of which he daily felt the want, both part and parcel of one
young nature, like the romantic outlook upon school life, were equally
foreign and incomprehensible to the other. Jan could only see Carpenter
floundering to the rescue, with his big head and his little wrists; and
the vision made him laugh, though not unkindly.

“You _would_ have been a fool,” he said.

“I wish I had been!”

“Then you must be as big a one as I was.”

“But you weren’t, Rutter! That’s just it. You don’t know!”

“I know I was fool enough to lose my wool, as they call it.”

“You mean man enough! I believe the chaps respect a chap who lets out
without thinking twice about it,” said Carpenter, treading on a truth
unawares. “I should always be frightened of being laughed at all the
more,” he added, with one of his inward glances and the sigh it fetched.
“But you’ve done better than you think. The fellows at the bottom of the
house won’t hustle _you_. I heard Petrie telling them he’d never had his
head smacked so hard in his life!”

Jan broke into smiles.

“I did catch him a warm 'un,” he said. “I wish you’d been there.”

“I only wish it had been one of the big brutes,” said Chips, conceiving
a Goliath in his thirst for the ideal.

“I don’t,” said Jan. “He was trading on them being there, and by gum he
was right! But they didn’t prevent me from catching him a warm 'un!”

And in his satisfaction the epithet almost rhymed with _harm_.

Nevertheless, Jan looked another and a brighter being as he stood up and
asked Carpenter what his collar was like.

Carpenter had to tell him it was not fit to be seen.

Jan wondered where he could find the matron to give him a clean one.

“Her room’s at the top of the house near your dormitory. I daresay she’d
be there.”

“I suppose I’d better go and see. Come on!”

“Shall we go down to the Upper together?” Chips asked as they reached
the quad.

“I don’t mind.”

“Then I’ll wait, if you won’t be long.”

And the boy in the quad thought the other had quite forgotten his mad
idea of cutting call-over—which was not far from the truth—and that he
had not meant it for a moment—which was as far from the truth as it
could be. But even Carpenter hardly realised that it was he who had put
Rutter on better terms with himself, and in saner humour altogether, by
the least conscious and least intentional of all his arguments.

Jan meanwhile was being informed upstairs that he was not supposed to go
to his dormitory in daytime, but that since he was there he had better
have a comfortable wash as well as a clean collar. So he came down
looking perhaps smarter and better set-up than at any moment since his
arrival. And at the foot of the stairs the hall door stood open, showing
a boy or two within looking over the new illustrated papers; and one of
the boys was young Petrie.

Jan stood a moment at the door. Either his imagination flattered him, or
young Petrie’s right ear was still rather red. But he was a good type of
small boy, clear-skinned, bright-eyed, well-groomed. And even as Jan
watched him he cast down the _Graphic_, stretched himself, glanced at
the clock, and smiled quite pleasantly as they stood face to face upon
the threshold.

“I’m sorry,” said Jan, not as though he were unduly sorry, but yet
without a moment’s thought.

“That’s all right, _Tiger_!” replied young Petrie, brightly. “But I
wouldn’t lose my wool again, if I were you. It don’t pay, Tiger, you
take my tip.”



                              CHAPTER VI

                               BOY TO BOY


The match on the Upper, although an impromptu fixture on the strength of
an Indian summer’s day, was exciting no small interest in the school. It
was between the champion house at cricket and the best side that could
be got together from all the other houses; and the interesting point was
the pronounced unpopularity of the champions (one of the hill houses),
due to the insufferable complacency with which they were said to have
received the last of many honours. The whole house was accused of having
“an awful roll on,” and it was the fervent hope of the rest of the
school that their delegates would do something to diminish this
offensive characteristic. Boys were lying round the ground on rugs, and
expressing their feelings after almost every ball, when Chips and Jan
crept shyly upon the scene. But within five minutes a bell had tinkled
on top of the pavilion; the game had been stopped because it was not a
real match after all; and three or four hundred boys, most of them with
rugs over their arms, huddled together in the vicinity of the heavy
roller.

It so happened that Heriot was call-over master of the day. He stood
against the roller in a weather-beaten straw hat, rapping out the names
in his abrupt, unmistakable tones, with a lightning glance at almost
every atom that said “Here, sir!” and detached itself from the mass. The
mass was deflating rapidly, and Jan was moistening his lips before
opening them for the first time in public, when a reddish head, whose
shoulders were wedged not far in front of him, suddenly caught Jan’s
eye.

“Shockley.”

“Here, sir.”

“Nunn _minor_.”

“Here, sir.”

“Carpenter.”

“Here, sir.”

“Rutter.”

No answer. Heriot looking up with pencil poised.

“Rutter?”

“Here, sir!”

And out slips Jan in dire confusion, to join Carpenter on the outskirts
of the throng; to be cursed under Shockley’s breath; and just to miss
the stare of the boy with reddish hair, who has turned a jovial face on
hearing the name for the second time.

“I say, Carpenter!”

“Yes?”

“Did you see who that was in front of us?”

“You bet! And they said he wasn’t coming back till half-term! I’m going
to wait for him.”

“Then don’t say anything about me—see? He never saw me, so don’t say
anything about me.”

And off went Jan to watch the match, more excited than when he had lost
self-control in the quad; the difference was that he did not lose it for
a moment now. He heard the name of Devereux called over in its turn. He
knew that Carpenter had joined Devereux a moment later. He wondered
whether Devereux had seen him also—seen him from the first and
pretended not to see him—or only this minute while talking to Chips?
Was he questioning Chips, or telling him everything in a torrent?

Jan felt them looking at him, felt their glances like fire upon his neck
and ears, as one told and the other listened. But he did not turn round.
He swore in his heart that no power should induce him to turn round. And
he kept his vow for minutes and minutes that seemed like hours and
hours.

It was just as well, for he would have seen with his eyes exactly what
he saw in his mind, and that was not all there was to see. There was
something else that Jan must have seen—and might have seen through—had
his will failed him during the two minutes after call-over. That was the
celerity with which Heriot swooped down upon Devereux and Carpenter;
laid his hand upon the shoulder of the boy who had won his last term’s
prize; stood chatting energetically with the pair, chatting almost
sharply, and then left them in his abrupt way with a nod and a smile.

But Jan stood square as a battalion under fire, watching a game in which
he did not follow a single ball; and as he stood his mind changed,
though not his will. He wanted to speak to Evan Devereux now. At least
he wanted Evan to come and speak to him; in a few minutes, he was
longing for that. But no Evan came. And when at length he did turn
round, there was no Evan to come, and no Chips Carpenter either.

The game was in its last and most exciting stage when Jan took himself
off the ground; feeling ran high upon the rugs, and expressed itself
more shrilly and even oftener than before; and such a storm of cheering
chanced to follow Jan into the narrow country street, that two boys
quite a long way ahead looked back with one accord. They did not see
Jan. They were on the sunny side; he was in the shade. But he found
himself following Devereux and Carpenter perforce, because their way was
his. He slackened his pace; they stopped at the market-place, and
separated obviously against Carpenter’s will. Carpenter pursued his way
to Heriot’s. Devereux turned to the left across the market-place, into
the shadow of the old grey church with the dominant spire, with the
blue-faced clock that struck in the night, and so to the school
buildings and his own quad by the short cut from the hill. And Jan
dogged him all the way, lagging behind when his unconscious leader
stopped to greet a friend, or to look at a game of fives in the School
House court, and in the end seeing Devereux safely into his study before
he followed and gave a knock.

Evan had scarcely shut his door before it was open again, but in that
moment he had cast his cap, and he stood bareheaded against the dark
background of his tiny den, in a frame of cropped ivy. It was an
effective change, and an effective setting, in his case. His hair was
not red, but it was a pale auburn, and peculiarly fine in quality. In a
flash Jan remembered it in long curls, and somebody saying, “What a pity
he’s not a girl!” And with this striking hair there had always been the
peculiarly delicate and transparent skin which is part of the type;
there had nearly always been laughing eyes, and a merry mouth; and here
they all were in his study doorway, with hardly any difference that Jan
could see, though he had dreaded all the difference in the world. And
yet, the smile was not quite the old smile, and a flush came first; and
Evan looked past Jan into the quad, before inviting him in; and even
then he did not shake hands, as he had often done on getting home for
the holidays, when Jan’s hand was not fit to shake.

But he laughed quite merrily when the door was shut. And Jan,
remembering that ready laugh of old, and how little had always served to
ring a hearty peal, saw nothing forced or hurtful in it now, but joined
in himself with a shamefaced chuckle.

“It is funny, isn’t it?” he mumbled. “Me being here!”

“I know!” said Evan, with laughing eyes fixed none the less curiously on
Jan.

“When did you get back?” inquired Jan, speedily embarrassed by the comic
side.

“Only just this afternoon. I went and had mumps at home.”

“That was a bad job,” said Jan, solemnly. “It must have spoilt your
holidays.”

“It did, rather.”

“You wouldn’t expect to find me here, I suppose?”

“Never thought of it till I heard your name called over and saw it was
you. I hear you’re in Bob’s house?”

“In Mr. Heriot’s,” affirmed Jan, respectfully.

“We don’t 'mister’ ’em behind their backs,” said Evan, in tears of
laughter. “It’s awfully funny,” he explained, “but I’m awfully glad to
see you.”

“Thanks,” said Jan. “But it’s not such fun for me, you know.”

“I should have thought you’d like it awfully,” remarked Evan, still
looking the new Jan merrily up and down.

“After the stables, I suppose you mean?”

Evan was more than serious in a moment.

“I wasn’t thinking of them,” he declared, with an indignant flush.

“But I was!” cried Jan. “And I’d give something to be back in them, if
you want to know!”

“You won’t feel like that long,” said Evan, reassuringly.

“Won’t I!”

“Why should you?”

“I never wanted to come here, for one thing.”

“You’ll like it well enough, now you are here.”

“I hate it!”

“Only to begin with; lots of chaps do at first.”

“I always shall. I never wanted to come here; it wasn’t my doing, I can
tell you.”

Evan stared, but did not laugh; he was now studiously kind in look and
word, and yet there was something about both that strangely angered Jan.
Look and word, in fact, were alike instinctively measured, and the
kindness perfunctory if not exactly condescending. There was, to be
sure, no conscious reminder, on Evan’s part, of past inequality; and yet
there was just as little to show that in their new life Evan was
prepared to treat Jan as an equal; nay, on their former footing he had
been far more friendly. If his present manner augured anything, he was
to be neither the friend nor the foe of Jan’s extreme hopes and fears.
And the unforeseen mien was not the less confusing and exasperating
because Jan was confused and exasperated without at the time quite
knowing why.

“You needn’t think it was because you were here,” he added suddenly,
aggressively—“because I thought you were at Winchester.”

“I didn’t flatter myself,” retorted Evan. “But, as a matter of fact, I
should be there if I hadn’t got a scholarship here.”

“So I suppose,” said Jan.

“And yet I’m in the form below you!”

Evan was once more openly amused at this, and perhaps not so secretly
annoyed as he imagined.

“I know,” said Jan. “That wasn’t my fault, either. I doubt they’ve
placed me far too high.”

“But how did you manage to get half so high?” asked Evan, with a further
ingenuous display of what was in his mind.

“Well, there was the vicar, to begin with.”

“That old sinner!” said Evan.

“I used to go to him three nights a week.”

“Now I remember.”

“Then you heard what happened when my father died?”

“Yes.”

“It would be a surprise to you, Master Evan?”

It had been on the tip of his tongue more than once, but until now he
had found no difficulty in keeping it there. Yet directly they got back
to the old days, out it slipped without a moment’s warning.

“You’d better not call me that again,” said Evan, dryly.

“I won’t.”

“Unless you want the whole school to know!”

“You see, my mother’s friends——”

“I know. I’ve heard all about it. I always had heard—about your
mother.”

Jan had only heard that pitiful romance from his father’s dying lips; it
was then the boy had promised to obey her family in all things, and his
coming here was the first thing of all. He said as much in his own
words, which were bald and broken, though by awkwardness rather than
emotion. Then Evan asked, as it were in his stride, if Jan’s mother’s
people had a “nice place,” and other questions which might have betrayed
to a more sophisticated observer a wish to ascertain whether they really
were gentlefolk as alleged. Jan answered that it was “a nice enough
place”; but he pointed to a photograph in an Oxford frame—the
photograph of a large house reflected in a little artificial lake—a
house with a slate roof and an ornamental tower, and no tree higher than
the first-floor windows.

“That’s a nicer place,” said Jan, with a sigh.

“I daresay,” Evan acquiesced, with cold complacency.

“There’s nothing like that in Norfolk,” continued Jan, with perfect
truth. “Do you remember the first time you took me up to the tower?”

“I can’t say I do.”

“What! not when we climbed out on the roof?”

“I’ve climbed out on the roof so often.”

“And there’s our cottage chimney; and just through that gate we used to
play 'snob’!”

Evan did not answer. He had looked at his watch, and was taking down
some books. The hint was not to be ignored.

“Well, I only came to say it wasn’t my fault,” said Jan. “_I_ never knew
they were going to send me to the same school as you, or they’d have had
a job to get me to come.”

“Why?” asked Evan, more stiffly than he had spoken yet. “I shan’t
interfere with you.”

“I’m sure you won’t!” cried Jan, with the bitterness which had been
steadily gathering in his heart.

“Then what’s the matter with you? Do you think I’m going to tell the
whole school all about you?”

Jan felt that he was somehow being put in the wrong; and assisted in the
process by suddenly becoming his most sullen self.

“I don’t know,” he answered, hanging his head.

“You don’t know! Do you think I’d think of such a thing?”

“I think a good many would.”

“You think I would?”

“I don’t say that.”

“But you think it?”

Evan pressed him hotly.

“I don’t think anything; and I don’t care what anybody thinks of me, or
what anybody knows!” cried Jan, not lying, but speaking as he had
suddenly begun to feel.

“Then I don’t know why on earth you came to me,” said Evan scornfully.

“No more do I,” muttered Jan; and out he went into the quad, and crossed
it with a flaming face. But at the further side he turned. Evan’s door
was still open, as Jan had left it, but Evan had not come out.

Jan found him standing in the same attitude, with the book he had taken
down, still unopened in his hand, and a troubled frown upon his face.

“What’s the matter now?” asked Evan.

“I’m sorry—Devereux!”

“So am I.”

“I might have known you wouldn’t tell a soul.”

“I think you might.”

“And of course I don’t want a soul to know. I thought I didn’t care a
minute ago. But I do care, more than enough.”

“Well, no one shall hear from me. I give you my word about that.”

“Thank you!”

Jan was holding out his hand.

“Oh, that’s all right.”

“Won’t you shake hands?”

“Oh, with pleasure, if you like.”

But the grip was all on one side.



                              CHAPTER VII

                              REASSURANCE


Jan went back to his house in a dull glow of injury and anger. But he
was angriest with himself, for the gratuitous and unwonted warmth with
which he had grasped an unresponsive hand. And the sense of injury
abated with a little honest reflection upon its cause. After all, with
such a different relationship so fresh in his mind, the Master Evan of
the other day could hardly have said more than he had said this
afternoon; in any case he could not have promised more. Jan remembered
his worst fears; they at least would never be realised now. And yet, in
youth, to escape the worst is but to start sighing for the best. Evan
might be loyal enough. But would he ever be a friend? Almost in his
stride Jan answered his own question with complete candour in the
negative; and having faced his own conclusion, thanked his stars that
Evan and he were in different houses and different forms.

Shockley was lounging against the palings outside the door leading to
the studies; the spot appeared to be his favourite haunt. It was an
excellent place for joining a crony or kicking a small boy as he passed.
Jan was already preparing his heart for submission to superior force,
and his person for any violence, when Shockley greeted him with quite a
genial smile.

“Lot o’ parcels for you, Tiger,” said he. “I’ll give you a hand with
’em, if you like.”

“Thank you very much,” mumbled Jan, quite in a flutter. “But where will
they be?”

“Where _will_ they be?” the other murmured under his breath. “I’ll show
you, Tiger.”

Jan could not help suspecting that Carpenter might be right after all.
He had actually done himself good by his display of spirit in the quad!
Young Petrie had been civil to him within an hour, and here was Shockley
doing the friendly thing before the afternoon was out. He had evidently
misjudged Shockley; he tried to make up for it by thanking him nearly
all the way to the hall, which was full of fellows who shouted an
embarrassing greeting as the pair passed the windows. They did not go
into the hall, however, but stopped at the slate table at the foot of
the dormitory stairs. It was covered with parcels of all sizes, on
several of which Rutter read his name.

“Tolly-sticks—don’t drop ’em,” said Shockley, handing one of the
parcels. “This feels like your table-cloth; that must be tollies; and
all the rest are books. I’ll help you carry them over.”

“I can manage, thanks,” said Jan, uncomfortably. But Shockley would not
hear of his “managing,” and led the way back past the windows, an
ironical shout following them into the quad.

“You should have had the lot yesterday,” continued Shockley in the most
fatherly fashion. “I should complain to Heriot, if I were you.”

Jan’s study had also been visited in his absence. A folding chair, tied
up with string, stood against the wall, with billows of bright green
creton bulging through string and woodwork; an absurd bit of Brussels
carpet covered every inch of the tiny floor; and it also was an
aggressive green, though of another and a still more startling shade.

“Curtains not come yet,” observed Shockley. “I suppose they’re to be
green too?”

“I don’t know,” replied Rutter. “I left it to them.”

“I rather like your greens,” said Shockley, opening the long soft
parcel. “Why, you’ve gone and got a red table-cloth!”

“It’s their doing, not mine,” observed Jan, phlegmatically.

“I wonder you don’t take more interest in your study,” said Shockley.
“Most chaps take a pride in theirs. Red and green! It’ll spoil the whole
thing; they don’t go, Tiger.”

Jan made some show of shaking off his indifference in the face of this
kindly interest in his surroundings.

“They might change it, Shockley.”

“I wouldn’t trust ’em,” said that authority, shaking and scratching a
bullet head by turns. “They’re not too obliging, the tradesmen here—too
much bloated monopoly. If you take my advice you’ll let well alone.”

“Then I will,” said Jan, eagerly. “Thanks, awfully, Shockley!”

“Not that it _is_ well,” resumed Shockley, as though the matter worried
him. “A green table-cloth’s the thing for you, Tiger, and a green
table-cloth you must have if we can work it.”

“It’s very good of you to bother,” said Jan, devoutly wishing he would
not.

Shockley only shook his head.

“I’ve got one myself, you see,” he explained in a reflective voice, as
he examined the red cloth critically. “It’s a better thing than
this—better taste—and green—but I’d rather do a swop with you than
see you spoil your study, Tiger.”

“Very well,” said Jan, doubtfully.

Shockley promptly tucked the new table-cloth under his arm. “Let’s see
your tolly-sticks!” said he, briskly.

“Tolly-sticks?”

“Candle-sticks, you fool!”

Jan unpacked them, noting as he did so that the fatherly tone had been
dropped.

“I suppose you wouldn’t like a real old valuable pair instead of these
meagre things?”

“No, thanks, Shockley.”

“Well, anyhow you must have a picture or two.”

“Why must I?” asked Jan. He had suddenly remembered Carpenter’s story of
the seven-and-sixpenny chair.

“Because I’ve got the very pair for you, and going cheap.”

“I see,” said Jan, in his dryest Yorkshire voice.

“Oh, _I_ don’t care whether you’ve a study or a sty!” cried Shockley,
and away he went glaring, but with the new cloth under his arm. In a
minute he was back with the green one rolled into a ball, which he flung
in Jan’s face. “There you are, you fool, and I’m glad you like your own
colour!” he jeered as he slammed the door behind him.

Neither had Jan much mercy on himself, when he had fitted two candles
into the two new china sticks, and lit them with a wax match from the
shilling box included in his supplies. Shockley’s table-cloth might once
have been green, but long service had reduced it to a more dubious hue;
it was spotted with ink and candle-grease, and in one place cut through
with a knife. To Jan, indeed, one table-cloth was like another; he was
only annoyed to think he had been swindled as badly as Carpenter, by the
same impudent impostor, and with Carpenter’s experience to put him on
his guard. But even in his annoyance the incident appealed to that
prematurely grim sense of the ironic which served Jan Rutter for the fun
and nonsense of the ordinary boy; and on the whole he thought it wiser
to avoid another row by saying no more about it.

But he was not suffered to keep his resolution to the letter: at tea
Buggins and Eyre _major_ were obviously whispering about Jan before
Buggins asked him across the table how he liked his new table-cloth.

“I suppose you mean Shockley’s old one?” retorted Jan at once. “It’ll do
all right; but it’s a good bargain for Shockley.”

“A bargain’s a bargain,” remarked Buggins with his mouth full.

“And a Jew’s a Jew!” said Jan.

The nice pair glared at him, and glanced at Shockley, who was two places
higher up than Jan, but deep in ingratiating conversation with a
good-looking fellow on his far side.

“God help you when the Shocker hears that!” muttered Buggins under his
breath.

“You’ll be murdered before you’ve been here a week, you brute!” added
Eyre _major_ with a titter.

“I may be,” said Jan, “but not by you—you prize pig!”

And, much as he was still to endure from the trio in his form and house,
this was the last Jan heard directly of the matter. Whether his reckless
words ever reached the ears of Shockley, or whether the truth was in
them, Jan never knew. As a good hater, however, he always felt that
apart from thick lips, heavy nostrils, pale eyes and straight light
hair, his arch-enemy combined all the most objectionable characteristics
of Jew and Gentile.

So this stormy Saturday came to a comparatively calm close, and Jan was
left to wrestle in peace with a Latin prose set by Mr. Haigh at second
school. On other nights everybody went back to his form-master after
tea, for a bout of preparation falsely called “private work”; but on
Saturdays some kind of composition was set throughout the school, was
laboriously evolved in the solitude of the study, and signed by the
house-master after prayers that night or on the Sunday morning.
Unfortunately, composition was Jan’s weak point. By the dim light of the
dictionary, with the frail support of a Latin grammar, he could grope
his way through a page of Cæsar or of Virgil without inevitably plunging
to perdition; but the ability to cast English back into Latin implies a
point of scholarship which Jan had not reached by all the forced marches
of the past few months. He grappled with his prose until head and hand
perspired in the warm September evening. He hunted up noun after noun in
his new English-Latin, and had a shot at case after case. And when at
length his fair copy was food for Haigh’s blue pencil, and Jan leant
back to survey his own two candles and his own four walls, he was
conscious, in the first place, that he had been taken out of himself,
and in the second that a study to oneself was a mitigating circumstance
in school life.

Not that he disliked his dormitory either; there, nothing was said to
him about the row in the quad, of which in fact he had heard very little
since it occurred. He was embarrassed, however, by a command from Joyce
to tell a story after the gas was out; stories were not at all in Jan’s
line; and the situation was only relieved by Bingley’s sporting offer to
stand proxy in the discharge of what appeared to be a traditional debt
on the part of all new boys entering that house. Bingley, permitted to
officiate as a stop-gap only, launched with much gusto and more minutiæ
into a really able account of a revolting murder committed in the
holidays. Murders proved to be Bingley’s strong point; his face would
glow over the less savoury portions of the papers in hall; and that
night his voice was still vibrating with unctuous horror when Jan got
off to sleep.

The school Sunday in his time was not desecrated by a stroke of work;
breakfast of course was later, and Heriot himself deliberately late for
prayers, which were held in the houses as on the first day of the term,
instead of in the big school-room. Chapel seemed to monopolise morning
and afternoon. Yet there was time for a long walk after either chapel,
and abundant time for letter-writing after dinner. Not that Jan availed
himself of the opportunity; he had already posted a brief despatch to
the rectory, and nowhere else was there a soul who could possibly care
to hear from him. He spent the latter end of the morning in a solitary
stroll along a very straight country road, and the hour after dinner
over a yellow-back borrowed from Chips.

Morning chapel had been quite a revelation to Jan. He had been forced to
go to church in Norfolk; he went to chapel in the stoical spirit born of
chastening experience. Yet there was something in the very ringing of
the bells that might have prepared him for brighter things; they were
like joy-bells in their almost merry measure. The service proved bright
beyond belief. The chapel itself was both bright and beautiful. It was
full of sunlight and fresh air, it lacked the heavy hues and the solemn
twilight which Jan associated with a place of worship. The responses
came with a hearty and unanimous ring. The psalms were the quickest
thing in church music that Jan had ever heard; they went with such a
swing that he found himself trying to sing for the first time in his
life. His place in chapel had not yet been allotted to him, and he stood
making his happily inaudible effort between two tail-coated veterans
with stentorian lungs. Crowning merit of the morning service, there was
no sermon; but in the afternoon the little man with the imperious air
grew into a giant in his marble pulpit, and impressed Jan so powerfully
that he wondered again how the fellows could call him Jerry, until he
looked round and saw some of them nodding in their chairs. Then he found
that he had lost the thread himself, that he could not pick it up again,
that everything escaped him except a transfigured face and a voice both
stern and tender. But these were flag and bugle to the soldier concealed
about most young boys, and Jan for one came out of chapel at quick
march.

The golden autumn day was still almost at its best, but Jan had no
stomach for another lonely walk. A really lonely walk would have been
different; but to go off by oneself, and to meet hundreds in sociable
twos and threes, with linked arms and wagging tongues, was to cut too
desolate a figure before the world. Carpenter apparently had found a
friend; at least Jan saw him obviously waiting for one after chapel; yet
hardly had he settled to his novel, than a listless step was followed by
the banging of the study door next his own.

“I thought you’d gone for a walk,” said Jan, when he had gained
admission by pounding on Carpenter’s door.

“Did you! You thought wrong, then.”

Carpenter smiled as though to temper an ungraciousness worthier of Jan,
but the effort was hardly a success. He was reclining in a chair with a
leg-rest, under the window opposite the door. He had already put up a
number of pictures and brackets, and photograph frames in the plush of
that period. Everything was very neat and nice, and there was a notable
absence of inharmonious or obtrusive shades.

“How on earth did you open the door from over there?” asked Jan.

“Lazy-pull,” said Carpenter, showing off a cord running round three
little walls and ending in a tassel at his elbow. “You can buy ’em all
ready at Blunt’s.”

“You _have_ got fettled up,” remarked Jan, “and no mistake!”

Carpenter opened his eyes at the uncouth participle.

“I want to have a good study,” he said. “I’ve one or two pictures to put
up yet, and I’ve a good mind to do them now.”

“You wouldn’t like to come for a walk instead?”

The suggestion was very shyly made, and as candidly considered by Chips
Carpenter.

“Shall I?” he asked himself aloud.

“You might as well,” said Jan without pressing it.

“I’m not sure that I mightn’t.”

And off they went, but not with linked arms, or even very close
together; for Chips still seemed annoyed at something or other, and for
once not in a mood to talk about it or anything else. It was very unlike
him; and a small boy is not unlike himself very long. They took the road
under the study windows, left the last of the little town behind them,
dipped into a wooded hollow, and followed a couple far ahead over a
stile and along a right-of-way through the fields; and in the fields,
bathed in a mellow mist, and as yet but thinly dusted with the gold of
autumn, Carpenter found his tongue. He expatiated on this new-found
freedom, this intoxicating licence to roam where one would within bounds
of time alone, a peculiar boon to the boy from a private school, and one
that Jan appreciated as highly as his companion. It was not the only
thing they agreed about that first Sunday afternoon. Jan was in a much
less pugnacious mood than usual, and Carpenter less ponderously
impressed with every phase of their new life. They exchanged some
prejudices, and compared a good many notes, as they strolled from stile
to stile. Haigh came in for some sharp criticism from his two new boys;
the uncertainty of his temper was already apparent to them; but Heriot,
as yet a marked contrast in that respect, hardly figured in the
conversation at all. A stray remark, however, elicited the fact that
Carpenter, who had disappeared in the morning directly after prayers,
had actually been to breakfast with Heriot on the first Sunday of his
first term.

Jan was not jealous; from his primitive point of view the master was the
natural enemy of the boy; and he was not at the time surprised when
Carpenter dismissed the incident as briefly as though he were rather
ashamed of it. He would have thought no more of the matter but for a
chance encounter as they crossed their last stile and came back into the
main road.

Swinging down the middle of the road came a trio arm-in-arm, full of
noisy talk, and so hilarious that both boys recognised Evan Devereux by
his laugh before they saw his face. Evan, on his side, must have been
almost as quick to recognise Carpenter, who was first across the stile,
for he at once broke away from his companions.

“I’m awfully sorry!” he cried. “I quite forgot I’d promised these
fellows when I promised you.”

“It doesn’t matter a bit,” said Carpenter, in a rather unconvincing
voice.

“You didn’t go waiting about for me, did you?”

“Not long,” replied Carpenter, dryly.

“Well, I really am awfully sorry; but, you see, I’d promised these men
at the end of last term, and I quite forgot about it this morning at
Heriot’s.”

“I see.”

“I won’t do it again, I swear.”

“You won’t get the chance!” muttered Carpenter, as Devereux ran after
his companions. He looked at his watch, and turned to Jan. “There’s
plenty of time, Rutter. Which way shall we go?”

Jan came out of the shadow of the hedge; he had remained instinctively
in the background, and had no reason to think that Evan had seen him.
Certainly their eyes had never met. And yet there had been something in
Evan’s manner, something pointed in his fixed way of looking at
Carpenter and not beyond him, something that might have left a doubt in
Jan’s mind if a greater doubt had not already possessed it.

“Which way shall we turn?” Carpenter repeated as Jan stood looking at
him strangely.

“Neither way, just yet a bit,” said Jan, darkly. “I want to ask you
something first.”

“Right you are.”

“There are not so many here that you could say it for, so far as I can
see,” continued Jan, the inscrutable: “but from what I’ve seen of you,
Carpenter, I don’t believe you’d tell me a lie.”

“I’d try not to,” said the other, smiling, yet no easier than Jan in his
general manner.

“That’s good enough for me,” said Jan. “So what did Devereux mean just
now by talking about 'this morning at Heriot’s’?”

“Oh, he had breakfast with Heriot, too; didn’t I tell you?”

“No; you didn’t.”

“Well, I never supposed it would interest you.”

“Although I told you I knew something about him at home!”

The two were facing each other, eye to eye. Those of Jan were filled
with a furious suspicion.

“I wonder you didn’t speak to him just now,” remarked Carpenter, looking
at his nails.

“He never saw me; besides, I’d gone and said all I’d got to say to him
yesterday in his study.”

“I see.”

“Didn’t Devereux tell you I’d been to see him?”

“Oh, I think he said he’d seen you, but that was all.”

“At breakfast this morning?”

“Yes.”

“Did Heriot ask him anything about me?”

“No.”

“Has he told you anything about me at home, Chips?”

“Hardly anything.”

“How much?”

“Only that he hardly knew you; that was all,” declared Carpenter,
looking Jan in the face once more. “And I must say I don’t see what
you’re driving at, Rutter!”

“You’d better go and ask Devereux,” said Jan, unworthily; but, as luck
would have it, he could not have diverted his companion’s thoughts more
speedily if he had tried.

“Devereux? I don’t go near him!” he cried. “He promised to wait for me
after chapel, and he cut me for those fellows we saw him with just now.”

“Although you were friends at the same private school?”

“If you call that friendship! He never wrote to me all last term, though
I wrote twice to him!”

“I suppose that would be why Heriot asked you both to breakfast,” said
Jan, very thoughtfully, as they began walking back together. “I mean,
you both coming from the same school.”

“What? Oh, yes, of course it was.”

Jan threw one narrow look over his shoulder.

“Of course it was!” he agreed, and walked on nodding to himself.

“But he didn’t know Evan Devereux, or he’d have known that an old friend
was nothing to him!”

“I wouldn’t be too sure,” said Jan with gentle warmth. “I wouldn’t be
too sure, if I were you.”



                             CHAPTER VIII

                           LIKES AND DISLIKES


By the beginning of October there was a bite in the air, and either
fives or football every afternoon; and before the middle of the month
Jan began now and then to feel there might be worse places than a public
school. He had learnt his way about. He could put a name to all his
house and form. He was no longer strange; and on the whole he might have
disliked things more than he did. There was much that he did dislike,
instinctively and individually; but there was a good deal that he could
not help enjoying, over and above the football and the fives. There was
the complete freedom out of school, the complete privacy of the separate
study, above all the amazing absence of anything in the way of espionage
by the masters. These were all surprises to Jan; but they were
counterbalanced by some others, such as the despotic powers of the
præpostors, which only revived the spirit of sensitive antagonism in
which he had come to school. The præpostors wore straw hats, had fags,
and wielded hunting-crops to keep the line at football matches. This was
a thing that made Jan’s blood boil; he marvelled that no one else seemed
to take it as an indignity, or to resent the authority of these
præpostors as he did. Then there were boys like Shockley whom he could
cheerfully have attended on the scaffold. And there was one man he very
soon detested more than any boy.

That man was Mr. Haigh, the master of the Middle Remove; and Jan’s view
of him was perhaps no fairer than his treatment of Jan. Haigh, when not
passing more or less unworthy pleasantries, and laughing a great deal at
very little indeed, was a serious and even passionate scholar. He had
all the gifts of his profession except coolness and a right judgment of
boys. His enthusiasm was splendid. The willing dullard caught fire in
his form. The gifted idler was obliged to work for Haigh. He had
hammered knowledge into all sorts and conditions of boys; but here was
one who would get up and wring the sense out of a page of Virgil, and
then calmly ask Haigh to believe him incapable of parsing a passage or
of scanning a line of that page! Of course Haigh believed no such thing,
and of course Jan would vouchsafe no explanation of his inconceivable
deficiencies. Pressed for one, indeed, or on any other point arising
from his outrageously unequal equipment, Jan invariably sulked, and
Haigh invariably lost his temper and called Jan elaborate names. The
more offensive they were, the better care Jan took to earn them. Sulky
he was inclined to be by nature; sulkier he made himself when he found
that it exasperated Haigh more than the original offence.

Loder, the captain of his house, was another object of Jan’s dislike.
Loder was not only a præpostor, who lashed your legs in public with a
hunting-crop, but he was generally accounted a bit of a prig and a
weakling into the bargain, and Jan thought he deserved his reputation.
Loder had a great notion of keeping order in the house, but his actual
tactics were to pounce upon friendless wretches like Chips or Jan, and
not to interfere with stalwarts of the Shockley gang, or even with
popular small boys like young Petrie. Nor was it necessary for Jan to be
caught out of his study after lock-up, or throwing stones in the quad,
in order to incur the noisy displeasure of the captain of the house.
Loder heard of the daily trouble with Haigh; it was all over the house,
thanks to Shockley & Co., whose lurid tales had the unforeseen effect of
provoking a certain admiration for “the new man who didn’t mind riling
old Haigh.” Indifference on such a point implied the courage of the
matador—to all who had been gored aforetime in the Middle Remove—save
and except the serious Loder. Passing Jan’s door one day, this exemplary
præpostor looked in to tell him he was disgracing the house, and stayed
to inquire what on earth he meant by having such a filthy study. The
epithet was inexact; but certainly the study was ankle-deep in books and
papers, with bare walls still bristling with the last tenant’s nails;
and it was not improved by a haunting smell of sulphur and tallow, due
to the recent firing of the shilling box of wax matches.

“It says nothing about untidy studies in the School Rules,” said Jan,
tilting his chair back from his table, and glowering at his interrupted
imposition.

“Don’t you give me any cheek!” cried Loder, looking dangerous for him.

“But it does say,” continued Jan, quoting a characteristic canon with
grim deliberation, “that 'a boy’s study is his castle,’ Loder!”

Jan had to pick himself up, and then his chair, with an ear that tingled
no more than Jan deserved. But this was not one of the events that
rankled in his mind. He had made a swaggering præpostor look the fool he
was; no smack on the head could rob him of the recollection.

With such a temper it is no wonder that Jan remained practically
friendless. Yet he might have made friends among the smaller fry below
him in the house; and there was one unathletic boy of almost his own
age, but really high up in the school, whose advances were summarily
repulsed because they appeared to Jan to betray some curiosity about his
people and his home. It was only human that the lad should be far too
suspicious on all such points; the pity was that this often made him
more forbidding and hostile in his manner than he was at heart. But in
all his aversions and suspicions there was no longer a hard or a
distrustful thought of Evan Devereux, though Jan and he had not spoken
since that first Saturday, and though they often met upon the hill or in
the street without exchanging look or nod.

Otherwise his likes were not so strong as his dislikes, or at any rate
not so ready; and yet in his heart even Jan soon found himself admiring
a number of fellows to whom he never dreamt of speaking before they
spoke to him. Head and chief of these was Cave _major_, who was already
in the Eleven, and who got his football colours after the first match.
How the whole house clapped him in hall that night at tea! The only
notice he had ever taken of Jan was to relieve him of Carpenter’s
yellow-back novel, which the great man read and passed on to another
member of the Fifteen in another house. To the owner of the book that
honour was sufficient solace; but neither new boy had ever encountered
quite so heroic a figure as the great Charles Cave. Then there was
Sprawson—Mother Sprawson, to Cave and Loder—reputed a tremendous
runner, but seen to be several things besides. Sprawson amused Jan
immensely by carrying an empty spirit-flask in his pocket, and sometimes
behaving as though he had just emptied it; he was rather a bully, but
more of a humorist, who would administer a whole box of pills prescribed
for himself to some unfortunate urchin in no need of them; and yet when
he drew Jan in the house fives, and was consequently knocked out in the
first round, nobody could have taken a defeat or treated a partner
better. Then there were Stratten and Jellicoe. Stratten seemed a very
perfect gentleman, and Jellicoe a distinct though fiery one; they were
always about arm-in-arm together, or playing fives on the inner court;
and Jan enjoyed watching them when he could not get a game himself on
the outer. At closer range he developed a more intimate appreciation of
Joyce, with his bad language and his good heart, and of Bingley and his
joyous interest in violent crime.

As for old Bob Heriot, he completely upset all Jan’s ideas about
schoolmasters. He was never in the least angry, yet even Cave _major_
looked less dashing in his presence, and the likes of Shockley
ludicrously small. Not that his house saw too much of Heriot. He was not
the kind of master who is continually in and out of his own quad. His
sway was felt rather than enforced. But he had a brisk and cheery word
with the flower of the house most nights after prayers, and somehow Jan
and others of his size generally lingered in the background to hear what
he had to say; he never embarrassed them by taking too much notice of
them before their betters, and seldom chilled them by taking none at
all. The Shockley fraternity, however, had not a good word to say for
poor Mr. Heriot. And that was not the least of his merits in Jan’s eyes.

On Sunday evenings between tea and prayers it was Heriot’s practice to
make a round of the studies, staying for a few minutes’ chat in each;
and on the second Sunday of the term he gave Jan rather more than his
time allowance. But he seemed to notice neither the stark ugliness of
the uncovered walls, nor the heavy fall of waste paper; and though he
did speak of Jan’s difficulties in form, he treated them also in a very
different manner from that employed by the captain of his house. The
truth was that Haigh had said a good deal about the matter to Heriot,
and Heriot very little to Haigh, whose tongue was as intemperate out of
school as it was in form. But to Jan he spoke plainly on this second
Sunday evening of the term.

“It’s obvious that you were placed a form too high. Such mistakes will
occur; there’s no way of avoiding them altogether; the question is,
shall we try to rectify this one? It’s rather late in the day, but I’ve
known it done; the Head Master might allow it again. It would rest with
him, so you had better not speak of it for the present. I mean, of
course, that he might allow you to come down to Mr. Walrond’s form, or
even into mine.”

At which Jan displayed some momentary excitement, and then sat stolidly
embarrassed.

“It would be a desperate remedy, Rutter; it would mean your being a fag,
after first escaping fagging altogether; in fact, it would be starting
all over again. I don’t say it wouldn’t make your work easier for you
during the whole time you’re here. But I shall quite understand it if
you prefer the evils that you know.”

“It isn’t the fagging. It isn’t that I shouldn’t like being in your
form, sir,” Jan blurted out. “But I don’t want to run away from Mr.
Haigh!” he mumbled through his teeth.

“Well, you’d only have to fight another day, if you did,” said Heriot,
with a laugh. And so the matter went no further; and not another boy or
master in the school ever knew that it had gone so far.

But the being of whom Jan saw most, and the only one to whom he spoke
his odd mind freely, was the other new man, Carpenter, now Chips to all
the house. And Chips was another oddity in his way; but it was not Jan’s
way at any single point. Chips had always been intended for a public
school. But in some respects he was far less fit for one than Jan. To be
at this school was to realise the dream of his life; but it was not the
dream that it had been before it came true, and the dreamer took this
extraordinary circumstance to heart, though he had the character to keep
it to himself. Jan was the last person to whom he would have admitted
it; he still stood up for the school in all their talks, and gloried in
being where he was; but it was none the less obvious that he was not so
happy as he tried to appear.

Chips’s troubles, to be sure, were not in form; they were almost
entirely out of school, just where Jan got on best. Chips’s skin was
thinner; the least taunt hurt his feelings, and he hid them less
successfully than Jan could hide his. He was altogether more squeamish;
lying and low talk were equally abhorrent to him; he would not smile,
and had the courage to confess his repugnance under pressure, but not
the force of personality to render a protest other than ineffectual.
Such things ran like water from off Jan’s broader back; he was not
particularly attracted or repelled.

One bad half-hour that the pair spent together almost daily was that
between breakfast and second school. It was the recognised custom for
fellows in the same house and form to prepare their construe together;
this took Carpenter and Rutter most mornings into Shockley’s study,
where Buggins and Eyre _major_ completed the symposium. On a Virgil
morning there would be interludes in which poor Chips felt himself a
worm for sitting still; even when Thucydides claimed closer attention
there was a lot of parenthetical swearing. But Chips—whose Greek was
his weak point—endured it all as long as the work itself was fairly
done.

One morning, however, as Jan was about to join the rest, Chips burst in
upon him, out of breath, and stood with his back to Jan’s bare wall.

“They’ve gone and got a crib!” he gasped.

“What of?”

“Thicksides.”

“And a jolly good job!” said Jan.

Chips looked as though he distrusted his ears.

“You don’t mean to say you’ll use it, Tiger?”

“Why not?”

“It’s so—at least I mean it seems to me—so jolly unfair!”

Chips had stronger epithets on the tip of his tongue; but that of “pi”
had been freely applied to himself; and it rankled in spite of all his
principles.

“Not so unfair as sending you to a hole like this against your will,”
retorted Jan, “and putting you two forms too high when you get here.”

“That’s another thing,” said Chips, for once without standing up for the
“hole,” perhaps because he knew that Jan had called it one for his
benefit.

“No; it’s all the same thing. Is that beast Haigh fair to me?”

“I don’t say he is——”

“Then I’m blowed if I see why I should be fair to him.”

“I wasn’t thinking of Haigh,” said Chips. “I was thinking of the rest of
the form who don’t use a crib, Tiger.”

“That’s their look-out,” said the Tiger, opening his door with the
little red volume of Thucydides in his other hand.

“Then you’re going to Shockley’s study just the same?”

“Rather! Aren’t you?”

“I’ve been. I came out again.”

“Because of the crib?”

“Yes.”

“Did you tell them so, Chips?”

“I had to; and—and of course they heaved me out, Tiger! And I’ll never
do another line with the brutes!”

He turned away; he was quite husky. Jan watched him with a shrug and a
groan, hesitated, and then slammed his door.

“Aren’t you going, Tiger?” cried Chips, face about at the sound. “Don’t
mind me, you know! I can sweat it out by myself.”

“Well you’re not going to,” growled Jan, flinging the little red book
upon the table. “I’d rather work with an old ass like you, Chips, than a
great brute like Shockley!”

So that alliance was cemented, and Chips at any rate was Jan’s friend
for life. But Jan was slower to reciprocate so strong a feeling; his
nature was much less demonstrative and emotional; moreover, the term he
had applied to Carpenter was by no means one of mere endearment. There
was in fact a good deal about Chips that appealed to Jan as little as to
the other small boys in the house. He was indubitably “pi”; he thought
too much of his study; he took in all kinds of magazines, and went in
for the competitions, being mad about many things including cricket, but
no earthly good at fives, and not allowed to play football. He had some
bronchial affection that prevented him from running, and often kept him
out of first school. “Sloper” and “sham” were neither of them quite the
name for him; but both became unpleasantly familiar in the ears of
Carpenter during the first half of his first term; and there was just
enough excuse for them to keep such a lusty specimen as Jan rather out
of sympathy with a fellow who neither got up in the morning nor played
games like everybody else.

Nevertheless, they could hardly have seen more of each other than they
did. They went up and down the hill together, for Chips was always at
Jan’s elbow after school, and never sooner than when Jan had made a
special fool of himself in form. Chips was as little to be deterred by
the gibes of the rest on the way back, as by the sullen silence in which
the Tiger treated his loyalty and their scorn. If Rutter had recovered
tone enough to play fives after twelve, Carpenter was certain to be seen
looking over the back wall; and as sure as Jan went up to football in
the afternoon, Chips went with him in his top-coat, and followed the
game wistfully at a distance. Down they would come together when the
game was over, as twilight settled on the long stone street, and tired
players shod in mud tramped heavily along either pavement. Now was
Chips’s chance for the daily papers before the roaring fire in hall,
while Jan changed with the rest in the lavatory; and as long as either
had a tizzy there was just time for cocoa and buns at the nearest
confectioner’s before third school.

The nearest confectioner’s was not the fashionable school resort, but it
was quite good enough for the rank and file of the lower forms. The
cocoa was coarse and thick, and the buns not always fresh; but the boys
had dined at half-past one; tea in hall was not till half-past six; and
even then there was only bread-and-butter to eat unless a fellow had his
own supplies. Jan had not been provided with a hamper at the beginning
of the term, or with very many shillings by way of pocket-money; he
would have starved rather than write for either, for it was seldom
enough that he received so much as a letter from his new home. But it
did strike him as a strange thing that a public-school boy should
habitually go hungrier to bed than a coachman’s son at work about his
father’s stables.

Milk and “dog-rocks” were indeed provided last thing at night and first
thing in the morning; but if you chose to get up late there was hardly
time for a mouthful as you sped out of the quad and along the street to
prayers, buttoning your waistcoat as you ran. This was not often Jan’s
case, but it was on the morning after the match between his house and
another in the first round of the Under Sixteen. Heriot’s had won an
exciting game, and Jan was conscious of having done his share in the
bully. He was distinctly muscular for his age, and had grown perceptibly
in even these few weeks at school. His sleep was haunted by an
intoxicating roar of “Reds!” (his side’s colour for the nonce) and
stinging counter cries of “Whites!” Once at least he had actually heard
his own nickname shouted in approval by some big fellow of his house;
and he heard it all again as he dressed and dashed out, on a
particularly empty stomach, into a dark and misty morning, with the last
bell flagging as if it must stop with every stroke; he heard it above
his own palpitations all through prayers; on his knees he was down in
another bully, smelling the muddy ball, thirsting to feel it at his feet
again.

It chanced to be a mathematical morning, and Jan felt thankful as he
went his way after prayers; for he was not in Haigh’s mathematical, but
in the Spook’s; and the Spook was a peculiarly innocuous master, who had
a class-room in his quarters in the town, but not a house.

“The Thirteenth Proposition of the First Book of Euclid,” sighed the
Spook, exactly as though he were giving out a text in Chapel. “Many of
you seem to have found so much difficulty over this that I propose to
run over it again, if you will kindly hold your tongues. Hold your
tongue, Kingdon! Another word from _you_, Pedley, and you’ll have
whipping in front of you—or rather behind you!”

The little joke was a stock felicity of the Spook’s, and it was received
in the usual fashion. At first there was a little titter, but nothing
more until the Spook himself was seen to wear a sickly smile; thereupon
the titter grew into a roar, and the roar rose into a bellow, and the
bellow into one prolonged and insolent guffaw which the cadaverous but
smiling Spook seemed to enjoy as much as the smallest boy in his
mathematical. Jan alone did not join in the derisive chorus; to him it
sounded almost as though it were in another room; and the figure of the
Spook, standing before his blackboard, holding up a piece of chalk for
silence, had become a strangely nebulous and wavering figure.

“'The angles that one straight line makes with another straight line,’”
began the Spook at last, in a voice that Jan could hardly hear, “'are
together equal ... together equal ... together equal ...’”

Jan wondered how many more times he was to hear those two words; his
head swam with them; the Spook had paused, and was staring at him with
fixed eyes and open mouth; and yet the words went on ringing in the
swimming head, fainter and fainter, and further and further away, as Jan
fell headlong into the unfathomable pit of insensibility.

He came to earth and life on a dilapidated couch in the Spook’s study,
where the Spook himself was in the act of laying him down, and of
muttering in sepulchral tones, “A little faint, I fear!”

Jan had never fainted before, and in his heart he was rather proud of
the achievement; but he was thankful that he had chosen the one first
school of the week that was given over to mathematics. He would have
been very sorry to have come to himself in the arms of Haigh. The Spook
was a man who had obviously mistaken his vocation; but it was least
obvious when mere kindness and goodness were required of him. Jan was
detained in his study half the morning, and regaled with tea and toast
and things to read. Heriot also looked in before second school, but was
rather brusque and unsympathetic (after the Spook) until Jan ventured to
say he hoped he would be allowed to play football that afternoon, as he
had never felt better in his life. Heriot said that was a question for
the doctor, who would be in to see Jan during the forenoon.

The doctor came, and Jan could not remember the last time a doctor had
been to see him. This one sat over him with a long face, felt his pulse,
peered into his eyes, looked as wise as an owl at the other end of his
stethoscope, and then began asking questions in a way that put Jan very
much on his guard.

“So you’ve been playing football for your house?”

“Yessir—Under Sixteen.”

“I suppose you played football before you came here?”

“No, sir,” said Jan, beginning to feel uncomfortable.

“Weren’t you allowed?”

This question came quickly, but Jan took his time over it as coolly as
he could. Obviously the doctor little dreamt that this was his first
school. On no account must he suspect it now. And it was true, as it
happened, that his father had once and for all forbidden Jan to play
football with Master Evan, because he played so roughly.

“No, sir.”

“You were not allowed?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you know why?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, I think I do,” said the doctor, rising. “And you mustn’t play
here, either, at any rate for the present.”

Jan shot upright on the sofa.

“Your heart isn’t strong enough,” said the doctor.

“My heart’s all right!” cried Jan, indignantly.

“Perhaps you’ll allow me to be the best judge of that,” returned the
doctor. “You may go back to your house, and I shall send a line to Mr.
Heriot. There’s no reason why you should lie up; this is Saturday,
you’ll be quite fit for school on Monday; but no football, mind, until I
give you leave.”

Jan tried to speak, but he had tied his own tongue. He could not explain
to the doctor, he could not explain to Heriot. He did not know why he
had fainted for the first time in his life that morning; he only knew
that it was not his heart, that he had never felt better than after
yesterday’s match. And now he was to be deprived of the one thing he
liked at school, the one thing he was by way of getting good at, his one
chance of showing what was in him to those who seemed to think there was
nothing at all! And another Under Sixteen house-match would be played
next week, perhaps against Haigh, who had also won their tie. And all he
would be able to do would be to stand by yelling “Reds!” and having his
shins lashed by some beastly præpostor, and hearing himself bracketed
with Chips as a “sham” and a “sloper”—and knowing it was true!

That was the worst of it. His heart was all right. It was all a complete
misunderstanding and mistake. It was a mistake that Jan knew he could
have set right by going to Heriot and explaining why he had never played
football before, and why it was barely true to say that he had not been
allowed.

But Jan was not going to anybody to say anything of the kind.



                              CHAPTER IX

                              CORAM POPULO


On the notice-board in the colonnade there was a sudden announcement
which no new boy could understand. It was to the effect that Professor
Abinger would pay his annual visit on the Monday and Tuesday of the
following week. Neither Carpenter nor Rutter had ever heard his name
before, and, on the way up the hill to second school, they inquired of
Rawlinson, the small fellow in his own house whom Haigh had begun
reviling on the first morning of the term.

“Who’s Abinger?” repeated Rawlinson. “You wait and see! You’ll love him,
Tiger, as much as I do!”

“Why shall I?” asked Jan, who liked Rawlinson, and only envied him his
callous gaiety under oppression.

“Because he’ll get us off two days of old Haigh,” said Rawlinson,
capering as though the two days would never end.

“Don’t hustle!”

“I’m not hustling. I take my oath I’m not. Grand old boy, Abinger,
besides being just about the biggest bug alive on elocution!”

“Who says so?”

“Jerry, for one! Anyhow he comes down twice a year, and takes up two
whole days, barring first school and private work; that’s why Abinger’s
a man to love.”

“But what does he do? Give us readings all the time?” asked Chips, one
of whose weaknesses was the inane question.

“Give _us_ readings? I like that!” cried Rawlinson, shouting with
laughter. “It’s the other way about, my good ass!”

“Do we have to read to him?”

“Every mother’s son of us, before the whole school, and all the masters
and the masters’ wives!”

Chips went on asking questions, and Jan was only silent because he took
a greater interest in the answers than he cared to show. The ordeal
foreshadowed by Rawlinson was indeed rather alarming to a new boy with
an accent which had already exposed him to some contumely. Yet his ear,
sharpened by continual travesties of his speech, informed Jan that he
was by no means the only boy in the school whose vowels were of
eccentric breadth. It was a point on which he was not unduly sensitive,
but, in his heart, only too willing to improve. He was, however, more on
his guard against the outlandish word and the rustic idiom, which still
cropped up in his conversation, but could not possibly affect his
reading aloud. The result of the last reflection was that Jan subdued
his fears, and rejoiced with Rawlinson at the prospect of a break in the
term’s work.

Their joy was enhanced by the obvious exasperation of Haigh, who
scarcely concealed from his form his own opinion of Professor Abinger
and the impending function. Many were his covert sneers, and loud his
angry laughter, as he hit upon something for the Middle Remove to
declaim piecemeal between them. The chosen passage was taken almost at
random from one of Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, which for some reason
formed a standard work throughout the school, and which drew from Haigh
the next thing to a personal repudiation of the volume in his hands. It
was at least plain that means and end shared his cordial disapproval,
but outward loyalty clipped the spoken word, and the form were not
surprised when he finished with a more satisfying fling at Jan.

“Some of you fellows in Mr. Heriot’s house,” said Haigh, “may perhaps
find time to rehearse Rutter in the few words that are likely to fall to
his tender mercies. Otherwise we may trust him to disgrace us before
everybody.”

Indignant glances were cast at Jan’s hangdog head by those who wished to
stand well with Haigh; one within reach dealt him a dexterous kick upon
the shins; and Jan took it all with leaden front, for that was his only
means of getting the least bit even with his adult tormentor.
Nevertheless, on the Sunday evening, when one could sit in another’s
study after lock-up by special leave, and Jan and Chips had availed
themselves of the privilege, Hans Andersen was the author that each had
open before him, as the pair munched their way through a bag of biscuits
bought with their Saturday allowance.

They were not disappointed in the elderly gentleman who opened his
campaign next morning. He had an admirable platform presence, and a fine
histrionic face in a cascade of silvery hair. Nor had he made many of
his opening observations—in a voice like a silver bell—before the
youngest of his new hearers perceived that Professor Abinger was really
as distinguished as he looked. He was evidently the companion of even
more distinguished men. He spoke of the statesmen and the judges whom he
had specially coached for the triumphs of their political and forensic
careers. He mentioned a certain Cabinet Minister as a particularly
painstaking pupil in his younger days. He laid the scene of a recent
personal experience in a ducal mansion, and that led him into an
indiscreet confession involving an even more illustrious name. Professor
Abinger seemed quite embarrassed by his inadvertence; and the Head
Master, who had taken a side seat on his own platform, might have been
seen frowning at his watch, which he closed with a very loud snap. But
the two new boys in the Middle Remove saw how difficult it must be for a
member of such exalted circles to avoid all mention of his most intimate
acquaintance. And when Rawlinson looked at them and laughed, they nodded
their complete agreement with his estimate of the eminent professor.

“When I look about me in this schoolroom,” concluded Mr. Abinger
somewhat hastily, as he beamed upon the serried ranks before him,
“and when I see the future generals and admirals, bishops and
statesmen, lawyers and physicians of high standing—men of mark in
every sphere—even Peers of the Realm itself—who hear me now, whom
I myself am about to hear in my turn—when I dip into your futures
far as human eye can see—then I realise afresh the very wide
responsibility—the—the imperial importance—of these visits to this
school!”

There might have been applause; a certain amount of sly merriment there
was; but Mr. Thrale prevented the one, and cut the other mighty short,
by sternly summoning the Upper Fourth.

There was a scraping and shambling of feet in the rows behind the Middle
Remove, and up to the platform trooped the pioneer force. Jan could only
think of the narrowness of his escape—he had heard that the forms were
called up in any order—and he was wondering whether there was so much
to fear after all, from such a perfect gentleman and jolly old boy, when
Evan Devereux passed quite close to him with the other pioneers. And
Evan’s ears were red to the tip—Evan who looked neat and dapper enough
to stand up before the world—Evan who was a gentleman if there was one
in the school!

The Upper Fourth huddled together on the platform, each boy with a fat
blue volume of Hans Christian Andersen open at the fatal place. Then, at
a sign from the Head Master, the captain of the form took a step
forward, threw out his chest like a man, and plunged into the middle of
one of the tales with a couple of sentences that made the rafters ring.
The professor stood smiling his approval at the intrepid youth’s side,
and Mr. Thrale nodded his head as he called for the second boy in form’s
order. The successful performer sidled to the end of an empty bench
immediately below the platform, and sat down against the wall. His place
was taken by one bent on following his good example, but in too great a
hurry to get it over. “'A myrtle stood in a pot in the window,’” he had
begun in a breath, when the Head Master exclaimed “Three o’clock!” in
portentous tones, and the second performer melted from the platform like
a wraith.

“That’s the worst he does to you,” whispered Carpenter, who had been
making his usual inquiries. “It only means coming in at three for
another shot with the other failures.”

Meanwhile the professor was pointing out the second boy’s mistake. He
laid it down as the first of first principles that a distinct pause must
separate the subject of any sentence from its predicate; he added that
he had preached that doctrine in that place for so many years that he
had hoped it was unnecessary to begin preaching it again; but perhaps he
had never had the advantage of meeting his young friend before? His
young friend had to rise in his place of premature retirement, next but
one to the wall, and confess with burning cheeks that such was not the
case. And when the point had been duly laboured, proceedings were
resumed by a lad who cleared the obstacle with an audaciously protracted
pause after the word “myrtle.”

It was an obstacle at which many fell throughout the morning, the three
o’clock sentence being promptly pronounced upon each; but there were
other interludes more entertaining to the audience and more trying to
the temporary entertainer. There were several stammerers who were made
to beat time and to release a syllable at each beat; and there was more
than one timid child to be paternally conducted by the professor to the
very far end of the huge room, and made to call out, “Can you hear my
voice?” until the Head Master at his end signified that he could. (“No,
I can’t!” he replied very sternly on one occasion.) There were even a
few mirthful seconds supplied by Devereux, of all fellows, over
something which Jan quite failed to follow, but which made him almost as
hot and miserable as Evan had turned upon the platform.

Devereux, however, had looked rather nervous all the time; as he waited
his turn at Abinger’s elbow he seemed uncomfortably conscious of
himself, and he stepped into the breach at last as though the cares of
the school were on his insignificant shoulders. Jan felt for him so
keenly as to hold his breath. Evan had to utter an extravagant statement
about a bottle, but his reading was no worse than nervous until he came
to the word “exhilarated.” He said “exhilyarated.” The professor invited
him to say it again, and with the request his paternal smile broadened
into a grin of less oppressive benevolence. It was a very slight change
of expression, which had occurred more than once before, but on this
occasion it filled Jan with a sudden revulsion of feeling towards
Professor Abinger. Then Evan said “ex-_hill_-yarated,” making a mountain
of the hill, and a stern voice cried “Three o’clock!” The unlucky
culprit looked utterly wretched and crestfallen, and yet so attractive
in his trouble that the professor himself was seen to intercede on his
behalf. But a still sterner voice reiterated “Three o’clock!”

That was all, and it was so quickly over that Devereux was himself again
before the Upper Fourth returned in a body to their place. Indeed, he
came back smiling, and with a jaunty walk, as some criminals foot it
from the dock. But Jan could not catch his eye, though his own were soft
with a sympathy which he longed to show, but only succeeded in betraying
to Carpenter.

“I might have known you were hustling,” Jan said to Rawlinson, as they
got out nearly an hour later than from ordinary second school. “I say,
though, I do bar that old brute—don’t you?”

“What! When he’s coached a Cabinet Minister, and been staying as usual
with the same old dukes and dukesses?”

“If he ever did,” said Jan, his whole mind poisoned by the treatment
meted out to Evan. “It’s easy enough for him to stand up there scoring
off chaps. I’d like to score off him!”

“Well, you wouldn’t be the first. He was properly scored off once, by a
chap called Bewicke in the Upper Sixth. Come my way,” said Rawlinson,
“and I’ll tell you. Bewicke had heard that opening speech about the
Cabinet Minister, and all the rest of it, so often that he knew the
whole thing by heart, and used to settle down to sleep as soon as old
Abinger got a start. So one time Jerry catches him safe in the arms of
Morpheus, and says, 'Bewicke, be good enough to get up and repeat to the
school the substance of Professor Abinger’s last remarks.’ So Bewicke
gets up, blinking, not having heard a blooming word, and begins: 'The
other day, when I had the privilege of being an honoured guest of his
Grace the Duke of ——’ 'Three o’clock!’ says Jerry, and they say
Bewicke was jolly near bunked. It was before my time, worse luck! I wish
I’d heard it, don’t you? I say, we were lucky to escape this morning,
weren’t we? But I’m not sure I don’t wish we’d got it over, myself.”

Four of the lower forms had been polished off between ten and
twelve-thirty, and three more followed in the hour-and-a-half of third
school; but the Middle Remove was not one of the three. There remained
only second school on the second day—a half-holiday—and Carpenter had
heard that much of the morning would be devoted to a Sixth Form
Competition for the Abinger Medal. He had also learnt for a fact that
all the forms were not always called upon, and Jan agreed that in that
case they were beginning to stand an excellent chance of being missed
out. However, no sooner were the proceedings resumed on a pink and
frosty morning, than the bolt fell for the Middle Remove.

The big schoolroom looked abnormally big as Jan took a shy peep down
from the platform. It seemed to contain four thousand boys instead of
four hundred. It felt as cold as an empty church. The Head Master’s
fingers looked blue with a joiner’s pencil poised between them over a
school list; and as he sat with bent head and raised ear his breath was
just visible against his sombre gown. But Professor Abinger in black
spats and mittens was brisker and crisper and more incisive than on the
previous day; his paternal smile broke more abruptly into the grin of
impaired benevolence; his flowing mane looked merely hoary, and his
silvery voice had rather the staccato ring of steel.

He might almost have heard Haigh’s opinion of him, he was so hard upon
that form. The passage which Haigh had chosen was from a story called
“The Mermaid,” and the very first reader had to say “colossal mussel
shells”—perhaps a better test of sobriety than of elocution—but
Abinger would have it repeated until a drunken man could have done it
better and the whole school was in a roar. Jan set his teeth at the back
of the little knot upon the platform: he knew what he would do rather
than make them laugh like that. But no one else made them laugh like
that, though Buggins was asked whether he had been born within sound of
Bow Bells, and created some amusement by the rich intonation of his
denial. Gradually the little knot melted, and the bench below the
platform filled up. Jan began reading over and over to himself the
sentences that seemed certain to fall to him, as he was still doing when
Carpenter left his side and lurched into the centre of the platform.

Now, poor Chips happened to have had a bad night with his tiresome
malady, but on his speech it had the effect of a much more common
disorder.

“The bleached bodes of bed,” he began, valiantly, and was still making a
conscientious pause after the subject of the sentence when a hand fell
on his shoulder and the wretched Chips was looking Professor Abinger in
the face.

“Have you got a cold?” inquired the professor, with his most sympathetic
smile.

“Yes, sir,” said Carpenter, too shy to explain the permanent character
of the cold by giving it its proper name.

“Then stand aside, and blow your nose,” said the professor, grinning
like a fatherly fiend, “while the next boy reads.”

Jan was the next boy, and the last; and he strode forward too indignant
on his friend’s account to think of himself, and cut straight into the
laugh at Carpenter’s expense. Nothing, in fact, could have given Jan
such a moral fillip at the last moment. He cried out his bit
aggressively at the top of his voice, but forgot none of the rules laid
down, and even felt he had come through with flying colours. He saw no
smile upon the sea of faces upturned from the body of the schoolroom.
Not a syllable fell from the Head Master on his right. Yet he was not
given his dismissal, and was consequently about to begin another
sentence when Professor Abinger took the book from Jan’s hand.

“I think you must hear yourself as others hear you,” said he. “Have the
goodness to listen to me.” And he read: “_‘The bleached bawnes of men
who had perished at sea and soonk belaw peeped forth from the arms of
soome, w’ile oothers clootched roodders and sea chests or the skeleeton
of some land aneemal; and most horreeble of all, a little mermaird whom
they had caught and sooffercairted.’_ There!” cried the professor,
holding up his hand to quell the shouts of laughter. “What do you think
of that?”

Jan stood dumfounded by his shame and rage, a graceless and forbidding
figure enough, with untidy hair and a wreck of a tie, and one lace
trailing: a figure made to look even meaner than it was by the spruce
old handsome man at his side.

“What dost tha’ think o’ yon?” pursued the professor, dropping into
dialect with ready humour.

“It’s not what I said,” muttered Jan, so low that his questioner alone
could hear.

“Not what you said, eh? We’ll take you through it. How do you pronounce
'bones’?”

No answer, but a firmer cast to the jaw of Jan, a less abject droop of
the shoulders, a good inch more in actual stature.

“B, o, n, e, s!” crooned the professor, shewing all his teeth.

But Jan had turned into a human mule. And the silence in the great room
had suddenly grown profound.

“Well, we’ll try something else,” said the professor, consulting the
text somewhat unsteadily, and speaking in a rather thin voice. “Let us
hear you say the word 'sunk.’ S, u, n, k—sunk. Now, if you please, no
more folly. You are wasting all our time.”

Jan had forgotten that; the reminder caused him a spasm of satisfaction.
Otherwise he was by this time as entirely aware of his folly as anybody
else present; but it was too late to point it out to him; it was too
late to think of it now; his head was burning, his temples throbbed, his
tongue clave. He could not have spoken now if he had tried. But it would
have taken a better man than Abinger to make him try. And the better man
sat by without a word, pale, stern, and troubled with a complex
indignation.

“I can do nothing with this boy,” said Abinger, turning to him with just
a tremor in his thin high tones. “I must leave him to you, Mr. Thrale.”

“_Twelve_ o’clock!” cried the other with ominous emphasis; and as he
stabbed the school list with his joiner’s pencil, the Middle Remove rose
and returned down the gangway to their accustomed place.

Jan went with them as one walking in his sleep. And Carpenter followed
Jan with a tragic face and tears very near the surface. But as one sees
furthest before rain, so Chips saw a good deal as he walked back
blinking for his life. And one of the things he happened to see was Evan
Devereux and the fellow next him doubled up in fits of laughter.

The Head Master usually sat in judgment on the culprits of the day
without vacating his oaken throne in the Upper Sixth class-room until
the first of them knelt down for his deserts. But the Abinger visitation
upset everything; and on this occasion, when the campaign ended with the
award of a medal to the præpostor who had done least violence to a
leading article in the day’s _Times_, Mr. Thrale remained on his
platform in conversation with Professor Abinger while the school filed
out form by form. Meanwhile three delinquents besides Jan awaited his
arrival on the scene of trial and execution, while a number of the
smaller fry pressed their noses to the diamond panes of the windows
overlooking the school yard; and the public gallery in a criminal court
could not have been better patronised for a notorious case than were
these windows to-day.

One of the other malefactors had brought a slip of paper which he showed
to Jan; on it was set forth a crime of a type which Mr. Thrale was at
that time taking Draconic measures to stamp out of the school. “HORNTON
says πεποιηκασι is a Dative Plural.... I think he deserves a good
flogging,” the committing master had written, and signed the warrant
with his initials. Jan had just reached that hieroglyph when in sailed
their judge and executioner in his cap and gown.

The boy who deserved the good flogging advanced and delivered his
certificate of demerit. Mr. Thrale examined the damning document, and
when he came to the pious opinion at the end, exclaimed with simple
fervour, “So do I!” With that he opened his desk and took out his cane,
and the boy who deserved it knelt down with stolid alacrity. The
venerable executioner then gathered half his gown into his left hand,
and held it away at arm’s length to give free play to his right. And
there followed eight such slashing cuts as fetched the dust from a taut
pair of trousers, and sent their wearer waddling stiffly from the room.

“Wasn’t padded,” whispered one of those left to Jan, who put an obvious
question with a look, which was duly answered with a wink.

Meanwhile a sturdy youth in round spectacles was being severely
interrogated, and replying promptly and earnestly, without lowering his
glasses from the awful aspect of the flogging judge.

“You may go,” said Mr. Thrale at length. “Your honesty has saved you.
Trevor next. I’ve heard about you, Trevor; kneel down, shirker!”

And the wily Trevor not only knelt with futile reluctance, but writhed
impotently during his castigation, though the eight strokes made half
the noise of the other eight; and once up he went his way serenely with
another wink at Jan.

Now by these days Jan had discovered that out of his pulpit Mr. Thrale
was sufficiently short and sharp of speech, rough and ready of humour,
with a trick of talking down to fellows in their own jargon as well as
over their heads in parables. “Sit down, Rutter, and next time you won’t
sit down so comfortably!” he had rapped out at Jan when the Middle
Remove went to construe to the Head Master early in the term. And it was
next time now.

Jan was left alone in the presence, and that instant became ashamed to
find he was already trembling. He had not trembled on the platform
before the whole school; his blood had been frozen then, now it was
bubbling in his veins. He was being looked at. That was all. He was
receiving such a look as he had never met before, a look from wide blue
eyes with hidden fires in them, and dilated nostrils underneath, and
under them a mouth that looked as though it would never, never open.

It did at last.

“Rebel!” said a voice of unutterable scorn. “Do you know what they do
with rebels, Rutter?”

“No, sir.”

It never occurred to Jan not to answer now.

“Shoot them! You deserve to be shot!”

Jan felt he did. The parable was not over his diminished head; it might
have been carefully concocted from uncanny knowledge of his inmost soul.
All the potential soldier in him—the reserve whom this General alone
called out—was shamed and humbled to the dust.

“You are not only a rebel,” the awful voice went on, “but a sulky rebel.
Some rebels are good men gone wrong; there’s some stuff in them; but a
sulky rebel is neither man nor devil, but carrion food for powder.”

Jan agreed with all his contrite heart; he had never seen himself in his
true colours before, had never known how vile it was to sulk; but now he
saw, and now he knew, and the firing-party could not have come too
quick.

The flogging judge had resumed his carved oak seat of judgment behind
the desk. Jan had not seen him do it—he had seen nothing but those
pregnant eyes and lips—but there he was, and in the act of putting his
homely weapon back in the desk. Jan could have groaned. He longed to
expiate his crime.

“Thrashing is too good for you,” the voice resumed. “Have you any good
reason to give me for keeping a sulky rebel in a standing army? Any
reason for not drumming him out?”

Drumming him out! Expelling him! Sending him back to the Norfolk
rectory, and thence very likely straight back to the nearest stables!
More light rushed over Jan. He had seen his enormity; now he saw his
life, what it had been, what it was, what it might be again.

“Oh, sir,” he cried, “I know I speak all wrong—I know I speak all
wrong! You see—you see——”

But he broke down before he could explain, and the more piteously
because now he felt he never could explain, and this hard old man would
never, never understand. That is the tragic mistake of boys—to feel
they can never be understood by men!

Yet already the hard old man was on his feet again, and with one gesture
he had cleared the throng from the diamond-paned windows, and laid
tender hand upon Jan’s heaving shoulder.

“I do see,” he said, gently. “But so must you, Rutter—but so must you!”



                               CHAPTER X

                                ELEGIACS


Jan was prepared never to hear the last of his outrageous conduct in the
big schoolroom; that was all he knew about his kind. It cost him one of
the efforts of his school life to show his face again in Heriot’s quad;
and the quad was full of fellows, as he knew it would be; but only one
accosted him, and that was Sprawson, whose open hand flew up in a
terrifying manner, to fall in a hearty slap on Jan’s back. “Well done,
Tiger!” says Sprawson before half the house. “That’s the biggest score
off Abinger there’s been since old Bewicke’s time.” And Jan rushed up to
his study with a fresh lump in his throat, though he had come in vowing
that the whole house together should not make him blub.

That night at tea Jane Eyre of all people (who was splendidly supplied
with all sorts of eatables from home) pushed a glorious game pie across
the table to Jan; and altogether there was for a few hours rather more
sympathy in the air than was good for one who after all had made public
display of a thoroughly unworthy propensity. It is true that Jan had
gone short of sympathy all his life, and that a wave of even misplaced
sympathy may be beneficial to a nature suffering from this particular
privation. But a clever gentleman was waiting to counteract all that,
and to undo at his leisure what Mr. Thrale had done in about two
minutes.

No sooner had the form re-assembled in his hall next day than Haigh made
them a set sarcastic speech on the subject of Jan’s enormity. He might
have seen at a glance that even outwardly the boy was already chastened;
that his jacket and his hair were better brushed than they had been all
the term, his boots properly laced, his tie neatly tied; that in a word
there were more signs of self-respect. Haigh, however, preferred to look
at his favourites at the top of the form, and merely to jerk the thumb
of contempt towards his aversion at the bottom. He reminded them of his
prophecy that Rutter would disgrace them all before the school, and the
triumph of the true prophet seemed at least as great as his indignation
at what had actually happened. Even he, however, had not foreseen the
quality of the disgrace, or anticipated a fit of sulks in public. Yet
for his own part he was not sorry that the headmaster, and Mr. Heriot
and all the other masters and boys in the school, should have had an
opportunity of seeing for themselves what they in that room had to put
up with almost every day of the term. And the harangue concluded with a
plain hint to the form to take the law into its own hands, and “knock
the nonsense out of that sulky bumpkin, who has made us the
laughing-stock of the place.”

To all of which Jan listened without a trace of his old resentment, and
then stood up in his place.

“I’m very sorry, sir,” said he. “I apologise to you and the form.”

Haigh looked unable to believe his eyes and ears. But he was not the man
to revise judgment of a boy once labelled Poison in his mind. He could
no longer fail to note the sudden improvement in Jan’s looks and manner;
all he could do was to put the worst construction upon it that occurred
to him at the moment.

“I shall entertain your apology when you look less pleased with
yourself,” he sneered. “Sit down.”

But Jan’s good resolutions were not to be eradicated any more easily
than the rooted hostility of Haigh, who certainly surpassed himself in
his treatment of the boy’s persistent efforts at amendment. Jan, though
no scholar, and never likely to make one now, could be sharp enough in a
general way when he chose. But he never had chosen under Mr. Haigh. It
was no use attending to a brute who “hotted” you just the same whether
you attended or not. And yet that little old man in the Upper Sixth
class-room, with a single stern analogy, had made it somehow seem some
use to do one’s best without sulking, even without looking for fair
play, let alone reward. And, feeling a regular new broom at heart, Jan
was still determined to sweep clean in spite of Haigh.

It chanced to be a Virgil morning, and of course the new broom began by
saying his “rep” as he had never said it before. Perhaps he deserved
what he got for that.

“I thought you were one of those boys, Rutter,” said Haigh, “who affect
a constitutional difficulty in learning repetition? I only wish I’d sent
you up to Mr. Thrale six weeks ago!”

Yet Jan maintained his interest throughout the fresh passage which the
form proceeded to construe, and being put on duly in the hardest place,
got through again without discredit. It was easy, however, for a member
of the Middle Remove to take an interest in his Virgil, for that poet
can have had few more enthusiastic interpreters than Mr. Haigh, who
indeed might have been the best master in the school if he had been less
of a bullying boy himself. His method in a Virgil hour, at any rate, was
beyond reproach. If his form knew the lesson, there was no embroidery of
picturesque detail or of curious information which it was too much
trouble for him to tack on for their benefit. The _Æneid_ they were
doing was the one about the boat-race; and what Mr. Haigh (who had
adorned both flood and field at Cambridge) did not know about aquatics
ancient and modern was obviously not worth knowing. He could handle a
trireme on the blackboard as though he had rowed in one in the Mays, and
accompany the proceeding with a running report worthy of a sporting
journalist. But let there be one skeleton at the feast of reason, one
Jan who could not or would not understand, and the whole hour might go
in an unseemly duel between intemperate intellect and stubborn
imbecility. Otherwise a gloating and sonorous Haigh would wind up the
morning with Conington’s translation of the lesson; and this was one of
those gratifying occasions; in fact, Jan was attending as he had never
before attended, when one couplet caught his fancy to the exclusion of
all that followed.

                “These bring success their zeal to fan;
                 They can because they think they can.”

“Perhaps _I_ can,” said Jan to himself, “if I think I can. I _will_
think I can, and then we’ll see.”

Haigh had shut the book and was putting a question to the favoured few
at the top of the form. “Conington has one fine phrase here,” he said.
“I wonder if any of you noticed it? _Possunt quia posse videntur_; did
you notice how he renders that?”

The favoured few had not noticed. They looked seriously concerned about
it. The body of the form took its discomfiture more philosophically,
having less to lose. No one seemed to connect the phrase with its
English equivalent, and Mr. Haigh was manifestly displeased. “_Possunt
quia posse videntur!_” he repeated ironically as he reached the dregs;
and at the very last moment Jan’s fingers flew out with a Sunday-school
snap.

“Well?” said Haigh on the last note of irony.

“'They can because they think they can’!” cried Jan, and went from the
bottom to the top of the form at one flight, amid a volley of venomous
glances, but with one broad grin from Carpenter.

“I certainly do wish I’d sent you up six weeks ago!” said Haigh. “I
shall be having a decent copy of verses from you next!”

Yet Jan, though quick as a stone to sink back into the mud, made a
gallant effort even at his verses; but that was his last. They were much
better than any attempt of his hitherto; but it was clear to everybody
that Haigh did not believe they were Jan’s own. Rutter was asked who had
helped him. Rutter replied that he had done his verses himself without
help. No help whatever? No help whatever. Haigh laughed to himself, but
said nothing. Jan said something to himself, but did not laugh. And now
at last he might never have been through those two minutes in the Upper
Sixth class-room.

November was a month of the past; another week would finish off the
term’s work, leaving ten clear and strenuous days for the Exams. Haigh
could only set one more copy of Latin verses, and Carpenter was as sorry
on his own account as he was thankful for Jan’s sake. Carpenter had
acquired an undeniable knack of making hexameters and pentameters that
continually construed and invariably scanned; it was the one thing he
could do better than anybody in the form, and it had brought him
latterly into considerable favour with a master whose ardour for the
Muse betrayed a catholicity of intellect in signal contrast to his view
of boys. It was not only the Greeks and Latins whose august measures
appealed to Haigh; never a copy of elegiacs set he, but it was a gem
already in its native English, and his voice must throb with its music
even as he dictated it to his form. All this was another slight mistake
in judgment: the man made a personal grievance of atrocities inevitably
committed upon his favourite poets, and the boys conceived a not
unreasonable prejudice against some of the noblest lyrics in the
language. Carpenter was probably the only member of the form who not
only revelled in the original lines, but rather enjoyed hunting up the
Latin words, and found a positive satisfaction in fitting them into
their proper places as dactyls and spondees.

“That’s the finest thing he’s set us yet,” said Chips, when Haigh had
given them Cory’s “Heraclitus” for the last copy of the term.

“It’ll be plucky fine when I’ve done with it,” Jan rejoined grimly.

“I should start on it early, if I were you,” said Chips, “like you did
last week.”

“And then get told you’ve had ’em done for you? Thanks awfully; you
don’t catch me at that game again. Between tea and prayers on Saturday
night’s good enough for me—if I’m not too done after the paper-chase.”

“You’re not going to the paper-chase, Tiger?”

“I am if I’m not stopped.”

“When you’re not even allowed to play football?”

“That’s exactly why.”

The paper-chase always took place on the last Saturday but one, and was
quite one of the events of the winter term. All the morning, after
second school, fags had been employed in tearing up scent in the
library; and soon after dinner the road under Heriot’s study windows
began to resound with the tramp of boys on their way in twos and threes
to see the start from Burston Beeches. A spell of hard weather had
broken in sunshine and clear skies; the afternoon was brilliantly fine;
and by half-past two the scene in the paddock under the noble beeches,
with the grey tower of Burston church rising behind the leafless
branches, was worthy of the day. Practically all the school was there,
and quite a quarter of it in flannels and jerseys red or white, trimmed
or starred with the colour of some fifteen. Off go the two
hares—gigantic gentlemen with their football colours thick upon them.
Hounds and mere boys in plain clothes crowd to the gate to see the last
of them and their bulging bags of scent. The twelve minutes’ law allowed
them seems much more like half-an-hour; but at last time is up, the
gates are opened, and the motley pack pours through with plenty of plain
clothes after them for the first few fields. In about a mile comes the
first check; it is the first of many, for snow is still lying under the
trees and hedges, and in the distance it always looks like a handful of
waste-paper. The younger hounds take a minute off, leaving their betters
to pick up the scent again, and their laboured breath is so like tobacco
smoke that you fancy that young master in knickerbockers is there to see
that it is not. Off again to the first water-jump—which everybody
fords—and so over miles of open upland, flecked with scent and
snow—through hedges into ditches—a pack of mudlarks now, and but a
remnant of the pack that started. Now the scent takes great zigzags, and
lies in niggardly handfuls that tell their tale. Now it is thick again,
and here are the two fags who met the hares with the fresh bags, and
those gigantic gentlemen are actually only five minutes ahead, for here
is the high road back past the Upper, and if it wasn’t for the red sun
in your eyes there should be a view of them from the top of one of those
hills.

On the top of the last hill, by the white palings of the Upper Ground,
there is a group of boys and masters, and several of the masters’ wives
as well, to see the finish; and it is going to be one of the best
finishes they ever have seen. Here come the gigantic gentlemen, red as
Indians with the sun upon their faces, and one of them plunging headlong
in a plain distress. They rush down that hill, and are half-way up this
one, the wet mud shining all over them like copper, when the first
handful of hounds start up against the sky behind them.

“Surely that’s rather a small boy to be in the first dozen,” says Miss
Heriot, pointing out a puppy in an untrimmed jersey, who is running
gamely by himself between the first and second batches of hounds.

“In no fifteen, either,” says Heriot, noticing the jersey rather than
the boy, who is still a slip of muddy white on the opposite hill.

The hares are already home. They have been received with somewhat
perfunctory applause, the real excitement being reserved for the race
between the leading hounds, now in a cluster at the foot of the last
hill; but half-way up the race is over, and Sprawson is increasing his
lead with every stride.

“Well run, my house!” says Heriot, with laconic satisfaction.

“The house isn’t done with yet, sir,” pants Sprawson, turning his back
to the sun. “There’s young Rutter been running like an old hound all the
way; here he is, in the first ten!”

And there indeed was the rather small boy in the plain jersey whom
neither Heriot nor his sister had recognised as Jan; but then he looked
another being in his muddy flannels; slimmer and trimmer, and somehow
more in his element than in the coat and collar of workaday life; and
the flush upon his face is not merely the result of exercise and a
scarlet sky, it is a flush of perfect health and momentary happiness as
well.

In fact it has been the one afternoon of all the term which Jan may care
to recall in later life; and how it will stand out among the weary walks
with poor Carpenter and the hours of bitterness under Haigh! But the
afternoon is not over yet. Sprawson is first back at the house; his
good-natured tongue has been wagging before Jan gets there, and Jan
hears a pleasant thing or two as he jogs through the quad to change in
the lavatory. But why has he not been playing football all these weeks?
It might have made just the difference to the Under-Sixteen team; they
might have beaten Haigh’s in the second round, instead of just losing as
they had done to his mortification before Jan’s eyes. What did he mean
by pretending to have a heart, and then running like this? It must be
jolly well inquired into.

“Then you’d better inquire of old Hill,” says Jan, naming the doctor as
disrespectfully as he dares to the captain of the house. “It was he said
I had one, Loder, not me!”

And Loder looks as if he would like to smack Jan’s head again, but is
restrained by the presence of Sprawson and Cave _major_, both of whom
have more influence in the house than he. The great Charles Cave has not
been in the paper-chase; he will win the Hundred and the Hurdles next
term, but he is too slender a young Apollo to shine across country, and
is not the man to go in for the few things at which he happens not to
excel. He does not address Jan personally, but deigns to mention him in
a remark to Sprawson.

“Useful man for us next term, Mother,” says Cave, “if he’s under
fifteen.”

“When’s your birthday, Tiger?” splutters Sprawson from the showerbath.

“End of this month,” says Jan.

“Confound your eyes!” cries Mother Sprawson, “then you won’t be under
fifteen for the sports, and I’ll give you a jolly good licking!”

But what Sprawson really does give Jan is cocoa and biscuits at Maltby’s
in the market-place: a most unconventional attention from a man of his
standing to a new boy: who knows enough by this time to feel painfully
out of place in the fashionable shop, and devoutly to wish himself with
Carpenter at one of their humble haunts. But even this incident is a
memory to treasure, and not to be spoilt by the fact that Shockley
waylays and kicks him in the quad for “putting on a roll,” and that
Heriot himself has Jan into his study after lock-up, for the first time
since the term began, and first gives him a severe wigging for having
run in the paper-chase at all, but sends him off with a parting
compliment on having run so well.

“He said he’d only been forbidden to play football,” so Bob Heriot
reported to his sister. “Of course I had to jump on him for that; but I
own I’m thankful I didn’t find out in time to stop his little game. It’s
just what was wanted to lift him an inch out of the ruck. It augurs the
sportsman I believe he’ll turn out in spite of us.”

“But what about his heart?”

“He hasn’t a heart, never had one, and after this can never be accused
of such a thing again.”

“I wonder you didn’t go to Dr. Hill about it long ago, Bob.”

“I did go to him. But Hill said he wouldn’t take the responsibility of
letting the unfortunate boy play football without inquiring into his
past history. That was the last proceeding to encourage, and so my hands
are tied. They always are where poor Rutter is concerned. It was the
same thing with Haigh over his Latin verses. He wanted me to write to
the boy’s preparatory schoolmaster! I haven’t interceded with him since.
Rutter’s the one boy in my house I can’t stick up for. He must sink or
swim for himself, and I think he’s going to swim; if he were in any
other form I should be sure. But I simply daren’t hold out the helping
hand that one would to others.”

Miss Heriot gave an understanding nod.

“I’ve often heard you say you can’t treat two boys alike. Now I see what
you mean.”

“But I can’t treat Rutter as I ever treated any boy before. I’ve got to
keep my treatment to myself. I mustn’t make him conscious, if I know it;
that applies to them all, of course, but it would make this boy
suspicious in a minute. He puts me on my mettle, I can tell you! I’m not
sure that he isn’t putting the whole public-school system on its trial!”

“That one boy, Bob?”

“They all do, of course. They’re all our judges in the end. But this one
is such a nut to crack, and yet there’s such a kernel somewhere! I stake
my place on that. The boy has more character even than I thought.”

“Although he sulks?”

“That’s often a sign. It means at the least courage of one’s mood. But
what you and I know, and have not got to forget, is that his whole point
of view is probably different from that of any fellow who ever went
through the school.”

“As a straw plucked from the stables?” laughed Miss Heriot under her
breath.

“Hush, Milly, for heaven’s sake! No. I was thinking of the absolute
adventure the whole thing must be to him, and has been from the very
first morning when he got up early to look about for himself like a
castaway exploring the coast!”

“Well, I only hope he’s found the natives reasonably friendly!”

The sudden friendliness of the natives was of course Jan’s greatest joy,
as for once he revelled in the peace and quiet of the untidiest study in
the house. He was more tired than he had ever been in his life before,
but also happier than he had ever dreamt of being this term. The
hot-water pipes threw a modicum of grateful warmth upon his aching legs,
outstretched on the leg-rest of the folding-chair. The curtains were
closely drawn, the candles burning at his elbow. On his knees lay a
_Gradus ad Parnassum_, open, upon an open English-Latin; and propped
against the candle-sticks was the exercise book in which he had taken
down the beautiful English version of “Heraclitus.” It is to be feared
that the beauty was lost upon Jan, who was much too weary to make a very
resolute attack upon a position which he was not equipped to capture, or
to lead another forlorn hope in which the least degree of success would
be deemed a suspicious circumstance. But he did make certain idle
demonstrations with a pencil upon a bit of foolscap. And ten minutes
before prayers he pulled himself sufficiently together to write his
eight lines out in ink.

“Let’s have a look,” said Carpenter, as they waited for the Heriots in
hall; and a look was quite enough. “I say, Tiger, you can’t show this
up! You’ll be licked as sure as eggs are eggs,” whispered Chips.

“I don’t care.”

“You would care. You simply shan’t get this signed to-night. I’ll touch
it up after prayers, and let you have it in time to make a clean copy
before ten, and Heriot’ll sign it after prayers in the morning.”

And he put that copy in his pocket as the sentinel in the passage flew
in with his sepulchral “Hush!”

By gulping down his milk and taking his dog-rock with him to his study,
Carpenter was able to devote a good half-hour to Jan’s verses and still
give Jan ten minutes to copy out the revised version; the ten minutes
was ample, but the half-hour was all too short. The very first line
began with a false quantity, and ended with a grammatical blunder.
Carpenter rectified the false quantity by a simple transposition, and
made so bold as to substitute _perisse_ for _moriri_ at the end of the
hexameter. The second half of the pentameter was hopeless: Chips fell
back on his own, merely changing _causa doloris_ to _fletus acerbus_,
and plumed himself on his facility. But in the second couplet every
other foot was a flogging matter if Jan got sent up.

      “I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
       Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.”

Chips loved the lines well enough to blush for his own respectable
attempt at a Latin rendering; but his blood ran cold at Jan’s—

              “Flevi quum memini nostro quam sæpe loquendo
                  Defessum Phœbum fecimus ire domum.”

He flung himself on the monstrosity, but had to leave it at—

             “Cum lacrymis memini nostro quam sæpe loquendo
                Hesperias Phœbus fessus adisset aquas.”

Chips did not plume himself on this; but at any rate _nostro loquendo_
was Jan’s own gem, and just bad enough to distract attention from the
suspicious superiority of the rest without invoking the direst
consequences. This was a subtle calculation on the part of Carpenter. He
was quite conscious of the subtlety, and by no means as ashamed of it as
such a desperately honest person should have been. He justified the
means by the end, which was to save Jan a certain flogging; and the
stage after justification was something very like a guilty relish in a
first offence. There was an artistic satisfaction in doing the thing as
deftly as Chips was doing it. The third couplet might almost have passed
muster as Jan had left it; a touch or two and it was safe. But the last
hexameter would never do, and Chips replaced it with a plagiarism of his
own corresponding line which might have sufficed if he himself had not
come curiously to grief over the last hexameter.

“Excellent, as usual, Carpenter,” said Haigh in the fulness of time. “I
could have given you full marks but for an odd mistake of yours towards
the end. You seem to have misread the original penultimate line: 'Still
are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;’ what part of speech
do you take that 'still’ to be?”

“Adjective, sir,” said Chips, beginning to wonder whether it was one.

“Exactly!” cried Haigh, with the guffaw of his lighter moments. “So you
get _Muta silet vox ista placens, tua carmina vivunt_—'Thy pleasant
voices are still; on the other hand, however, thy nightingales are
awake’—eh?”

“Yes, sir,” said Chips, more doubtfully than before.

“Have you a comma after the word 'nightingales’ in the English line as
you took it down?”

“No, sir.”

“_That_ accounts for it! Ha, ha, ha! But it may be my fault.” Nothing
could exceed the geniality of Haigh towards a boy with Carpenter’s
little gift. He was going through the week’s verses on the chimneypiece
in his hall, but now he turned his back to the blazing fire. “Will those
who have a comma after 'nightingales’ be good enough to hold up their
hands?” A forest of hands flew up. “I’m afraid it’s your mistake,
Carpenter,” resumed Haigh, with a final guffaw. “Well, I couldn’t have
pitched upon a finer object-lesson in the importance of punctuation, if
I had tried; but when you come to look at it again, Carpenter, you’ll
find that even without the comma your reading was more ingenious than
plausible.” He turned back to the chimneypiece and the pile of verses.
The incident seemed closed, when suddenly Haigh was seen frowning
thoughtfully into the fire. “Surely there was some other fellow did the
same thing!” he exclaimed, and began glancing through the pile. “Ah!
Rutter, of course! _Jucundæ voces tacitæ sunt, carmina vivunt!_”

His voice was completely changed as it rasped out the abhorred surname;
it changed again before the end of Jan’s hexameter.

“Were you helped in this, Rutter?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you help him, Carpenter?”

“Yes, sir.”

There was not an instant’s hesitation before either answer. Yet the very
readiness of the culprits to confess their crime was an evident
aggravation in the eyes of Haigh, who flew into a passion on the spot.

“And you own up to it without a blush between you! And you, Rutter,
expect me to believe that the same thing didn’t happen last week, when
you denied it!”

“It did not happen last week, sir,” said Jan; but all save the first
three words were drowned by Haigh.

“Silence!” he roared. “I don’t believe a word you say. But I begin to
think you’re not such a fool as you pretend to be, Rutter; you saw you
were found out at last, so you might as well make a clean breast of it!
_That_ doesn’t minimise the effect of cheating, or the impudence of the
offence in a brace of beggarly new boys. Perhaps you are not aware how
dishonesty is treated in this school? I would send you both up to Mr.
Thrale at twelve o’clock, but we don’t consider that a flogging meets
this kind of case. It’s rather one in which the whole must suffer for
the corruption of a part. I shall consider the question of a detention
for the entire form, and we’ll see if _they_ can’t knock some
rudimentary sense of honour into you!”

The two delinquents trembled in their shoes; they knew what they were in
for now. Had they entertained a single doubt about the matter, a glance
at the black looks encompassing them would have prepared them for the
worst. But Chips had not the heart to lift his eyes, and so a slip of
paper was thoughtfully passed down to him by Shockley. “I’ll murder you
for this,” it said; and the storm burst upon the hapless couple the
moment they were out in Haigh’s quad after second school.

“What the deuce do you both mean by owning up?”

“I wasn’t going to tell a lie about it,” said Jan, doggedly.

“No more was I!” squealed Chips, as Shockley twisted his arm to breaking
point behind his back.

“Oh, yes, you’re so plucky pious, aren’t you? Couldn’t do Thicksides
with other people; too highly moral and plucky superior for that; but
not above doing the Tiger’s verses, and getting the whole form kept in!”

“It isn’t for getting your verses done,” cried another big fellow,
frankly, as he tried but failed to get a free kick at Rutter: “it’s for
being such infernal young fools as to own up!”

So much for the sense of honour to be knocked into the fraudulent pair
by the rest of the form! It was a revelation to Carpenter and Rutter.
They knew that Shockley and Buggins rarely did a line of any sort of
composition for themselves, and more than once they had heard the pair
indignantly repudiate the slightest suggestion against their good faith
on the part of Haigh. But these poor specimens in their own house and
form were the only fellows whose code of honour they had been hitherto
able to probe. And it did surprise them to find some of the nicest
fellows in the form entirely at one with their particular enemies in
condemning the honesty which had got them all into trouble.

Was it a good system that could bring this about? The two boys did not
ask themselves that question; nor did it occur to them to carry their
grievance to Mr. Heriot, whose expert opinion would have been as
interesting as his almost certain action in the matter. But in the
bitterness of their hearts they did feel that an injustice had been
done; and one of them at any rate was very sorry that he had told the
truth. He would know what to say another time. Yet how human the fury of
the form, threatened with punishment for an offence for which only two
of their number were responsible, and subtly suborned by the master to
do his dirty work by venting their natural anger on the luckless pair!
Could any trick be shabbier in a master? Could any scheme be more
demoralising for boys? The effect on them was easily seen. They were to
inculcate a higher sense of schoolboy honour. And the first thing they
did was to curse and kick you for not piling dishonour on dishonour’s
head!

Chips and Jan did not see the fiendish humour of the situation, any more
than they looked beyond their immediate oppressors for first principles
and causes. But whatever may be said for the punishment of many for the
act of one or two, as the only thing to do in certain cases, it would
still be hard to justify the course pursued by Mr. Haigh, who held his
threat over the whole form until the two boys’ lives had been made a
sufficient misery to them, and then only withdrew it in consideration of
a special holiday task, to be learnt by heart at home and said to him
without a mistake (on pain of further penalties) when they came back
after Christmas.



                              CHAPTER XI

                           A MERRY CHRISTMAS


Christmas weather set in before the holidays. Old Boys came trooping
down from Oxford and Cambridge, and stood in front of their old hall
fires in astonishing ties and wondrous waistcoats, patronising the Loder
of the house, familiar only with the Charles Cave. But when they went in
a body to inspect the Upper, it was seen at once that the Old Boys’
Match could not take place for the ground was still thickly powdered
with snow, and a swept patch proved as hard and slippery as the slide in
Heriot’s quad. This slide was a duly authorised institution,
industriously swept and garnished by the small fry of the house under
the personal supervision of old Mother Sprawson, who sent more than one
of them down it barefoot, as a heroic remedy for chilblains rashly urged
in excuse for absence. Indeed it was exceptionally cold, even for a
nineteenth-century December. The fire in the hall was twice its usual
size; the study pipes became too hot to touch, yet remained a mockery
until you had your tollies going as well and every chink stopped up.
Sprawson himself was understood to be relying more than ever on his
surreptitious flask; but as he never betrayed the ordinary symptoms of
indulgence, except before a select and appreciative audience, and could
sham sober with complete success whenever necessary, these
entertainments were more droll than thrilling. It was Sprawson, however,
who lit up the slide with tollies after lock-up on the last night, and
kept the fun fast and furious until the school bell rang sharply through
the frost, and the quad opened to dispatch its quota of glowing faces to
prize-giving in the big schoolroom.

The break-up concert had been given there the night before; but the
final function was more exciting, with the Head Master beaming behind a
barricade of emblazoned volumes, the new school list in his hand. It was
fascinating to learn the new order form by form, and quite stirring to
hear and abet the thunders of applause as the prize-winners went
steaming up for their books and came back with them almost at a run.
Crabtree was the only one whom Jan clapped heartily; he was top of his
form as usual, as was Devereux lower down the school, but Jan was not
going to be seen applauding Evan unduly. Chips could not keep still when
it came to the Middle Remove, and even Jan sat up with a tight mouth
then. On their places depended their chance of a remove out of the
clutches of old Haigh. And Jan was higher than he expected to be, but
Chips was higher still, with the Shocker and Jane Eyre just above him,
and Buggins the lowest of the group.

“I wish to blazes old Haigh would hop it in the holidays, Tiger,” said
Buggins, and actually thrust his arm through Jan’s on their way back
through the snow. “You and I may have another term of the greaser if he
don’t.”

Jan said little, but it was not because he was particularly surprised at
the sudden friendliness of an inveterate foe. Everybody was friendly on
the last day. Jane Eyre was profuse in his hospitality at tea. Shockley
himself had borrowed a bit of string that he would certainly have seized
a week ago; as for Chips, he had already presented Jan with a
German-silver pencil-case out of his journey money. And what made these
signs so remarkable was that Jan himself had never been more glum than
during the last days of the term, when all the rest were packing or
looking up trains, and talking about their people and all they were
going to do at home, and making Jan realise that he had no home and no
people to call his own.

That was not perhaps a very fair or a grateful way of putting it, even
to himself; but Jan had some excuse for the bitterness of his heart. He
had not received above three letters from the rectory in all these
thirteen weeks; the poverty of his correspondence had in fact become
notorious, because he soon ceased looking for a letter, and when there
was one for him it lay on the window-sill until some fellow told him it
was there. This circumstance had provided the chivalrous Shockley with
yet another taunt. Then that occasional letter never by any chance
enclosed a post-office order, or heralded a hamper on its way by rail;
and Jan had brought so little with him in the first instance, in the way
either of eatables or of pocket-money, that a time had come when he
flatly refused Chips’s potted-meat because he saw no chance of ever
having anything to offer him in return. These of course had been among
the minor troubles of the term; but they were the very ones a fellow’s
people might have foreseen and remedied, if they had really been his
people, or cared for a moment to do the thing properly while they were
about it. But all they had done was to write three times to remind him
of their charity in doing the thing at all, and to impress upon him what
a chance in life he was getting all through them! That again was only
Jan’s view of their letters, and was perhaps as ungrateful and unfair as
his whole instinctive feeling towards his mother’s family; but it was
strong enough to make him more than ever the pariah at heart when he
came down from dormitory on the last morning, in his unaccustomed bowler
(but not the “loud tie” of all the bigger fellows), and partook of the
meat breakfast provided in the gaslit hall; and so out into the chilling
twilight, to squeeze into some omnibus because he had failed to take
Chips’s advice and order a trap in the middle of the term.

Jan’s journey was all across country, and long before the end he had
shaken off the last of his schoolfellows travelling in the same
direction. It happened that he knew very few of that contingent even by
name, and yet he was sorry when they had all been left behind; they were
the last links with a place where he now realised that he felt more at
home than he was ever likely to feel in the holidays. Eventually he
reached a bleak rural station, where there was nothing to meet him, and
walked up to the rectory, leaving casual instructions about his luggage.

It was not a pleasant walk; there had evidently been more snow in
Norfolk than at school, and it had started to thaw while Jan was in the
train. The snow stuck to his boots, and the cold was far more
penetrating than it had seemed during the frost. The rectory, however,
was the nearest point of the thatched and straggling hamlet of which it
was also the manor house. It stood in its own park, a mile and more from
the vast flint church in which a handful of people were lost at its two
perfunctory services a week. The rector was in fact more squire than
parson, though he wore a white tie as often as not, and conducted a
forbidding form of family prayer every week-day of his life. He chanced
to be the first person whom Jan saw in the grounds, on the sweep of the
drive between house and lawn. On the lawn itself a lady and a number of
children were busy making a snow-man; and the old gentleman, watching
with amusement from the swept gravel, cut for the moment a sympathetic
figure enough. Jan had to pass so close that he felt bound to go up and
report his return; but no one seemed to see him, which made it awkward.
He had been for some moments almost at the rector’s elbow, too shy to
announce himself in words, when the lady came smiling across the snow.

“Surely this is Jan, papa?” she said, whereupon the rector turned round
and exclaimed: “Why, my good fellow, when did _you_ turn up?”

Jan succeeded in explaining that he had just walked up from the station;
then there was another awkward interval, in which his grandfather took
open stock of him, with quite a different face from that which had
beamed upon the children in the snow. The lady made amends with a
readier and heartier hand, and a kind smile into the bargain.

“I’m your Aunt Alice,” she announced, “and these little people are all
your cousins. We’ve come for Christmas, so you’ll have plenty of time to
get to know each other.”

Clearly there was no time then; the children were already clamouring for
their mother’s return to the work in hand, and she rejoined them with a
meek alacrity that told its tale. Jan did not know whether to go or
stay, until the rector relieved him by observing, “If you want anything
to eat they’ll look after you indoors;” and Jan accepted his dismissal
thankfully, though he felt its cold abruptness none the less. But the
old man had been curt and chilling to him from the first moment of their
first meeting, and throughout these holidays it was to remain evident
that he took no sort of interest in the schooling which it was his
arbitrary whim to provide. Nor would Jan have minded this for a
moment—for it was nothing new—if he had not caught such a very
different old fellow smiling on the other grandchildren in the snow.

His grandmother went to the opposite extreme; she took only too much
notice of the lad, for it was notice of a most embarrassing kind. Her
duty towards Jan, as she conceived it, was to supplement the Public
School in turning him out as much of a gentleman as was possible at this
advanced stage of his development. Mrs. Ambrose began the holidays by
searching through her spectacles for the first term’s crop of visible
improvements. Very few were brought to light by this method; but a
number of inveterate blemishes were found to have survived, and each
formed a subject of summary stricture as it reappeared. Mrs. Ambrose was
one of those formidable old ladies whom no exigencies of time or place
can restrain from saying exactly what they think. Jan could not come
into a room, but her spectacles dogged his footsteps, and he was always
liable to be turned back on the threshold “to wipe them properly”; if he
had changed his boots, his fingers and nails came in for scrutiny
instead, or it might be his collar or his hair. He seldom sat at table
without hearing that he had used the wrong fork, or that knives were not
made to enter mouths, even with cheese upon their point. As in the case
of his reception by the rector, the lad would have been much less
resentful if the other grandchildren had not been present, and their
equally glaring misdemeanours consistently overlooked; he did not
realise that the old lady’s sight was failing, and that she deliberately
had him next her “for his own good.”

He disliked the other grandchildren none the less, but chiefly because
his Aunt Alice was the one member of the party whom he really did like,
and they would never let him have a word with her. They were the most
whining, selfish, exacting little wretches; and their father spent most
of his time shooting with another uncle, a soldier son of the house, and
left the whole onus of correction to dear uncomplaining Aunt Alice. But
now and then Jan got her to himself; and her gentle influence might have
sweetened all the holidays if her eldest had not celebrated the New Year
by nearly putting out Jan’s eye with a snowball containing a lump of
gravel. Now, Jan was externally good-tempered and long-suffering with
his small cousins, but on this occasion he told the offender exactly
what he thought of him, in schoolboy terms.

“I don’t care what you think,” retorted the child, who was quite old
enough to be at a preparatory school but had refused to go to one. “Who
are you to call a thing 'caddish’? You’re only a stable-boy—I heard
Daddy say so!”

Jan promptly committed the unpardonable sin of “bullying” by smacking
the head of “a boy not half your size.” It was no use his repeating in
his own defence what the small boy had said to him. “And so you are!”
cried his poor Aunt Alice, mixing hysterical tears with her first-born’s
passionate flood. And coming from those gentle lips, the words cut Jan
to the heart, for he could not see that the poor soul was not a
reasonable being where her children were concerned; he only saw that it
was no use his trying to justify his conduct for a moment. Everybody was
against him. His grandfather threatened him with a horse-whipping; his
grandmother said it was “high time school began again”; and Jan broke
his sullen silence to echo the sentiment rudely enough. He had to spend
the rest of that day in his own room, and to support a further period of
ostracism until the military uncle’s return from a country-house visit.
The military uncle, being no admirer of his younger nephews and nieces,
took a seditious view of the heinous offence reported to him by the
ladies, and backed it by tipping the offender a furtive half-sovereign
at the earliest opportunity.

“I’m afraid you’ve been having a pretty poor time of it,” said Captain
Ambrose; “but take my advice and don’t treat little swabs spoiling for
school as though you’d actually got ’em there. They’ll get there in
time, thank the Lord, and I wouldn’t be in their little breeches then!
Found something good to read?”

“I’m not reading,” said Jan, displaying the book which had occupied him
in his disgrace. “I’m learning 'The Burial-March of Dundee.’”

“That sounds cheerful,” remarked the captain. “So they give you
saying-lessons for holiday tasks at your school?”

“I can’t say what they do,” replied Jan. “There’s no holiday task these
holidays; this is something special.”

And he explained what without much hesitation, and likewise why and
wherefore under friendly pressure from the gallant captain, whose
sympathetic attitude was making another boy of Jan, but whose views were
more treasonable than ever on the matter of the vindictive punishment
meted out by Haigh.

“But I never heard of such a thing in my life!” cried he. “A master
spoil a boy’s holidays for something he’s done at school? It’s perfectly
monstrous, if not illegal, and if I were you I wouldn’t learn a line of
it.”

“I doubt I’ve learnt very near every line already,” responded Jan,
shamefacedly. “And there’s a hundred and eighty-eight altogether.”

“A hundred and eighty-eight lines in the Christmas holidays! I should
like to have seen any of our old Eton beaks come a game like that!”

“He said he’d tell Jerry if either of us makes a single mistake when we
get back.”

“Let him! Thrale’s an O.E. himself, and one of the very best; let your
man go to him if he likes, and see if he comes away without a flea in
his ear. Anyhow you shan’t hang about the house to learn another line
while I’m here; out you come with me, and try a blow at a bird!”

So after all Jan had a few congenial days, in which he slew his first
pheasant and conceived a secret devotion to his Uncle Dick, who
occasionally missed a difficult shot, but never a single opportunity of
encouraging a young beginner. Now encouragement in any direction was
what Jan needed even more than open sympathy and affection; and a
natural quickness of hand and eye enabled him to repay the pains which
were bestowed upon him. Captain Ambrose told his mother they would make
something of the boy yet, if they did not worry him too much about
trifles, and he only wished his own leave could last all the holidays.
But he had to go about the middle of January, a few days after Aunt
Alice and her party, and Jan had a whole dreary week to himself after
that. It is to be feared that he spent much of the time in solitary
prowling with a pipe and tobacco bought out of Uncle Dick’s tip. Of
course he had learnt to smoke in his stable days, and, unlike most boys,
he genuinely enjoyed the practice; at any rate a pipe passed the time,
albeit less nobly than a gun; but he was not allowed to shoot alone, and
his grandfather never took him out, or showed the slightest interest in
his daily existence under the rectory roof. His grandmother, however,
continued to equalise matters with such unwearied fault-finding, and so
many calls to order in the course of every day, that the end of the
holidays found Jan longing for the privacy of his unsightly little study
at school, and for a life in which at all events there were no old
ladies and no little children.

He was therefore anything but overjoyed when a telegraph-boy tramped up
through the heavy snow of what should have been the eve of his return to
school, with a telegram to say that the line was blocked and it was no
use his starting till the day after to-morrow. Some four hundred of
these telegrams had been hurriedly dispatched from the school to the
four quarters of Great Britain; and one may suppose that the other three
hundred and ninety-nine had been received with acclamation as surprise
packets of rapture and reprieve. But Jan took his news, not indeed
without a smile, but with a very strange one for a boy of fifteen on the
verge of that second term which is notorious for all the hard features
of a first, without its redeeming novelty and excitement.



                              CHAPTER XII

                              THE NEW YEAR


Shockley, Eyre and Carpenter found themselves duly promoted to the Lower
Fifth. Rutter and Buggins had failed to get their remove, the line being
actually drawn at Jan, who therefore was left official captain of the
Middle Remove. His dismay was greater than he would own to himself, but
Chips was articulate enough for two on the subject of their separation
in school hours. Jan, however, was less depressed about that than at the
prospect of spending most of his time in the same class as Evan
Devereux. It was bad enough to be “hotted” by Haigh, but how much worse
before Master Evan! Jan felt that he was safe to make a bigger fool of
himself than ever, and he spent the first morning in an angry glow,
feeling the other’s eyes upon him, and wondering what reports would go
home about him now, but apparently forgetting what was hanging over
Chips and himself at the hands of Haigh.

Chips, however, had not forgotten, but had written to Jan about the
matter in the holidays, without receiving any reply, and had taxed him
to little better purpose the moment they met. It was impossible to tell,
from a certain dry, somewhat droll, and uncouthly secretive demeanour,
in part product of his Yorkshire blood, which made Jan very irritating
when he chose to put it on, whether he was actually word-perfect in “The
Burial-March of Dundee” or not. This was Chips’s sole anxiety, since he
himself had left nothing to chance, when he attended Haigh after second
school on the first day, and found Jan awaiting him with impassive face.

“Now, you boys!” exclaimed Haigh, when the three of them had his hall to
themselves. “Begin, Carpenter.”

“'Sound the fife, and cry the slogan——’” began Chips, more fluently
than most people read, and proceeded without a hitch for sixteen
unfaltering lines.

“Rutter!” interrupted Haigh.

But Jan made no response.

“Come, come, Rutter,” said Haigh, with an unforeseen touch of
compassionate encouragement, as though the holidays had softened him and
last term’s hatchet cried for burial with Dundee. “'Lo! we bring with us
the hero’”—and in the old snarl after a pause: “'Lo! we bring the
conquering Græme?’”

But even this prompting drew never a word from Jan.

“Give him another lead, Carpenter;” and this time Chips continued, more
nervously, but not less accurately, down to the end of the first long
stanza:

                 “Bade us strike for King and Country,
                    Bade us win the field, or fall!”

“Now then, Rutter: 'On the heights of Killiecrankie’—come _on_, my good
boy!”

The anxious submissiveness of the really good boy, with the subtle
flattery conveyed by implicit obedience to an overbearing demand, had so
far mollified the master that Jan was evidently to have every chance.
But he did not avail himself of the clemency extended by so much as
opening his mouth.

“Have you learnt your task, or have you not, Rutter?”

And no answer even to that!

“Sulky brute!” cried Haigh, with pardonable passion. “I suppose you
don’t remember what was to happen if either of you failed to discharge
the penalty of your dishonesty last term? But _you_ remember,
Carpenter?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Carpenter, you may go; you’ve taken your punishment in the proper
spirit, and I shall not mention your name if I can help it. You, Rutter,
will hear more about the matter from Mr. Thrale to-morrow.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Jan, breaking silence at last, and without
palpable impertinence, but rather with devout sincerity. Mr. Haigh,
however, took his aversion by the shoulders and ran him out of the hall
in Chips’s wake.

Chips was miserable about the whole affair. He made up his mind either
to immediate expulsion for his friend, or such public degradation as
would bring the extreme penalty about by hardening an already obdurate
and perverse heart. The worst of it was that Jan did not treat Chips as
a friend in the matter, would not talk about it on the hill or in his
study, or explain himself any more than he had done to Mr. Haigh. The
one consoling feature of the case was that only the two boys knew
anything at all about its latest development; and Chips was not the
person to discuss with others that which Jan declined to discuss with
him.

Next day, however, in his new form, which happened to be taken by the
master who had the Lodge, there was no more absent mind than Carpenter’s
as second school drew to an end. It was after second school that the
day’s delinquents were flogged by the Head Master before the eyes of all
and sundry who liked to peer through the diamond panes of his class-room
windows. Chips had to pass close by on his way out of school; but there
were no spectators looking on outside, no old gentleman playing judge or
executioner within. In response to an anxious question Chips was
informed, by a youth who addressed him as “my good man,” that even old
Thrale didn’t start flogging on the second day of a term. Instead of
being relieved by the information, he only felt more depressed, having
heard that really serious cases were not taken in this public way at
all, but privately in the Head Master’s sanctum. Chips went back to his
house full of dire forebodings, and shut himself in his study after
looking vainly into Jan’s; and there he was still sitting when Jan’s
unmistakable slipshod step brought him to his open door.

“Tiger!” he called under his breath; and there was a world of
interrogation and anxiety in his voice.

“What’s up now?” inquired Jan, coming in with a sort of rough swagger
foreign to his habit, though Chips had observed it once or twice in the
course of their confidential relations.

“That’s what I want to know,” said he. “What has happened? What’s going
to happen? When have you got to say it by?”

“I’ve said it.”

Chips might have been knocked down with a fledgling’s feather.

“You’ve said your Aytoun’s Lay to Haigh?”

“Without a mistake,” said Jan. “I’ve just finished saying it.”

“But when on earth did you learn it, man?”

“In the holidays.”

And Jan grinned uncouth superiority to the other’s stupefaction.

“Then why the blazes couldn’t you say it yesterday?”

“Because I wasn’t going to! He’d no right to set us a holiday task of
his own like that; he’d a right to do what he liked to us here, but not
in the holidays, and he knew it jolly well. I wanted to see if he’d go
to Jerry. I thought he durs’n’t, but he did, and you bet the old man
sent him away with a flea in his ear! He never got on to me all second
school, and he looked another chap when he told me that Mr. Thrale said
I was to be kept in till I’d learnt what I’d got to learn. It was the
least he could say, if you ask me,” remarked Jan, with a complacent
grin, “and Haigh didn’t seem any too pleased about it. So then I said I
thought I could say it without being kept in, just to make him sit up a
bit, and by gum it did!”

“But he heard you, Tiger?”

“He couldn’t refuse, and I got through without a blooming error.”

“But didn’t he ask you what it all meant?”

“No fear! He’d too much sense; but he knows right enough. Instead of him
sending me up to the old man, it was me that sent him, and got him the
wigging he deserved, you bet!”

By this time Chips was in a fever of enthusiastic excitement, and the
conclusion of the matter reduced him to a mood too demonstrative for
Jan’s outward liking, however much it might cheer his secret heart.

“Tiger!” was all Chips could cry, as he wrung the Tiger’s paw perforce.
“O, Tiger, Tiger, you’ll be the hero of the house when this gets known!”

“Don’t be daft,” replied Jan in his own vernacular—under no restraint
in Chips’s company. “It’s nobody’s business but yours and mine. It won’t
do me any good if it gets all over the place.”

“It won’t do you any harm!” said Chips eagerly.

“It won’t do me any good,” persisted Jan. “Haigh knows; that’s good
enough for me, and you bet it’s good enough for Haigh!”

And Chips respected his friend the more because there was no bid for his
respect in Jan’s attitude, and he seemed so unconscious of the
opportunity for notoriety, or rather of its advantages as they presented
themselves to the more sophisticated boy.

“But who put you up to it?” inquired Chips, already vexed with his own
docility in the whole matter of the Aytoun’s Lay; it would be some
comfort to find that the Tiger had not thought of such a counterstroke
himself. And the Tiger was perfectly candid on the point, setting forth
his military uncle’s views with much simplicity, and thereafter singing
the captain’s praises in a fashion worthy of the enthusiastic Chips
himself.

“What’s his initials?” exclaimed that inquirer when the surname had
slipped out.

“R. N., I believe,” replied the Tiger. “I know they call him Dick.”

“R. N. it is!” cried Chips, and stood up before a little row of green
and red volumes in his shelves. “He’s the cricketer—must be—did he
never tell you so?”

“We never talked about cricket,” said Jan, with unfeigned indifference.
“But he used to wear cricketing ties, now you remind me. One was green
and black, and another was half the colours of the rainbow.”

“That’s the I. Z.,” cried Chips, “and here we have the very man as large
as life!” And he read out from the green _Lillywhite_ of a bygone day:
“'Capt. R. N. Ambrose (Eton), M.C.C. and I. Zingari. With a little more
first-class cricket would have been one of the best bats in England; a
rapid scorer with great hitting powers.’ I should think he was! Why, he
made a century in the Eton and Harrow; it’s still mentioned when the
match comes round. And I’ve got to tell you about your own uncle!”

“It only shows what he is, not to have told me himself,” said Jan, for
once infected with the other’s enthusiasm. “I knew he was a captain in
the Rifle Brigade, and a jolly fine chap, but that was all.”

“Well, now you should write and tell him how you took his advice.”

“I’ll wait and see how it comes off first,” returned Jan, with native
shrewdness. “I’ve had my bit of fun, but old Haigh has the term before
him to get on to me more than ever.”

Yet on the whole Jan had a far better term in school than he expected.
If, as he felt, he was deservedly deeper than ever in the master’s
disesteem, at least the fact was less patent and its expression less
blatant than heretofore. Haigh betrayed his old animosity from time to
time, but he no longer gave it free rein. He gave up loading Jan with
the elaborate abuse of a trenchant tongue, and unnecessarily exposing
his ignorance to the form. He started systematically ignoring him
instead, treating him as a person who seldom existed, and was not to be
taken seriously when he did, all of which suited the boy very well
without hurting him in the least. He would have been genuinely unmoved
by a more convincing display of contempt on the part of Mr. Haigh; on
the other hand, he often caught that gentleman’s eye upon him, and there
was something in its wary glance that gave the Tiger quite a tigerish
satisfaction. He did not flatter himself that the man was frightened of
him, though such was in a sense the case; but he did chuckle over the
thought that Haigh would be as glad to be shot of him as he of Haigh.

He had a double chuckle when, by using the brains which God had given
him, and thinking for himself against all the canons of schoolboy
research, he would occasionally go to the top of the class at a bound,
as in the scarcely typical case of _possunt quia posse videntur_. On
these occasions it was not only Haigh’s face that was worth watching as
he gave the devil his due; the flushed cheeks of Master Evan, who was
quick to acquire but slower to apply, who nevertheless was nearly always
top, and hated being displaced, were another sight for sore eyes. And
Jan was sore to the soul about Evan Devereux, now that they worked
together but seldom spoke, nor ever once went up or down the hill in
each other’s company, though that was just when Evan was at his best and
noisiest with a gang of his own cronies.

Jan was in fact unreasonably jealous and bitter at heart about Evan, and
yet grateful to him too for holding his tongue as he evidently was
doing; better never speak to a chap than speak about him, and one day at
least the silence was more golden than speech. Haigh was late, and
Buggins, who was rather too friendly with Jan now that they were the
only two of their house in the form, had described the old Tiger as his
“stable companion.” Evan happened to be listening. He saw Rutter look at
him. His eyes dropped at once, and Rutter in turn saw the ready flush
come to his cheeks. That was enough for simple Jan; everything was
forgiven in the heart that so many things conspired to harden. Evan was
as sensitive about his secret as he was himself!

One thing, however, was doing Jan a lot of good about this time; that
was his own running in the Mile. It was very trying for him to find
himself accounted a bit of a runner, and yet just too old for the Under
Fifteen events; but he never dreamt of entering for any of the open ones
until Sprawson gave out in the quad that he had put that young Tiger
down for the Mile and Steeplechase. Jan happened to be crossing the quad
at the time; he could not but stop and stare, whereupon Sprawson
promised him a tremendous licking if he dared to scratch or run below
the form he had shown in last term’s paper-chase.

“Little boys who can run, and don’t want to run, must be made to run,”
said Sprawson, with the ferocious geniality for which he was famed and
feared.

“But it’s All Ages,” protested Jan aghast. “I shan’t have the ghost of a
chance, Sprawson.”

“We’ll see about that, my pippin! It’s a poor entry, and some who’ve
entered won’t start, with all this eye-rot about.” The pretty reference
was to a mild ophthalmic affection always prevalent in the school this
term. “Don’t you get it yourself unless you want something worse, and
don’t let me catch you making a beast of yourself with cake and jam
every day of your life. Both are forbidden till further orders, and ever
after if you don’t get through a heat! You’ve got to go into training,
Tiger, and come out for runs with me.”

And Jan said he didn’t mind doing that, and Sprawson said that he didn’t
care whether he minded or not, but said it so merrily that Jan didn’t
mind that either. And away the two of them would trot in flannels down
the Burston road, and then across country over much the same ground as
Chips and Jan had covered on their first Sunday walk, and would get back
glowing in time for a shower before school or dinner as the case might
be. But Jan had to endure a good deal of “hustle” about it when Sprawson
was not there, and offers of jam from everybody within reach (except
Chips) at breakfast and tea, until Sprawson came over from the Sixth
Form table and genially undertook to crucify the next man who tried to
nobble his young colt. Sprawson would boast of the good example he
himself had set by pawning his precious flask until the Finals. He was
certainly first favourite for both the Mile and the Steeplechase, in one
or other of which he seemed to have run second or third for years. As
these two events for obscure reasons obtained more marks than any
others, and as the great Charles Cave was expected to render a
characteristic account of himself in the Hundred and the Hurdles, there
was a strong chance of adding the Athletic Cup to the others on the
green baize shelf in Heriot’s hall. It might have been a certainty if
only Jan had been a few weeks younger than he was. As it was he felt a
fool when he turned out to run off his first heat in the Mile; his only
comfort was that it would be his first and last; but he finished third
in spite of his forebodings, and won some applause for the pluck that
triumphed over tender years and an ungainly style.

Chips was jubilant, and Joyce vied with Buggins in impious
congratulations. The Shocker volunteered venomous advice about not
putting on a “roll” which only existed in his own nice mind. Heriot said
a good word for the performance in front of the fire after prayers. And
Sprawson took the credit with unctuous humour, but had allowed his man
jam that night at tea. “Now, you fellows who were so keen on giving him
some before; now’s your chance!” said Sprawson. And Chips’s greengage
proved the winning brand, though Jane Eyre’s fleshpot was undoubtedly a
better offer which it went hard to decline with embarrassed
acknowledgments. Neither Sprawson nor anybody else, however, expected
his young colt to get a place in the second round. But by this time the
field was fairly decimated by “eye-rot,” and again Jan ran third; and
third for the third time in the Semi-final; so that Sprawson’s young 'un
of fifteen and a bit actually found himself in for the Final with that
worthy and four other young men with bass voices and budding
moustachios.

Not that Jan looked so much younger than the rest when they stripped and
toed the line together. He was beginning to shoot up, and his muscles
were prematurely developed by his old life in the stable-yard; indeed,
his arms had still a faintly weather-beaten hue, from long years of
rolled-up sleeves, in comparison with the others. Again his was the only
jersey without the trimming or the star of one or other of the football
fifteens. And his ears looked rather more prominent than usual, and much
redder in a strong west wind.

The quartette from other houses were Dodds (who fell on Diamond Hill),
Greenhill (already running an exalted career in black gaiters), Sproule
and Imeson (on whom a milder light has shone less fitfully). Poor Dodds
(as you may read in that year’s volume of the Magazine) “directly after
the start began to make the pace, showing good promise if he had been
able to keep it up. By the end of the first round he had got a good long
way ahead. Imeson, however, stuck pretty near him, and the rest followed
with an interval of some yards. Dodds, Imeson, and Sproule was the order
maintained for the first three rounds. Towards the end of the second
round, however, Dodds began to show signs of distress, and he was
observed to begin to limp, owing to an old strain in his leg getting
worse again with the exertion. Then Imeson, and Sproule, closely
followed by Sprawson, began to gain fast on him.” (Observe how long
before the born miler creeps into prominence and print!) “At this point
the race began to get very exciting, intense interest being manifested
when, about the middle of the fourth round, Sproule and Imeson, who had
gradually been lessening the distance between themselves and Dodds, now
passed him; Sprawson too was coming up by degrees, and had evidently
been reserving his pace for the end, having passed Dodds, he made up the
ground between himself and Sproule, and passing him before the last
corner, got abreast of Imeson. Both of them had a splendid spurt left,
especially Sprawson, who had gained a great deal in the last half round,
and now passed Imeson, breaking the tape four or five yards ahead of
him. Sproule was a good third, _closely followed by Rutter, who had run
very pluckily and had a gallant wind_.”

Italics are surely excused by the extreme youth of him whom they would
celebrate after all these years. They do not appear in the original
account; let us requite the past writer where we can. He is not known to
have followed the literary calling, but his early fondness for a
“round,” in preference to the usual “lap,” suggests a quartogenarian
whom the mere scribe would not willingly offend.

There are some things that he leaves out perforce. There is no mention
of Jan’s unlovely, dogged, flat-footed style, of which Sprawson himself
could not cure his young 'un, while the extreme brilliance of his ears
at the finish was naturally immune from comment. Posterity has not been
vouchsafed a picture of the yelling, chaffing horde of schoolboys; but
posterity can see the same light-hearted crowd to-morrow, only in
collars not invented in those days, and straw hats in place of the
little black caps with the red creased badges. The very lists are twice
their ancient size, and the young knights no longer enter them in
cricket-trousers tucked into their socks as in simpler times. It may be
that preliminary heats do not spread over as many weeks as they did,
that it was necessary to make the most of them in the days before boxing
and hockey. But it is good to think that one custom is still kept up, at
all events in the house that once was Heriot’s. When a boy has got his
colours for cricket or football, or gained marks for his house in
athletics, that night at tea the captain of the house says “Well
played,” or “Well run, So-and-So!” And over sixty sounding palms clap
that hero loud and long.

On the night of the Mile it was old Mother Sprawson, who looked round to
the long table in the middle of the uproar in his honour, and himself
shouted something that very few could hear. But Chips always swore that
it was “Well run, _Tiger_!” And although there were no marks for fourth
place, it is certain that for the moment the row redoubled.



                             CHAPTER XIII

                           THE HAUNTED HOUSE


Next day was a Saint’s Day, which you had to yourself in the good old
times from chapel in the early forenoon till private work after tea. Jan
had just come out of chapel, and was blinking in the bright spring
sunlight, when of a sudden his blood throbbed more than the Mile had
made it. Evan Devereux had broken away from some boon companions, and
was gaily smiling in Jan’s path.

“I say, I do congratulate you on yesterday! Everybody’s talking about
it. I meant to speak to you before. That’s the worst of being in
different houses; we never see anything of each other, even now we’re in
the same form.”

The boy is an artless animal; here were two, and the second simpleton
outshining the first in beams of pure good-will.

“That can’t be helped,” said Jan, with intentionally reassuring
cordiality, so that Master Evan should not think he was, or possibly
could have been, offended for a single instant.

“Still, I don’t see why we shouldn’t help it for once,” responded Evan,
looking the other rather frankly up and down. “There’s nothing on this
morning, except the final of the School Fives, is there? Why shouldn’t
we go for a stroll together?”

Darkness descended upon beaming Jan like funeral pall on festal board.
“I—I—I’d promised another chap,” he almost groaned, with equal loyalty
and reluctance.

“What other chap?”

Was it contempt in Evan’s tone, or merely disappointment?

“Carpenter in our house.”

“Chips Carpenter! I know him well; we were at the same old school before
this. I never see enough of him either. Let’s all go together.”

But Jan was not through his difficulty yet. “We were going to the
haunted house,” he explained in a lower key. “It’s an old arrangement.”

“The haunted house!” exclaimed Evan in a half-tone between approval and
disapproval. “I never heard of one here.”

“It’s a couple of miles away. They only say it’s haunted. We thought
we’d have a look and see.”

“But is it in bounds?” inquired Evan, with some anxiety.

“I should hope so,” replied Jan, unscrupulously. “But here’s Chips; you
ask him.”

Devereux, however, despite his law-abiding instincts, was not the one to
draw back when two were for going on. He was an excitable boy with a
fund of high spirits, but not an infinity; they ran out sometimes when
least expected. This morning, however, he was at his best, and
incomparably better company than either of his companions. Jan was shy
and awkward, though his soul sang with pride and pleasure. But Chips the
articulate, Chips the loquacious, Chips the irrepressible in congenial
company, had least of all to say, except in the bitterness of his own
heart against the boy who had usurped his place.

“He’s hardly spoken to either of us,” Chips was saying to himself,
“since the very beginning of our first term; and I should like to have
seen him now, if the Tiger hadn’t finished fourth in the Mile!”

The worst of the enthusiastic temperament is that it lends itself to
cynicism almost as readily, and _vice versa_ as in Jan’s case now. Jan
also had felt often very bitter about Evan, if not exactly against him,
yet here he was basking in the boy’s first tardy and almost mercenary
smile. But Jan’s case was peculiar, as we know; and everything nice had
come together, filling his empty cup to overflowing. He might despise
public-school traditions as much as he pretended for Chips’s benefit,
but he was too honest to affect indifference to his little _succès
d’estime_ of the day before. He knew it was not little for his age. He
would have confessed it some consolation for being at school against his
will—but it was not against his will that he was walking with Master
Evan on equal terms this fine spring morning. He had always seen that
the making or the marring of his school life lay in Evan’s power. It had
not been marred as it might have been by a cruel or a thoughtless
tongue; it might still be made by kind words and even an occasional show
of equality by one whom Jan never treated as an equal in his thoughts.
He was nervous as they trod the hilly roads, but he was intensely happy.
Spring was in the bold blue sky, and in the hedgerows faintly sprayed
with green—less faintly if you looked at them aslant—and in Jan’s
heart too. Spring birds were singing, and Evan bubbling like a brook
with laughter and talk of home and the holidays that Jan knew all about;
yet never a word to let poor Chips into the secret of their old
relations, or even to set him wondering. Any indiscretion of that sort
was by way of falling from Jan himself.

“Do you ever see the Miss Christies now?” he had inadvertently inquired.

“The Christies!” Evan exclaimed, emphatically, and not without a
sidelong glance at Carpenter. “Oh, yes, the girls skated on our pond all
last holidays. Phyllis can do the outside edge backwards.”

“She would,” said Jan. “I doubt you’re too big for Fanny now?”

Fanny had been Evan’s pony, on which he had ridden a great deal with his
friends the Christies; hence the somewhat dangerous association of
ideas. He said he now rode one of the horses, when he rode at all. His
tone closed that side of the subject.

“Do you remember how you used to hoist a flag, the first day of the
holidays, to let the young—to let the girls know you’d got back?”

Evan turned to Carpenter with a forced laugh. “All these early
recollections must be pretty boring for you,” said he. “But this chap
and I used to know each other at home.”

“I wish we did now,” said Jan. “There’s nobody to speak to down in
Norfolk.”

“Except R. N. Ambrose,” put in Chips, dryly. “I suppose you know that’s
his uncle?”

Devereux did not know it, and the information was opportune in every
way. It reminded him that Mrs. Rutter had been a lady, and it reminded
Jan himself that all his people had not sprung from the stables. It made
him distinctly less liable to say “the Miss Christies” or “Master Evan.”
Above all it introduced the general topic of cricket, in which Chips and
his statistics got a chance at last, so that in argument alone a mile
went like the wind. Chips could have gained full marks in any paper set
on the row of green and red booklets in his shelves. He was a staunch
upholder of Middlesex cricket, but Jan and Evan were Yorkshire to the
marrow, and one of them at least was glad to be heart and soul with the
other in the discussion that followed. It was not a little heated as
between Carpenter and Devereux and it lasted the trio until they tramped
almost into the straggling and deserted street of the village famous for
its haunted house.

“I suppose it’s at the other end of the village. We shan’t see it yet a
bit.”

Jan spoke with the bated breath and sparkling eye of the born
adventurer; and Chips whispered volubly of ghosts in general; but Evan
Devereux became silent for the first time. He was the smallest of the
three boys, but much the most attractive, with his clean-cut features,
his auburn hair, and that clear, radiant, tell-tale skin which even now
was saying something that he found difficult to put into so many words.

“Aren’t haunted houses rather rot?”

Such was his first attempt.

“Rather _not_!” cried Chips, the Tiger concurring on appeal.

“Still, it strikes me we’re bound to be seen, and it seems rather a
rotten sort of row to get into.”

Carpenter was amused at the ostensible superiority of this view. It was
hardly consistent with a further access of colour for which Chips was
waiting before it came. He knew Devereux of old at their private school,
and that what he hated above all else was getting into a row of any
description. Jan might have known it, too, by the pains he took to
reduce the adverse chances to decimals. Nobody was about, to see them;
nobody who did would dream of reporting chaps; but for that matter, now
there were three of them, one could keep watch while the other two
explored. The house was no better than an empty ruin, if all Jan had
heard was true, but they must have a look for themselves now that they
were there. It was one of the two things worth doing at that school, let
alone the games, and you had to go in for them, whether you liked them
or not.

“What’s the other thing?” asked Evan, with a bit of a sneer, as became
one who had been longer in the school and apparently learnt less.

“Molton Tunnel.”

“Yes, I have heard of that. Some fellows are fool enough to walk through
it, aren’t they?”

“Some who happen to have the pluck,” said Chips, taking the answer on
himself. “There aren’t too many.”

“Are you one?” inquired sarcastic Evan.

“No; but _he_ is,” returned Chips, with a jerk of the head towards Jan.
“I turned tail at the last.”

“Don’t you believe him,” says Jan, grinning. “I wouldn’t take him with
me; he’s too blind, is Chips. Wait till he starts specs; then I’ll take
you both if you like. There’s nothing in it. You can see one end or the
other half your time; it’s only a short bit where you can’t see either,
and then you can feel your way. But by gum it makes you mucky!”

“It’d make you muckier if you met a train,” Evan suggested, with a sly
stress on Jan’s epithet.

“But I didn’t, you see.”

“You jolly nearly did,” Chips would have it. “The express came through
the minute after he did, Devereux.”

“Not the minute, nor yet the five minutes,” protested Jan. “But here we
are at the end of the village, and if that isn’t the haunted house I’ll
eat my cap!”

It stood behind a row of tall iron palings, which stand there still, but
the deadly little flat-faced villa was pulled down years ago, and no
other habitation occupies its site. The garden was a little wilderness
even as the three boys first saw it through the iron palings. But a
million twigs with emerald tips quivered with joy in the breezy
sunshine. It was no day for ghosts. The house, however, in less
inspiriting circumstances, might well have lent itself to evil
tradition. Its windows were foul and broken, and some of them still
flaunted the draggled remnants of old futile announcements of a sale by
auction. Its paint was bleached all over, and bloated in hideous spots;
mould and discoloration held foul revel from roof-tree to doorstep; the
whole fabric cried for destruction, as the dead for burial.

“I doubt they won’t have got much of a bid,” said Jan, pointing out the
placards. “Yet it must have been a tidy little place in its day.”

He had forced the sunken gate through the weedy path, and was first
within the disreputable precincts. Evan was peering up and down the
empty road, and Chips was watching Evan with interest.

“I shouldn’t come in,” said Chips, “if I were you, Devereux.”

“Why not?” demanded Evan, with instantaneous heat.

“Well, it is really out of bounds, I suppose, and some master _might_ be
there before us, having a look round, and then we should be done!”

Before an adequate retort could be concocted, Jan told Chips to go to
blazes, and Evan showed his indignation by being second through the
garden gate, which Carpenter shoved ajar behind them. Jan was already
leading the way to the back of the house. Instinctively the boys stole
gently over the weeds, though there was but a dead wall on the other
side of the main road, and only open fields beyond the matted ruin of a
back garden.

The back windows had escaped the stones of the village urchins, but the
glass half of a door into the garden was badly smashed. Jan put in his
hand to turn the key, but the door was open all the time. Inside, the
boys spoke as softly as they had trodden without, and when Carpenter
gave an honest shudder, Devereux followed suit with a wry giggle. It was
all as depressing as it could be: mouldy papers peeling off the walls,
rotting boards that threatened to let a leg clean through, and a more
than musty atmosphere that made the hardy leader pull faces in the hall.

“I should like to open a window or two,” said Jan, entering a room
better lighted and still better aired by broken panes.

“I should start my pipe, if I were you,” suggested Chips, with the
perfectly genuine motive implied. But it was a pity he did not think
twice before making the suggestion then.

Not that it was the first time he had thought of Jan’s pipe that
morning. He had been rather distressed when Jan showed it to him after
the holidays, for Chips had been brought up to view juvenile smoking
with some contempt; but he preferred to tolerate the smoker than to
alienate the friend, and earlier in the term he had looked on at many a
surreptitious rite. Jan certainly smoked as though he enjoyed it; but
Sprawson had shown expert acumen when he threatened his young 'un with
“hot bodkins if I catch you smoking while we’re training!” And Jan had
played the sportsman on the point. But to-day he was to have indulged
once more, and in the haunted house of all places. Carpenter had kept an
eye on the pocket bulging with Jan’s pipe and pouch, wondering if Evan’s
presence would retard or prevent their appearance, feeling altogether
rather cynical in the matter. But he had never meant to let the cat out
like this, and he turned shamefacedly from Jan’s angry look to Evan’s
immediate air of superiority.

“You don’t mean to say you smoke, Rutter?”

“I always did, you know,” said Jan, with uncouth grin and scarlet ears.

“I know.” Evan glanced at Chips. “But I didn’t think you’d have done it
here.”

“I don’t see any more harm in it here than at home.”

“Except that it’s a rotten kind of row to get into. I smoke at home
myself,” said Evan, loftily.

“All rows are rotten, aren’t they?” remarked Carpenter, with apparent
innocence. But Devereux was not deceived; these two were like steel and
flint to-day; and more than sparks might have flown between them if Jan
had not created a diversion by creeping back into the hall.

“I’m going upstairs before I do anything else,” he announced. “There’s
something I don’t much like.”

“What is it?”

“I want to see.”

Jan’s brows were knit; the other two followed him with instant
palpitations, but close together, for all their bickering. The stairs
and landing were in better case than the lower floor next the earth; the
stairs were sound enough to creak alarmingly as the boys ascended them
in single file. And at that all three stood still, as though they
expected an upper door to open and a terrible challenge to echo through
the empty house. But Jan’s was the first voice heard, as he picked up a
newspaper which had been left hanging on the landing banisters.

“Some sporting card’s been here before us,” said Jan. “Here’s the
_Sportsman_ of last Saturday week.”

A landing window with a border of red and blue glass, in peculiarly
atrocious shades, splashed the boys with vivid colour as they stood
abreast; but no light came from the upper rooms, all the doors being
shut. Jan opened one of them, but soon left his followers behind in
another room sweetened by a shattered pain. Their differences forgotten
in the excitement of the adventure, these two were chatting
confidentially enough when a dreadful cry brought them headlong to the
door.

It was Jan’s voice again; they could see nothing of him, but a large
mouse came scuttling through an open door at the end of the landing, and
almost over their toes. Carpenter skipped to one side, but Devereux
dashed his cap at the little creature with a shout of nervous mirth.

“Don’t laugh, you chaps!” said Jan, lurching into the doorway at the
landing’s end. They could not see his face; the strongest light was in
the room behind him, but they saw him swaying upon its threshold.

“I can’t help it,” said Evan, hysterically. “Frightened by a mouse—you
of all people!”

Jan turned back into the room without a word, but they saw his fist
close upon the handle of the door, and he seemed to be leaning on it for
support as the other two came up. “Oh, I say, we must smash a window
here!” Evan had cried, with the same strained merriment, when Chips,
bringing up the rear, saw the other spring from Jan’s side back into the
passage. Chips pushed past him, and hugged Jan’s arm.

It was not another empty room; there was a tall fixed cupboard between
fireplace and window, its door standing as wide open as the one where
the two boys clung together; and in the cupboard hung a suit of bursting
corduroys, with a blackened face looking out of it, and hobnail boots
just clear of the floor.

“Dead?” whispered Chips through chattering teeth.

“Dead for days,” Jan muttered back. “And he’s come in here and hung
himself in the haunted house!”

Crashing noises came from the stairs; it was Evan in full flight,
jumping many at a time. Chips was after him on the instant, and Jan
after Chips when he had closed the chamber of death behind him.

The horrified boys did not go by the gate as they had come, but smashed
the rotten fence at the end of the awful garden in the frenzy of their
flight across country. It was as though they had done the hideous deed
themselves; over the fields they fled pell-mell, up-hill and down-dale,
through emerald-dusted hedge and brimming ditch, as in a panic of
blood-guiltiness. Spring still smiled on them sunnily, breezily. Spring
birds welcomed them back with uninterrupted song. The boys had neither
eyes nor ears, but only bursting hearts and breaking limbs, until a
well-known steeple pricked the sky, and they flung themselves down in a
hollow between a ploughed field, rich as chocolate, and a meadow alive
with ewes and lambs.

Chips was speechless, because he was not supposed to run; but Evan, a
notoriously dapper little dandy, seldom to be seen dishevelled out of
flannels, was the one who looked least like himself. He lay on his
stomach in the fretted shadow of a stunted oak. But Jan sat himself on
the timber rails between bleating lambs and chocolate furrows, and made
the same remarks more than once.

“It’s a bad job,” said Jan at intervals.

“But are you sure about it?” Evan sat up to ask eventually. “Are you
positive it was a man, and that the man was dead?”

“I can swear to it,” said Jan.

“So can I,” wheezed Chips, who was badly broken-winded. “And that’s what
we shall have to do, worse luck!”

“Why?” from Evan.

“How can we help it?”

“Nobody saw us go in or come out.”

“Then do you mean to leave a dead man hanging till his head comes off?”

Chips had a graphic gift which was apt to lead him a bit too far.
Devereux, looking worried, and speaking snappily, promptly told him not
to be a beast.

“I didn’t mean to be, but I should think myself one if I slunk out of a
thing like this without a word to anybody.”

“I don’t see what business it is of ours.”

“The man may have a wife and kids. They must be half-mad to know what’s
become of him.”

“We can’t help that. Besides——”

Evan stopped. Jan was not putting in his word at all, but stolidly
listening from his perch.

“Besides what, Devereux?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Of course we shall get into a _row_,” Chips admitted, cruelly; “but I
shouldn’t call it a very rotten one, myself. It would be far rottener to
try to avoid one now, and it might get us into a far worse row.”

Evan snorted an incoherent disclaimer, to the general effect that the
consequences were of course the very last consideration with him, at all
events so far as his own skin went. He was quite ready to stand the
racket, though he had been against the beastly haunted house from the
first, and it was rather hard luck on him. But what he seemed to feel
still more strongly was the hard luck on all their people, if the three
of them had to give evidence at an inquest, and the whole thing got into
the papers.

Chips felt that he would rather enjoy that part, but he did not say so,
and Jan still preserved a Delphic silence.

“Besides,” added Devereux, returning rather suddenly to his original
ground, “I’m blowed if I myself could swear I’d ever seen the body.”

“You wouldn’t,” remarked Jan, sympathetically. “You didn’t have a good
enough look.”

“Yet you saw enough to make you bolt,” said that offensive Chips, and
opened all the dampers of Evan’s natural heat.

“It wasn’t what I saw, my good fool!” he cried angrily. “You know as
well as I do what it was like up there. That’s the only reason I cleared
out.”

“Well, there you are!” said Jan, grinning aloft on his rail.

“Then you agree with Carpenter, do you, that it’s our duty to go in and
report the whole thing, and get a licking for our pains?”

Carpenter laughed satirically at the “licking,” but refrained from
speech. He knew of old that Evan’s horror of the rod was on a par with
the ordinary citizen’s horror of gaol. And he could not help wanting Jan
to know it—but Jan did.

Once, in the very oldest days, when the pretty boy and the stable brat
were playing together for almost the first time, the boy had broken a
window and begged the brat to father the crime. Jan would not have told
Chips for worlds; indeed, he was very sorry to have recalled so dim an
incident out of the dead past; but there it was, unbidden, and here was
the same inveterate abhorrence, not so much of actual punishment, but of
being put in an unfavourable light in the eyes of others. That was a
distinctive trait of Evan’s, peculiar only in its intensity. Both his
old companions were equally reminded of it now. But Jan’s was the hard
position! To have got in touch with Evan at last, to admire him as he
always had and would, and yet to have that admiration promptly tempered
by this gratuitous exhibition of a radical fault! Though he put it to
himself in simpler fashion, this was Jan’s chief trouble, and it would
have been bad enough just then without the necessity that he foresaw of
choosing between Chips and Evan.

“I don’t know about duty,” he temporised, “but I don’t believe we should
be licked.”

“Of course we shouldn’t!” cried Chips. “But it wouldn’t kill us if we
were.”

“You agree with him?” persisted Evan, in a threatening voice of which
the meaning was not lost on Jan. It meant out-of-touch again in no time,
and for good!

“I don’t know,” sighed Jan. “I suppose we ought to say what we’ve seen;
and it’ll pay us, too, if it’s going to get out anyhow; but I do think
it’s hard on you—Devereux. We dragged you into it. You never wanted to
come in; you said so over and over.” Jan gloomed and glowered, then
brightened in a flash. “Look here! I vote us two tell Heriot what we’ve
seen, Chips! Most likely he won’t ask if we were by ourselves; he’s sure
to think we were. If he does ask, we can say there was another chap, but
we’d rather not mention his name, because he was dead against the whole
thing, and never saw all we did!”

Jan had unfolded his bright idea directly to Carpenter, whose opinion he
awaited with evident anxiety. He resented being placed like this between
the old friend and the new, and having to side with one or the other,
especially when he himself could not see that it mattered so very much
which course they took. They could not bring the dead man back to life.
On the whole he supposed that Chips was right; but Jan would have held
his tongue with Evan against any other fellow in the school. It was the
new friend, however, who had been the true friend these two terms, and
it was not in Jan’s body to go against him now, though he would have
given a bit of it to feel otherwise.

“If that’s good enough for Devereux,” said Chips, dryly, “it’s good
enough for me. But I’m blowed if I could sleep till that poor chap’s cut
down!”

Devereux now became far from sure that it was good enough for him; in
fact he declared nearly all the way back that he would own up with the
others, that they must stand or fall together, even if he himself was
more sinned against than sinning. That was not indeed the expression he
used, but the schoolboy paraphrase was pretty close, and his companions
did not take it up. Chips, having gained his point, was content to look
volumes of unspoken criticism, while Jan felt heartily sick of the whole
discussion. He was prepared to do or to suffer what was necessary or
inevitable, but for his part he had talked enough about it in advance.

Evan, however, would not drop the subject until they found the familiar
street looking cynically sleepy and serene, the same and yet subtly
altered to those young eyes seared with a horror to be fully realised
only by degrees. It began to come home to them now, in the region of
other black caps with red badges, and faces that met theirs curiously,
as though they showed what they had seen. Their experience was indeed
settling over them like a blight, and two of the trio had forgotten all
about the consequences when the third blushed up and hesitated at
Heriot’s corner.

“Of course,” he stammered, “if you found, after all, that you really
were able to keep my name out of it, I should be awfully thankful to you
both, because I never should have put my nose into the beastly place
alone. But if it’s going to get you fellows into any hotter water I’ll
come forward like a shot.”

“Noble fellow!” murmured Carpenter as the pair turned into their quad.

“You shut up!” Jan muttered back. “I’ve a jolly good mind not to open my
own mouth either!”

But he did, and in the event there was no call upon Evan’s nobility.
Heriot knew that the two boys who came to him after dinner were always
about together, and he was too much disturbed by what they told him to
ask if they had been alone as usual. He took that for granted, in the
communications which he lost no time in making both to the police and to
the Head Master, who took it for granted in his turn when the pair came
to his study in the School House. He was very stern with them, but not
unkind. They had broken bounds, and richly deserved the flogging he
would have given them if their terrible experience were not a punishment
in itself; it was indeed a very severe one to Carpenter, who was by this
time utterly unstrung; but Rutter, who certainly looked unmoved, was
reminded that this was the second time he had escaped his deserts for a
serious offence, and he was grimly warned against a third. If they
wished to signify their appreciation of his clemency, the old man added,
they would both hold their tongues about the whole affair.

And the two boys entered into a compact to that effect between
themselves, though not without considerable reluctance on the part of
poor Chips, who felt that he was locking up the conversational capital
of a school lifetime. Yet within a week the adventure was being talked
about, and that despite the fact that the Chief Constable of the county,
an old friend of Heriot’s, had prevailed upon the County Coroner to
dispense with the actual evidence of either boy.

Jan asked Chips if he had told anybody, only to meet with an indignant
denial.

“I’ve never said a word, my good Tiger!”

“Well, I haven’t, that’s a sure thing.”

“Then it must be Devereux.”

“I thought you’d say that,” said Jan, but kept his ears open in form,
and actually overheard Evan boasting of the adventure before Haigh came
in. Moreover, as he was not questioned about it himself, Jan was forced
to the conclusion that Evan was acting on the principle of one good turn
deserving another, and leaving out every name but his own.

“Well?” asked Chips when next they met.

“Well, I’m afraid you’re right; and I don’t know what to think of it,”
said poor Jan, hiding his feelings as best he could.

“I won’t say what I think,” returned Chips.

And he never did.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                             “SUMMER-TERM”


“O Summer-Term, sweet to the Cricketer, whose very existence is bliss;
 O Summer-Term, sweet to the Editor, who needs write but two numbers of
    _this_——”

“But he doesn’t write them,” objected Jan, “any more than the captain of
a side makes all the runs.”

“Oh! I know it should be 'edit,’ but that doesn’t scan,” explained
Chips, and continued:

“O Summer-Term, sweet to the sportsman, who makes a good book on the
   Oaks——”

“Why the Oaks?” interrupted Jan again. “Why not the Derby, while you are
about it?”

Chips told him he would see, confound him!

“O Summer-Term, sweet to the Jester, who’s plenty of food for his
   jokes!”

“I see; but not enough rhymes for them, eh?”

“That’s about it, I suppose.”

Chips was laughing, though Jan was just a little too sardonic for him,
as had often been the case of late. The scene was the poet’s study, and
the time after lock-up on a Sunday evening, when the friends always sat
together until prayers. The tardy shades of early June were intensified
by the opaque window overlooking the road and only opening at the top.
Chips had his candles burning, and the minute den that he kept so spick
and span, with its plush frames brushed, and its little pictures seldom
out of the horizontal, looked quite fascinating in the two dim lights.
The poet, looking the part in _pince-nez_ started in the Easter
holidays, was seated at his table; the critic lounged in the folding
chair with the leg-rest up and a bag of biscuits in his lap.

The evolution of the Poet Chips was no novelty to Jan, who had been
watching the phenomenon ever since Chips had received a Handsome Book as
second prize for his “The school-bell tolls the knell of parting play,”
in a parody competition in _Every Boy’s Magazine_. That secret triumph
had occurred in their first term, and Chips had promptly forwarded a
companion effort (“In her ear he whispers thickly”) to the School
“Mag.,” in which it was publicly declined with something more than
thanks. “C.——Your composition shows talent, but tends to vulgarity,
especially towards the end. Choose a more lofty subject, and try again!”
C. did both without delay, in a shipwreck lay (“The sea was raging with
boisterous roar”) which impressed Jan deeply, but only elicited
“C.——Very sorry to discourage you, _but_——” in the February number.
Discouraged poor C. had certainly been, but not more than was now the
case under the grim sallies of his own familiar friend.

It was really too bad of Jan, whose Easter holidays had been redeemed by
a week of bliss at the Carpenters’ nice house near London. The two boys
had done exactly what they liked—kept all hours—seen a play or two,
besides producing one themselves (“Alone in the Pirates’ Lair”) in a toy
theatre which showed the child in old Chips alongside the precocious
poetaster. But even Jan had printed programmes and shifted scenes with a
zest unworthy of the heavier criticism.

“Go it, Chips!” cried the critic through half a biscuit. “It’s
first-class; let’s have some more.”

But Chips only went it for another couplet:—

“When 'tis joy on one’s rug to be basking, and watching a match on the
   Upper,
 When the works of J. Lillywhite, junior, rank higher than those of one
    Tupper——”

“Who’s he when he’s at home?” inquired the relentless Jan.

“Oh, dash it all, you want to know too much! You’re as bad as the old
man; last time our form showed up verses to him I’d got Olympus, meaning
sky. 'Who’s your friend Olympus?’ says Jerry, with a jab of his joiner’s
pencil. And now you say the same about poor old Tupper!”

“I didn’t; but who _is_ your friend Tupper?”

“He’s no friend of mine,” explained candid Chips, “but I’d a good rhyme
ready for him, so he came in handy, like my old pal Olympus at the end
of a hexameter. I expect he’s some old penny-a-liner. 'Tupper and
Tennyson, Daniel Defoe,’ as the song says.”

Chips might or might not have been able to say what song he meant. His
mind was full of the assorted smatterings of an omnivorous but desultory
reader, and he never had time to tidy it like his study. He sat pinching
the soft rim of one of the candles into a chalice that overflowed and
soused his fingers in hot grease. He was not going to read any more
aloud, because he knew what rot it all was; but there Jan warmly
contradicted him, until he was allowed to listen to the rest like a
better friend.

Yet just then Jan was not at his best as friend or companion; and it did
rather try his temper to have to listen to fulsome numbers on a sore
subject.

     “An ode to the balmiest season endowed us by Nature’s decree,
     A wild panegyric in praise of the jolliest term of the three!”

So Chips chose to characterise his doggerel and its theme; but as he
rarely made a run at cricket, and was always upset about it, Jan could
not think why. He only knew it was not “the jolliest term of the three”
for him, but quite the unluckiest so far, despite the fact that he was
free at last from the clutches of Mr. Haigh. It was out of school that
the bad luck of his first term had repeated itself in aggravated form;
his cricket had been knocked on the head even quicker than his football.

Cricket in a public school is a heavy sorrow to the average neophyte; if
he goes with a reputation, he will get his chance; unknown talent has to
wait for it, mere ardour is simply swamped. Jan had not only no
reputation, but no private school where he could say that he had played
the game. He did not know he was a cricketer, nor was he at that time
any such thing; but he was a natural left-hand bowler. He began the term
talking about “notches” instead of runs, “scouting” instead of fielding,
and a “full” ball when he meant a fast one. Once he even said
“cuddy-handed” for “left-handed,” in speaking of his own bowling to
Chips. Luckily they were alone at the time. Chips was shocked to find
his friend so unversed in the very alphabet of cricket, and began
coaching him out of _Lillywhite_ without delay. Yet the first three
balls which Jan delivered, at their first net, did an informal hat-trick
at the expense of the theoretical exponent of the game.

Chips, having had his stumps disturbed a great many times on that
occasion, went about talking more generously than wisely of the Tiger’s
prowess with the ball; for he was already accounted a bit of a windbag
about the game, and his personal ineptitude soon found him out. Chips
had put his name down for the Lower Ground, and Jan his for the
adjoining Middle, owing to his decidedly superior stature. But there
were plenty of lusty louts on the Middle, and Jan had to go some days
without a game; when he got one he was not put on to bowl; and May was
well advanced before he found himself taking wickets in the second
Middle game.

It was Shockley of all people who had tossed the ball to him, with a
characteristic reference to poor Chips’s vicarious bragging. “That young
lubber Carpenter says you can bowl a bit; if you can’t I’ll give the
ruddy little liar the biggest licking he’s ever had in his life!” It was
significant that Jan himself was not threatened with violence; but
perhaps it was the Shocker’s subtlety that devised the surest means of
putting the new bowler on his mettle. The fact remains that Jan shambled
up to the wicket, gave an ungainly twiddle of the left arm, and
delivered a ball that removed the leg bail after pitching outside the
off stump.

The defeated batsman proceeded to make a less creditable stand than the
one the Tiger had broken up. “I’m not going,” said he, without stirring
from the crease.

“You jolly well are!” thundered Shockley, who was first captain of the
game. “The umpire didn’t give it a no-ball, did he?”

“No, and he didn’t give me guard, either. New guard for a left-hand
bowler, if you don’t mind, Shockley; you should have said he was one.”

“I’m blowed if I knew,” replied the Shocker, truly enough, and turned
from the other big fellow to the luckless bowler. “Why the blue blazes
didn’t you tell us, Rutter?”

“I never thought of it, Shockley.”

Curses descended on Jan’s head; but the batsman would have to go. The
batsman stuck to his crease. The umpires, as usual the two next men in,
had a singular point to settle; one gave it “out” with indecent
promptitude, and so off with his coat; the other umpire, a younger boy
in the batsman’s house, was not so sure.

Jan offered a rash solution of the difficulty.

“Suppose I bowl him out again?” he suggested with the dryest brand of
startling insolence.

“I don’t know your beastly name,” cried the batsman, “but you’ll know
more about me when the game’s over.”

“Quite right,” said Shockley; “it’ll do the young lubber all the good in
the world.” And partly because the batsman was an even bigger fellow
than himself, partly out of open spite against Jan, the Shocker allowed
the game to proceed.

The batsman took fresh guard, and Jan his shambling run. This time the
ball seemed well off the wicket, and the batsman took a vindictive
slash, only to find his off stump mown down.

“You put me off, you devil!” he cried, shaking his bat at Jan; but this
time he did retire, to vow a vengeance which in the event he was man
enough not to take. For the formidable Tiger had secured the remaining
wickets at a nominal cost.

In any other game, on any one of the three grounds, such a performance
would have led to the player’s immediate promotion to the game above;
but Shockley managed to keep Jan down, and on his own side, over the
next half-holiday, when another untoward event marked the progress of
the second Middle game.

It was a rainy day, hardly fit for cricket, but sawdust was a refinement
then unknown on the Middle, and Jan would not have understood its uses
if it had been there. He had never bowled with a wet ball before, and he
lost his length so completely that Shockley abused him like a
pickpocket, and took him off after a couple of expensive overs. But
nobody else could do any better, and Jan had just resumed when a
half-volley was returned between himself and mid-off. Jan shot out his
left hand, but the wet ball passed clean through his fingers, which he
shook with pain while a single was being run. He was about to bowl again
before he observed blood pouring over his flannels, from his bowling
hand. It was split so badly that he could see between the knuckles of
the second and third fingers.

He went dripping to the doctor who had falsely convicted him of a heart.
That practitioner was out, and the dripping ceased before he came in; so
he washed nothing, but strapped the two fingers together in their drying
blood, and in the next three weeks they grew almost into one. The
greater part of that time Jan carried his arm in a sling, and the days
were full of ironies not incorporated by Chips in his gushing pæan.
House matches began, and in the Under Sixteen Heriot’s were promptly
defeated by a side which must have perished before a decent bowler; in
the All Ages, in spite of Charles Cave and the runs he could not help
making in house matches, they only survived one round; and Chips would
have it that even there Jan would just have made the difference. It is
right to add that the rest of the house did not realise their loss,
though Shockley might have made them if he had chosen. Then the Elevens
came out, and Jan was not even in the Fifth Middle, then the lowest on
the ground; Chips just scraped into the Fourth Lower, the lowest Eleven
of all, and one for which (to his grief) no cap was given.

Founder’s Day came with the Old Boys’ Match, and a galaxy of gay and
brilliant young men, from whom a very good side was chosen to do battle
against the school; and Founder’s Day was a whole holiday, when you were
free to take your rug to the Upper directly after chapel. Jan took his
ball as well, because his arm was out of a sling, though he was still
forbidden to play in a game. That did not prevent him from bowling to
one of the long line of cricketers who stuck single stumps down the
length of the white palings that bounded the ground on one side.
Volunteer batteries bombarded each, but Jan’s batsman eventually
requested the other volunteers to wait while the left-hander gave him a
little practice. And after that (but not before the single stump had
been laid low once) the Old Boy asked Jan his name, and why he was not
bowling for the school; it is true that he was laughing as he spoke, and
a knot of listeners laughed louder, which sent Jan off to his rug in
some little dudgeon.

There Chips soon joined him with a startling statement to the effect
that Jan’s fortune was as good as made. “I suppose you know who it was
you were bowling to?” he inquired in self-defence against the Tiger’s
claws.

“No, I don’t, and I don’t care either.”

“It’s only A. G. Swallow!”

“I never heard of him.”

“He was captain here before we were born, and only about the best
all-round man we ever turned out! He’s played for the Gentlemen again
and again.”

“What’s that to me?”

“It may be everything! He went straight up to Dudley Relton and told him
all about you. I’ll swear he did. I saw him imitate your action—no
mistaking it—and I saw Relton look this way.”

Jan did not affect any further indifference; but he refused to accept a
sanguine interpretation of the alleged interview. Dudley Relton was a
new master that term, but as an Oxford cricketer his fame was scarcely
past its height. He had led that University at Lord’s the very year
before; and here he was in the van of a new movement, as perhaps the
earliest pioneer of the so-called “cricket master” to whom the school
professional now plays second fiddle. The innovation was characteristic
of Mr. Thrale, and not out of harmony with a general feeling that no
mere player could replace the giant who had completed his mortal innings
since Chips and Jan obtained their first school caps of him. It remained
to be seen, however, whether Dudley Relton was the right man in an
anomalous place. It was said that he was disposed to interfere with the
composition of the Eleven, that a strong captain would have put him in
his place, that the great Charles Cave had done so on his own account,
and that Dudley Relton had still to justify his existence as a professed
discoverer of buried talent. Of such material Chips constructed a
certain castle in the air, and put in Jan as tenant for the term of his
school life; and was so full of his unselfish dream that the July Mag.,
actually containing the “wild panegyric in praise of the jolliest term
of the three,” came out, as it were, behind the poet’s back; and he had
the rare experience of hearing himself quoted before he saw himself in
print.

It was after second school, and Chips had gone into hall to see the
cricket in the papers. He found a group of fellows skimming the new
Magazine, just out that minute, and chuckling indulgently over some item
or other in its contents.

“That’s not bad about 'basking on the rugs on the Upper,’” remarked
Crabtree, critically; and Chips felt his heart between his teeth.

“The whole thing isn’t bad,” affirmed no other than Charles Cave, and
that made Chips feel as though a royal palm had rested on his head; but
there was just an element of doubt about the matter, owing to Crabtree’s
slight misquotation, which was more than literary flesh and blood could
stand.

“You might let me see!” gasped Chips, at Crabtree’s elbow.

“Why should I?” demanded that worthy, with all the outraged dignity of
his very decided seniority.

Chips knew too well that he had taken a liberty which the actual
circumstances alone could excuse; but nobody else was listening yet, so
he whispered in Crabtree’s ear, “Because I wrote it!”

“You what?” cried Crabtree, irritably.

“I wrote that thing.”

“What thing?”

Everybody was listening now.

“That thing you’re reading about 'Summer-Term,’” said Chips
shamefacedly.

“What a lie!” cried half the fellows in the hall.

“It isn’t. I swear I did.”

Charles Cave was too great a man either to pass any comment on the
situation, or to withdraw the one he had already made on the verses
themselves. But Crabtree was nodding his great red head with
intimidating violence.

“Oh! so you wrote the thing, did you?”

“I did, I swear!”

“Then it’s the greatest rot I ever read in my life,” said Crabtree, “and
the most infernal piece of cheek for a kid of your standing!”

Chips never forgave himself for not having held his tongue; but there
was something bracing both about this rough sally and the laugh it
raised. The laughter at any rate was not ill-natured, and Chips received
a good many compliments mingled with the chaff to which his precocious
flight exposed him. He was always sorry that he had not held his tongue
and enjoyed the sweets of anonymity a little longer. But nothing could
rob him of that great moment in which Cave _major_ praised “the whole
thing” in the highest schoolboy terms, which were not afterwards
retracted.



                              CHAPTER XV

                         SPRAWSON’S MASTERPIECE


Sprawson was among those who congratulated the author of the “wild
panegyric,” though his praise was tempered with corporal punishment for
the use of the word “eulogic” in the same opening stanza. Sprawson
declared it was not a word at all, but the base coinage of the
poetaster’s brain, and when Chips showed him the epithet in a dictionary
he got another cuff for defending the indefensible. A man of unsuspected
parts was Sprawson; but there was no venom in his hearty violence. It
was Sprawson who told Jan he had heard he was a bit of a bowler, and
promised him a game on the Upper before the term was out and a licking
if he got less than five wickets. Sprawson himself was no cricketer, but
as Athletic Champion he had been made captain of the second game on the
Upper Ground.

He was a youth who took few things as seriously as his own events in the
sports. He loved to pose as a prematurely hard liver, and perhaps he was
one; the famous flask had been known to smell of spirits. He came into
sharp contact at times with Heriot, who, however, had early diagnosed
him as a rather theatrical villain, and treated him accordingly as a
clown. Even Sprawson, even in the summer term, with Satan continually on
his idle hands, got no change out of Mr. Heriot; but with a man like the
unfortunate Spook he was a terrible handful. The Spook took the Upper
Fifth, in which Sprawson had lain comfortably fallow for several terms:
relays of moderate workers, who had found and left him there, compared
notes upon his insolent audacity in what was known indeed as “Sprawson’s
form.” How he would daily affix the page of Horace or of Sophocles by
drawing-pin to the boys’ side of the Spook’s tall desk, and read off his
“rep” under the master’s nose; how methodically he devoured the
_Sportsman_ behind a zariba of dictionaries, every morning of his life
in second school, and how the cover of his Bible was profaned as the
cloak of fiction not to be found in the school library; these were but a
few of the practices and exploits of Sprawson that were common talk not
only in the school but among the younger masters. And yet when the
Heriots lost an aged father in July, and hurried across England to the
funeral, who but the gallant Spook should volunteer to look after the
house in their absence!

The staff were divided as to whether it was an act of heroic hardihood
or of supreme insensibility on the volunteer’s part; they were perhaps
most surprised at Heriot, who knew the Spook as well as they did, but
had been in no mood to resist his dashing importunity. It was not the
house that they distrusted as a whole. Heriot was a great house-master,
though on principle disinclined to pick and choose as sedulously as some
of them; he conceived it his whole duty to make the best of the material
that came his way unsought; but he had not made much of Sprawson, and it
was with Sprawson that the solicitous staff were reckoning on their
colleague’s account.

It did not say much for their knowledge of boys, as the Spook himself
told them in common-room next day. Apparently the house was behaving
like a nonconformist chapel. Cave _major_ was indeed stated to have
tried his haughty and condescending airs on the great proconsul, but
without success according to proconsular report.

“I introduced a pestiferous insect into the young fellow’s auricle,”
boasted the Spook; “our good Heriot will find his stature reduced by a
peg or two, if I mistake not. As for the rest of the house, I can only
say I have been treated as a gentleman by gentlemen—_quorum pars
maxima_ my friend Sprawson. His is a much misjudged character. I begin
to fear that I myself have done him less than justice in form. I have
been harsh with him—too harsh—poor Sprawson! And now he heaps coals of
fire on my head; it has touched me deeply—deeply touched me—I assure
you. He has quite constituted himself my champion in the house; amusing,
isn’t it? As if I needed one. But I haven’t the heart to say him nay. A
new boy, with a misguided sense of postprandial humour, brings me an
order to sign for a ton of candles; only a ton, to go on with, I
suppose. I just say, 'Make it out for a truck!’ But what does Sprawson?
I send the young gentleman about his business; back he comes, sobbing
his little heart out in apologies for which I never stipulated. I had
reckoned without my Sprawson! Sprawson, I fear, had spared neither rod
nor child; the little man was in a pitiable state until I promised to
tell Sprawson I had forgiven him. Sprawson, a thorn in my form, who must
be sat upon, but the white rose of chivalry in his house!”

That was not the only instance. There had been some tittering at
prayers. Sprawson had picked up the offenders like kittens, and gently
hurled them into outer darkness; and now the house could not have been
better behaved if it had accompanied poor Heriot on his sad errand. It
was all quite true. Sprawson was ruling the house with a rod of iron.
The order for the ton of candles was the instigation of some minor
humorist, who caught it hotter than the tearful apologist. The giggling
at prayers was a real annoyance to Sprawson. He meant the house to
behave itself in Heriot’s absence; he was going to keep order, whatever
Loder did. This to Loder’s face, after prayers, with half the house
listening, and Charles Cave, standing by with his air of supercilious
detachment, but without raising voice or finger in defence of his
brother præpostor.

The house went to bed like mice. Joyce in his partition used
blood-curdling language about Sprawson, and Crabtree’s criticism was not
the less damaging for being fit for publication in the _Times_. They
were alike, however, in employing a subdued tone, while Bingley and Jan
exchanged lasting impressions in a whisper. Chips was still in another
dormitory, where he was not encouraged to air his highly-coloured views;
but the conversion of Sprawson in the hour of need was to him more like
a page out of Bret Harte than any incident within his brief experience.

The house had seldom been sooner asleep. In the little dormitory
Crabtree was the first to return no answer to Joyce, who told the other
two to shut up as well, and was himself soon indulging in virtuous
snores. There was no more talking in the neighbouring dormitory either,
and none in the one downstairs so far as Jan could hear before he also
sank into the heavy sleep of active youth.

It took a tremendous shaking to wake him up. It was not morning; it was
the middle of the night. Yet there were mutterings and splutterings in
the other partitions, and an unceremonious hand had Jan by the shoulder.

“Get up, will you? It’s a case of burglars! All the chaps are getting up
to go for them; but you can hide between the sheets if you like it
better.”

And Crabtree retreated to his corner as Jan swung his feet to the
ground. He was still quite dazed; he asked whether anybody had told
Heriot.

“Heriot’s away, you fool!” Joyce reminded him in a stage whisper.

“That’s why they’ve come,” explained Bingley, in suppressed excitement.
“They’ve seen his governor’s death in the papers. I’ll bet you it’s a
London gang.”

Bingley was more than ever the precocious expert in matters criminal. He
had seen a man condemned in the Easter holidays. But this was the night
of Bingley’s life.

Sounds of breakage came from Joyce’s 'tish. “I’m not going down
unarmed,” said he. “Who wants a rung of my towel rail?” Crabtree and
Bingley were supplied in the darkness. “None left for you, Rutter; take
a boot to heave at their heads.”

“I’ll take my jug,” said Jan, emptying it into his basin; “it’ll do more
damage.”

“Come on, you chaps!” urged Crabtree. “He’ll have got the Spook by this
time.”

Instinctively Jan guessed that the pronoun stood for old Mother
Sprawson, and he was right. It was that born leader of boys and men who
had alarmed the dormitories before going through into the private part
to summon the Spook from his slumbers; but where the thieves were now,
what damage they had done, or who had discovered their presence in the
house, Jan had no idea as he accompanied the others down the leaden
stairs. Here there was more light, or at any rate less darkness, for a
fine moon streamed through skylight and staircase window, and spectre
forms were drifting downward through its pallid rays. It was still the
day of the obsolete nightshirt, and that ghostly garment was at its best
or worst upon a moonlight night. Some boys had tucked theirs into their
trousers; a few had totally eclipsed themselves in jackets or
dressing-gowns as well; but the majority came as they had risen from
their beds, white and whispering, tittering a little, but not too
convincingly at first, and for the most part as ignorant of what had
happened as Jan himself.

At the foot of the stairs, on the moonlit threshold of the open door
into the quad, two portentous figures dammed the descending stream of
unpresentable attire: one was the Spook, his master’s gown (and little
else that could be seen) covering his meagre anatomy, but in his hand a
Kaffir battle-axe which usually hung over Heriot’s stairs. His companion
was the redoubtable Sprawson, a pioneer in striped pyjamahs, armed for
his part with a carving-knife of prodigious length which was daily used
in hall.

“My good boys!” expostulated the Spook. “My good boys! I wish you’d go
back to your beds and leave the intruder to me!”

“We couldn’t do that, sir,” said one or two. “We’ll stand by you, sir,
never fear!”

“My brave lads! I wish you wouldn’t, I do really. He’ll have short
shrift from me, I promise you. Short shrift——”

“Silence!” hissed Sprawson, as a titter spread on the stairs. “I’ll
murder the fellow who laughs again!” and his carving-knife filled with
moonlight from haft to point. “It’s no laughing matter. They’ve been at
Mr. Heriot’s silver; the dining-room’s ransacked. I heard them come
through this way; that made me look out. One at least is hiding in the
studies.”

“I’ll hide him!” said the Spook, readily.

“Silence!” commanded Sprawson, with another flourish of his dreadful
blade. “If you will make jokes, sir, we shall never have a chance; are
we to take the whole house with us, or are we not?”

“I don’t like leaving them behind, Sprawson, to the tender mercies of
any miscreants whose ambush we may have overlooked. Are the whole house
there?” inquired the Spook.

“Yes, sir! Yes, sir!” from a dozen tongues, and another terrifying
“Silence!” from Sprawson.

“Shall I call over, sir?” suggested Loder, emerging from obscurity to
raise a laugh from the rank and file. Sprawson was too quick for him
with crushing snub; he was surprised at the captain of the house: what
next? So the laugh that came was at Loder’s expense, but it again was
promptly quelled by the inimitable Sprawson.

“If we waste any more time here, sir, they’ll have the bars off the back
study-windows and get clean away. I believe all the house are here. I
should let them come, sir, if I were you; there’s safety in numbers,
after all.”

“Then I lead the way,” said the Spook, diving under the raised
carving-knife. “No, Sprawson, not even to you, my gallant fellow; second
to none, if you’ll permit me, Sprawson, on this occasion. Follow me, my
lads, follow me!”

And follow him they did on bare tip-toe, over the cold flags of the
alley alongside the hall, and so out into the untrammelled moonlight of
the quad. Sure enough, the nearer door to the studies was seen to be
ajar. But as the Spook approached it boldly, Sprawson plucked him by the
gown.

“The fives-courts, sir! I thought I saw something moving behind the
back-wall!”

All eyes flew to the fives-courts at the opposite end of the quad; the
back-wall, their unorthodox peculiarity as Eton courts, would have
sheltered a band of robbers until the last moment, when their pursuers
peeping over might be shot down comfortably at arm’s length. No better
bulwark against carving-knives and battle-axes, no finer mask for a
whole battery of small-arms; and yet the valiant Spook was for advancing
single-footed, under that treacherous moon, upon this impregnable
position. Sprawson would not hear of it; together, said Sprawson, or not
at all, even if he got expelled for lifting his hand against a master.
The master shook it melodramatically instead, and with a somewhat
painful gait the pair started off across the stretch of moonlit gravel.
Jan was the next to follow, with his jug; but all the small dormitory,
being more or less armed, were to the fore in an advance which became
all but universal before the leaders reached the rampart. Cave _major_
alone had the wit to stay behind, a majestic rearguard with his hands in
his dressing-gown pockets, and something suspiciously like a cigarette
between his lips.

The courts were discovered empty at a glance; yet Sprawson seized Jan’s
jug, and dashed it to fragments against the buttress in the outer court
while the Spook was busy peering into the inner.

“I thought I saw something move behind the pepper-box,” explained
Sprawson. “Very sorry, sir! I’ll buy a new one. I’m ashamed of showing
such bad nerve.”

“Bad nerve! You’re a hero, Sprawson. I’ll pay for it myself,” the Spook
was saying, kindly enough, when a piercing “Yoicks!” rang out from the
deserted end of the quad.

Charles Cave was holding his cigarette behind his back, and waving
airily to the study windows with the other hand.

“It’s all right, sir; you needn’t hurry; only I thought you might like
to know there was a light up there this minute!”

The stampede back across the gravel was in signal contrast to the
stealthy and circumspect advance; and many a late laggard found himself
swept off his feet in the van; but Sprawson outstripped all with a rush
that spilt the small fry right and left, and he was first up the study
stairs. But the Spook panted after him, and once more insisted on taking
the actual lead.

The procession which he headed down the long study passage was no longer
the somewhat faltering force which had deployed in the moonlit quad; it
was as though confidence had come with protracted immunity, and high
spirits had come of confidence; in any case, Sprawson had to lay about
him more than once to stop a giggle or a merry scuffle in the dark. He
appealed to Loder to keep better order (Cave _major_ was finishing his
cigarette quietly in the quad), and Loder promptly smacked the
unoffending head of Chips. Merriment, moreover, was unpreventable under
the Spook’s leadership in the study passage; for into each of the little
dark dens would he peer after pounding on the door with the blunt end of
the Kaffir battle-axe, and his cry was always, “Come out, fellow!” or
“You’d better come out, my man!” or “It’s fourteen years for this, you
know; only fourteen years’ hard labour!” and once—“You think I can see
you, but I can’t!”—a signal instance of absence of mind in the presence
of danger.

There were other diversions to which the Spook did not contribute, as
when Sprawson screamed “Got him!” from the depths of some study, and
emerged dragging young Petrie after him by the hair of his innocent
head; but the dramatic effect of this interlude was immediately
discounted by a clumsy imitation on the part of Shockley, of whom
wonderfully little had been seen or heard during the earlier
proceedings. Sprawson made short work of him now.

“You fool, do you want to spoil the whole thing?” whispered Sprawson,
fiercely, in Jan’s hearing; and those few words spoilt the whole thing
for Jan. He retired into his own study, and sat down in the dark, wiping
his forehead on his sleeve, and chuckling and shaking his head by turns,
as amusement mingled in his mind with a certain vexatious
disappointment.

Meanwhile a climax was deducible in or about the big studies up the two
or three steps at the inner end of the passage. General clamour drowned
the individual voice; but the devil’s own tattoo with the battle-axe
proclaimed a door fastened on the inside according to the best burgling
traditions as expounded by Bingley in dormitory. Jan was not going to
see the fun; he was not out of bed for fun; but he could not resist a
grin when the belaboured door gave way audibly, and the crash was
succeeded by a louder outcry than ever from the bloodthirsty pack. It
was a chorus of disgust and discomfiture, shouted down eventually by
Sprawson, and at length followed by some muffled remarks from the Spook
and subdued cheers from his audience. Then master and boys trooped back
along the passage, and all but Chips Carpenter passed Jan’s open door
without looking in.

“Tiger! is that you?”

“It’s me, Chips. I’d had enough.”

“But you missed the best of all! The thief or thieves had got out
through Sprawson’s study—locked the door—fixed a rope to his table
leg, and heaved it back through the open window after they’d got down
into the street!”

“Does anybody know what they took away with them?”

“Nothing, it’s hoped, because Sprawson disturbed them at their work.”

“Oh, he did, did he? And it was Sprawson’s study they got out by?”

“Yes. That was a bit of a coincidence, wasn’t it?”

“Just a bit! But I think all the more of Sprawson.”

“So does all the house,” said Chips, eagerly. “The old Spook’s let the
lot of us off first school to-morrow, or rather to-day, and he and
Sprawson are looking for the key of the beer-barrel to serve out some
all round! So I advise you to look sharp.”

But Jan elected to enlighten his friend about something on the way; and
the now lighted hall presented an animated scene when at length they
passed the windows. Flushed faces emerging from the various degrees of
dishabille were congregated by force of habit about the fireplace.
Sprawson and Cave _major_ (“bracketed supreme,” as Chips afterwards
remarked) were the salient and central pair; Loder and others, such as
Shockley, were plying them with questions, only to receive subtle smiles
and pregnant shakes of the head; on the outer skirts were the nobodies,
and the less than nobodies, whispering together in excited knots, or
pressing forward for a crumb of first-hand information.

“And I never saw it!” muttered Chips outside the door. “But old Bob
Heriot will, the very moment he hears. And what on earth do you think
he’ll do?”

“Score off the whole house,” Jan suggested, “to make sure of one or
two!”

“And make a laughing-stock of the wretched Spook into the bargain? No
fear! Bob’s not another Haigh. He’ll do something cleverer than that, or
he won’t do anything at all.”



                              CHAPTER XVI

                           SIMILIA SIMILIBUS


Chips was right and Jan was wrong, but there was just one moment when it
looked the other way about.

Heriot did nothing at all—until the next Saint’s Day. That, however,
was almost immediately after his return, while he still looked sadder
than when he went away, and years older than his age. The chief event of
the day was the annual match between the Sixth Form and the School.
Heriot had not been near the ground, though he had no dearer haunt, and
yet by dinner-time he seemed suddenly himself again. Stratten and
Jellicoe, whose places in hall that term were on either side of him at
the long table, afterwards declared that they had never known the old
boy in better form. Stratten and Jellicoe were cricketers of high
promise, and Heriot chatted with them as usual about their cricket and
the game in general. When Miss Heriot had left the hall, however, her
brother did not resume his seat preparatory to signing orders for his
house, as his practice was, but remained standing at the head of the
long table, and ordered the door to be shut. There was a certain dry
twinkle behind his glasses; but his beard and moustache were one, and
the beard jutted out abnormally.

“If I’ve been slow to allude to your strange adventures of two or three
nights ago,” said Heriot, “I need hardly tell you it has only been
because my mind has been full of other things. I’m very sorry not to
have been with you in what certainly appears to have been the most
exciting hour the house has known since I took it over. I have evidently
missed a great deal; but I congratulate you all on the conspicuous
gallantry said to have been displayed by every one of you, at a moment’s
notice, in the middle of the night. I’ve heard of two-o’clock-in-the-morning
courage, but I never heard of such a wholesale example of it. I’m sure I
should be very proud of a whole house whom I can trust to play the man
like this behind my back!”

There was even some little feeling in the tone employed by Heriot. Jan
could not understand it; he had never looked upon the man as a fool; but
this deep appreciation of an utter hoax was worthy of the Spook himself.
Fellows moved uneasily in their places, where they stood uncomfortably
enough between table and form; one or two played with what they had left
of their bread. Sprawson, to be sure, looked hotly indifferent, but his
truculent eye might have been seen running down the lines of faces, as
if in search of some smiling head to smack afterwards as a relief. Both
Sprawson and Charles Cave were in flannels, the popular Champion having
found a place in the match which had begun that morning. But even the
great cricketer looked less pleased with himself than usual. And the
only smile to be seen by Sprawson had lightened the countenance of old
Bob Heriot himself.

“Where all seem to have distinguished themselves,” he continued, “it may
seem invidious to single out individuals. But I am advised to couple
with my congratulations the honoured names of Cave _major_ and Sprawson.
I was afraid you were going to cheer”—the honoured names had been
received in dead silence—“but I like these things to be taken as a
matter of course, and I’m sure neither Cave nor yet Sprawson would wish
to pose as popular heroes. I have an important message for them both,
however, from a very important quarter. My friend Major Mangles, the
Chief Constable of the county, wishes to have an interview with Cave and
Sprawson, with a view to the early apprehension of the would-be
thieves.”

Living people are not often quite so silent as the boys at that moment
in Heriot’s hall. Major the Hon. Henry Mangles was known to the whole
school by sight and reputation as the most dashing figure of a military
man in all those parts. Sometimes he played in a match against the
Eleven, and seldom survived many balls without lifting at least one out
of the ground. Sometimes he was to be seen and heard in Heriot’s inner
court, and then the entire house would congregate to catch his
picturesque remarks. He inhabited a moated grange some four miles from
the school, broke a fresh bone in his body every hunting season, and
often gave Bob Heriot a mount.

“When does he wish to see us, sir?” inquired Cave major, with becoming
coolness.

“This afternoon.”

“Here in the town?”

“No—at his place.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Cave, firmly—“but that’s impossible.”

“Any other time, sir,” suggested Sprawson, civilly. “To-day we’re both
playing in the Sixth Form match.”

“_Et tu_, Sprawson?” cried Heriot, merrily.

“I’m the tip of the School tail, sir.”

The house relieved itself in laughter led by Heriot.

“Have either of you been in yet?”

“I had one ball, sir. It was the last of the innings,” said the brazen
Sprawson. “The Sixth are just going in, and we expect to have Cave there
all the afternoon.”

“I’m afraid he can’t go in first,” said Heriot; “and you’ll have to find
a substitute to field for you, Sprawson. Or rather I’ll see the two
captains myself, and explain about you both. That’ll save time and you
can start at once. You can’t do these doughty deeds behind my back and
not expect to find them fame, you know.”

“But, surely, sir, this is a most high-handed demand of the Major’s?”

Charles Cave had never been known to display such heat.

“He’s the Chief Constable, and Chief Constables are high-handed people,”
said Heriot, preparing to sign the orders. “I shouldn’t advise either of
you to disappoint Major Mangles, much less when he’s paying you a
compliment as the pair who specially distinguished themselves in the
night of battle. He wants you to tell him all about it. There’s no
reason why that should take long, and if you drive both ways you might
be back before any wickets have fallen. But you must see that when a
house is entered by common burglars it’s a matter for the police and not
for us, and as police witnesses you’re in their hands and out of ours.
To make matters easy for you, however, the Major has very kindly sent
his carriage, which I think you’ll find waiting for you now outside the
quad. If I were you I should go just as you are, and make no more bones
about it.”

And Heriot sat down to attend to the daily detachment with orders on the
tradesmen requiring his signature, while the rest of the house streamed
out of the hall in a silence due partly to the eminence of the
discomfited ringleaders, and partly to the guilty conscience of the mob
as accessories after the fact. Sprawson alone made light of the
situation, and that chiefly at the expense of his superfine confederate.

“All aboard the Black Maria!” said Sprawson, taking the other by the
arm. “I say, Charles, old cock, I wonder how you’ll look with a
convict’s crop and a quiverful of broad arrows?”

And for once the great Charles made use of the baser language of his
inferiors, and tossed his tawny mane in anger as he stalked out of the
quad, a Phœbus Apollo setting in a cloud. But it really was the Major’s
landau that awaited them, a cockaded footman standing at the door.
Phœbus gave a dying gleam, and stepped in as though the imposing
equipage belonged to him.

And Sprawson shook every hand within reach, and played several kinds of
fool with his handkerchief until the landau was out of sight.

Then indeed the quad became a Babel, from which a trained ear might have
extracted a consensus of unshaken confidence in Sprawson and Cave
_major_. The house, as a whole entirely trusted them to hoodwink Major
Mangles as they had already hoodwinked the Spook and even old Heriot
himself. It was the last feat which made all things possible to these
arch impostors. And only a severe old sage like Crabtree would have
entertained any doubt upon the point, which his trenchant tongue argued
against all and sundry till the quad was empty for the afternoon.

Jan happened to be playing in the first game on the Middle, while Chips
had a humble place in the second Lower; at the joint call-over for the
two grounds (4.30) it was whispered that neither Cave nor Sprawson had
returned to the Sixth Form match on the Upper. The whisper had swelled
into a Bible Oath, and the indisputable fact into a farrago of pure
fiction, before the return of the missing pair made it unsafe even to
breathe their names in Heriot’s quad. They were not quite the same young
men who had made a state departure in the Major’s landau. Their flannels
were powdered with the drab dust of the wayside, and they limped a
little in the fives-shoes for which they had changed their spikes before
coming down from the Upper. Cave moreover looked a diabolically
dangerous customer, to whom Loder himself shrank from addressing a
remark, after crossing the quad with that obvious intention. Sprawson as
usual preserved a genial countenance; but the unlucky Bingley, betrayed
into a tactless question by a mysterious wink, had his arm nearly
twisted out of its socket as he deserved.

“Now I feel better!” says Sprawson, with ferocious glee. “I’m much
obliged to you, Toby, and I hope you’ll regain the use of your arm in
time.”

But the house was no wiser until after prayers. At tea Cave _major_
never spoke, and Sprawson only grinned into his plate. But Miss Heriot
had scarcely withdrawn after prayers, when Heriot, taking up his nightly
position before the fireplace, asked the two swells how they got on. And
the entire house stayed in the hall to hear.

“Major Mangles,” returned Cave _major_, with cutting deliberation, “may
be Chief Constable of the county, and anything he likes by birth, but
he’s no gentleman for all that.”

“Really, Cave? That’s a serious indictment. Why, what has he done?”

“You’d better ask Sprawson,” says Charles Cave, with a haughty jerk of
his fine fair head. He looked a very stormy Phœbus now, but still every
inch that grand young god.

“Well, Sprawson?”

“I’m sure Cave can tell you better than I can, sir,” says Sprawson of
the wicked humour.

“But Sprawson will make the most of it,” says the cricketer with icy
sneer.

“It’s not a tale that wants much varnish, sir, if that’s what he means,”
said Sprawson, happily. “I’ll tell you the facts, sir, and Cave can
check them if he’ll be so kind. You said we should find the Major’s
carriage waiting for us outside the quad, and so we did. It was the
landau, sir, a very good one nicely hung, and capital cattle tooling us
along like lords. The country was looking beautiful. Roads rather dusty,
but a smell of hay that turned it into a sort of delicate snuff, sir. It
really was a most delightful drive.”

“Speak for yourself, Sprawson, if you don’t mind.”

“I shouldn’t dream of speaking for you, Cave. You didn’t seem to me to
take any interest in the scenery. I may be wrong, but I couldn’t help
thinking your heart was at the wicket, flogging our poor bowling all
over the parish, and I was so thankful to be where I was! But that was
only on the way, sir, it was nothing to what we were in for at the other
end. The footman said we should find the Major on the lawn. So we did,
sir—playing tennis like a three-year-old—and half the county looking
on!”

“Not a garden-party?” inquired Heriot incredulously.

“That sort of thing, sir.”

“My poor fellows! Pray go on.”

“Of course we couldn’t interrupt him in the middle of his set, sir, and
when he’d finished it he crossed straight over and started another
without ever seeming to see that we were there. Nobody else took any
notice of us either,” continued Sprawson, with a sly glance at the still
stately Cave. “We might have been a pair of garden statues, or tennis
professionals waiting to play an exhibition match.”

“It reminds me of Dr. Johnson and Lord Chesterfield,” said Heriot
darkly. “Your fame is perhaps more parochial, Sprawson. But is it
possible that you, Cave, are personally unknown to Major Mangles?”

“I haven’t the least idea,” replied Charles Cave magnificently. “I
should have said he might have known me by the times I’ve bowled him.”

“And you never thought of coming away again? I shouldn’t have blamed
you, upon my word.”

“Of course we thought of it, sir,” said Sprawson. “But the carriage had
gone round to the stables, and we couldn’t very well order it
ourselves.”

“I should have walked.”

“It’s a terrible tramp, sir, on a hot afternoon, and in rubber soles!”
Sprawson winced involuntarily at the recollection; but the thought of
his companion consoled him yet again. “Especially after bowling all the
morning,” he added, “and expecting to go in the moment you got back!”

“Well, that wouldn’t have been necessary,” said Heriot. “It must be some
satisfaction to you that the Sixth won so easily, even without your
certain century, Cave.”

“It doesn’t alter the fact that he had to walk back after all,” said
Sprawson, when the greater man had been given ample time to answer for
himself.

“So had you!” he thundered then, not like a great man at all, but in a
voice that gave some idea of that homeward tramp and its recriminations,
in which Sprawson was suddenly felt to be having the last word now.

“But surely Major Mangles interviewed you first?” inquired Heriot, with
becoming gravity.

“Oh, yes; he took us under the trees and asked us questions,” said
Sprawson, forcing the gay note a little for the first time.

“Questions he’d no earthly right to ask!” cried Cave with confidence.

“You didn’t take that tone with Major Mangles, I hope, Cave?”

“I daresay I did, sir.”

“Then I can’t say I wonder at his letting you both walk back. Of course,
if you didn’t answer his questions satisfactorily, it might alter his
whole view of the matter, at least so far as you two were concerned in
it.”

“We couldn’t tell him more than we knew ourselves, sir,” protested
Sprawson.

“Not more,” said Heriot, pensively. “No—certainly not more!” It was
only his tone that added “if as much”—and only the few who heard
through it. “I hope, at any rate, that you got your tea?” said Heriot,
with a brisk glance at the clock over the row of cups.

Cave _major_ looked blacker than before, but Sprawson brightened at
once.

“Oh, yes, sir, thank you! Lady Augusta sent for us on purpose, and it
ended in our handing round the cups and things. That was the redeeming
feature of the afternoon. But of course I’m only speaking for myself.”

Cave’s chiselled nostrils spoke for him.

“Well, there seems no more to be said,” remarked Heriot, in valedictory
voice. The attentive throng parted before his stride. “I must confess,”
he added, however, turning at the door, “that I myself don’t understand
the Major’s tactics altogether—_if_ you’ve reported him fully. I can’t
help thinking that something or other has escaped your memory. Otherwise
it sounds to me rather like a practical joke at your expense. But I
should be sorry to suspect a real humorist, like Major Mangles, of that
very poor form of humour, unless”—a moment’s pause, with twinkling
glasses—“_unless_ it were as a sort of payment in kind. That’s the only
excuse for practical joking, in my opinion; and now I think we can let
the whole subject drop. I only hope that the next time some knave, or
fool, thinks of breaking into my house, he’ll have the pluck to come
when I’m at home. Good-night all!”

The house filtered out into the quad, drifted over to the studies, and
presently back again to bed, with few comments and less laughter; and
that night there was little talk but much constraint in both the top and
lower dormitories, ruled respectively by Sprawson and Cave _major_. Only
in the little one, overlooking the street, was the topic in everybody’s
mind on anybody’s lips; and there it was monopolised by Crabtree, who
reviewed the entire episode in mordant monologue, broken only by the
shaking of the bed beneath his fits of helpless mirth.



                             CHAPTER XVII

                          THE FUN OF THE FAIR


There were three days in the year when the venerable market-place was
out of bounds, all but the draggled ribbon of pavement running round it
and the few shops opening thereon. The rest was monopolised and profaned
by the vans and booths of a travelling fair, which reached the town
usually about the second week in March. The school took little notice of
the tawdry encampment and its boorish revels; but the incessant strains
of a steam merry-go-round became part of the place for the time being,
and made night especially hideous in the town houses nearest the scene.

Nearest of all was Heriot’s house, and greatest of all sufferers the
four boys in the little top room with the dormer window over the street.
Jan was still one of them, and Bingley another. But Joyce had left, and
Crabtree had taken charge of one of the long dormitories overlooking the
quad. Chips Carpenter and a new boy had succeeded to their partitions;
and if in one case the intellectual loss was irreparable, in the other
that of an incorrigible vocabulary was perhaps less to be deplored.

But Jan’s was still the silent corner; even to Chips he would have
little to say before the other two; for in this his fifth term he had
fallen on another evil time. It had nothing to do with his work,
however, and neither could he curse his luck for a split hand or a
maligned heart. He had played football every day of his second winter
term—not brilliantly, for he was never quite quick enough on the
ball—but with a truculent tenacity which had been rewarded with the
black trimmings of the Second Lower Upper. In form he was no longer a
laughing-stock; and his form was now the Middle Fifth, where one began
to cope with Greek iambics as well as Latin elegiacs. But all three
Fifths were beds of roses after the Middle Remove, and Dudley Relton an
angel of forbearance after that inhuman old Haigh.

Dudley Relton, however, besides being man enough to take the Middle
Fifth on his accession to the staff, was that pioneer of cricket masters
who had made a note of Jan’s name at the valued instigation of A. G.
Swallow. He had also watched Jan bowling in the one game in which he had
played on the Upper, thanks to the departed Sprawson, and he had his eye
on the young left-hander with the queer individual action. But it was
the cool eye of a long-headed cricketer, and Jan never read it for an
instant. Chips might have done so if he had been in the form, but he was
now in the Upper Fifth, and his sanguine prophecies were neither
remembered nor renewed. Jan only wished that Relton would not look at
him, sometimes, almost as though he knew all about a fellow; and it
rather bothered him to get off lighter than he deserved for a false
concord in his prose or a vile copy of verses.

But that was not his trouble on the nights when the steam merry-go-round
enlivened the small dormitory with “Over the Garden Wall” and
“Lardy-dah,” those egregious ditties of their day. It was the first
round of the All Ages Mile that kept Jan from sleeping either night
until the steam tunes stopped.

On the strength of his performance the year before and of several inches
since added to his stature, Jan had found himself seriously fancied for
a place in the Mile. The dash of premature notoriety, combined with a
superfluity of sage advice, made him sadly self-conscious and
over-anxious before the event, which ended in a complete fiasco so far
as he was concerned. It was his fate to meet the ultimate winner (down
with his eyes the year before) in the very first heat. Jan dogged him as
gratuitously advised, instead of making the running as flesh and blood
implored. And having no spurt he was not only badly beaten, but failed
even to come in third, and was thus out of the running in the first
round.

That was bad enough; hardy enemies of the Shockley type took care to
make it worse. They became suddenly alive to an alleged “roll” put on by
Jan in anticipation of his success; and Jan was sufficiently down on
himself to take their remarks for once to heart. He felt still more the
silence of many who had believed in him; even the cheery sympathy of a
few only aggravated his sense of failure; and as for the loquacious
Chips, and his well-meant efforts to keep the dormitory talk to any
other topic, they were almost as maddening as the steam merry-go-round,
that filled every pause with its infernal “Lardy-dah.” That tenacious
tune had supplied the accompaniment to his hopes and fears of the night
before; it had run in his head throughout the fatal race; and now it
made merry over his utterly idiotic and unpardonable failure.

It will be seen that the robust Jan had grown a crop of sensibilities
almost worthy of his friend Carpenter, except that Jan’s were wholly and
grimly inarticulate. But he was now sixteen, and that is the age of
surprises in a boy. It took Jan in more ways than one. It made him long
to do startling things, and it made him do some foolish ones instead;
hence his hard training for the mile, and his actual running when the
time came. It made him feel that he had done less than nothing at school
so far, that he was less than nobody, and yet that there was more in him
than anybody knew; and now he wanted them to know it; and now he didn’t
care a blow what happened to him, or what was thought, at a school to
which he had been sent against his will. There was no forgetting that at
a time like this. If he was a failure, if he went on failing, well, at
any rate it would be a score off those who had sent him there, and never
gave him enough pocket money, or wrote him an unnecessary line.

So Jan came back to a very early position of his, only trailing the
accumulated grievances of a year and a half; and by the third and last
night of the fair he had the whole collection to brood upon, in gigantic
array, in proportion the more colossal and grotesque because he could
not and would not speak of them to a soul. And there was that fool
Chips, jawing away as usual to anybody who would listen, about anything
and everything except the sports.

“I shall be jolly glad when that beastly old fair moves on,” quoth Chips
after an interval of “Over the Garden Wall.”

Jan agreed so heartily that he could scarcely hold his tongue.

“I don’t know that I shall,” said the new boy in Crabtree’s corner. “It
sounds rather jolly when you’re dropping off.”

Jan could have pulled every stitch off the little brute’s bed. But the
remark was very properly ignored.

“I suppose you know,” said Bingley, “that two fellows were once bunked
for going to it?”

“Going to what?” asked Chips.

“This very fair.”

“They must’ve been fools!” said Jan, raising his voice at last.

“I thought you were asleep?” cried the new boy, who had no sense.

“You keep your thoughts to yourself,” growled Jan, “or I’ll come and
show you whether I am or not.”

“They were fools,” assented Bingley, “but they were rather sportsmen
too. They got out of one of the hill houses at night, and came down in
disguise, in bowlers and false beards! But they were spotted right
enough, and they’d got to go.”

“And serve them jolly well right!” said Jan, cantankerously.

“I don’t call it such a crime, Tiger.”

“Who’s talking about crimes? You’ve got ’em on the brain, Bingley.”

“I thought you said they deserved to be bunked?”

“So they did—for going and getting cobbed.”

“Oh, I see! You’d’ve looked every master in the face, I suppose, without
being recognised?”

“I wouldn’t’ve made them look twice at me, by sticking on a false
beard,” snorted Jan, stung by the tone he had been the first to employ.
Chips understood his mood, and liked him too much to join in the
discussion. But Bingley had been longer in the school than either of
them, and he was not going to knuckle under in a minute.

“It’s a pity you weren’t here, Tiger,” said he, “to show them how to do
it.”

“It’s a thing any fool could do if he tried,” returned Jan. “I’d back
myself to get out of this house in five minutes.”

“Not you, old chap!” said Chips, making an unfortunate entry into the
discussion after all.

“I would so,” declared Jan hot-headedly. “I’d do it to-morrow if the
fair wasn’t going away.”

Bingley began to jeer.

“I like that, when you jolly well know it is going!”

“I’ll go to-night, if you say much more, you fool!”

Jan’s springs twanged and wheezed as he sat bolt upright in his bed.

“You know you won’t be such a silly idiot,” said Chips, in an earnest
voice.

“Of course he does!” jeered Bingley. “Nobody knows it quite so well.”

There was an instant’s pause, filled by a sounding blast from the
market-place, and then the thud of bare feet planted on the floor.

“Surely you’re not going to let him dare you——”

“Not he; don’t you worry!”

It was Bingley who cut Chips short, and Jan thanked him as he slid into
his trousers in the dark. His voice was strange, and not without the
tremor of high excitement. There was a jingle of curtain rings across
the dormitory. Carpenter was out of his partition in defiance of the
rules; he appeared dimly at the foot of Jan’s, into which Bingley was
already peering over the partition.

“Are you off your chump?” demanded Chips.

“Not he,” said Bingley again. “He’s only bunging us up!”

Bingley might have been an infant Mephistopheles; but he was really only
an incredulous, irritated, and rather excited schoolboy.

“You’ll see directly,” muttered Jan, slipping his braces over his
night-shirt.

“You’ll be caught to a certainty, and bunked if you’re caught!”

That was Chips, in desperation now.

“And a good job too! I’ve had about enough of this place.”

That was the Jan of their first term together.

“And it’s raining like the very dickens!”

This was the child in Crabtree’s corner, an insensible little sinner,
who seemed to take the imminent enormity as an absolute matter of
course.

“So much the better,” said Jan. “I’ll take a brolly and run all the less
risk of being seen, and you see if I don’t bring you all something from
the fair.”

“It’s something he’s gone and got to-day,” whispered Bingley for Chips’s
consolation. “It’s all a swizzle, you’ll see.”

“You look out of the window in about five minutes,” retorted Jan from
the door, “and p’r’aps _you’ll_ see!”

And out he actually stole, carrying the clean boots that he had brought
up to dormitory in readiness for first school, and leaving Chips in
muzzled consternation on the threshold.

The rain pelted on the skylight over the stairs. It had been a showery
day, but it was a very wet night, and Jan was almost as glad of it as he
had just professed himself. He saw a distant complication of wet
clothes, but as a mere umbrella among umbrellas he stood a really fair
chance of not being seen. It was still only a chance; but that was half
the fun. And fun it was, though a terrifying form of fun, and though Jan
was already feeling a bit unsound about the knees, he had to go on with
it; there was as yet no question in his mind about that, and hardly any
looking back at the ridiculous combination of taunt and impulse which
had committed him to this mad adventure.

Conversation had ceased in the top long dormitory; in the one below a
dropping fire was still maintained; and the intervening flight of
lead-lined stairs, taken one at a time, with terrible deliberation, and
in his socks, struck a chill to the adventurer’s marrow. He began to
think he really was a fool; but he would look a bigger one if he went
back now. So he gained the foot of the second flight in safety, and
paused to consider his next move. The flags were colder than the leaden
stairs; so he sat on the slate table while he put on his boots; and the
slate table was colder than the flags.

His first idea had been to get out into the quad, as he had got out into
it his very first morning in the place, through the hall windows. But
the rain rather spoilt that plan; the rain was not an unmixed blessing
after all. The umbrellas, now he came to think of it, were kept in the
lower study passage; and how was he to break in there? Of course the
outer doors would be locked; and he might get wet through in the quad,
before effecting an entry into the lower studies, and even then leaving
a dripping trail behind him.

No; if he wanted an umbrella he must borrow old Bob Heriot’s. That was a
paralysing alternative, but it was the only one to returning humiliated
to dormitory. After all, the hat-stand was only just on the other side
of the green baize door under which Jan could see the thinnest thread of
light from Heriot’s outer hall. And dear old Bob sat up till all hours;
that was notorious; and his study was beyond the dining-room, leading
out of it, so that in all probability there would be two shut doors
between the intruder and the unsuspecting master of the house.

But the long lean figure of Robert Heriot, smoking his pipe in the inner
sanctuary, cocking a quick ear at the furtive footstep on his side of
the house, and finally confronting the audacious offender, with
bristling beard and flashing spectacles, made all at once the most
portentous picture in Jan’s mind. Heriot of all men! The one master with
whom the boldest boy never dared to take a liberty; the one whose good
opinion was best worth having, and perhaps hardest to win; why had he
not thought of Heriot before? To think of him now so vividly was to
abandon the whole adventure in a panic. Better the scorn of fifty
Bingleys, for the rest of the term, than the wrath of one Heriot for a
single minute such as he had just gone through in a paroxysm of the
imagination.

Jan found himself creeping upstairs more gingerly than ever in his
boots, climbing nearer and nearer to the dropping voices in the lower
dormitory. That was Shockley’s guttural monologue. It was Shockley who
had said the hardest thing to Jan about his running, in just that
hateful voice. It was Shockley who would have the most and the worst to
say if it came to his ears, as no doubt it would, that one of his
special butts had made such a feeble fool of himself as Jan knew that he
was making now. And then life would be duller even than it had been
before, and school a rottener place, and himself a greater nonentity
than ever. Nay, all these changes for the worse had already taken place
in the last minute of ignominious retreat. But a minute ago, yes, a
minute ago there had been some excitement in life, and a fellow had felt
somebody for once!

“I’m blowed if I do,” said Jan deliberately to himself; and down he went
with equal deliberation to the green baize door. It opened with scarcely
a sound. A light was burning in the little entrance hall beyond. And the
dining-room door was providentially shut.

Here was Heriot’s umbrella; and it was wet. Hanging over it was an Irish
tweed cape, a characteristic garment, also a bit wet about the hem. Old
Bob Heriot had been out, but he had come in again, and it could not be
quite eleven. Unless tradition lied he was safe in his den for another
hour.

From his fit of cowardice Jan had flown to the opposite extreme of
foolhardy audacity. What better disguise than Heriot’s coat and even
Heriot’s hat, the soft felt one that was also rather wet already? Jan
had them on in a twinkling, drunk as he was already with the magnitude
of his impudence. It would give them something to talk about, whether he
was caught or not. That was Jan’s way of expressing to himself his
intention of contributing to the annals of the school, whatever
happened.

The front door had not been locked up for the night, and it never was by
day. Heriot had his happy-go-lucky ways, but the town as a rule was as
quiet as the sleepiest hollow. Jan managed to shut the door almost
noiselessly behind him, never thinking now of his return. Out in the
rain the umbrella went up at once; like an extinguisher, he jammed it
down about his ears; and the instinct of further concealment drove his
left hand deep into a capacious pocket. It came upon one of old Heriot’s
many pipes. Next instant the pipe was between the madman’s teeth, and
Jan, on the opposite pavement of a dripping and deserted street, was
flourishing the umbrella and pointing out the pipe to three white faces
at a window in the shiny roof.

He would not have cared, at that moment, if he had known that he was
going to be caught the next. But nobody was abroad just then in that
rain to catch him. And not further down the street than Jan could have
jerked a fives-ball, the glare of the market-place lit up the stone
front and archway of the Mitre. And the blare of the steam
merry-go-round waxed fast and furious as he marched under Heriot’s
umbrella into the zone of light.

              “He wears a penny flower in his coat—
                Lardy-dah—
               And a penny paper collar round his throat—
                Lardy-dah—
               In his hand a penny stick,
               In his tooth a penny pick,
               And a penny in his pocket—
                Lardy-dah—lardy-dah—
               And a penny in his pocket—
                Lardy-dah!”

Jan had picked up the words from some fellow who used to render such
rubbish to a worse accompaniment on the hall piano; and they ran in his
head with the outrageous tune. They reminded him that he had scarcely a
penny in his own pocket, thanks to his munificent people in Norfolk, and
for once it was just as well. Otherwise he would certainly have had a
ride, in Heriot’s well-known foul-weather garb, on one of “COLLINSON’S
ROYAL RACING THOROUGHBREDS, THE GREATEST AND MOST ELABORATE MACHINE NOW
TRAVELLING.”

Last nights are popular nights, and the fair was crowded in spite of the
rain. Round and round went the wooden horses, carrying half the young
bloods of the little place, with here and there an apple-cheeked son or
daughter of the surrounding soil. Jan tilted his umbrella to have a look
at them; their shouts were drowned by the shattering crash of the steam
organ, but their flushed faces caught fresh fire from a great naked
light as they whirled nearest to where Jan stood. One purple countenance
he recognised as the pace slackened; it was Mulberry, the local
reprobate of evil memory, swaying in his stirrups and whacking his
wooden mount as though they were in the straight.

The deafening blare sank to a dying whine; the flare-light sputtered
audibly in the rain, and Jan jerked his umbrella forward as the dizzy
riders dismounted within a few yards of him. Jan turned his back on
them, and contemplated the cobbles under his nose, and the lighted
puddles that ringed them round, like meshes of liquid gold. He watched
for the unsteady corduroys of Mulberry, and withdrew at their approach.
But there was no certain escape short of immediate departure from the
fair, which occupied little more than the area of a full-sized lawn
tennis court, and covered half of that with the merry-go-round, and
another quarter with stalls and vans.

One of the stalls displayed a legend which seemed to Jan to deserve more
custom than it attracted.

                         Rings Must Lie to Win
                               Watch-la!
                              2 Rings 1d.
                         ALL YOU RING YOU HAVE.

The watches lay in open cardboard boxes on a sloping board. There was a
supply of wooden rings that just fitted round the boxes. Jan watched one
oaf run through several coppers, his rings always lying between the
boxes or on top of one. Jan felt it was a case for a spin, and he longed
to have a try with that cunning left hand of his. But he had actually
only twopence on him, and the first necessity was two-pennyworth of
evidence that he had really been to the fair. Yet what trophy could
compare with one of those cheap watches in its cardboard box?

It so happened that Jan had a watch of his own worth everything on sale
at this trumpery fair; but he could almost have bartered it for one of
these that would show the top dormitory, at any rate, the kind of chap
he was. And yet he was not the kind who often saw himself in heroic
proportions; but an abnormal mood was at the back and front of this
whole adventure; and perhaps no more fitting climax could have inflamed
a reeling mind. He produced his pennies with sudden determination, yet
with a hand as cool as his brain was hot, and as cool a preliminary
survey to make sure that Mulberry was not already dogging him.

“Two rings a penny,” said the fur-capped custodian of the watches,
handing the rings to Jan. “An’ wot you rings you 'aves.”

Jan stood alone before the sloping board, kept a few feet off by an
intervening table, and he poised his first ring as the steam fiend broke
out again with “Over the Garden Wall.” A back-handed spin sent it well
among the watches, and it went on spinning until it settled at an angle
over one of the boxes, as though loth to abandon the attempt to ring it
properly.

“Rings must lie _flat_ to win,” said the fellow in the fur cap, with a
quick squint at Jan. “Try again, mister; you’ll do better with less
spin.”

Jan grinned dryly as he resolved to put on a bit more. He had heard his
father drive hard bargains in the Saturday night’s marketing aforetime.
Old Rutter had known how to take care of himself across any stall or
barrow, even when his gait was like Mulberry’s on the way home; and Jan
had a sense of similar capacity as he poised his second ring against the
voluminous folds of Mr. Heriot’s cape. Thence it skimmed with graceful
trajectory, in palpable gyrations; had circled one of the square boxes
before he knew it, and was spinning down it like a nut on a bolt, when
the man in the fur cap whipped a finger between the ring and the table.

“That’s a near one, mister!” cried he. “But it don’t lie flat.”

Nor did it. The ring had jammed obliquely on the cardboard box, a
finger’s breadth from the board.

“It would’ve done if you’d left it alone!” shouted Jan above the steam
fiend’s roar.

“That it wouldn’t! It’s a bit o’ bad luck, that’s wot it is; never knew
it to 'appen afore, I didn’t; but it don’t lie straight, now do it?”

“It would’ve done,” replied Jan through his teeth. “And the watch is
mine, so let’s have it.”

Whether he said that more than once, or what the fur-capped foe replied,
Jan never knew. The merry-go-round robbed him of half that passed
between them, and all that was to follow blurred the rest as soon as it
had taken place. One or two salient moments were to stand out in his
mind like rocks. He was sprawling across the intervening table, he had
seized the watch that he had fairly won, and the ruffian in the cap had
seized his wrist. That horny grip remained like the memory of a
handcuff. The thing developed into a semi-recumbent tug-of-war, in which
Jan more than held his own. The watches in their boxes came sliding down
the sloping board, the fur-cap followed them, and a head like a fluffy
melon hung a-ripening as the blood rushed into it. Jan beheld swelling
veins in a stupor of angry satisfaction, and without a thought of his
own position until a rap on the back went through him like a stab.

It was only a country policeman in streaming leggings; but he had not
arrived alone upon the scene; and Jan felt the flooded cobble-stones
heaving under him, as he relinquished his prize at once, and recoiled
from the gaze of countless eyes.

Yet the policeman for one was not looking at him. The policeman was
levelling an open hand at the melon-headed rogue, and reiterating a
demand which only added to Jan’s embarrassment.

“You give this young feller what he fairly won. _I_ saw what you did.
I’ve had my eye on you all night. You give him that watch, or you’ll
hear a bit more about it!”

Jan tried to raise his voice in cowardly repudiation, but his tongue
refused the base office. The lights of the fair were going round and
round him. The policeman, the rogue, and three or four more, had been
joined by the drunken Mulberry, who was staring and pointing and trying
to say something which nobody could understand. The policeman sent him
about his business with a cuff, and Jan began to breathe. He felt the
watch put into his unwilling hand. He heard a good-humoured little
cheer. He saw the policeman looking at him strangely, and he wondered if
a tip was expected of him. Even at that moment Jan felt a bitter wave of
resentment against those who sent him to school, against his will, with
half-a-sovereign for a whole term’s pocket-money. He could only thank
the policeman with a stutter and a gulp, and slink from the scene like
the beaten dog he felt.

Luckily his legs were cooler than his head; they carried him down the
street in the opposite direction to his house and the school buildings;
and he had not taken many strides on the comparatively dark and quite
deserted pavement, when his mind began to recover tone rapidly. It
recovered more tone than it had lost. He had given himself up, and now
he realised that he was not only safe so far, but successful beyond his
wildest dreams. Not only had he been to the fair, but thanks to the
policeman (whom he wished more than ever to reward substantially) he had
come away with a silver watch to show for the adventure. What would they
have to say to _that_ in the small dormitory? They would never be able
to keep it to themselves; it would get about the school, and make him
somebody after all. He would acquire, perhaps, undying fame as the
fellow who got out at a moment’s notice, and went to the fair in a
master’s hat and coat, and won a prize at watch-la, and brought it back
in triumph to dormitory, at Heriot’s of all houses in the school!

He would probably tell Heriot before he left. Old Bob was just the man
to laugh over such an escapade, more heartily perhaps if one kept it
till one came down as an Old Boy. Jan felt ridiculously brave again
under old Bob’s umbrella, which he had dropped for a moment during the
fracas at the fair. That, of course, was why he had also lost his head.
But now he was as bold as any lion, and particularly determined to do
something at school after all, so that he might come down as an Old Boy
to recount this very adventure.

Not that he had the egotistical temperament, even to the extent that
(for instance) poor old Chips had it. But this was that abnormal mood
which had only been interrupted by a minute of pure panic at the fair.
And now the swimming pavement floated under his feet like air.

Still airier was an overtaking stride which Jan never so much as heard
until a strong arm slid through his, and a voice that he heard every day
addressed him in every-day tones.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                              DARK HORSES


“Do you mind my coming under your umbrella?”

It was Dudley Relton, and his forearm felt like a steel girder. Yet his
tone was preternaturally polite as between master and boy. There was not
even the sound of his own surname to assure Jan that he was recognised.
But he was far too startled to attempt to take advantage of that.

“Oh, sir!” he sang out as if in pain.

“I shouldn’t tell all the town, if I were you,” returned Relton, coolly.
“You’d better come in here and pull yourself together.”

He had thrust his latch-key into the side door of a shuttered shop. Over
the shop were lighted windows which Jan suddenly connected with Relton’s
rooms. He had been up there once or twice with extra work, and now he
was made to lead the way.

The sitting room was comfortably furnished, with a soft settee in front
of a dying fire, and book-cases on either side of it. Jan awoke from a
nightmare of certain consequences, never fully realised until now, to
find himself meanwhile ensconced in the settee, and much fascinated with
the muddy boots of Dudley Relton, who had poked the fire before standing
upright with his back to it.

“Of course you know what is practically bound to happen to you, Rutter.
Still, in case there’s anything you’d like me to say in reporting the
matter, I thought I’d give you the opportunity of speaking to me first.
I don’t honestly suppose that it can make much difference. But you’re in
my form, and I’m naturally sorry that you should have made such a fatal
fool of yourself.”

The young man sounded sorry. That was just like him. He had always been
decent to Jan, and he was sorry because he knew that it was necessarily
all over with a fellow who was caught getting out at night. Of course it
was all over with him, so what was the good of saying anything? Jan kept
his eyes on those muddy boots, and answered never a word.

“I suppose you got out for the sake of getting out, and saying you’d
been to the fair? I don’t suppose there was anything worse behind it.
But I’m afraid that’s quite bad enough, Rutter.”

And Mr. Relton heaved an unmistakable sigh. It had the effect of
breaking down the silence which Jan was still only too apt to maintain
in any trouble. He mumbled something about “a lark,” and the young
master took him up quite eagerly.

“I know that! I saw you at the fair—spotted you in a moment as I was
passing—but I wasn’t going to make a scene for all the town to talk
about. I can say what I saw you doing. But I’m afraid it won’t make much
difference. It’s a final offence at any school, to go and get out at
night.”

Jan thought he heard another sigh; but he had nothing more to say. He
was comparing the two pairs of boots under his downcast eyes. His own
were the cleanest; they still had the boot-boy’s shine on them, amid
splashes of mud and dull blots of rain. They took him back to the little
dormitory at the top of Heriot’s house.

“Why did you want to do it?” cried Relton, with sudden exasperation.
“Did you think it was going to make a hero of you in the eyes of the
school?”

Sullen silence confessed some such thought.

“You!” continued Relton, with sharp contempt. “You who might really have
been a bit of a hero, if only you’d waited till next term!”

Jan looked up at last.

“Next term, sir?”

“Yes, next term, as a left-hand bowler! I saw you bowl the only time you
ever played on the Upper last year. It was too late then, but I meant to
make something of you this season. You were my dark horse, Rutter. I had
my eye on you for the Eleven, and you go and do a rotten thing for which
you’ll have to go as sure as you’re sitting there!”

So that was the meaning of kind words and light penalties. The Eleven
itself! Jan had not been so long at school without discovering that the
most heroic of all distinctions was to become a member of the school
eleven. Once or twice he had dreamt of it as an ultimate possibility in
his own case; it was really Chips who had put the idea into his head,
but even Chips had regarded it only as a distant goal. And to think it
might have been next term—just when there was to be no next term at
all!

“Don’t make it worse than it is, sir,” mumbled Jan, as the firelight
played on the two pairs of drying boots. The other pair shifted
impatiently on the hearth-rug.

“I couldn’t. It’s as bad as bad can be; I’m only considering if it’s
possible to make it the least bit better. If I could get you off with
the biggest licking you ever had in your life, I’d do so whether you
liked it better or worse. But what can I do except speak to Mr. Heriot?
And what can he do except report the matter to the Head Master? And do
you think Mr. Thrale’s the man to let a fellow off because he happens to
be a bit of a left-hand bowler? I don’t, I tell you frankly,” said
Dudley Relton. “I’ll say and do all I can for you, Rutter, but it would
be folly to pretend that it can make much difference.”

Jan never forgot the angry, reproachful, and yet not unsympathetic
expression of a face that was only less boyish than his own. He felt he
liked Dudley Relton more than ever, and that Dudley Relton really had a
sneaking fondness for him, even apart from his promise with the ball.
But that only added poignancy to his self-reproaches, the bitterness of
satire to his inevitable fate. Here was a friend who would have made all
the difference to his school life, getting him into the Eleven next year
if not next term, fanning his little spark of talent into a famous
flame! It was too tragic only to see it as they marched back together,
once more under Heriot’s umbrella, to the house and Heriot himself, with
his flashing spectacles and his annihilating rage.

The steam merry-go-round was still and dumb at last. In the emptying
market-place the work of dismantling the fair was beginning even as the
church clock struck twelve. Stalls were being cleared, and half the
lights were already out. But Heriot’s study windows threw luminous bars
across the glistening pavement, and his front-door was still unlocked.
Relton opened it softly, and shut it with equal care behind the quaking
boy.

“You’d better take those things off and hang them up,” he whispered. So
he had recognised Heriot’s garments, but had deemed that aggravation a
detail compared with the cardinal crime!

Jan himself had forgotten it, but he took the hint with trembling hands.

“Now slip up to dormitory and hold your tongue. That’s essential. I’ll
say what I can for you, but the less _you_ talk the better.”

Jan would have seen that for himself; even if he had not seen it, he was
the last person to confide in anybody if he could help it. But as it was
there were three fellows in the secret of his escapade, and all three
doubtless lying awake to learn its termination. It would be impossible
not to talk to them. Jan could only resolve upon the fewest words, as he
groped his way to the lead-lined stairs. In the two dormitories
overlooking the quad, the last tongue had long been still, and in the
utter silence Heriot’s voice sounded in startled greeting on his side of
the house. Jan shivered as he sank down on the lowest stair but one, to
take off his boots. Was it any good taking them off? Would not the green
baize door burst open, and Heriot be upon him before the first lace was
undone? He undid it with the heavy deliberation of an entirely absent
mind. Still no Heriot appeared, and even Jan could catch no further
sound of voices beyond the dividing door. He crept up, dangling his
boots.

The small dormitory was as still as the other two. Jan could not believe
that his comrades had fallen asleep, at their posts as it almost seemed
to him, but for an instant the suspicion piqued him in spite of
everything. Then came simultaneous whispers from opposite corners.

“Is it you, Tiger?”

“You old caution, I couldn’t have believed it of you!”

“You didn’t know him as well as I did.”

“I’m proud to know him now, though. Shake hands across the 'tish.”

“Thank goodness you’re back!”

“But how did you get back?”

“Same way I got out,” muttered Jan at last. “Are you all three awake.”

“All but young Eaton. Eaton!”

No answer from the new boy’s corner.

“He’s a pretty cool hand”—from Bingley.

“But he’s taken his dying oath not to tell a soul”—from Chips.

“He won’t have to keep it long, then.” Jan was creeping into bed.

“Why not?”

“I’ve gone and got cobbed.”

“You haven’t!”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Oh, Tiger!”

“But you’re back, man?”

“I was seen first. I’m certain I was. It’s no use talking about it now;
you’ll all know soon enough. I’ve been a fool. I deserve all I’m bound
to get.”

“I was worse!” gasped Bingley over the partition. “I dared you to do
what I wouldn’t’ve done myself for a hundred pounds. But I never thought
you would, either. I thought you were only hustling. I swear I did,
Tiger!”

Bingley was in real distress. Chips combined sore anxiety with a
curiosity which Jan might have gratified but for Dudley Relton’s parting
piece of advice. It occurred to Jan that Relton might have been thinking
of himself over that injunction; he might not wish it to be generally
known that he had taken the delinquent up into his own rooms before
haling him back to his house. At all events Jan felt he owed so good a
fellow the benefit of any doubt upon the point. And his silence was the
measure of his gratitude for the one redeeming feature of the whole
miserable affair.

Miserable it was to the last degree, and most humiliating in its utterly
unforeseen effect upon himself. His previous expressions of magnificent
indifference, as to whether he was expelled or not, had not been
altogether the boyish idle boast that they had sounded at the time. He
had meant them rather more than less. His whole school life had seemed a
failure; his early hatred of it had taken fresh hold of him. The
provocation supplied by Bingley had been but a spark to the tinder
already in Jan’s heart. He had seen no prospect of creditable notoriety,
and that of a discreditable kind had suddenly appealed to his aching
young ambition. The fact that he had ambition, however crude and
egotistical, might have shown him that school meant more to him than to
many who accepted a humdrum lot with entire complacency. But Jan was not
naturally introspective; the curse of consciousness was in him a recent
growth; and like other young healthy minds, forced by circumstance into
that alien habit, he misconceived himself on very many points. It had
seemed a really fine thing to have got out at night, a fine fate even to
be caught and expelled for it. But now that he really had been caught,
and the drab reality of expulsion stared him in the face, he saw not
only how inglorious it all was, but the glory that might have been his
at the school he had affected to despise.

He had never despised it in his heart. He knew that now. He had begun by
hating it as a wild creature hates captivity. He had learned to loathe
it as the place where an awkward manner and a marked accent exposed one
to incessant ridicule. But even in the days of hatred and of loathing,
when his chief satisfaction had been to damp the ardour of an old
enthusiast like Chips Carpenter, Jan himself had been conscious of a
sneaking veneration for the great machine into which he had been thrust.
He had meant it to make something of him, though that was not quite the
light in which he had seen his own intention. He had meant at any rate
to do as well as other fellows, to show them that he was as good as they
were, though he might not have their manners or address. That had been
the master impulse of his secret heart; he could trace it back to the
beginning of his first term, to the football which was stopped, to the
paper-chase in which he had run in spite of them, and then to last
year’s Mile and the cricket which was stopped again. How many things had
been against him, and yet how little he had suspected his own strongest
point! Only to think that he might have bowled for the school this
coming season.

Relton might have kept that to himself. He had talked about making
things better, but he had only made them worse to bear. He need not have
said that about Jan’s cricket. It was enough to drive a fellow mad with
the thought of all that he was losing through his criminal folly.
Individuals filled the stage of Jan’s cruel visions, Evan Devereux in
the limelight; what would _he_ have said if Jan had got into the Eleven?
Might it not have brought them together again? Evan had got into the
Sixth Upper; he had been in the First Lower the term before Jan came;
and Jan had been left out of even the lowest eleven on the Middle
Ground, which Evan had skipped altogether. It would have been a case of
the hare and the tortoise, but in the end they might both have been in
the school team together, and then they could scarcely have failed to be
friends. So simply did Jan think of the fellow with whom he now seldom
exchanged so much as a nod; he was nevertheless the one to whom Jan felt
that he owed more than to the whole school put together; for had he not
kept Something right loyally to himself?

Then there was old Haigh. He would have seen that there might be
something in a fellow who could not write Latin verses, something in
even a sulky fellow! And Jan no longer sulked as he used; he was getting
out of that; and yet he had done this thing, and would have to go.

Then there was Shockley and all that lot, the rotten element in the
house. If he had really got into the Eleven, it would have made all the
difference in the world between Jan and them. They never touched him as
it was, but their words were often worse than blows, and far more
difficult to return. But if Jan had got into the Eleven ... and Relton
spoke as if he really would have a chance, but for this thing that he
had done!

He lay in his bed and groaned aloud, and then found himself listening
for even an answering movement from one of the others. He felt he could
have opened out to them now, to any one of them; but they were all three
evidently fast asleep. The church clock had struck two some time ago.
And Jan was still poignantly awake; he had not lain awake like this
since his very first night in the school and that partition; and now it
was most probably his last.

To-morrow night he might be back in the rectory attic where he was less
at home than here, and back under the blackest cloud of all his boyhood.
That was saying something. Term-time was still preferable to the
holidays, except when he went to stay with Chips and see some of the
sights of London. And now it was the last night of his last term, unless
a miracle was wrought to save him.

And now it was the last morning, and Jan felt yet another creature,
because he had slept like a top after all, and the wild adventure of the
night was no longer the sharp reality which had kept him awake so many
hours. It was much more like a dream; it might or might not have
happened. If it had happened, and they knew it had, why were Chips and
Bingley washing and dressing without a word about it? Jan forgot about
young Eaton, similarly employed in the fourth partition; but at the back
of his muddled mind he knew well enough that it was no dream, even
before his muddy boots afforded final proof. Yet he rushed downstairs as
the last bell was ringing, flew along the street without a bite of
dog-rock or a drop of milk, and hurled himself through the school-room
door as the præpostor of the week was about to shut it in his face. As
though it still mattered whether he was late or not!

He thought of that while he recovered his breath during the psalms;
throughout the prayers he could only think of the awful voice reading
them, and whether it would pronounce his doom before the whole school at
ten o’clock, and whether it would not be even more appalling in private.
Jan watched the pale old face, forearmed with another day’s stock of
stern care. And he wondered whether his beggarly case would add a flash
to those austere eyes, or a passing furrow to that formidable brow.

Heriot’s place at prayers was such that Jan could not see his face, but
his shoulders looked inexorable, and from the poise of his head it was
certain that his beard was sticking out. There was no catching Heriot’s
eye after prayers; and yet even Relton, at first school, looked as
though nothing had happened overnight. He took his form in Greek history
with that rather perfunctory air which marked all his work in school;
but so far from ignoring Jan, or showing him any special consideration,
Relton was down upon him twice for inattention, and on the second
occasion ordered him to stay behind the rest. Jan did so in due course,
and was not called up until the last of the others had left.

“I didn’t keep you back for inattention,” calmly explained young Relton.
“I could hardly expect you to attend this morning. I kept you back to
tell you of my conversation with Mr. Heriot last night.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I began by sounding him on the punishment for getting out at
night—even on the venial pretext of a lark—in which I was prepared to
corroborate your statement as far as possible.”

Dudley Relton was already falling into the schoolmaster’s trick of
literary language, and here was at least one word of which Jan did not
know the meaning. But he expressed his gratitude again. And Relton
gathered his books together with some care before proceeding.

“It’s perfectly plain from what he says that the one and only punishment
is—the sack!”

Jan said nothing. But neither did he wince. He was prepared for the
blow, and from Dudley Relton he could bear it like a man.

“That being so,” continued the other, stepping down from his desk, “I
said nothing about last night, Rutter.”

“You said nothing about it?”

This was far harder to hear unmoved. Jan even forgot to say “sir.”

“Please don’t raise your voice, Rutter.”

“But—_sir_! Do you mean that you never told Mr. Heriot at all?”

“I do. I went in to tell him, but I soon saw it meant the end of you. So
I said nothing about you after all. You’ll kindly return the compliment,
Rutter, or it may mean the end of me.”

They faced each other in the empty class-room, the very young man and
the well-grown boy. In actual age there were only some seven years
between them, but at the moment there might have been much less. The
spice of boyish mischief made the man look younger than his years, while
a sudden sense of responsibility aged the boy.

It was Jan who first broke into a smothered jumble of thanks,
expostulations, and solemn vows. There were only three fellows who knew
he had got out at all; but even they did not know that he had actually
encountered any master, and now they never should. His gratitude was
less coherent, but his anxiety on Mr. Relton’s behalf such as that
unconventional usher was compelled to laugh to scorn.

“We’re in each other’s hands,” said he, “and perhaps my motives were not
so pure as you think. Remember at any rate, that you’re my dark horse,
Rutter. Run like a good 'un, and you’ll soon be even with me. But never
you run amuck again as you did last night!”

“I never will, sir, that I’ll swear.”

“I don’t only mean to that extent. I saw a pipe in your mouth before the
row. You weren’t actually smoking, but I fancy you do.”

“I have done, sir,” said Jan, without entering into particulars about
that pipe.

“Well, give it up. If you want to do something for me, don’t go smoking
again while you’re here. It’s bad for your eye and worse for your hand,
and a bowler has need of both. Run as straight as a die, Rutter, and
let’s hope you’ll bowl as straight as you run!”



                              CHAPTER XIX

                            FAME AND FORTUNE


There was really only one bowler in that year’s Eleven, and Chips
Carpenter was his prophet. There were others who took turns at the other
end, who even captured a few wickets between them in the course of the
season; but “the mainstay of our attack was Rutter,” as the Mag. found
more than one occasion to remark. That organ betrayed a marked belief in
the new bowler, from his very first appearance, with the black school
cap of previous obscurity pulled down behind his prominent ears. Its
rather too pointed praises were widely attributed to the new Editor,
none other than Jan’s old Crabtree, now a præpostor and captain of
Heriot’s house. The fact was, however, that Crabtree employed Carpenter
as cricket scribe and occasional poetaster, and had to edit him severely
both in prose and verse, but especially in those very remarks which
found disfavour in other houses.

Old Crabtree, who had suddenly grown into a young man, made by far the
best captain the house ever had in Jan’s time. But he was a terrible
martinet. You had to shut yourself up in your study to breathe the
mildest expletive with any safety, and it cost you sixpence to cast the
smallest stone in the quad. Crabtree was not precisely popular; but he
was respected for his scornful courage and his caustic tongue. It was
his distinction to rule by dint of personality unaided by athletic
prowess, and during his four terms of authority there can have been few
better houses than Heriot’s in any school. Shockley likened it to a
nunnery without the nuns, and left in disgust for reasons best known to
himself and Crabtree. Buggins and the portly Eyre grew into
comparatively harmless and even useful members of the community. And the
fluent and versatile Chips learnt a lesson or so for the term of his
literary life.

“I wish you’d write of people by their names, instead of 'the latter’
and 'the former’!” said Crabtree, coming into Chips’s study with a
proof. “And I say, look here! I’m blowed if I have 'The Promise of May’
dragged in because we happen to have lost a match in June! And we won’t
butter Rutter more than _twice_ in four lines, if you don’t mind,
Chips.”

But Crabtree was not cricketer enough to perceive the quality of the
butter apart from the quantity, and some sad samples escaped detection.
They still disfigure certain back numbers to be found upon the shelves
of the new school library. “Rutter took out his bat for a
steadily-played five,” for instance; and “the third ball—a
beauty—bowled Rutter for a well-earned eight.” They were certainly
Jan’s two longest scores for the team, for he was no batsman, but even
on firmer ground the partial historian went much too far. “Better
bowling than Rutter’s in this match it would be impossible to imagine.
His length was only surpassed by his break, and many of his deliveries
were simply unplayable.” Jan really had taken six wickets on the
occasion of this eulogy, but at no inconsiderable cost, and the writer
was unable to maintain his own note in the concluding paragraph of the
report: “At the end of the first day’s play I. T. Rutter received his
first XI colours, which it is needless to say, were thoroughly well
merited.”

Jan’s best performance, however, was in the match of the season, against
the Old Boys on Founder’s Day. Repton and Haileybury it was good to
meet, and better to defeat, especially on the home ground with a
partisan crowd applauding every stroke. Yet for the maintenance of high
excitement the whole of the rival school should have been there as well;
on the other hand, it cannot be contended that even the Old Boys’ Match
was necessarily exciting from a cricket point of view. It had other
qualities less dependent on the glorious uncertainty of the game. It was
the most popular feature of the prime festival in the school year. It
afforded the rising generation an inspiring glimpse of famous
forerunners, and it enabled those judges of the game to gauge the
prowess of posterity. The Old Boys’ Match had proved itself the cradle
of many a reputation, and the early grave of one or two.

This year the Old Boys came down in force. There was old Boots Ommaney,
the apple of the late professional’s eye, who had played for England
time and again at both ends of the earth. There was A. G. Swallow, for
some seasons the best bowler, and still the finest all-round player, the
school had ever turned out. There was the inevitable Swiller Wilman, a
younger cricketer of less exalted class who nevertheless compiled an
almost annual century in the match, and was the cheeriest creature in
either team. In all there were six former captains of the Eleven, and
four old University Blues. But Jan had seven of them in the first
innings—five clean blowed—on a wicket just less than fast but as true
as steel.

“Well bowled again!” said Dudley Relton in the pavilion. “Don’t be
disappointed if you don’t do quite as well next innings, or even next
year. But on that wicket you might run through the best side in
England—for the first time of asking.”

“It’s the break that does it,” replied Jan, modestly; “and I don’t even
know how I put it on.”

“It’s that break when they’re expecting the other. Most left-handers
break away from you; it’s expected of them, and you do the unexpected,
therefore you can bowl. Your break is the easier to play, once they’re
ready for it. If you only had ’em both, with your length and pace of the
pitch, there’d be no holding you in any state of life. You’re coming to
the Conversazione, of course?”

“I don’t think so, sir,” answered Jan, blushing furiously.

“But you’ve got your colours, and all the team came last year. It’s the
school songs from the choir, and ices and things for all hands, you
know.”

“I know, sir.”

“Then why aren’t you coming?”

Jan looked right and left to see that no inquisitive ear was cocked
above the collar of contiguous blazer. And then for a second he
contemplated the characteristic person of Dudley Relton, as dapper and
well-groomed and unlike a pedagogue as Jan knew him to be in grain.

“I haven’t got a dress-suit; that’s why, sir!” he whispered bitterly.

“What infernal luck!” Relton looked as indignant as Jan felt—and then
lit up. “I say, though, we’re much the same build, aren’t we? I suppose
you wouldn’t let me see if I can fix you up, Jan?”

Had it been possible to strengthen the peculiar bond already existing
between man and boy, these words and their successful sequel would have
achieved that result. But indeed the last and least of the words counted
for more with Jan than anything that came of them. It was the first time
that Dudley Relton had called him by his Christian name. True, it was a
school tradition that the Eleven went by theirs among their peers. But
as yet the Eleven had not treated Jan precisely as one of themselves. He
was younger than any of them, and lower in the school than most. In
moments of excitement, such as occur in every match, there was still an
unfortunate breadth about his vowels; and when he pulled even his Eleven
cap tight over his head, making his ears stick out more than ever, and
parting his back hair horizontally to the skin, there was sometimes a
wink or a grin behind his back, though the little trick was not seldom
the prelude to a wicket. It was characteristic, at all events, and as
quickly noted by the many on the rugs as by the rest of the side in the
field.

“Don’t hustle,” you would hear some fellow say; “the Tiger’s got his cap
pulled down, and I want to watch.”

The saying was to acquire almost proverbial value. It proclaimed an omen
as sinister in its way as the cloth on Table Mountain, or the sticking
out of Bob Heriot’s beard. But Crabtree censured an allusion to it in
his cricket scribe’s account of the Old Boys’ Match.

That was a halcyon term for Jan, and to crown all he was still in Dudley
Relton’s form, and treated with cynical indulgence by that
uncompromising specialist. Relton was there to uphold a cricketing
tradition, to bridge a gap that could not be filled, and he would not
have upset his best bowler even if there had been no other tie between
them. The other tie never passed the lips of either, but the memory of
it sweetened the bowler’s triumph, and very likely that of the coach as
well.

Heriot, moreover, was delighted to see a colleague obtain precisely that
hold over Jan which a rare delicacy had rendered difficult in his own
case. There was no flaw of jealousy or narrowness in Robert Heriot. He
was a staunch champion of the much younger man, whose methods and
temperament scarcely commended themselves to such hardened schoolmasters
as Mr. Haigh and the notorious but insensible Spook. But then Heriot
himself was having a very good term. His house was indeed in order under
the incomparable Crabtree, nor was Rutter the only fellow in it playing
for the Eleven. Stratten had got in for wicket-keeping, and Jellicoe was
almost certain of his colours. The trio provided a bit of the best of
everything for the house eleven; it was already carrying all before it
in the All Ages competition; and Haigh had not spoken to Heriot for two
whole days after the hill house went down before “the most obstinate
blockhead that ever cumbered my hall.”

Jan enjoyed that match; but it must be confessed that he showed far less
enjoyment of all his triumphs than did Chips Carpenter on his behalf.
Chips Carpenter, not content with singing his praises in print, was now
prepared to talk about his friend by the hour together, and became so
vociferous during the match in question as to have it straight from Mr.
Haigh that he was “behaving like a private-school cad.” His own
house-master, on the other hand, had never thought so much of him; he
knew what the mere enthusiast would have given to be a practical
exponent of the game he had to talk and write about instead.

And Heriot liked Jan no less for sticking to his first friend as he did,
and would have given something to have overheard one of the Sunday
evening chats which the pair still had by weekly permission in Chips’s
study, because it was the only one of the two fit to sit in. Jan had not
grown less indifferent to his immediate surroundings; he had still no
soul for plush or Oxford frames; not only had the grease-spots
multiplied on the green table-cloth foisted upon him by Shockley, but
the papers on the floor were transparent with blots of oil from his bat.
Carpenter, on the contrary, had made a miniature museum of his tiny den,
and his lucubrations were promoted by the wise glass eyes of a moulting
owl, purchased as a relic at Charles Cave’s auction.

“I hope you’re keeping the scores of all your matches,” said he one
night. “You ought to stick ’em in a book; if you won’t I’ll do it for
you.”

“What’s the good?” inquired Jan, with the genial indolence of an athlete
on his day off.

“Good? Well, for one thing, it’ll be jolly interesting for your kids
some day.”

Chips had not smiled, but Jan grinned from ear to ear.

“Steady on! It’s like you to look a hundred years ahead.”

“Well, but surely your people would take an interest in them?”

“My people!”

Chips knew it was a sore subject. He knew more about it than he ever
intended to betray; but he had committed his blunder, and it would have
made bad worse to try to retrieve it by a suspicious silence or an
incontinent change of topic. Besides, a part of his knowledge came from
Jan’s own deliverances on the sort of time he had in Norfolk.

“But surely they’re jolly proud of your being in the Eleven?”

“My uncle might be. But he’s in India.”

“And I suppose the old people don’t know what it means?”

“They might. I haven’t told them, if you want to know.”

Chips looked as though he could hardly believe his ears. Comment was
impossible now; he shifted his ground to the sporting personal interest
of such records as he would have treasured in Jan’s place.

“You’ll bowl for the Gentlemen before you’ve done,” said Chips, “and
then you’ll be sorry you haven’t got the first chapter in black and
white. You should see the book A. G. Swallow keeps! I saw it once, when
he came to stay at my private school. He’s even got his Leave to be in
the Eleven, signed by Jerry; but upon my Sam if I were you I’d have that
in a frame!”

It was a characteristic enactment that nobody could obtain his Eleven or
Fifteen colours without a permit signed and countersigned by House
Master and Form Master, and finally endorsed by Mr. Thrale himself,
whose autograph was seldom added without a cordial word of
congratulation.

“I believe I have got that,” said Jan, “somewhere or other.”

And Chips eventually discovered it among the Greek and Latin litter on
the floor.

“What a chap you are!” he cried. “I’m going to keep this for you until
one or other of us leaves, Tiger. You’re—I won’t say you’re not fit to
be in the Eleven—nobody was ever more so—but I’m blowed if you deserve
to own a precious document like this!”

Yet there was another missive, and souvenir of his success, which Jan
had already under lock and key, except when he took it out to read once
more. Chips never saw or heard of this one; but he would have recognised
the fluent writing at a glance, and Jan knew what sort of glance it
would have been.

This was the little note, word for word:—

                                                       “THE LODGE,

                                                           ”June 1st.

“DEAR OLD JAN,

  “I can never tell you how I rejoice at your tremendous success. Heaps
  of congratulations! I’m proud of you, so will they all be at home.

“School is awful for dividing old friends unless you’re in the same
house or form. You know that’s all it is or ever was! Will you forgive
me and come for a walk after second chapel on Sunday? Always your old
friend,

                                                              “EVAN.”

Chips knew nothing until the Sunday, when he said he supposed Jan was
coming out after second chapel as usual, and Jan answered very off-hand
that he was awfully sorry he was engaged. “One of the Eleven, I
suppose?” says Chips, not in the least disposed to grudge him to them.
Then Jan told the truth aggressively, and Chips made a tactless comment,
whereupon Jan told him he could get somebody else to sit in his study
that night. It was the first break in an arrangement which had lasted
since their first term. Jan was sorry, and not only because it was so
open to misconstruction; he was man enough to go in after all as though
nothing had happened. And silly old Chips nearly wept with delight. But
nothing was said about the afternoon walk and talk, which Jan had
enjoyed more than any since the affair of the haunted house.

It was just as well that Carpenter had been left out of it this time.
Two is not only company, but to drag in a third is to invite the
critics, and Chips would not have found Evan Devereux improved. Indeed
he saw quite enough of Devereux in school to have a strong opinion as to
that already; but they never fraternised in the least, and it is in his
intimate moments that a boy is at his best or worst.

Evan was at once as intimate with Jan as though they had been at
different schools for the last year and here was another reunion of
which they must make the most. He took Jan’s arm outside the chapel, and
off they went together like old inseparables. Evan seemed a good deal
more than a year older; his voice had settled in a fine rich key; his
reddish hair was something crisper and perhaps less red. But he was
still short for his age, and by way of acquiring the cock-sparrow strut
of some short men. His conversation strutted deliciously. It would have
made Carpenter roar—afterwards—but grind his teeth at the time. Of
course it was cricket conversation, but Evan soon turned it from Jan’s
department of the game. Jan followed him in all humility. Evan had been
a bit of a batsman all his life. True, in old days the stable lad had
usually been able to bowl him out at will, but he had always wished that
he could bat as well himself. He said so now, and Evan, who was going to
get into the third eleven with luck, was full of sympathy with the best
bowler in the school.

“It must be beastly always going in last,” said Evan. “I expect you’re
jolly glad when you don’t get a ball. But you don’t have to walk back
alone—that’s one thing!”

“I’m always afraid I may have to go in when a few are wanted to win the
match, and some good bat well set at the other end. That’s the only
thing I should mind,” said Jan.

“You remember the Pinchington ground?” said Evan abruptly, as though he
had not been listening.

“I do that!” cried Jan, and Evan looked round at him. As small boys they
had played at least one match together on the ground in question; and
Jan still wondered what he would not have given to be in flannels then
like Master Evan, instead of in his Sunday shirt and trousers; but Evan
was thinking that the school bowler had spoken exactly like the stable
lad.

“I got up a match there,” he continued, “at the end of last holidays,
and I’m going to get up two or three this August. It’s an awful hustle!
We play the Pinchington Juniors—awful chaps—but so are some of mine.
My best bowler’s learning to drive a hearse. We’ve a new under-gardener
who can hit like smoke. I’d have got a lot myself if it had been a
decent wicket, but I mean to have one next holiday.”

“Does old Crutchy still bowl?” asked Jan, grinning allusively.

“Rather! Hobbles up to the wicket, clumps down his crutch and slings ’em
in like a demon. He _would_ be jam on a decent pitch! I was going to
say, I got 48 one day last summer holidays. It wasn’t against the
Juniors—it was a boys’ match at Woodyatt Hall—but I did give 'm
stick!”

“Well done!” said Jan, quite impressed. “I never made anything like that
in my life. You’re playing for your house, aren’t you?”

“Rather! I should hope so. I got 19 not out the other day against the
United—including two fours to leg off Whitfield _major_.”

And so forth with copious details. Whitfield _major_ was the hard hitter
of the Eleven, and as bad a fast bowler as ever took an occasional
wicket. Jan, who always preferred doing a thing to talking about it, and
who wanted to know a lot of things that he did not like to ask, made
sundry attempts to change the conversation. He asked after the horses,
and was both sorry and embarrassed to gather that the stable had been
reduced. He tried Evan’s friends, the Miss Christies, as a safer topic;
he had always admired them himself, at the tremendous distance of old
days; but this time he called them “the Christies,” and it was Evan who
perhaps inadvertently supplied the “Miss” in answering.

No; cricket was the only talk. And as they wandered back towards the
thin church spire with the golden cock atop, looking rather like an
inverted note of exclamation on a sheet of pale blue paper, it was made
more and more plain to Jan that he was not to regard himself as the only
cricketer. But he had no desire to do so, and nothing could have been
heartier than his attitude on the point implied.

“You’ll get your colours next year, Evan, and then we’ll be in the same
game every day of our lives!”

“I have my hopes, I must say; but it’s not so easy to get in as a bat.”

“No; you may get a trial and not come off, but a bowler’s bound to if
he’s any good. Anyhow you’re in a jolly strong house, and that’s always
a help.”

“We ought to be in the final this year,” said Evan, thoughtfully.

“And so ought we,” said Jan.

They were both right; and the last match of the term on the Upper was
the decisive tussle between their two houses. It was also Evan’s first
appearance in the very middle of that august stage, and a few days
before the event he told Jan that his people were coming down to see it.
Jan could not conceal his nervousness at the prospect. But it left him
more than ever determined that Heriot’s should have the cup. He had some
flannels specially done up at the last moment, and his hair cut the day
before the match.

But he pulled his cap down further than ever when he took the ball, and
it gashed his back hair the more conspicuously to the scalp. In one
word, and in spite of his spotless flannels, he looked dreadfully like
the rather palpable “pro.” of those days, and his bowling only fostered
the suggestion. There was a regularity about the short quick run, an
amount of character in the twiddling fore-arm action, a precision of
length and a flick off the pitch that set a professional stamp upon his
least deadly delivery. Above all there was that naturally unnatural
break which Jan only lost when he began to think about it, or when the
ground was a great deal harder than he was fortunate enough to find it
in the final house-match.

It was just the least bit dead that day—a heart-breaking wicket for
most bowlers—but one that might have been specially prepared for Jan.
He had the mysterious power of making his own pace off such a pitch, and
the fact that the ball only rose stump-high simply enabled him to bowl
bailer after bailer, one and all with that uncanny turn from the off.
Variety was lacking; a first-class batsman would have taken the measure
of the attack in about an over; but there was scarcely the makings of
one such in the Lodge team, and great was the fall of that strong house.
Statistics would be a shame. Suffice it that Heriot’s lost the toss, but
won a low-scoring match by an innings in the course of the afternoon.
Jan had fifteen wickets in all, including Evan’s twice over. The first
time he was assisted by a snap-catch in the slips, and Evan’s nought
might fairly be accounted hard lines. But in the second innings it was a
complex moment for Jan when Evan strutted in with all the air of a
saviour of situations. Jan did not want him to fail again, and yet he
did because Evan’s people were looking on! He felt mean and yet exalted
as he led off with a trimmer, and the leg-bail hit Stratten in the face.

Then Jan showed want of tact.

“I’m awfully sorry!” he stammered out, but Evan passed him in a flame,
without look or sign of having heard.

Mr. Devereux, however, could afford to treat the whole affair
differently. And he did.

He was a fine-looking man of the florid type, with a light grey bowler,
a flower in his coat, and a boisterous self-confidence, which made him
almost too conspicuous on the unequal field. Mr. Devereux was far from
grudging Jan his great success; on the contrary, he seemed only too
inclined to transfer his paternal pride to his old coachman’s son, and
in reality was sorely tempted to boast of him in that relationship. Some
saving sense of fitness, abetted by an early hint (but nothing more)
from Heriot, sealed his itching lips; but in talking to the lad himself,
Mr. Devereux naturally saw no necessity for restraint.

“I remember when you used to bowl to my son in front of your
father’s—ah—in front of those cottages of mine—with a solid
india-rubber ball! We never thought of all this then, did we? But I
congratulate you, my lad, and very glad I am to have the opportunity.”

“Thank you very much, sir,” said Jan, in a grateful glow from head to
heel.

“I’ll tell them all about you down there; and some day you must come and
stay with us, _as a guest, you know_, and play a match of two for Evan
and his friends at Pinchington. You’ll be one too many for the village
lads. Quite a hero, you’ll find yourself.”

Jan was not so sure what to say to that; and he could only be as fervid
as before when Mr. Devereux slipped a sovereign into his hand, though it
was the first that he had received all at once in all his schooldays.



                              CHAPTER XX

                           THE EVE OF OFFICE


Thenceforward the career of Jan was that of the public-school cricketer
who is less readily remembered as anything else. One forgets that he had
to rush out to early school like other people, and even work harder than
most to keep afloat in form. It takes a dip into bound volumes of the
Mag. to assure one that “solid work in the bullies” (of the old hybrid
game) eventually landed him into the Fifteen, and that he was placed
more than once in the Mile and the Steeplechase without ever winning
either. Those were not Jan’s strong points, though he took them no less
seriously at the time. They kept him fit during the winter, but not
through them would his name be alive to-day. Some of his bowling
analyses, on the other hand, are as unforgettable as the date of the
Conquest; and it is with his Eleven cap pulled down over his eyes, and a
grim twinkle under the peak, that the mind’s eye sees him first and
almost last.

His second year in the Eleven was nearly—not quite—as successful as
his first. He took even more Haileyburian and Reptonian wickets, but
experienced batsmen who came down with other teams made sometimes almost
light of that clockwork break from the off. The cheery Swiller (who of
course owed his nickname to a notorious teetotalism) did not again fail
to compile his habitual century for the Old Boys. It was a hotter
summer, and the wickets just a trifle faster than those after Jan’s own
heart.

Still he had a fine season, and a marvellously happy one. He was now
somebody on the side; not a mere upstart bowler of no previous status,
rather out of it with the Eleven off the field. The new captain was a
very nice fellow in one of the hill houses; he not only gave Jan his
choice of ends on all occasions, and an absolute say in the placing of
his field, but took his best bowler’s opinion on the others and
consulted him on all sorts of points. Jan found himself in a position of
high authority without the cares of office, and the day came when he
appreciated the distinction.

Stratten and Jellicoe were in the team for their second and last year,
and the All Ages cup remained undisturbed on the baize shelf in Heriot’s
hall. Crabtree, moreover, was still the captain of a house in which his
word was martial law. But he also was leaving; all the bigwigs were,
except Jan himself. And after the holidays Heriot had to face a younger
house than for some years past, with a certain colourless præpostor in
command till Christmas, and only old Chips Carpenter to succeed him.

Chips was now a præpostor himself, being actually in the Upper Sixth,
thanks to the deliberately modest standard of learning throughout the
school. He could write Latin verses against the best of them, however,
and he now edited the precious periodical to which he had so long
contributed. This gave him his own standing in the school, while a
really genial temperament was no longer discounted by the somewhat
assertive piety of his earlier youth. And yet it was not only a touch of
priggishness that Chips had outgrown; the old enthusiasm was often
missing; it was his bad patch of boyhood, and he had struck it rather
later than most, and was taking himself to heart under all the jokes and
writings of this period.

Chips was still in no eleven at all; he thought he ought to have been in
one on the Middle, at any rate, and perhaps he was right. He was a very
ardent wicket-keeper, who had incurred a certain flogging in his
saintliest days by cutting a detention when engaged to keep wicket on
the Lower. In the winter months, with his new _Lillywhite_ usually
concealed about his person, he used still to dream of runs from his own
unhandy bat; but in his heart he must have known his only place in the
game, as student and trumpeter of glories beyond his grasp. Was he not
frank about it in his lament for the holiday task he had failed to learn
“in the holidays, while there was time?”

               “But 'tis no use lamenting. What _is_ done
                   You couldn’t undo if you tried....
                 O, if only they’d set us some _Wisden_,
                           Or _Lillywhite’s Guide_!”

Many fellows liked old Chips nowadays, and more took a charitable view
of his writings; but few would have picked him out as a born leader of
men, and he certainly had no practice in the little dormitory at the top
of the house. It was rather by way of being a cripples’ ward, for
Carpenter was still debarred from football by his bronchitis, and the
small boy Eaton, who was not so young as he looked, but an amusing
rogue, had trumped up a heart of the type imputed to Jan Rutter when he
fainted in the Spook’s mathematical. Eaton was a shameless “sloper,” but
he had heaps of character, and he saved the prospective captain of the
house some embarrassment by leaving at Christmas.

Chips had taken to photography as a winter pursuit; and so rare was the
hobby in those days that for some time he was the only photographer in
the school. Eaton accompanied him on many a foray, and swung the tripod
while Chips changed the case containing the camera from hand to hand.
They obtained excellent negatives of some of the delightful old churches
in the neighbourhood, including the belfry tower at Burston, seen
through its leafless beeches, and the alabaster monument in the chancel
at Stoke Overton. But by far the most popular success was the speaking
picture of Mr. and Mrs. Maltby, on the doorstep of their famous resort
in the market-place; to satisfy the vast demand for that masterpiece,
the præpostor was placed in a bit of a quandary, but young Eaton
borrowed the negative and did a roaring trade at sixpence a print.

In the meantime Evan Devereux had been elected Captain of Games: a most
important officer in the Easter term, the games in question being
nothing of the kind, except in an Olympic sense, but just the ordinary
athletic sports. The Captain of Games arranged the heats, fixed the
times, acted as starter, superintended everything and exercised over all
concerned a control that just suited Evan. He proved himself a born
master of ceremonies, with a jealous eye for detail, but a little apt to
fuss and strut at the last moment on a course cleared of the common
herd. He dressed well, and had a pointed way of taking off his hat to
the master’s ladies. There were those, of course, who crudely described
his mannerisms as mere “roll”; but on the whole it would have been hard
to find a keener or more capable Captain of Games.

The office was usually held by a member of the Eleven or of the Fifteen.
Evan was in neither yet, though on the edge of both. On the other hand,
he was very high in the Upper Sixth; for he had lost neither his
facility for acquiring knowledge, nor his inveterate horror of laying
himself open to rebuke.

It is at first sight a little odd that such a blameless boy should ever
have made a friend of one Sandham, a big fellow low down in the school,
and in another house. Sandham, however, was a handsome daredevil of
strong but questionable character, and it suited him to have a leading
præpostor for his friend. One hesitates to add that he was a younger son
of a rather prominent peer, lest the statement be taken as in any way
accounting for Evan’s side of the friendship. It is only the thousandth
boy, however, who troubles himself to think twice about another’s
fellow’s people, high or low. Of all beings boys are in this respect the
least snobbish, and Evan Devereux was of all schoolboys the last to
embody an exception to that or any other general rule. Sandham was not
the only fellow whose hereditary quality was denoted by a “Mr.” in the
list; the others were nobodies in the school, and neither Evan nor
anybody else made up to them. But to the aristocracy of athletics he
could bow as low as his neighbour, and his friend Sandham was an athlete
of the first water. Half-back in the fifteen, as good a bat as there was
in the Eleven, and a conjuror at extra cover, the gifted youth must
needs signalise his friend’s Captaincy of Games by adding the Athletic
Championship to his bag of honours. Winner of the Steeplechase, Hurdles,
Hundred-yards, Quarter-mile and Wide-jump, not only was Sandham Champion
but the rest were nowhere in the table of marks. It must be added that
he wore his halo with a rakish indifference which lent some colour to
the report that “Mr.” Sandham had been removed from Eton before old
Thrale gave him another chance.

“He’s a marvellous athlete, whatever else he is,” said Chips to Jan, on
the last Sunday of the Easter term.

“I’m blowed if I know what else he is,” replied Jan, “but I should be
sorry to see quite so much of him if I were Evan.”

“Not you,” cried Chips, “if you were Evan! You’d jolly well see all you
could of anybody at the top of the tree!”

“Look here, Chips, dry up! Evan’s pretty near the top himself.”

“Are you going to stick him in the Eleven?”

“If he’s good enough, and I hope he will be.”

“Of course it’s expected of you.”

“Who expects it?”

“Sandham for one, and Devereux himself for another. Didn’t you see how
they stopped to make up to you when they overtook us just now?”

“I don’t know what you mean. Evan’s a friend of mine, and of course I’ve
seen a lot of Sandham. They only asked if I was going to get any
practice in the holidays.”

“They took good care to let you know they were going to have some. So
Evan’s going to stay with Sandham’s people, is he?”

“It was Sandham said that.”

“And they’re going to have a professor down from Lord’s!”

“Well, they might be worse employed.”

“They might so. I should rather like to know what they’re up to at this
very minute.”

The scene was one of the many undulating country roads that radiated
from the little town like tentacles. Chips and Jan were strolling lazily
between the jewelled hedge-rows of early April; the other two had
overtaken them rather suddenly, walking very fast, and had stopped, as
if on second thoughts, to make perfunctory conversation. Evan had turned
rather red, as he still would in a manner that must have been a trial to
him. There had followed the few words about the holidays to which Chips
had alluded, but in which he had not joined. He also had his old faults
in various stages of preservation; touchiness was one of them, jealousy
another. But his last words had been called forth by nothing more or
worse than a fresh sight of Evan and Sandham on the sky-line, climbing a
gate into a field.

“I votes we go some other way,” said Jan. “I don’t like spying on chaps,
even when it’s only a case of a cigarette.”

“No more do I,” his friend agreed, thoughtfully. And another way they
went. But the conversation languished between them, until rather
suddenly Carpenter ran his arm through Jan’s.

“Isn’t it beastly to be so near the end of our time, Tiger? Only one
more term!”

“It is a bit,” assented Jan, lukewarmly. “I know you feel it, but I
often think I’d have done better to have left a year ago.”

Chips looked round at him as they walked.

“And you Captain of Cricket!”

“That’s why,” said Jan, in the old grim way.

“But, my dear chap, it’s by far the biggest honour you can possibly have
here!”

“I know all that, Chipsy; but there’s a good deal more in it than honour
and glory. There’s any amount to do. You’re responsible for all sorts of
things. Bruce used to tell me last year. It isn’t only writing out the
order, nor yet changing your bowling and altering the field.”

“No; you’ve first got to catch your Eleven.”

“And not only that, but all the other elevens on the Upper, and captains
for both the other grounds. You’re responsible for all the lot, and
you’ve got to make up your mind that you can’t please everybody.”

Chips said nothing. Some keen præpostor was invariably made Captain of
the Middle. Chips would have loved the unexalted post; but as he had
never been in any eleven at all, even that distinction would be denied
him by a rigid adherence to tradition. And evidently Jan had no
intention of favouring his friends, if indeed this particular idea had
crossed his mind.

“One ought to know every fellow in the school by sight,” he continued.
“But I don’t know half as many as I did. Do you remember how you were
always finding out fellows’ names, Chips, our first year or so? You
didn’t rest till you could put a name to everybody above us in the
school; but I doubt we neither of us take much stock of the crowd
below.”

“I find the house takes me all my time, and you must feel the same way
about the Eleven, only much more so. By Jove, but I’d give all I’m ever
likely to have on earth to change places with you!”

“And I’m not sure that I wouldn’t change places with you. Somehow things
always look different when you really get anywhere,” sighed Jan,
discovering an eternal truth for himself.

“But to captain the Eleven!”

“To make a good captain! That’s the thing.”

“But you will, Jan; look at your bowling.”

“It’s not everything. You’ve got to drive your team; it’s no good only
putting your own shoulder to the wheel. And they may be a difficult team
to drive.”

“Sandham may. And if Devereux——”

“Sandham’s not the only one,” interrupted Jan, who was not talking
gloomily, but only frankly as he felt. “There’s Goose and
Ibbotson—who’re in already—and Chilton who’s bound to get in. A
regular gang of them, and I’m not in it, and never was.”

“But you’re in another class!” argued Carpenter, forgetting himself
entirely in that affectionate concern for a friend which was his finest
point. “You’re one of the very best bowlers there ever was in the
school, Jan.”

“I may have been. I’m not now. But I might be again if I could get that
leg-break.”

“You shall practise it every day on our lawn when you come to us these
holidays.”

“Thanks, old chap. Everybody says it’s what I want. That uncle of mine
said so the very first match we played together, when he was home again
last year.”

“Well, he ought to know.”

And the conversation declined to a highly technical discussion in which
Chips Carpenter, the rather puny præpostor who could never get into any
eleven, held his own and more; for the strange fact was that he still
knew more about cricket than the captain of the school team. At heart,
indeed, he was the more complete cricketer of the two; for Jan was just
a natural left-hand bowler, only too well aware of his limitations, and
in some danger of losing his gift through the laborious cultivation of
quite another knack which did not happen to be his by nature.

The trouble had begun about the time of the last Old Boys’ Match, when
Jan had heard more than enough of the break which was not then at his
command; egged on by Captain Ambrose in the summer holidays, he had
tried it with some success in village cricket, and had thought about it
all the winter. Now especially it was the question uppermost in his
mind. Was he going to make the ball break both ways this season? The
point mattered more than the constitution of the Eleven, Evan’s
inclusion in it (much as that was to be desired), or the personal
relations of the various members. If only Jan himself could bowl better
than ever, or even up to his first year’s form, then he would carry the
whole side to victory on his shoulders.



                              CHAPTER XXI

                              OUT OF FORM


There was one great loss which the school and Jan had suffered since the
previous summer. Tempted by the prospect of a free hand, unfettered by
tradition, and really very lucky in his selection for the post, Dudley
Relton had accepted the head-mastership of a Church of England Grammar
School in Victoria. Already he was out there, doubtless at work on the
raw material of future Australia teams, while Jan was left sighing for
the rather masterful support which the last two captains had been apt a
little to resent. Relton was not replaced by another of his still rare
kind, but by the experienced captain of a purely professional county
team—a fine player and a steady man—but not an inspired teacher of the
game. To coach anybody in anything, it is obviously better to know a
little and to be able to impart it, than to know everything but the art
of transmitting your knowledge. George Grimwood had plenty of patience,
but expended too much in a vain attempt to inculcate certain strokes of
genius which he himself made by light of nature. He flew a bit too high
for his young beginners, and he naturally encouraged Jan to persevere
with his leg-breaks.

Not a day of that term but the Captain of Cricket sighed for Dudley
Relton, with his confident counsels and his uncanny knowledge of the
game. Especially was this the case in the early part of May, when trial
matches had to be arranged without the assistance of a single outsider
who knew anything about anybody’s previous form. Jan found that he knew
really very little about the new men himself; and Grimwood’s idea of a
trial match was that it was “matterless” who played for the Eleven and
who for the Rest (with Grimwood). The new captain no doubt took his
duties too seriously from the first, but he had looked to the new
professional for more assistance outside his net. On the other hand, he
was under a cross-fire of suggestions from the other fellows already in
the team—of whom there were four. Now, five old choices make a fine
backbone to any school eleven; but Jan could not always resist the
thought that his task would have been lighter with only one or two in a
position to offer him advice, especially as house feeling ran rather
high in the school.

Thus old Goose, who as Captain of Football deserved his surname but
little in public opinion, though very thoroughly in that of the masters,
would have filled half the vacant places from his own house; and his
friend Ibbotson, a steady bat but an unsteady youth, had other axes to
grind. Tom Buckley, a dull good fellow who ought to have been second to
Jan in authority, invariably advocated the last view confided to him.
But what annoyed Jan most was the way in which Sandham ran Evan as his
candidate, from the very first day of the term, pressing his claims as
though other people were bent on disregarding them.

“I saw Evan play before you did, Sandham,” said Jan, bluntly; “and
there’s nobody keener than me to see him come off.”

“But you didn’t see him play in the holidays. The two bowlers we had
down from Lord’s thought no end of him. I don’t think you know what a
fine bat Evan is.”

“Well, I’m only too ready to learn. He’s got the term before him, like
all the lot of us.”

“Yes, but he’s the sort to put in early, Rutter; you take my word for
it. He has more nerves in his little finger than you and I in our whole
bodies.”

“I know him,” said Jan, rather tickled at having Evan of all people
expounded to him.

“Then you must know that he’s not the fellow to do himself justice till
he gets his colours.”

“Well, I can’t give him them till he does, can I?”

“I don’t know. You might if you’d seen him playing those professors. And
then you’re a friend of his, aren’t you, Rutter?”

“Well, I can’t give him his colours for that!”

“Nobody said you could; but you might give him a chance,” returned
Sandham, sharply.

“I might,” Jan agreed, “even without you telling me, Sandham!”

And they parted company with mutual displeasure; for Jan resented the
suggestion that he was not going to give his own friend a fair chance,
even more than the strong hint to favour him as such; and Sandham, who
had expected a rough dog like Rutter to be rather flattered by his
confidential advice, went about warning the others that they had to deal
with a Jack-in-office who wouldn’t listen to a word from any of them.

Nevertheless Evan played in the first two matches, made 5, 0 and 1, and
was not given a place against the M.C.C. Jan perhaps unwisely sent him a
note of very real regret, which Evan acknowledged with a sneer when they
met on the Upper.

Jan had even said in his note, in a purple patch of deplorable
imprudence, that on his present form he knew he ought not to be playing
himself, only as captain he supposed it was his duty to do his best. He
could not very well kick himself out, but if he could he would have
given Evan his place that day.

Indeed, he had not proved worth his place in either of the first two
matches. Scores were not expected of him, though he no longer went in
absolutely last; but his bowling had given away any number of runs,
while accounting for hardly any wickets at all. Jan had lost his
bowling. That was the simple truth of the matter. He had squandered his
natural gifts of length and spin in the sedulous cultivation of a ball
which Nature had never intended him to bowl. In striving to acquire a
new and conscious subtlety, his hand had lost its original and innate
cunning. It is a phase in the development of every artist, but it had
come upon Jan at a most inopportune stage of his career. Moreover it had
come with a gust of unpopularity in itself enough to chill the ardour of
a more enthusiastic cricketer than Jan Rutter.

Jan had never professed a really disinterested enthusiasm for the game.
He had been a match-winning bowler, who had thoroughly enjoyed winning
matches, especially when they looked as bad as lost; he could never have
nursed a hopeless passion for the game, like poor old futile Chips
Carpenter. But he still had the faculty of meeting his troubles with a
glow rather than a shiver; and he bowled like a lonely demon against the
M.C.C. It was a performance not to be named in the same breath as his
olden deeds, but he did get wickets, and all of them with the old ball
that whipped off the pitch with his arm. The new ball betrayed itself by
an unconscious change of action—pitched anywhere—and went for four
nearly every time. Nevertheless, in the obstinacy of that glowing heart
of his, Jan still bowled the new ball once or twice an over. And the
school were beaten by the M.C.C.

There was, however, one continual excuse for a bowler of this type that
term. It was no summer; the easy wet wicket seldom dried into a really
difficult one. When it did, that was not the wicket on which Jan was
most dangerous; and for all his erudition in the matter, Chips was quite
beside the great mark made aforetime by his friend, when he sang of the
game for almost the last time in the Mag.—

                “Break, break, break,
                   On a dead slow pitch, O Ball!
                 And I would that the field would butter
                   The catch that’s the end of all!”
                     *        *        *        *
                 “And the beastly balls come in——”

But the trouble was that Jan’s came in so slowly on the juicy wickets
that a strong back-player had leisure to put them where he liked.

Some matches were abandoned without a ball being bowled; but towards
Founder’s Day there was some improvement, and to insult the injured
cricketer there had been several fine Sundays before that. On one of
these, the last of a few dry days in early June, Chips and Jan were out
for another walk together, in the direction of Yardley Wood.

It was the road on which Devereux and Sandham had overhauled them before
the Easter holidays; this time they pursued it to a pleasant upland lane
where they leant against some posts and rails, and looked down across a
couple of great sloping meadows to the famous covert packed into the
valley with more fields rising beyond. The nearest meadow was bright
emerald after so much rain. The next one had already a glint of gold in
the middle distance. But the fields that rose again beyond the dense,
dark wood, over a mile away, were neither green nor yellow, but smoky
blue.

It was the wood itself, within half that distance, that drew and held
the boys’ attention. It might have been a patch of dark green lichen in
the venerable roof of England, and the further fields its mossy slates.

“It looks about as good a jungle as they make,” said Chips. “I should go
down and practise finding my way across it, if I was thinking of going
out to Australia.”

Chips looked round as he spoke. But Jan confined his attention to the
wood.

“It’d take you all your time,” he answered. “It’s more like a bit of
overgrown cocoanut matting than anything else.”

Chips liked the simile, especially as a sign of liveliness in Jan; but
it dodged the subject he was trying to introduce. The fact was that
Jan’s future was just now a matter of anxiety to himself and his
friends. There had long been some talk of his going to Australia, to an
uncle who had settled out there, whereas he himself would have given
anything to go for a soldier like his other uncle. This was an
impracticable dream; but Dudley Relton, consulted on the alternative,
had written back to say that in his opinion Australia was the very place
for such as Jan. Heriot, on the other hand, had quite other ideas; and
Jan was too divided in his own mind, and too sick of the whole question,
to wish to discuss it for the hundredth time with such a talker as old
Chips.

“Just about room for the foxes,” he went on about the covert, “and
that’s all.”

“Is it, though!” cried Carpenter.

“Well, I’m blowed,” muttered Jan.

An arresting figure had emerged from one of the sides for which Yardley
Wood was celebrated. At least Jan pointed out a white mark in the dense
woodland wall, and Chips could believe it was a gate, as he screwed up
his eyes to sharpen their vision of the man advancing into the lower
meadow. All he could make out was a purple face, a staggering gait, and
a pair of wildly waving arms.

“What’s up, do you suppose?” asked Chips, excitedly.

“I’m just waiting to see.”

The unsteady figure was signalling and gesticulating with increasing
vivacity. The dark edge of the wood threw out the faded brown of his
corduroys, the incredible plum-colour of his complexion. Signals were
never flown against better background.

“Something must have happened!” exclaimed Chips. “Hadn’t we better go
and see what it is?”

“Not quite. Don’t you see _who_ it is?”

Chips screwed his eyes into slits behind his glasses.

“Is it old Mulberry?”

“Did you ever see another face that colour?”

“You’re right. But what does he want with us? Look at him beckoning! Can
you hear what he’s shouting out?”

A hoarse voice had reached them, roaring.

“No, and I don’t want to; he’s as drunk as a fool, as usual.”

“I’m not so sure, Jan. I believe something’s up.”

“Well, we’ll soon see. I’m not sure but what you’re right after all.”

Mulberry was nearing the nearer meadow, still waving and ranting as he
came. Chips said he knew he was right, and it was a shame not to meet
the fellow half-way; there might have been some accident in the wood.
Chips had actually mounted the lowest of the rails against which they
had been leaning, and so far Jan had made no further protest, when the
drunkard halted in the golden meadow, snatched off his battered hat, and
bowed so low that he nearly fell over on his infamous nose. Then he
turned his back on them, and retreated rapidly to the wood, with only an
occasional stumble in his hurried stride.

“Come on,” said Jan with a swing of the shoulder. “I never could bear
the sight of that brute. He’s spoilt the view.”

In a minute the boys were out of the green lane, and back upon the hilly
road, one in the grip of a double memory, the other puzzling over what
had just occurred.

“I can’t make out what he meant by it, can you, Jan? It was as though he
thought he knew us, and then found he didn’t.”

Jan came back to the present to consider this explanation. He not only
agreed with it, but he carried it a step further on his own account.

“You’ve hit it! He took us for two other fellows in the school.”

“In the school? I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Who else about here wears a topper on Sundays, except you Pollies?[1]
Besides, he came near enough to see my school cap.”

“But what fellows in the school would have anything to do with a
creature like that?”

“I don’t know,” said Jan. “We’re not all nobility and gentry; there’s
some might get him to do some dirty work or other for them. It might be
a bet, or it might be a bit of poaching, for all you know.”

“That doesn’t sound like a præpostor,” said Chips, speaking up for the
Upper Sixth like a man after old Thrale’s heart.

“You never know,” said Jan.

The discussion was not prolonged. It was interrupted, first by a rising
duet of invisible steps, and then by the apparition of Evan Devereux and
his friend Sandham hurrying up the hill with glistening faces.

“Talk of the nobility and gentry!” said Chips, when the pair had passed
with a greeting too curt to invite a stoppage. But Jan’s chance phrase
was not the only coincidence. The encounter had occurred at the very
corner where the same four fellows had met by similar accident on the
last Sunday of last term. Moreover Evan, like Chips, was wearing the
præpostor’s Sunday hat, while Sandham and Jan were in their ordinary
school caps.

-----

Footnote 1:

  Præpostors.



                             CHAPTER XXII

                          THE OLD BOYS’ MATCH


Founder’s Day was mercifully fine. A hot sun lit the usual scene outside
the colonnade, where the Old Boys assembled before the special service
with which the day began, and greeted each other to the merry measure of
the chapel bells. Most of the hardy annual faces were early on the spot,
with here and there a bronzed one not to be seen every year, but a good
sprinkling as smooth as the other day when they left the school. These
were the men of fashion, coming down at last in any clothes they liked;
among them Bruce, last year’s captain, and Stratten his wicket-keeper,
who was also a friend of Jan’s.

Under the straw hats with the famous ribbons were Swallow and Wilman,
who never looked a day older, and the great Charles Cave who did. It was
his first appearance as an Old Boy, and perhaps only due to the fact
that his young brother was playing for the school. Charles Cave wore a
Zingari ribbon and a Quidnunc tie, but there was every hope of seeing
the Cambridge sash round his lithe waist later. His tawny hair seemed to
have lost a little of its lustre, and he looked down his aristocratic
nose at oral reports of the Eleven and of the captain’s bowling. But
fancy that young Rutter being in at all, let alone captain! Fine bowler
his first year? So were lots of them, but how many lasted? It was the
old story, and Charles Cave looked the Methusaleh of Cricket as he shook
that handsome head of his.

But the captain’s bowling was not the worst; they did say his actual
captaincy was just as bad, and that he was frightfully “barred” by the
team. Of course he never had been quite the man for the job, whatever
young Stratten chose to say. Stratten would stick up for anybody,
especially of his own house; he would soon see for himself. And what
about these measles? A regular outbreak, apparently, within the last
week; fresh cases every day; among others, the best bat in the school!
That young Sandham, no less. Hard luck? Scarcely worth playing the
match, with such a jolly good lot of Old Boys down.... So the heads and
tongues wagged together, and with them those happy chapel bells, until
one was left ringing more sedately by itself, and the Old Boys filed in
and up to their prominent places at the top of the right-hand aisle.

Evan Devereux, always a musical member of a very musical school, sat in
the choir in full view of the young men of all ages. But he did not look
twice at them; he might not have known that they were there. Yet it was
not the obviously assumed indifference of one only too conscious that
they were there, and who they all were, and which of them were going to
play in the match. Evan might have felt that he ought to have been
playing against them, that only a brute with a spite against him would
have left him out; but he did not look as though he were thinking of
that now. He did not look bitter or contemptuous; he did look worried
and distrait. Any one, sufficiently interested in his flushed face and
sharp yet sensitive features, might have observed that he seldom turned
over a leaf, or remembered to open his compressed mouth; from it alone
they might have seen that he was miserable, but they could not possibly
have guessed why.

Neither did Jan when he chased Evan to his study immediately after
chapel.

“It’s all right, Evan! You’ve got to play, if you don’t mind!”

“Who says so?” cried Evan, swinging round.

Of course it was not his old study, but it was just as dark inside, like
all the Lodge studies leading straight out into the quad; and Jan very
naturally misconstrued the angry tone, missing altogether its note of
alarm.

“I do, of course. I was awfully sorry ever to leave you out, but what
else was I to do? Thank goodness you’ve got your chance again, and I
only hope you’ll make a century!”

Jan was keen to the point of fervour; no ill-will of any sort or kind,
not even the reflex resentment of an unpopular character, seemed to
survive in his mind. His delight on his friend’s behalf seemed almost to
have restored his confidence in himself.

“Then I’ll see if I can’t bowl a bit,” he added, “and between us we’ll
make Charles Cave & Co. sit up!”

“I—I don’t think I’m awfully keen on playing, thank you,” said Evan, in
a wavering voice of would-be stiffness.

“You are!”

“I’m not, really, thanks all the same.”

“But you can’t refuse to play for the school, just because I simply was
obliged——”

“It isn’t that!” snapped Evan from his heart. It was too late to recall
it. He did not try. He stood for some time without adding a syllable,
and then—“I thought I wasn’t even twelfth man?” he sneered.

“Well, as a matter of fact——”

Jan had not the heart to state the fact outright.

“I thought Norgate had got Sandham’s place?”

“Well, so he had. I couldn’t help it, Evan! I really couldn’t. But now
Norgate has got measles, too, and you’ve simply got to come in instead.
You will, Evan! Of course you will; and I’ll bowl twice as well for
having you on the side. I simply hated leaving you out. But there’s life
in the old dog yet, and I’ll let ’em know it, and so will you!”

He penetrated deeper into the dusky den; his hand flew out
spasmodically. There was not another living being to whom he would have
made so demonstrative an advance; but he had just described himself more
aptly than he knew. Evan always awakened the faithful old hound in Jan,
as Jerry Thrale had stirred the lion in him, Haigh the mule, and sane
Bob Heriot the mere man. So we all hit each other in different places.
But it was only Evan who had found Jan’s softest spot, and therefore
only Evan who could hurt him as he did without delay.

“Oh, all right. I’ll play. Anything to oblige, I’m sure! But there’s
nothing to shake hands about, is there?”

So history repeated and exaggerated itself. But it was a long time
before Jan thought of that. And then he was not angry with himself, as
he had been four years before; he was far too hurt to be angry with
anybody at all. And in that old dog, for one, there was very little life
that day.

He went through the preliminary forms of office, which generally caused
him visible embarrassment, with a casual unconcern even less to be
admired; but it was almost the fact that Jan only realised he had lost
the toss when he found himself as mechanically leading his men into the
field. He had been thinking of Evan all that time, but now he took
himself in hand, set his field and opened the bowling himself in a fit
of desperation. It was no good; he had lost the art. That fatal new ball
of his was an expensive present to such batsmen as Cave and Wilman; and
the soft green wicket was still too slow for the one that came with his
arm; they could step back to it, and place it for a single every time.
After three overs Jan took himself off, and watched the rest of the
innings from various positions in the field.

It lasted well into the afternoon, when the pitch became difficult and
one of the change bowlers took advantage of it, subsequently receiving
his colours for a very creditable performance. It was the younger Cave,
and he had secured the last five wickets for under thirty runs, apart
from a couple in the morning. His gifted brother had taken just enough
trouble to contribute an elegant 29 out of 47 for the first wicket; the
celebrated Swallow had batted up to his great reputation for
three-quarters of an hour; and Swiller Wilman, who played serious
cricket with a misleading chuckle, would certainly have achieved his
usual century but for the collapse of the Old Boys’ rearguard. He
carried his bat through the innings for 83 out of 212, but was good
enough to express indebtedness to Jan, to whom he had been delightful
all day.

“If you’d gone on again after lunch,” said Wilman, “I believe you’d have
made much shorter work of us. I know I was jolly glad you didn’t—but
you shouldn’t take a bad streak too seriously, Rutter. It’ll all come
back before you know where you are.”

Jan shook a hopeless head, but he was grateful for the other’s
friendliness. It had made three or four hours in the field pass quicker
than in previous matches; it had even affected the manner of the rest of
the Eleven towards him—or Jan thought it had—because the Swiller was
undoubtedly the most popular personality, man or boy, upon the ground.
Jan was none the less thankful to write out the order of going in and
then to retire into a corner of the pavilion for the rest of the
afternoon.

That, however, was not ordained by the Fates who had turned a slow
wicket into a sticky one, after robbing the school of its best batsman.
Two wickets were down before double figures appeared on the board, and
four for under 50. Then came something of a stand, in which the younger
Cave, who had his share of the family insolence, seized the opportunity
of treating his big brother’s bowling with ostentatious disrespect. It
was not, however, Charles Cave who had been taking the wickets, though
his graceful action and his excellent length had been admired as much as
ever. It was A. G. Swallow, the finest bowler the school etc.—until he
became her most brilliant bat. The wicket was just adapted for a taste
of his earlier quality; for over an hour he had the boys at his mercy,
and perhaps might have done even greater execution than he did in that
time. Then, however, a passing shower made matters easier; and when Jan
went in, seventh wicket down, there was just a chance of saving the
follow-on, with 91 on the board and half-an-hour to go. Somehow he
managed to survive that half-hour, and was not out 20 at close of play,
when the score was 128 with one more wicket to fall.

At the Conversazione in the evening, he found that he still had a
certain number of friends, who not only made far too much of his little
innings, but still more of his election to the Pilgrims during the day.
The Pilgrims C.C. was the famous and exclusive Old Boys’ club for which
few indeed were chosen out of each year’s Eleven; this year the honour
was reserved for Jan and the absent Sandham; and with his new colours,
worn as all good Pilgrims wear them on these occasions, in a transverse
band between the evening shirt and waistcoat, the fine awkward fellow
was a salient object of congratulations. Wilman was as pointedly nice as
he had been to Jan in the field, after hearing in the morning of his
unpopularity. Stratten had never been anything else to anybody in his
life, but he could not have been nicer about this if he had been a
Pilgrim himself instead of feeling rather sore that he was not one. A.
G. Swallow affected to see another good bowler degenerating into a
batsman in accordance with his own bad example. And the other old
choices of the present team very properly disguised their disaffection
for the nonce.

Only Evan Devereux, who again had failed to get into double figures,
said nothing at all; but he seemed so lost without Sandham, and looked
so wretched when he was not laughing rather loud, that Jan was not at
first altogether surprised at what the next morning brought forth.



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                          INTERLUDE IN A STUDY


It was in Jan’s study, now of course one of the large ones up the steps
at the end of the passage. Chips was in there, jawing away about the
match, and the prospect of a wicket after Jan’s own heart at last. Jan
sat under him with the tolerant twinkle which was quite enough to
encourage Chips to go on and on. It was tolerance tinged with real
affection, especially of late months; and never had captain of a house a
more invaluable ally. If Chips raised the voice of command, it was the
thews and sinews in the next study that presented themselves to the
insubordinate mind as an argument against revolt. And old Chips was man
enough not to trade on this, and yet to recognise in his heart the true
source of nearly all the power that he contrived to wield. And the house
as a whole was in satisfactory case, because the two big fellows were
such friends.

Yet Jan seldom dropped into Chips’s study, and never dragged him out for
walks, but preferred to go alone unless Chips took the initiative. And
this was his delicacy, not a cricketer’s superiority; he was really
afraid of seeming to fall back on old Chips as the second string to Evan
that he really was; for, of course, it was just in these days that Evan
had taken up with Sandham, after having honoured Jan off and on since
his first year in the Eleven. And yet Sandham had only to vanish to the
Sanatorium, for Evan to come round to Jan’s study directly after
breakfast, this second morning of the Old Boys’ Match!

Chips retired with speaking spectacles. They flashed out plainly that
Evan had no shame; but the funny thing was that Evan did for once look
very much ashamed of himself, as he shut the door with a mumbled
apology, and so turned awkwardly to Jan. He had reddened
characteristically, and his words ran together in a laboured undertone
that betrayed both effort and precaution.

“I say, Jan, do you think there’s any chance of our getting them out
again this morning?”

“This morning!” Jan grinned. “Why, they’ve got to get us out first,
Evan. And they may make us follow on.”

“You’ll save that, won’t you?”

“I hope so, but you never know. We want other five runs. Suppose we get
them, it’d be a job to run through a side like that by tea-time, let
alone lunch.”

“You did it two years ago.”

“Well, that’s not now. But what’s the hurry, Evan, if we can save the
match?”

“Oh, nothing much; only I’m afraid I shan’t be able to field after
lunch.”

Evan had floundered to his point over some stiff impediment. He was not
even looking at Jan, who jumped out of his chair with one glance at
Evan.

“I knew it!”

“What did you know?”

“You’re not fit. You weren’t yesterday, but now it’s as plain as a
pikestaff. You’re in for these infernal measles!”

It was a fair deduction from a face so flushed and such heavy eyes:
again Evan dropped them, and shook a head that looked heavier still.

“Oh, no, I’m not. I rather wish I was!” he muttered bitterly.

“Why? What’s happened? What’s wrong?”

Evan flung up his hangdog head in sudden desperation.

“I’m in a frightful scrape!”

“Not you, Evan!”

“I am, though.”

“What sort of scrape?”

“I don’t know how to tell you. I don’t know what you’ll think.”

Jan got him into the arm-chair, and took the other one himself. It was
something to feel that Evan cared what he thought.

“Come! I don’t suppose it’s anything so very bad,” said he,
encouragingly.

“Bad enough to prevent me from playing to-day, I’m afraid.”

“You surely don’t mean—that anybody’s dead?”

“I know I wish I was!”

“It isn’t that, then?”

“No; but I’ve got to meet somebody at two o’clock. I simply must,”
declared Evan, with an air of dull determination.

“Some of your people?” asked Jan, and supplied the negative himself
before Evan could shake his head. “I thought not. Then do you mind
telling me who it is?”

No answer from Evan but averted looks.

“Well, where is it that you’ve got to meet them?”

“Yardley Wood.”

Jan was there in a flash; he was looking over the posts and rails at the
besotted figure waving and beckoning in the lower meadow; he was meeting
Sandham and Evan, hurrying up the lane, not five minutes afterwards.

“Is it old Mulberry?” asked Jan, with absolute certainty that it was.

“What do you know about him?” cried Evan suspiciously.

Jan forced a conciliatory grin. “I thought everybody knew something
about Mulberry,” he said.

“But what makes you think of him the moment I mention Yardley Wood?”

“I saw him come out the other Sunday.”

“I daresay. He hides there half the summer. But what’s that got to do
with me?”

“He waved to us by mistake, and the next thing was that we met you and
Sandham coming up as we went down.”

“So you put two and two together on the spot?”

“Well, more or less between us.”

“Oh, Carpenter, of course! He was with you, wasn’t he?”

“Yes. But Chips wouldn’t let out a word, any more than I would, Evan.
Not,” added Jan, “that there’s anything to let out in what you’ve told
me as yet.... _Is_ there, Evan?” The opportunity afforded by a pointed
pause had not been taken. “You may as well tell me now you’ve got so
far—but don’t you if you’ve thought better of it.” There again was the
studious delicacy that was growing on Jan, that had always been in his
blood.

Evan flung up his head once more.

“I’ll tell you, of course. I came to tell you. It’s nothing awful after
all. There’s no harm in it, really; only you can do things at home,
quite openly, with your people, that become a crime if you do them
here.”

“That’s true enough,” said Jan who still smoked his pipe in Norfolk. He
felt relieved. Evidently it was some such trifle that law-abiding Evan
was magnifying in his constitutional horror of a row.

Jan asked outright if it was smoking, if Mulberry had been getting them
cigars, and was at once informed eagerly that he had. But that was not
all; the old tell-tale face was scarlet with the rest. And out it all
came at last.

“The fact is, Sandham and I have had a bit of a spree now and again in
Yardley Wood. Champagne. Not a drop too much, of course, or you’d have
heard of it, and so should we. No more harm in it than if you had it in
the holidays. I know at one time we used to have champagne every night
at home. Heaps of people do; they certainly did at Lord Allenborough’s.
And yet it’s such a frightful crime to touch it here!”

“I suppose Mulberry found out?”

“No—he got it for us.”

“I see. And I suppose you paid him through the nose?” continued Jan at
length. He would have been the first to take Evan’s lenient view of such
a peccadillo, if Evan himself had said less in extenuation. But just as
Chips Carpenter would dry Jan’s genial currents by the overflow of his
own, so even Evan had taken the excuses out of his mouth, and left it
shut awhile.

“That’s just it,” replied Evan. “We _have_ paid a wicked price, but we
haven’t quite squared up, and now it’s all falling on me.”

“How much do you still owe him?”

“Between four and five pounds.”

Jan looked grave; any such sum seemed a great deal to him.

“Can’t you raise it from your people?” he suggested.

“No, I can’t. They’re all abroad, for one thing.”

“What about Sandham and his lot?”

“I can’t write to him, you see. Anybody might get hold of it; besides,
there’s no time.”

“He’s pressing you, is he?”

“I’ve got to pay up this afternoon.”

“The moment Sandham’s out of the way!”

Jan’s eyes had brightened; but Evan was too miserable to meet them any
more; he could speak more freely without facing his confessor. His tone
was frankly injured, ingenuously superior, as though the worst of all
was having to come with his troubles to the likes of Jan, if he would
kindly bear that in mind.

Details came out piecemeal, each with its covering excuse. As some
debaters fight every inch in controversy, so Evan went over the
humiliating ground planting flags of defiant self-justification. The
business had begun last term; and still Sandham had been easy Champion;
that showed how harmless the whole thing had been. But when Jan asked
how much Mulberry had been paid already, the amount amazed him. Evan had
given it without thinking; but when asked whether he and Sandham had got
through all that alone, he refused to answer, saying that was their
business, and turning again very red. At any rate he was not going to
drag in anybody else, he declared as though he were standing up to old
Thrale himself, and by way of suffering the extreme penalty for his
silence.

Jan saw exactly what had happened. It was Sandham who had led Evan into
mischief; but that was the last thing of all that Evan could be expected
to admit. Between them these two might have led others; but all that
mattered to Jan was the old story of the strong villain and the
weak-kneed accomplice. Of course it was the villain who escaped the
consequences; and very hard it seemed even to Jan. Sandham was reported
to have his own banking account; he could have written a cheque for four
or five pounds without feeling it; probably he had refused to do so,
probably the whole thing was a dexterous attempt to blackmail Evan while
his masterful friend was out of reach.

Jan asked a few questions, and extracted answers which left him nodding
to himself with rare self-satisfaction. On Evan they had an opposite
effect. Unless he went with the money to the wood, before three o’clock,
the villainous Mulberry was “coming in to blab the whole thing out to
Jerry.” And he would do it, too, a low wretch like that, with nothing to
lose by it! And what would that mean but being bunked in one’s last
term—but breaking one’s people’s hearts—Jan knew them—as well as
one’s own?

Evan’s voice broke as it was. He laid his forehead on his hand, thus
hiding and yet trying to save his face; and Jan could not help a thrill
of joy at the sight of Evan, of all people, come to him, of all others,
for aid in such a pass. He was ashamed of feeling as he did; and yet it
was no ignoble sense of power, much less of poetic justice or revenge,
that touched and fired this still very simple heart. It was only the
final conviction that here at last was his chance of doing something for
Evan, something to win a new place in his regard, and to efface for ever
the subtly tenacious memory of the old ignominous footing between them.
That was all Jan felt, as he sat and looked, with renewed compassion,
yet with just that thrilling human perception of his own great ultimate
gain, at the bowed head and abject figure of him whom he had loved and
envied all his days.

“He doesn’t happen to have put his threat into black and white, I
suppose?”

Jan felt that he was asking a stupid question. Of course he would have
heard of anything of the kind before this. He did not realise the break
that Evan’s vanity was still putting on Evan’s tongue. But when a dirty
little document was produced, even now reluctantly, and found to contain
that very word “blab,” with the time, place, and exact amount
stipulated, Jan soon saw why it had not been put in before. It referred
to a broken appointment on the day of writing. That was another thing
Evan had not mentioned. It accounted for his strange unreadiness to play
in the match, as well as for the threats accompanying the impudently
definite demand.

“This is what he asks, eh? So this would settle him?”

“There’s no saying,” replied Evan, doubtfully. “I thought we had
settled, more or less.”

“More or less is no good. Have you nothing to show by way of a receipt?”

“Sandham may have. I know he stumped up a lot that very Sunday you saw
us.”

“Then what did you think of doing, if you did get out to see him after
dinner?”

“Stave him off till the holidays, I suppose.”

“You didn’t mean to stump up any more?”

“No, I’m hard up, that’s the point.”

“And you’d have stayed him off by promising him a good bit more if he’d
wait?”

“By hook or crook!” cried Evan, desperately. “But unless I can get away
from the match, I’m done.”

Jan put on an air of sombre mystery, lightened only by the crafty
twinkle in his eyes. Chips would have read it as Jan’s first step to the
rescue. But Evan missed the twinkle, and everything else except the
explicit statement:

“You can’t get away, Evan.”

“Then it’s all up with me!”

“Not yet a bit.”

“But the fellow means it!”

“Let him mean it.”

“If I’m not there——”

“Somebody else may take your place.”

“In the field? My dear fellow——”

“No, not in the field, Evan, nor yet at the crease. In Yardley Wood!”

Jan allowed himself a smile at last. And Chips could not have been
quicker than Evan to see his meaning now.

“Who will you get to go, Jan,” he was asking eagerly without more ado.

“You must leave that to me, Evan.”

“One of the Old Boys?”

“If I’m to help you, Evan, you must leave it all to me.”

“Of course you know so many more of them than I do. It’s your third
year....”

Evan was unconsciously accounting for an enviable influence among the
young men with the famous colours. To be sure, Jan was now a Pilgrim
himself; he was already one of them. Jan Rutter! But it was certainly
decent of him, very decent indeed, especially when they had seen so
little of each other all the year. Evan was not unaware that he had
treated Jan rather badly, that Jan was therefore treating him really
very well. It enabled him to overlook the rather triumphant air of
secrecy which it pleased Jan to adopt. After all, it was perhaps better
that he should not know beforehand who was actually going to step into
the breach. The chances were that almost any Old Boy, remembering that
blackguard Mulberry, would be only too glad to give him a fright, if not
to lend the money to pay him off.

But even Evan was not blinded, by these lightening considerations, to
his immediate obligations to Jan.

“I never expected you to help me like this,” he said frankly. “I only
came to ask you about this afternoon. I—I was thinking of shamming
seedy!”

Jan seemed struck with the idea; he said, more than once, that it was a
jolly good idea; but there would have been a great risk of his being
seen, and now thank goodness all that was unnecessary. If only they
could first save the follow, and then get those Old Boys out quickly
before lunch! That would be worth doing still, Jan hastened to add, as
though aware of some inconsistency in his remarks. His eyes were alight.
He looked capable of all his old feats, as he stood up in the litter
from which a fag could not cleanse the Augean study.

But Evan fell into a shamefaced mood; he was getting a sad insight into
himself as compared with Jan; his self-conceit was suffering even on the
surface. Jan would never have fallen into Mulberry’s clutches; he would
have kept him in his place, as indeed Sandham had done; either of those
two were capable of coping with fifty Mulberrys, whereas Evan had to own
to himself that he was no match for one. He may even have realised, even
at that early stage of his career, that in all the desperate passes of
life he was a natural follower and a ready leaner on others. If he was
not so very ready to lean on Jan, there were reasons for his
reluctance.... And at least one reason did him credit.

“I don’t know why you should want to do all this for me,” he murmured on
their way down to the ground. “It isn’t as if I’d ever done anything for
you!”

“Haven’t you!” said Jan. They were arm-in-arm once more, to his huge
inward joy.

“I’ll do anything in the world after this. I’ll never forget it in all
my days.”

“You’ve done quite enough as it is.”

“I wish I knew what!” sighed Evan, honestly.

And he seemed quite startled when Jan reminded him.



                             CHAPTER XXIV

                       THE SECOND MORNING’S PLAY


“By Jove!” exclaimed Carpenter in the scoring tent. “I haven’t seen Jan
do that for years. It used to mean that he was on the spot.”

“He did it when he went in just now,” replied the præpostor who was
scoring. “It only meant five more runs to him then.”

“But those five saved the follow! I don’t believe he meant to get any
more.”

“You don’t suggest that he got out on purpose, Chips?”

“I shouldn’t wonder. I know he told me the wicket would be just right
for him when the heavy roller had been over it. By Jove, he’s doing it
again!”

What Jan had done, and was doing again, was something which had been
chaffed out of him his first year in the Eleven. He was pulling the
white cap, with the honourably faded blue ribbon, tight down over his
head, so that his ears became unduly prominent, and his back hair gaped
transversely to the scalp.

The scorer remarked that he had better sharpen his pencil, and Jan
retorted that he had better watch the over first. It was the first over
of the Old Boys’ second innings, and the redoubtable Swiller had already
taken guard. Jan ran up to the wicket, with all his old clumsy
precision, but more buoyancy and verve than he put into his run now as a
rule. And the Swiller’s shaven face broke into a good-humoured grin as
the ball went thud into the wicket-keeper’s gloves; it had beaten him
completely; the next one he played; off the third he scored a brisk
single; and this brought Charles Cave to the striker’s crease, with the
air of the player who need never have got out in the first innings, and
had half a mind not to do it again.

Curious to find that even in those comparatively recent days there were
only four balls to the over in an ordinary two-day match; but such was
the case, according to the bound volume consulted on the point; and the
fourth and last ball of Jan’s first over in a memorable innings has a
long line to itself in the report. It appears to have been his own old
patent, irreproachable in length, but pitching well outside the
off-stump, and whipping in like lightning. It sent Charles Cave’s
leg-bail flying over thirty yards, if we are to believe contemporary
measurements. But the reporter refrains from stating that Jan had given
the peak of his cap a special tweak, though the fact was not lost upon
him at the time.

“Bowled, sir, bowled indeed!” roared Chips from the tent. “I knew it’d
be a trimmer; didn’t you fellows see how he pulled down his cap?”

And the now really great Charles Cave stalked back to the pavilion with
the nonchalant dignity of a Greek statue put into flannels and animated
with the best old English blood. But at the pavilion chains he had a
word to say to the next batsman, already emerging with indecent haste.

The next batsman was one of the bronzed brigade who could not grace the
old ground every season. This one had been in the Eleven two years in
his time, and had since made prodigious scores in regimental cricket in
India. In the first innings, nevertheless, he had shown want of practice
and failed to score; hence this bustle to avoid the dreaded pair. He was
rewarded by watching Swiller Wilman play an over from young Cave with
ease, scoring three off the last ball, and then playing a maiden from
Jan with more pains than confidence. The gallant soldier did indeed draw
blood, with a sweeping swipe in the following over from the younger
Cave. But the first ball he had from Jan was also his last; and the very
next one was too much for ex-captain Bruce.

“I told you it’d all come back, Rutter,” said Wilman with wry laughter
at the bowler’s end. “I’m sorry I commenced prophet quite so soon.”

“It’s the wicket,” Jan explained, genuinely enough. “I always liked a
wicket like this—the least bit less than fast—but you’ve got its pace
to a nicety.”

“I wish I had yours. You’re making them come as quick off the pitch as
you did two years ago. I wish old Boots Ommaney was here again.”

“I’d rather have him to bowl to than the next man in. Ommaney always
plays like a book, but Swallow’s the man to knock you off your length in
the first over!”

Swallow looked that man as he came in grinning but square-jawed, with a
kind of sunny storm-light in his keen, skilled eyes. It was capital fun
to find this boy suddenly at his best again; good for the boy, better
for the Eleven, and by no means bad for an old man of thirty-eight who
was actually on the point of turning out once more for the Gentlemen at
Lord’s. Practice and the bowler apart, however, it would never do for
the Old Boys to go to pieces after leading a rather weak school Eleven
as it was only proper that they should. It was time for a stand, and
certainly a stand was made.

But A. G. Swallow did not knock Jan off his length; he played him with
flattering care, and was content to make his runs off Cave. Jan made a
change at the other end, but went on pegging away himself. Wilman began
to treat him with less respect than the cricketer of highest class; in
club cricket, to be sure, there were few sounder or more consistent
players than the Swiller. He watched the ball on to the very middle of a
perpendicular bat, and played the one that came with Jan’s arm so near
to his left leg that there was no room for it between bat and pad. And
he played it so hard that with luck it went to the boundary without
really being hit at all.

Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, went up in sedate yet slightly accelerated
succession. Jan was trying all he knew, and now he had Cave back at the
other end. Another ten or so, and he felt that he himself must take a
rest, especially as A. G. Swallow was beginning to hit ruthlessly all
round the wicket. Yet Wilman’s was the wicket he most wanted, and it was
on Wilman that he was trying all his wiles—but one. That fatal
leg-break was not in his repertoire for the day; he had forsworn it to
himself before taking the field, and he kept his vow like a man.

What he was trying to do was to pitch the other ball a little
straighter, a fraction slower, and just about three inches shorter than
all the rest; at last he did it to perfection. Wilman played forward
pretty hard, the ball came skimming between the bowler and mid-off, and
Jan shot out his left hand before recovering his balance. The ball hit
it in the right place, his fingers closed automatically, and he had made
a very clever catch off his own bowling.

“Well caught, old fellow!” cried Evan from mid-off before any of them.
“I was afraid I’d baulked you.”

The others were as loud in their congratulations, and the field rang
with cheers. But Evan kept Jan buttonholed at mid-off, and they had a
whisper together while the new batsman was on his way out.

“What about bowling them all out by lunch? You might almost do it after
all!”

“I mean to, now.”

“Six wickets in three quarters of an hour?”

“But there’s not another Wilman or Swallow.”

“We shan’t get _him_ in a hurry.”

“Even if we don’t I believe I can run through the rest.”

“You’re a wonder!” exclaimed Evan, then drew still nearer and dropped
his voice. “I say, Jan!”

“What is it? There’s a man in.”

“If you did get them I might still go by myself this afternoon.”

“Rot!”

“I’d have time if you put me in as late as I deserve. I can fight my own
battle. I really——”

“Shut up, will you? Man in!”

Two overs later the new batsman had succumbed to Jan after a lofty
couple through the slips; but A. G. Swallow had begun to force the game
in a manner more delightful to watch from the ring than at close
quarters. He did not say it was his only chance. He was too old a hand
to discuss casualties with the enemy. He kept his own counsel in the now
frequent intervals, but his keen eyes sparkled with appreciation of the
attack (from one end) and with zest in the exercise of his own higher
powers. Enterprise and defense had not been demanded of him in such
equal measure for some past time; and yet with all his preoccupation he
had a fatherly eye upon the young bowler who was making this tax upon
his tried resources. Really, on his day, the boy was good enough to bowl
for almost any side; and he seemed quite a nice boy, too, to A. G.
Swallow, though perhaps a little rough. As to unpopularity, there was no
sign of that now; that good-looking little chap at mid-off seemed fond
enough of him; and he was not the only one. At the fall of each wicket a
bigger and more enthusiastic band surrounded the heroic bowler; the
cheers were louder from every quarter. If an unpopular fellow could
achieve this popular success, well, it said all the more for his pluck
and personality.

Eight wickets were down for 95, and Jan had taken every one of them,
before Stratten stayed with Swallow and there was another stand.
Stratten was only a moderate bats, but he had been two years in the team
with Jan, and three years in the same house, and he knew how to throw
his left leg across to the ball that looked as though it wanted cutting.
He had never made 30 runs off Jan in a game, and he did not make 10
to-day, but he stayed while the score rose to 130 and the clock crept
round to 1.15; then he spoilt Jan’s chance of all ten wickets by being
caught in the country off a half-volley from Goose—last hope at the
other end.

Swallow had crossed before the catch was made, and he trotted straight
up to Jan in the slips.

“Hard luck, Rutter! I hoped you were going to set up a new school
record.”

“I don’t care as long as we get you all out before lunch.”

Jan was wiping the cluster of beads from his forehead, and dashing more
from the peak of his cap before pulling it down once more over his nose.
He only saw his mistake when A. G. Swallow looked at him with a smile.

“Why before lunch, with the afternoon before us?”

“Because I feel dead!” exclaimed Jan with abnormal presence of mind. “I
could go on now till I drop, but I feel more like lying up than lunch.”

“Not measles, I hope?” said Swallow; and certainly Jan looked very red.

“Had ’em,” said he laconically.

“Then it’s either cause or effect,” remarked Swallow, turning to George
Grimwood, who had long looked as inflated as though he had taught Jan
all he knew. “I’ve often noticed that one does one’s best things when
one isn’t absolutely fighting fit, and I’ve heard lots of fellows say
the same.”

Now George Grimwood, as already stated, was a professional cricketer of
high standing and achievement; but by this time he was also a school
umpire of the keenest type, and his original humanity had not shown
itself altogether proof against the foibles of that subtly demoralising
office. Not only did he take to himself entirely undue credit for Mr.
Rutter’s remarkable performance, but he grudged Mr. Goose that last
wicket far more than Jan did. One hope, however, the professional had
cherished all the morning, and it was not yet dead in his breast. He
longed to see Mr. Swallow, his own old opponent on many a first-class
field, succumb to his young colt in the end; and now there was not much
chance of it, with only one more over before lunch, especially if Mr.
Rutter was really going to lie up afterwards.

So this was what happened—it may have been the very soundest
verdict—but as the climax of a great performance it was not altogether
satisfactory. Whitfield _major_, the last batsman, who really might have
gone in earlier, clubbed the first ball of Jan’s last over for three.
The next ball may or may not have been on the off-stump. It appeared to
come from a tired arm, to lack the sting of previous deliveries, to be
rather a slower ball and as such just short of a really good length. But
A. G. Swallow, still notoriously nimble on his feet, came out to hit
across a straight half-volley on the strength of the usual break. He
missed the ball, and it hit his pad; but there was no appeal from the
bowler. That was the great point against George Grimwood. Jan was giving
his cap another tug over his nose, when consequential Evan appealed for
him from mid-off.

“Out!” roared the redoubtable George without an instant’s hesitation.
The Old Boys’ second innings had closed for 133. Jan had taken 9 wickets
for 41 runs. And A. G. Swallow was last out for 57—if out at all—and
his eagle eye was clouded with his own opinion on the point.

The school was already streaming off the ground on its way back to
dinner in the houses; but many remained, and some turned back, to give
batsmen and bowler the reception they deserved. More articulate praises
pursued them to the dressing-room. These ran like water off Jan’s back
as he sat stolidly changing his shoes; for in those days the players
dispersed to luncheon in the houses also. He explained his apparent
ungraciousness by some further mention of “a splitting head.” But as a
matter of fact he had every one of his wits about him, and his most
immediate anxiety was to avoid Evan, whom he saw obviously waiting to
waylay him. He made a point of writing out the order of going in before
leaving the pavilion. It was the same order as before, except that Jan
promoted the last two men and wrote his own name last of all.

“I’ll turn up if I can,” he announced as he tacked himself on to Charles
Cave, of all people, to Evan’s final discomfiture. “But let’s hope I
shan’t be wanted; unless it’s a case of watching the other fellow make
the winning hit, I shall be as much use in my study as on the pitch.”

Evan heard this as he walked as near them as he very well could. The
narrow street was a running river of men and boys with glistening
foreheads, who hugged the shadows and shrank ungratefully from the first
hot sunshine of the term. Charles Cave, stalking indolently next the
wall, said he hoped Jan was going up to the 'Varsity, as they wanted
bowlers there, and a man who could bowl like that would stand a good
chance of his Blue at either Oxford or Cambridge. Jan replied that he
was afraid he was not going to either, but to the Colonies, a scheme
which the other seemed to consider so deplorable that Evan dropped out
of earshot from a feeling that the conversation was beginning to take a
private turn. And sure enough, after a pause, it took one that surprised
Jan himself almost as much as it did Charles Cave.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” said Jan with apparent deliberation, but in
reality on as sudden an impulse as ever dictated spoken words. “You see,
you don’t know what it is to be a beggar, Cave!”

“I don’t, I’m glad to say.”

“Well, I do, and it’s rather awkward when you’re captain of the Eleven.”

“It must be.”

“It is, Cave, and if you could lend me a fiver I’d promise to pay you
back before the end of the term.”

The calm speech was so extraordinarily calm, the tone so matter-of-fact
and every-day, that after a second’s amazement the Old Boy could only
assume that Jan’s splitting head had already affected the mind within.
That charitable construction did not prevent Charles Cave from refusing
the monstrous request with equal coolness and promptitude; and an
utterly unabashed reception of the rebuff only confirmed his conclusion.

“After all, why should you?” asked Jan, with a strange chuckle. “But I
shall have to raise it somewhere, and I daresay you won’t tell anybody
that I tried you first.”

And before there could be any answer to that, Jan had turned without
ceremony into Heath’s, the saddler’s shop, where the boys bespoke flies
to take them to their trains at the end of the term. As a rule these
orders were booked weeks beforehand, but the fly that Jan now ordered
was to be outside Mr. Heriot’s quad at 2.45 that afternoon.

“Is it to go to Molton, sir?”

“That’s it.”

“But there’s no train before the 4.10, Mr. Rutter.”

“I can’t help that. I was asked to order it for some people who’re down
for the match. They may be going to see some of the sights of the
country first.”

Outside the shop, he found Evan waiting for him.

“I say, Jan, what’s all this about your being seedy?”

“That’s my business. Do you think I’m shamming?”

Evan missed the twinkle again. There was some excuse for him. It was
unintentional now.

“I don’t know, but if I thought you were going yourself——”

“Shut up, Evan! That’s all settled. You go in fourth wicket down again,
and mind you make some.”

“But if you’re seen——”

“What on earth makes you think I’m going? I’ve fixed up the whole thing.
That should be good enough. I thought you left it to me?”

At Heriot’s corner, old Bob himself was standing in conversation with
Mr. Haigh, the two of them mechanically returning the no less
perfunctory salutes of the passing stream. Charles Cave had paused a
moment before going on into the house.

“I’m afraid the hero of the morning’s a bit off-colour, Mr. Heriot.”

“Not Rutter?”

Cave nodded.

“He says his head’s bad. I think it must be. It looks to me like a touch
of the sun.”

“I hope not,” said Heriot, as Cave passed on. “He really is a fine
fellow, Haigh, as well as the fine bowler you’ve just seen once more. I
sometimes think you might forget what he was, after all these years.”

“Oh, I’ve nothing against the fellow,” said Haigh, rather grandly. “But
I take a boy as I find him, and I found Rutter the most infernal
nuisance I ever had in my form.”

“Years ago!”

“Well, at all events, there’s no question of a grudge on my side. I
wouldn’t condescend to bear a grudge against a boy.”

Haigh spoke as though he really wished to mean what he said. His general
principles were as sound as his heart could be kind, but both were
influenced by a temper never meant for schoolmastering. At this moment
Jan and Evan hove into sight, and Heriot detained the cricketer of his
house, questioned him about his head, reassured himself as to a former
authentic attack of measles, and finally agreed with Jan’s suggestion
that he should stay quietly in his study until he felt fit to go back to
the ground. He did not want any lunch.

Meanwhile, Haigh had not gone off up the hill, but had stayed to put in
a difficult word or two of his own, as though to prove the truth of his
assertion to Heriot. He went further as Jan was about to turn down to
the quad.

“By the way, Rutter, I’ve a very good prescription for that kind of
thing, now I think of it. I’ll send it up to you if you like.”

“Oh, thank you, sir,” said Jan politely.

“You shall have it as soon as they can make it up. They’ve probably kept
a copy at the chemist’s. I’ll go in and see.”

Jan could only thank his old enemy again, and so retreat from the
embarrassment of further tributes to his successful malingering. It was
a loathsome part to play, especially for a blunt creature who had very
seldom played a part in his life. But there were worse things in front
of him, if he was to carry out his resolve, and do the deed which he
never seriously dreamt of deputing to another. It was more than risky.
But it could be done; nor was the risk the greatest obstacle. Money was
at once the crux and the touchstone of the situation. No use tackling
Cerberus without a decent sop up one’s sleeve! And Jan had only just
eight shillings left.

He sat in his bleak, untidy study, listening to the sound of knives and
forks and voices in the hall, and eyeing those few possessions of his
which conceivably might be turned into substantial coin of the realm.
There were the four or five second and third prizes that he had won in
the sports, and there was his mother’s gold watch. It he had worn
throughout his schooldays; and it had struck him very much in the
beginning that nobody had ever asked him why he wore a lady’s watch; but
there were some things about which even a new boy’s feelings were
respected, now he came to think of it.... He came to think of too many
things that had nothing to do with the pressing question; of the other
watch that he had won at the fair, and sold at the time for the very few
shillings it would bring; of the mad way in which he had thrown himself
into that adventure, just as he was throwing himself into this one now.
But it was no good raking up the past and comparing it with the present.
Besides, there had been no sense in the risk he ran then; and now there
was not only sense but necessity.

So absolute was the necessity in Jan’s view that he would not have
hesitated to part with his precious watch for the time being, if only
there had been a pawnbroker’s shop within reach; but, perhaps by
arrangement with the school authorities, there was no such establishment
in the little town; and there was no time to try the ordinary tradesmen,
even if there was one of them likely to comply and to hold his tongue.
Jan thought of Lloyd, the authorised jeweller, thought of George
Grimwood and old Maltby, and was still only thinking when the quad
filled under his window, the study passage creaked and clattered with
boots, and Chips Carpenter was heard demanding less noise in a far more
authoritative voice than usual.

It was almost too much to hear poor old Chips steal into his own study
next door like any mouse to hear what he was about, and how quietly, and
then to see the solicitous face he poked into Jan’s study before going
back to the Upper. Chips left him his Saturday allowance of a
shilling—that made nine—but it was no good consulting or trying to
borrow from a chap who hated Evan. Jan got rid of him with a twitch of
preposterous excruciation, and in a very few minutes had the studies to
himself.



                              CHAPTER XXV

                         INTERLUDE IN THE WOOD


Morgan, the man-servant, and his myrmidon of the boots and knives, were
busy and out of sight in the pantry near the hall, as Jan knew they
would be by this time. Yet he was flushed and flurried as he ran down
into the empty quad, and dived into the closed fly which had just pulled
up outside. He leant as far back as possible. The road broadened, the
town came to an end. The driver drove on phlegmatically, without
troubling his head as to why one of the cricketing young gentlemen
should be faring forth alone, in his flannels, too, and without any
luggage either. He would be going to meet his friends at Molton, likely,
and bring them back to see the cricket. So thought the seedy handler of
shabby ribbons, so far as he may be said to have thought at all, until a
bare head stuck out behind him at Burston Corner, and he was told to
pull up.

“Jump down a minute, will you? I want to speak to you.”

The fly stopped in one of the great dappled shadows that trembled across
the wooded road. A bucolic countenance peered over a huge horse-shoe pin
into the recesses of the vehicle.

“See here, my man; here’s nine bob for you. I’m sorry it isn’t ten, but
I’ll make it up to a pound at the end of the term.”

“I’m very much obliged to you, sir, I’m sure!”

“Wait a bit. That’s only on condition you keep your mouth shut; there
may be a bit more in it when you’ve kept it jolly well shut till then.”

“You’re not going to get me into any trouble, sir?”

“Not if I can help it and you hold your tongue. We’re only going round
by Yardley Wood instead of to Molton, and I shan’t keep you waiting
there above half an hour. It’s—it’s only a bit of a lark!”

A sinful smile grew into the crab-apple face at the fly-window.

“I been a-watching you over them palings at bottom end o’ ground all the
morning, Mr. Rutter, but I didn’t see it was you just now, not at first.
Lord, how you did bool ’em down! I’ll take an’ chance it for you, sir,
jiggered if I don’t!”

The fly rolled to the left of Burston church, now buried belfry-deep in
the fretful foliage of its noble avenue. It threaded the road in which
Chips had encountered Evan on their first Sunday walk; there was the
stile where Jan had waited in the background, against the hedge. Strange
to think of Evan’s attitude then and long afterwards, and of Jan’s
errand now; but lots of things were strange if you were fool enough to
stop to think about them. That was not Jan’s form of folly when once
committed to a definite course of action; and any such tendency was
extremely quickly quelled on this occasion. He had more than enough to
think about in the interview now before him. It was almost his first
opportunity of considering seriously what he was to say, how he had
better begin, what line exactly it would be wisest to take, and what
tone at the start. It was annoying not to be able to decide absolutely
beforehand; it was disconcerting, too, because in his first glow the
very words had come to him together with his plan. He had made short
work of the noxious Mulberry almost as soon as the creature had taken
shape in his mind. But on second thoughts it appeared possible to make
too short work of a scoundrel with tales to tell, money or no money. And
by the time the horse was walking up the last hill, with the green lane
on top, Jan had thought of the monstrous Cacus in the Aventine woods,
without feeling in the least like the superhuman hero of the legend.

There lay the celebrated covert, in its hollow in the great grass
country. In the heavy sunlight of a rainy summer, the smear of woodland,
dense and compressed, was like a forest herded in a lane. So smoky was
the tint of it, from the green heights above, that one would have said
any moment it might burst into flames, like a damp bonfire. But Jan only
thought of the monster in its depths, as he marched down through the
lush meadows, with something jingling on him at every other stride.

Yardley Wood was bounded by a dyke and a fence, and presented such a
formidable tangle of trees and undergrowth within, that Jan, though
anxious for immediate cover, steered a bold course for the made opening.
The white wicket looked positively painted on the dark edge of the wood.
It led into a broad green ride, spattered with buttercups as thick as
freckles on a country face.

Jan entered the ride, and peered into the tangled thicket on either
hand. Its sombre depths, unplumbed by a ray of sun, reminded him of a
striking description in one of the many novels that Chips had made him
read: it was twilight there already, it must be “dark as midnight at
dusk, and black as the ninth plague of Egypt at midnight.” And there was
another plague of Egypt that Jan recalled before he had penetrated a
yard into the fringe of tangle-wood. He became at once the sport and
target of a myriad flies. The creatures buzzed aggressively in the
sudden stillness of the natural catacomb; and yet above their hum the
tree-tops made Æolian music from the first moment that he stood beneath
them, while last year’s leaves, dry enough there even in that wet
summer, rustled at every jingling step he took.

And now his steps followed the wavering line of least resistance, and so
turned and twisted continually; but he would not have taken very many in
this haphazard, tentative fashion, and was beginning in fact to bend
them back towards the ride, when the bulbous nose of Mulberry appeared
under his very own.

It was making music worthy of its painful size, as he lay like a log on
the broad of his back, in a small open space. His battered hat lay
beside him, along with a stout green cudgel newly cut, Jan had half a
mind to remove this ugly weapon as a first preliminary; but it was not
the half which had learnt to give points rather than receive them, and
the impulse was no sooner felt than it was scorned. Yet the drunkard was
a man of no light build. Neither did he lie like one just then
particularly drunk, or even very sound asleep. The flies were not
allowed to batten on his bloated visage; every now and then the snoring
stopped as he shook them off; and presently a pair of bloodshot eyes
rested on Jan’s person.

“So you’ve come, have you?” grunted Mulberry; and the red eyes shut
again ostentatiously, without troubling to climb to Jan’s face.

“_I_ have,” said he, with dry emphasis. It was either too dry or else
not emphatic enough for Mulberry.

“You’re late, then, hear that? Like your cheek to be late. Now you can
wait for me.”

“Not another second!” cried Jan, all his premeditated niceties forgotten
in that molecule of time. Mulberry sat up, blinking.

“I thought it was Mr. Devereux!”

“I know you did.”

“Have you come instead of him?”

“Looks like it, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t know you! I won’t have anything to do with you,” exclaimed
Mulberry, with a drunken dignity rendered the more grotesque by his
difficulty in getting to his feet.

“Well, you certainly won’t have anything more to do with Mr. Devereux,”
retorted Jan, only to add: “So I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with
me,” in a much more conciliatory voice. He had just remembered his
second thoughts on the way.

“Why? What’s happened him?” asked Mulberry, suspiciously.

“Never you mind. He can’t come; that’s good enough. But I’ve come
instead—to settle up with you.”

“You have, have you?”

“On the spot. Once for all.”

Jan slapped one of the pockets that could not be abolished in cricket
trousers. It rang like a money-bag flung upon a counter. The reprobate
looked impressed, but still suspicious about Evan.

“He was to come here yesterday, and he never did.”

“It wasn’t his fault; that’s why I’ve come to-day.”

“I said I’d go in and report him to Mr. Thrale, if he slipped me up
twice.”

“'Blab’ was your word, Mulberry!”

“Have you seen what I wrote?”

“I happen to have got it in my pocket.”

Mulberry lurched a little nearer. Jan shook his head with a grin.

“It may come in useful, Mulberry, if you ever get drunk enough to do as
you threaten.”

“Useful, may it?”

If the red eyes fixed on Jan had been capable of flashing, they would
have done so now. They merely watered as though with blood. Till this
moment man and boy had been only less preoccupied with the flies than
with each other. Mulberry with the battered hat had vied with Jan and
his handkerchief in keeping the little brutes at bay. But at this point
the swollen sot allowed the flies to cover his hideousness like a
spotted veil. It was only for seconds, yet to Jan it was almost proof
that the scamp had something to fear, that his pressure on Evan was
rather more than extortionate. His expressionless stare had turned
suddenly expressive. That could not be the flies. Nor was it only what
Jan thought it was.

“I’ve seen you before, young feller!” exclaimed Mulberry.

“You’ve had chances enough of seeing me these four years.”

“I don’t mean at school. I don’t mean at school,” repeated Mulberry,
racking his muddled wits for whatever it might be that he did mean. Jan
was under no such necessity; already he was back at the fair, that wet
and fateful night in March—but he did not intend Mulberry to join him
there again.

“It’s no good you trying to change the subject, Mulberry! I’ve got your
letter to Mr. Devereux, and you’ll hear more about it if you go making
trouble at the school. If you want trouble, Mulberry, you shall have all
the trouble you want, and p’r’aps we’ll give the police a bit more to
make ’em happy. See? But I came to square up with you, and the sooner we
get it done the better for all the lot of us.”

Jan was at home. Something contracted ages ago, nay, something that he
had brought with him into the world, something of his father, was
breaking through the layer of the last five years. It had broken through
before. It had helped him to fight his earliest battles. But it had
never had free play in all these terms, or in the holidays between
terms. This was neither home nor school; this was a bite of life as Jan
would have had to swallow it if his old life had never altered. And all
at once it was a strapping lad from the stables, an Alcides of his own
kidney and no young gentleman, with whom the local Cacus had to reckon.

“Come on!” said he sullenly. “Let’s see the colour o’ yer coin, an’ done
with it.”

Jan gave a conquerer’s grin; yet knew in his heart that the tussle was
still to come; and if he had brought a cap with him, instead of driving
out bare-headed this was the moment at which he would have given the
peak a tug. He plunged his hand into the jingling pocket. He brought out
a fistful of silver of all sizes, and one or two half-sovereigns. In the
act he shifted his position, and happened to tread—but left his foot
firmly planted—upon that ugly cudgel just as its owner stooped to pick
it up and almost overbalanced in the attempt.

“Look out, mister! That’s my little stick. I’d forgotten it was there.”

“Had you? I hadn’t,” said Jan, one eye on his money and the other on his
man. “You don’t want it now, do you, Mulberry?”

“Not partic’ly.”

“Then attend to me. There’s your money. Not so fast!”

His fist closed. Mulberry withdrew a horrid paw.

“I thought you said it was mine, mister?”

“It will be, in good time. Have a look at it first.”

“Lot o’ little silver, ain’t it?”

“One or two bits of gold as well.”

“It may be more than it looks; better let me count it, mister.”

“It’s been counted. That’s the amount; you sign that, and it’s yours.”

With his other hand Jan had taken from another pocket an envelope,
stamped and inscribed, but not as for the post, and a stylographic pen.
The stamp was just under the middle of the envelope; above was written,
in Jan’s hand and in ink:

_Received in final payment for everything supplied in Yardley Wood to
end of June_—

                            £2 18_s._ 6_d._

“Sign across the stamp.” said Jan briskly. Underneath was the date.

The envelope fluttered in the drunkard’s fingers.

“Two p’un’ eighteen—look here—this won’t do!” he cried less thickly
than he had spoken yet. “What the devil d’you take me for? It’s close on
five golden sovereigns that _I’m_ owed. This is under three.”

“It’s all you’ll get, Mulberry, and it’s a darned sight more than you
deserve for swindling and blackmailing. If you don’t take this you won’t
get anything, except what you don’t reckon on!”

The man understood; but he was almost foaming at the mouth.

“I tell you it’s a dozen and a half this summer! Half a dozen bottles
and a dozen——”

“I don’t care what it is. I know what there’s been, what you’ve charged
for it, and what you’ve been paid already.” Jan thought it time for a
bit of bluff. “This is all you’ll get; but you don’t touch a penny of it
till you’ve signed the receipt.”

“Don’t I!” snarled Mulberry. Without lowering his flaming eyes, or
giving Jan time to lower his, he slapped the back of the upturned hand
and sent the money flying in all directions. Neither looked where it
fell. Mulberry was ready for a blow. Jan never moved an eye, scarcely a
muscle. And over them rose and fell such sylvan music as had been rising
and falling all the time; only now their silence brought it home.

“You’ll simply have to pick it all up again,” said Jan quietly. “But if
you don’t sign this, Mulberry, I’m going to break every bone in your
beastly body with your own infernal stick.”

He finished as quietly as he had begun; it must have been his face that
said still more, or his long and lissom body, or his cricketer’s wrists.
Whatever the medium, the message was understood, and twitching hands
held out in token of submission. Jan put the pen in one, the prepared
receipt in the other, and Mulberry turned a back bowed with defeat.
Close behind him grew a stunted old oak, forked like a catapult, with
ivy winding up the twin stems. Down sat Mulberry in the fork, and with
such careless precision that Jan might have seen it was a favourite
seat, and the whole little open space, with its rustling carpet and its
whispering roof, its acorns and its cigar ends, a tried old haunt of
others besides Mulberry. But Jan kept so close an eye on his man that
the receipt was being signed, on one corduroy knee, before he looked up
to see the broad bust of a third party enclosed in the same oak frame.

It was Mr. Haigh, and in an instant Jan saw him redder than Mulberry
himself. It was Haigh with a limp collar and a streaming face. So he had
smelt a rat, set a watch, and followed the fly on foot like the old
athlete that he was! But how much more like him all the rest. Jan not
only came tumbling back into school life, as from that other which was
to have been his, but back with a thud into the Middle Remove and all
its old miseries and animosities.

“I might have known what to expect!” he cried with futile passion. “It’s
about your form, doing the spy!”

Haigh took less notice of this insult than Jan had known him to take of
a false quantity in school. His only comment was to transfer his
attention to Mulberry, who by now had scrambled to his legs. Leaning
through the forked tree, the master held out his hand for the stamped
envelope, obtained possession of it without a word, and read it as he
came round into the open.

“This looks like your writing, Rutter?”

“It is mine.”

Jan was still more indignant than abashed.

“May I ask what it refers to?”

“You may ask what you please, Mr. Haigh.”

“Come, Rutter! I might have put worse posers, I should have thought.
Still, as it won’t be for me to deal with you for being here, instead of
wherever you’re supposed to be, I won’t press inquiries into the nature
of your dealings with this man.”

It was Mulberry’s turn to burst into the breach; he did so as though it
were the ring, dashing his battered hat to the ground with ominous
exultation.

“Do you want to know what he’s had off me?” he demanded of Haigh. “If he
won’t tell you, I will!”

Jan’s heart sank as he met a leer of vindictive triumph. “Who’s going to
believe your lies?” he was rash enough to cry out, in a horror that
increased with every moment he had for thought.

“I’m not going to listen to him,” remarked Haigh, unexpectedly. “Or to
you either!” he snapped at Jan.

“Oh, ain’t you?” crowed Mulberry. “Well, you can shut your ears, and you
needn’t believe anything but your own eyes. I’ll show you! I’ll show
you!”

He dived into a bramble bush alongside the old forked tree. It was a
literal dive. His head disappeared in the dense green tangle. He almost
lost his legs. Then a hand came out behind him, and flung something at
their feet. It was an empty champagne bottle. Another followed, then
another and another till the open space was strewn with them. Neither
Haigh nor Jan said a word; but from the bush there came a gust of
ribaldry or rancour with every bottle, and last of all the man himself,
waving one about him like an Indian club.

“A live 'un among the deaders!” he roared deliriously. “Now I can drink
your blessed healths before I go!”

Master and boy looked on like waxworks, without raising a hand to stop
him, or a finger between them to brush away a fly. Jan for his part
neither realised nor cared what was happening; it was the end of all
things, for him or Evan, if not for them both. Evan would hear of
it—and then—and then! But _would_ he hear? Would he, necessarily? Jan
glanced at Haigh, and saw something that he almost liked in him at last;
something human, after all these years; but only until Haigh saw him,
and promptly fell upon the flies.

Mulberry meanwhile had knocked the neck off the unopened bottle with a
dexterous blow from one of the empties. A fountain of foam leapt up like
a plume of smoke; the pothouse expert blew it to the winds, and drank
till the jagged bottle stood on end upon his upturned visage. His blood
ran with the overflowing wine—scarlet on purple—and for a space the
draught had the curiously clarifying effect of liquor on the chronic
inebriate. It made him sublimely sober for about a minute. The sparkle
passed from the wine into those dim red eyes. They fixed themselves on
Jan’s set face. They burst into a flame of sudden recognition.

“Now I remember! Now I remember! I told him I’d seen him——”

He stopped himself with a gleam of inspired cunning. He had nearly
defeated his immediate ends. He looked Jan deliberately up and down, did
the same by Haigh, and only then snatched up his ugly bludgeon.

“You’d better be careful with that,” snapped Haigh, with the face which
had terrorised generations of young boys. “And the sooner you clear out
altogether, let me tell you, the safer it’ll be for you!”

“No indecent haste,” replied Mulberry, leaning at ease upon his weapon.
The sparkle of the wine even reached that treacherous tongue of his,
reviving its humour and the smatterings of other days. “Festina
Whats-'er-name—meaning don’t you be in such a blooming hurry! That nice
young man o’ yours and me, we’re old partic’lars, though you mightn’t
think it; don’t you run away with the idea that he’s emptied all them
bottles by his little self! It wouldn’t be just. I’ve had my share; but
he don’t like paying his, and that’s where there’s trouble. Now we don’t
keep company no more, and I’m going to tell you where that nice young
man an’ me first took up with each other. Strictly 'tween ourselves.”

“I’ve no wish to hear,” cried Haigh. He looked as Jan had seen him look
before running some fellow out of his hall. “Are you going of your own
accord——”

“Let him finish,” said Jan, with a grim impersonal interest in the
point. In any case it was all over with him now.

“Very kind o’ nice young man—always _was_ nice young man!” said
Mulberry. “Stric’ly 'tween shelves it was in your market-place, one
blooming fair, when all good boys should ha’ been tucked up in bed an’
'sleep. Nasty night, too! But that’s where I see 'im, havin’ barney
about watch, I recollec’. That’s where we first got old partic’lars.
Arcade Sambo—birds of eather—as we used say when I was at school. I
seen better days, remember, an’ that nice young man’ll see worse, an’
serve him right for the way he’s tret his ol’ p’rtic’lar, that took such
care of him at the fair! Put that in your little pipes an’ smoke it at
the school. Farewell, a long farewell! Gobleshyer ... Gobleshyer ...”

They heard his reiterated blessings for some time after he was out of
sight. It was not only distance that rendered them less and less
distinct. The champagne was his master—but it had been a good servant
first.

“At any rate there was no truth in that, Rutter?” Haigh seemed almost to
hope that there was none.

“It’s perfectly true, sir, that about the fair.”

“Yet you had the coolness to suggest that he was lying about the wine!”

“I don’t suggest anything now.”

Jan kicked an empty bottle out of the way. The man’s second tone had cut
him as deep as in old odious days in form.

“Is that your money he’s left behind him?”

Jan’s answer was to go down on his knees and begin carefully picking up
the forgotten coins from the carpet of last year’s leaves. Haigh watched
him under arched eyebrows; and once more the flies were allowed to
settle on the master’s limp collar and wet wry face. Then he moved a
bottle or so with furtive foot, and kicked a coin or two into greater
prominence, behind Jan’s bent back.

“When you’re quite ready, Rutter!” said Haigh at length.



                             CHAPTER XXVI

                             CLOSE OF PLAY


It is remarked of many people, that though they go through life fretting
and fuming over trifles, and making scenes out of nothing at all, yet in
a real emergency their calmness is quite amazing. It need not amaze
anybody who gives the matter a little thought; for a crisis brings its
own armour, but a man is naked to the insect enemies of the passing
moment, and he may have a tender moral and intellectual skin. This was
the trouble with Mr. Haigh—a naturally irritable man, who in long years
of chartered tyranny had gradually ceased to control his temper in the
absence of some special reason why he should. But fellows in his house
used to say that in the worst type of row they could trust Haigh to sort
out the sinned against from the sinning, and not to lose his head,
though he might still smack theirs for whistling in his quad.

Thus it is scarcely to be doubted that already Mr. Haigh had more
sympathy with the serious offender whom he had caught red-handed with
little clods who ended pentameters with adjectives or showed a depraved
disregard for the cæsura. But for once he did not wear his heart upon
his sleeve, or in his austere eyes and distended nostrils; his very
shoulders, as Jan followed them through the wood, looked laden with fate
inexorable. A composure so alien and abnormal is at least as terrible as
the wrath that is slow to rise; it chilled Jan’s blood, but it also gave
him time to see things, and to make up his mind.

In the wood and in the ride Haigh did not even turn his head to see that
he was being duly followed; but in the lower meadow he stopped short,
and waited sombrely for Jan.

“There’s nothing to be said, Rutter, as between you and me, except on
one small point that doesn’t matter to anybody else. I gathered just now
that you were not particularly surprised at being caught by _me_—that
it’s what you would have expected of me—playing the spy! Well, I have
played it during the last hour; but I never should have dreamt of doing
so if your own rashness had not thrust the part upon me.”

“I suppose you saw me get into the fly?” said Jan, with a certain
curiosity in the incidence of his frustration.

“I couldn’t help seeing you. I had called for this myself, and was in
the act of bringing it to you for your—splitting head!”

Haigh had produced an obvious medicine bottle sealed up in white paper.
Jan could not resent his sneer.

“I’m sorry you had the trouble, sir. There was nothing the matter with
my head.”

“And you can stand there——”

Haigh did not finish his sentence, except by dashing the medicine bottle
to the ground in his disgust, so that it broke even in that rank grass,
and its contents soaked the smooth white paper. This was the old Adam,
but only for a moment. Jan could almost have done with more of him.

“I know what you must think of me, sir,” he said. “I had to meet a
blackmailer at his own time and place. But that’s no excuse for me.”

“I’m glad you don’t make it one, I must say! I was going on to tell you
that I followed the fly, only naturally, as I think you’ll agree. But it
wasn’t my fault you didn’t hear me in the wood before you saw me,
Rutter. I made noise enough, but you were so taken up with your—boon
companion!”

Jan resented that; but he had made up his mind not even to start the
dangerous game of self-defence.

“He exaggerated that part of it,” was all that Jan said, dryly.

“So I should hope. It’s not my business to ask for explanations——”

“And I’ve none to give, sir.”

“It’s only for me to report the whole matter, Rutter, as of course I
must at once.”

Jan looked alarmed.

“Do you mean before the match is over? Must the Eleven and all those Old
Boys——”

“Hear all about it? Not necessarily, I should say, but it won’t be in my
hands. The facts are usually kept quiet in—in the worst cases—as you
know. But I shan’t have anything to say to that.”

“You would if it were a fellow in your house!” Jan could not help
rejoining. “You’d take jolly good care to have as little known as
possible—if you don’t mind my saying so!”

Haigh did mind; he was a man to mind the slightest word, and yet he took
this from Jan without a word in reply. The fact was that, much to his
annoyance and embarrassment, he was beginning to respect the youth more
in his downfall than at the height of his cricketing fame. Indeed, while
he had grudged a great and unforeseen school success to as surly a young
numskull as ever impeded the work of the Middle Remove (and the only one
who ever, ever scored off Mr. Haigh), he could not but recognise the
manhood of the same boy’s bearing in adversity—and such adversity at
such a stage in his career! There had been nothing abject about it for a
moment, and now there was neither impertinence nor bravado, but rather
an unsuspected sensibility, rather a redeeming spirit altogether. Yet it
was an aggravated case, if ever there had been one in the whole history
of schools; a more deliberate and daring piece of trickery could not be
imagined. In that respect it was typical of the drinking row of Haigh’s
experience. And yet he found himself making jaunty remarks to Jan about
the weather, and even bringing off his raucous laugh about nothing, for
the fly-man’s benefit, as they came up to where that vehicle was waiting
in the lane.

Haigh, of all masters, and Jan Rutter of all the boys who had ever been
through his hands!

That was the feeling that preyed upon the man, the weight he tried to
get off his chest when they had dismissed the fly outside the town, and
had walked in together as far as Heriot’s quad.

“Well, Rutter, there never was much love lost between us, was there? And
yet—I don’t mind telling you—I wish any other man in the place had the
job you’ve given me!”

The quad was still deserted, but Jan had scarcely reached his study when
a hurried but uncertain step sounded in the passage, and a small fag
from another house appeared at his open door.

“Oh, please, Rutter, I was sent to fetch you if you’re well enough to
bat.”

“Who sent you?”

“Goose.”

“How many of them are out?”

“Seven when I left.”

“How many runs?”

“Hundred and sixty just gone up.”

“It hadn’t! Who’s been getting them?”

“Devereux, principally.”

The fag from another house always said that Rutter lit up at this as
though the runs were already made, and then that he gave the most
extraordinary laugh, but suddenly asked if Devereux was out.

“And when I told him he wasn’t,” said the fag, “he simply sent me flying
out of his way, and by the time I got into the street he was almost out
of sight at the other end!”

Certainly they were the only two creatures connected with the school who
were to be seen about the town at half-past four that Saturday
afternoon; and half the town itself seemed glued to those palings
affected by Jan’s fly-man; and on the ground every available boy in the
school, every master except Haigh, and every single master’s lady,
watched the game without a word about any other topic under the sun.
Even the tea-tent, a great feature of the festival, under the auspices
of Miss Heriot and other ladies, was deserted alike by all parties to
its usually popular entertainment.

Evan was still in, said to have made over 70, and to be playing the
innings of his life, the innings of the season for the school. But
another wicket must have fallen soon after the small fag fled for Jan,
and Chilton who had gone in was not shaping with conspicuous confidence.
Evan looked, however, as though he had enough for two, from the one
glimpse Jan had of his heated but collected face, and the one stroke he
saw him make, before diving into the dressing-room to clap on his pads.
To think that Evan was still in, and on the high road to a century if
anybody could stop with him! To think he should have chosen this very
afternoon!

It was at this point that the hard Fates softened, for a time only, yet
a time worth the worst they could do to Jan now. They might not have
given him pause to put his pads on properly; they might not have
suffered him to get his breath. When he had done both, and even had a
wash, and pulled his cap well over his wet hair, they might have kept
him waiting till the full flavour of their late misdeeds turned his
heart sick and faint within him. Instead of all or any of this, they
propped up Chilton for another 15 runs, and then sent Jan in with 33 to
get and Evan not out 84.

But they might have spared the doomed wretch the tremendous cheering
that greeted his supposed resurrection from the sick-room to
which—obviously—his heroic efforts of the morning had brought him. It
took Evan to counteract the irony of that reception with a little dose
on his own account.

“Keep your end up,” whispered Evan, coming out to meet the captain a few
yards from the pitch, “and I can get them. Swallow’s off the spot and
the rest are pifflers. Keep up your end and leave the runs to me.”

It was the tone of pure injunction, from the one who might have been
captain to his last hope. But that refinement was lost on Jan; he could
only stare at the cool yet heated face, all eagerness and confidence, as
though nothing whatever had been happening off the ground. And his stare
did draw a change of look—a swift unspoken question—the least little
cloud, that vanished at Jan’s reply.

“It’s all right,” said Jan, oracularly. “You won’t be bothered any
more!”

“Good man!” said Evan. “Then only keep your end up, and we’ll have the
fun of a lifetime between us!”

Jan nodded as he went to the crease; really the fellow had done him
good. And in yet another little thing the Fates were kind; he had not to
take the next ball, and Evan took care to make a single off the last one
of the over, which gave the newcomer a good look at both bowlers before
being called upon to play a ball.

But then it was A. G. Swallow whom he had to face; and, in spite of
Evan’s expert testimony to the contrary, that great cricketer certainly
looked as full of wisdom, wiles, and genial malice as an egg is full of
meat.

A. G. Swallow took his rhythmical little ball-room amble of a run, threw
his left shoulder down, heaved his right arm up, and flicked finger and
thumb together as though the departing ball were a pinch of snuff. I. T.
Rutter—one of the many left-hand bowlers who bat right, it is now worth
while to state—watched its high trajectory with terror tempered by a
bowler’s knowledge of the kind of break put on. He thought it was never
going to pitch, but when it did—well to the off—he scrambled in front
of his wicket and played the thing somehow with bat and pads combined.
But A. G. Swallow awaited the ball’s return with a smile of settled
sweetness, and E. Devereux had frowned.

The next ball flew higher, with even more spin, but broke so much from
leg as to beat everything except Stratten’s hands behind the sticks. But
Jan had not moved out of his ground; he had simply stood there and been
shot at, yet already he was beginning to perspire. Two balls and two
such escapes were enough to upset anybody’s nerve; and now, of course,
Jan knew enough about batting to know what a bad bat he was, and the
knowledge often made him worse still. He had just one point: as a bowler
he would put himself in the bowler’s place and consider what he himself
would try next if he were bowling.

Now perhaps the finest feature of Swallow’s slow bowling was the fast
one that he could send down, when he liked, without perceptible change
of action; but the other good bowler rightly guessed that this fast ball
was coming now, was more than ready for it, let go early and with all
his might, and happened to time it to perfection. It went off his bat
like a lawn-tennis ball from a tight racket, flew high and square
(though really intended for an on drive), and came down on the pavilion
roof with a heavenly crash.

The school made music, too; but Evan Devereux looked distinctly
disturbed, and indeed it was a good thing there was not another ball in
the over. A. G. Swallow did not like being hit; it was his only foible;
but to hit him half by accident was to expose one’s wicket to all the
knavish tricks that could possibly be combined and concentrated in the
very next delivery.

Now, however, Evan had his turn again, and picked five more runs off
three very moderate balls from the vigorous Whitfield; the fourth did
not defeat Jan, and Evan had Swallow’s next over. He played it like a
professional, but ran rather a sharp single off the last ball, and in
short proceeded to “nurse” the bowling as though his partner had not
made 25 not out in the first innings and already hit a sixer in his
second.

Jan did not resent this in the least. The height of his own momentary
ambition was simply to stay there until the runs were made; the next
essential was for Evan to achieve his century, but the larger hope
involved that consummation, and at this rate he would not be very long
about it. To Jan his performance was a composite revelation of character
and capacity. Surely it was not Evan Devereux batting at all, but a
higher order of cricketer in Evan’s image, an altogether stronger soul
in his skin! Even that looked different, so fiery red and yet so free
from the nervous perspiration welling from Jan’s pores; surely some
sheer enchantment had quickened hand and foot, and sharpened an eye that
looked abnormally bright at twenty yards!

So thought Jan at the other end; and he wondered if the original
stimulus could have been the very weight of an anxiety greater than any
connected with the game; but he entertained these searching speculations
almost unawares, and alongside all manner of impressions, visions and
reminiscences, of a still more intimate character. The truth was that
Jan himself was in a rarefied atmosphere, out there on the pitch, seeing
and doing things for the last time, and somehow more vividly and with
greater zest than he had ever seen or done such things before.

Though he had played upon it literally hundreds of times, never until
to-day had he seen what a beautiful ground the Upper really was. On
three sides a smiling land fell away in fine slopes from the very
boundary, as though a hill-top had been sliced off to make the field; on
those three sides you could see for miles, and they were miles of
grazing country checkered with hedges, and of blue distance blotted with
trees. But even as a cricket-field Jan felt that he had never before
appreciated his dear Upper as he ought. It lay so high that at one end
the batsman stood in position against the sky from the pads upwards, and
the empyrean was the screen behind the bowler’s arm.

Of course these fresh features of a familiar scene were due more to
mental exaltation than to the first perfect day of the term; but they
owed little or nothing to the conscientious sentimentality of a farewell
appearance. Jan was a great deal too excited to think of anything but
the ball while the ball was in play. But between the overs the spectres
of the early afternoon were at his elbow, and in one such pause he
espied Haigh in the flesh watching from the ring.

Yes! There was Haigh freshly groomed, in a clean collar and another suit
of clothes, the grey hair brushed back from his pink temples, but his
mouth inexorably shut on the tidings it was soon to utter. Decent of
Haigh to wait until the match was lost or won; but then Haigh resembled
the Upper inasmuch as Jan already liked everything about him better than
he had ever done before. In front of the pavilion, in tall hat,
frock-coat and white cravat, sat splendid little old Jerry himself, that
flogging judge of other days, soon to assume the black cap at last, but
still ignorant of the capital offence committed, still beaming with
delight and pride in a glorious finish. Elsewhere a triangle of familiar
faces made themselves seen and heard; its apex was gaunt old Heriot, who
in his innocence had bawled a salvo for the sixer; and the gay old dog
on his right was his friend Major Mangles, while Oxford had already
turned the austere Crabtree into the gay young dog on his left.

Jan wondered what Crabtree would think—and then what the Major was
saying as he poked Bob Heriot in the ribs. He soon saw what they were
saying; all that Cambridge and Lord’s had left of the original Charles
Cave was going on to bowl instead of Swallow, and those three tense
faces on the boundary had relaxed in esoteric laughter. But it was Jan
who had to play Cave’s over, and it was almost worthy of the Cantab’s
youth three years ago. Jan, however, was almost at home by this time;
all four balls found the middle of his bat; and then the public-spirited
policy of A. G. Swallow dictated an audacious move.

Of course he must know what he was doing, for he had led a first-class
county in his day, and had never been the captain to take himself off
without reason. No doubt he understood the value of a double change; but
was it really wise to put on Swiller Wilman at Whitfield’s end with lobs
when only 15 runs were wanted to win the match? Pavilion critics had
their oracular doubts about it; old judges on the rugs had none at all,
but gave Devereux a couple of covers for the winning hit; and only Evan
himself betrayed a certain apprehension as he crossed beckoning to Jan
before the lobs began.

“Have you any idea how many I’ve got?” he asked below his breath. The
second hundred had just gone up to loud applause.

“I can tell you to a run if you want to know.”

“I’m asking you.”

“You’ve made 94.”

“Rot!”

“You have. You’d made 84 when I came in. I’ve counted your runs since
then.”

“I’d no idea it was nearly so many!”

“And I didn’t mean to tell you.”

There Jan had been quite right, but it was not so tactful to remind the
batsman of every batsman’s anxiety on nearing the century. Evan, to be
sure, repudiated the faint suggestion with some asperity; but his very
lips looked redder than before.

“Well, don’t you get out off him,” said Evan, consequentially.

“I’ll try not to. Let’s both follow the rule, eh?”

“What rule?”

“Dudley Relton’s for lobs: a single off every ball, never more and never
less, and nothing whatever on the half-volley.”

“Oh, be blowed!” said Evan. “We’ve been going far too slow these last
few overs as it is.”

Accordingly he hit the first lob just over mid-on’s head for three, and
Jan got his single off the next, but off both of the next two balls Evan
was very nearly out for 97 and the match lost by 10 runs.

On the second occasion even George Grimwood gratuitously conceded that
off a lob a fraction faster Mr. Devereux would indeed have been stumped;
as it was he had only just got back in time. This explanation was not
acknowledged by Mr. Stratten, whose vain appeal had been echoed by half
the field. The nice fellow seemed to have lost all his looks as he
crossed to the other end.

The next incident was a full-pitch to leg from Charles Cave and a fourer
to Jan Rutter. That made 6 to tie and 7 to win, but only about another
hit to Jan if Evan was to get his century. Jan thought of that as he
played hard forward to the next ball but one, and felt it leap and heard
it hiss through the covers; for even his old bat was driving as it had
never done before; but a delightful deep-field sprinter just saved the
boundary, and Jan would not risk the more than possible third run.

At this stage only 5 runs were wanted to win the match. And Evan
Devereux, within 3 of every cricketer’s ambition, again faced the merry
underhand bowler against whom he had shaped so precariously the over
before last.

George Grimwood might have been seen shifting from foot to foot, and
jingling pence in his accomplished palm. Another of those near things
was not wanted this over, with the whole match hanging to it, and Mr.
Stratten still looking like that....

A bit better, was that! A nice two for Mr. Devereux to the unprotected
off—no!—blessed if they aren’t running again. They must be daft; one
of them’ll be out, one of ’em must be! No—a bad return—but Mr. Cave
has it now. How beautifully this gentleman always throws! You wouldn’t
think it of him, to see him crossing over, or even batting or bowling;
he’s got a return like a young cannon, and here it comes!

No umpire will be able to give this in; there’s Mr. Rutter a good two
yards down the pitch, legging it for dear life; and here comes the ball
like a bullet. He’s out if it doesn’t miss the wicket after all; but it
does miss it, by a coat of varnish, and ricochets to the boundary for
other four, that win the match for the school, the ultimate honour of
three figures, for Evan Devereux, and peace beyond this racket for
George Grimwood.

Over the ground swarm the whole school like a small Surrey crowd, but
Evan and Jan have been too quick for them; they break through the swift
outer fringe; and it is not Lord’s or the Oval after all. Nobody cares
so much who wins this match, it’s the magnificent finish that matters
and will matter while the school exists.

So the dense mass before the pavilion parts in two, and the smiling Old
Boys march through the lane; but it does not close up again until Rutter
has come out and given Devereux his colours in the dear old way, by
taking the blue sash from his own waist and tying it round that of his
friend.

Did somebody say that Devereux was blubbing from excitement? It was not
the case; but nobody was watching Jan.



                             CHAPTER XXVII

                          THE EXTREME PENALTY


It is not to be pretended that a cloud of live young eye-witnesses make
quite so much of these excitements as the historian old or young; they
may yell themselves hoarse in front of the pavilion, but the beads are
not wiped from their heroes’ brows before the question is, “What shall
we do till lock-up?” It is only the Eleven who want to talk it all over
in that sanctum of swelldom, the back room at Maltby’s, and only its
latest member who has a tremendous telegram to send to his people first.
And then it so happens that he does not join them; neither does the
Captain of Cricket, though for once in his captaincy he would be really
welcome.

Evan had retired to his house, and not a bit as though the school
belonged to him, but with curiously little of the habitual strut (now
that he had something to strut about) in his almost unsteady gait. Jan,
too, was ensconced in Heriot’s, and quite unnecessarily prepared to
dodge Evan at any moment, or to protect himself with a third person if
run to ground. The third person was naturally Chips Carpenter, who had
gone mad on the ground, and was now working off the fit in a parody of
“The Battle of Blenheim” in place of an ordinary prose report of the
latest and most famous of all victories.

Though there was no sign of Evan, and after an hour or so little
likelihood of his appearance, still Jan kept dodging in and out of the
Editor’s study, like an uneasy spirit. And once he remarked that there
was an awful row in the lower passage, apparently suggesting that Chips
ought to go down and quell it. But Chips had never been a Crabtree in
the house, and at present he was too deep in his rhyming dictionary to
hear either the row or Jan.

Lock-up at last. The little block of ivy-mantled studies became a
manufactory of proses and verses, all Latin but Chips’s, and the Greek
iambics of others high up in the school, and all but the English effort
to be signed by Mr. Heriot after prayers that night or first thing in
the morning, to show that the Sabbath had not been broken by secular
composition. Nine o’clock and prayers were actually approaching; and yet
Jan still sat, or stood about, unmolested in his disorderly study; and
yet the heavens had not fallen, or earth trembled with the wrath of
Heriot or anybody else. Could it be that for the second time Jan was to
be let off by the soft-heartedness of a master who knew enough to hang
him?

Hardly! Haigh, of all men! Yet he had been most awfully decent about it
all; it was a revelation to Jan that there was so much common decency
after all in his oldest enemy....

Now he would soon know. Hark at the old harsh bell, rung by Morgan
outside the hall, across the quad!

Prayers.

Jan had scarcely expected to go in to prayers again, and as he went he
remembered his first impressions of the function at the beginning of his
first term. He remembered the small boy standing sentinel in the flagged
passage leading to the green-baize door, and all the fellows armed with
hymn-books and chatting merrily in their places at table. That small boy
was a big fellow at the Sixth Form table now, and the chat was more
animated but less merry than it had seemed to Jan then. Something was in
the air already. Could it have leaked out before the sword descended?
No; it must be something else. Everybody was eager to tell him about it,
as he repeated ancient history by coming in almost last.

“Have you heard about Devereux?”

“Have you heard, Rutter?”

“_Haven’t_ you heard?”

His heart missed a beat.

“No. What?”

“He’s down with measles!”

“That all?” exclaimed Jan, tingling with returning animation.

If his own downfall had been in vain!

“It’s bad enough,” said the big fellow who had stood sentinel four years
ago. “They say he must have had them on him when he was in, and the
whole thing may make him jolly bad.”

“Who says so?”

“Morgan; he’s just heard it.”

Poverty of detail was eked out by fertile speculation. Jan was hardly
listening; he could not help considering how far this new catastrophe
would affect himself. Evan was as strong as a horse, and that moreover
with the strength which had never been outgrown; besides, he would have
his magnificent century to look back upon from his pillow. That was
enough to see anybody through anything. And now there would be no fear
of mental complication, no question of his coming forward and owning up:
for who was going to carry a school scandal into the Sanatorium, even if
the school ever learnt the rights?

And yet somehow Jan felt as though a loophole had been stopped at the
back of his brain; and an inquiry within made him ashamed to discover
what the loophole had been. Evan would have found out, and never have
let him bear the brunt; in the end Evan’s honesty would have saved them
both, because nothing paid like honesty with dear old Thrale. That was
what Jan saw, now that seeing it could only make him feel a beast! It
was almost a relief to realise that Evan would still be ruined if the
truth leaked out through other lips, and that a friend’s were thus
sealed closer than before.

The Heriots were very late in coming in. Why was that? But at last the
sentinel showed an important face, fulminating “Hush!” And sister and
brother entered in the usual silence.

Miss Heriot took her place at the piano under the shelf bearing the now
solitary cup of which Jan might almost be described as the solitary
winner; at any rate the present house eleven consisted, like the
historic Harrow eleven, of Rutter “and ten others.” The ten, nay, the
thirty others then present could not have guessed a tenth or a thirtieth
part of all that was in their bowler’s mind that night.

Mr. or Miss Heriot always chose a good hymn; to-night it was No. 22,
Ancient and Modern; a simple thing, and only appropriate to the time of
year, but still rather a favourite of Jan’s. He found himself braying
out the air from the top of the Sixth Form table, as though nothing
could happen to him, while Chips Carpenter lorded it like every captain
of that house, with his back to the empty grate, and fondly imagined
that he was singing bass. Neither friend and contemporary would ever
have done much credit to the most musical school in England, and now
only one of them would be able to go about saying that he had ever been
there!

Unless ... and there was no telling from Heriot’s voice.

It was the same unaffected, manly voice which had appealed to Jan on his
very first night in hall; the prayers were the same, a characteristic
selection only used in that house; but whereas a few phrases had struck
Jan even on that occasion, now he knew them all off by heart, but
listened with no less care in order to remember them if possible at the
ends of the earth.

“O Lord, Who knowest our peculiar temptations here, help us by Thy Holy
Spirit to struggle against them. Save us from being ashamed of Thee and
of our duty. Save us from the base and degrading fear of one
another....” Jan hoped he had stood up sufficiently to the other old
choices in the Eleven; he could not help an ungodly feeling that he had;
but he had been very down on his luck earlier in the term.

“Grant, O Lord, that we may always remember that our bodies are the
temple of the living God, and that we may not pollute them by evil
thoughts or evil words.... Give us grace never to approve or by consent
to sanction in others what our consciences tell us is wrong, but to
reprove it either by word or by silence. Let us never ourselves act the
part of tempter to others, never place a stumbling-block in our
brother’s way, or offend any of our companions, for Jesus Christ’s sake.
Amen.”

Well, he had never played the tempter or placed stumbling-blocks,
whatever else he had done; it was not for that that he would have to go;
but he was not so sure about evil words. He had said some things,
sometimes, which might have earned him his now imminent fate, if they
had reached some ears; so perhaps he had little to complain about after
all. Not that foul language had ever been his habit; but he had never
been so particular as Chips, for example, now so devout in the Lord’s
Prayer at the other end of the Sixth Form table. Old Chips in his early
days had gone to the foolhardy and (in him) futile length of reproof by
word; even now he was rising from his knees as though he had been really
praying; but Jan had only been thinking his own thoughts, though
kneeling there without doubt for the last time.

And yet a second moment’s doubt did thrill him as Heriot took up his
usual stand in front of the grate, and some of the fellows made a dash
for milk and dog-rocks at the bottom of the long table, but more
clustered round the fireplace to hear Heriot and Jan discuss the match.
They actually did discuss it for a minute or two; but Heriot was dry as
tinder in spite of his intentions; and when he suddenly announced that
he would sign all verses in the morning, but would just like to speak to
Rutter for a minute, Jan followed him through into the private part with
a stabbing conviction that all was over with him.

“I’ve heard Mr. Haigh’s story,” said Heriot very coldly in his study.
“Do you wish me to hear yours?”

“No, sir.”

Jan did not wince at Heriot’s tone, but Heriot did at his. The one was
to be expected, the other almost brazen in its unblushing alacrity.

“You have nothing whatever to say for yourself, after all these years,
after——”

Heriot pulled himself up—as on his haunches—with a jerk of the
grizzled head and a fierce flash of the glasses.

“But from all I hear I’m not surprised,” he added with bitter
significance. “I find I’ve been mistaken in you all along.”

Yet Jan did not see his meaning at the time, and the bitterness only
enabled him to preserve apparent insensibility.

“There’s nothing _to_ say, sir. I was shamming right enough, and I
suppose Mr. Haigh has told you why.”

“He has, indeed! The matter has also been reported to the Head Master,
and he wishes to see you at once. I need hardly warn you what to expect,
I should think.”

“No, sir. I expect to go.”

“Evidently you won’t be sorry, so I shan’t waste any sympathy upon you.
But I must say I think you might have thought of the house!”

The matter had not presented itself in that light to Jan; now that it
did, he felt with Heriot on the spot, and did not perceive an unworthy
although most human element in the man’s outlook. The house would not be
ruined for life. On the other hand, in his determination to put a stiff
lip on every phase of his downfall, and beyond all things not to betray
himself by ever breaking down, Jan had over-acted like most unskilled
histrions, and had already created an impression of coarse bravado on a
mind prepared to stretch any possible point in his favour.

But it was no time to think about the accomplished interview with Bob
Heriot, with truly terrific retribution even now awaiting him at the
hands of the redoubtable old Jerry. About a hundred yards of the soft
summer night, and he would stand in that awful presence for the last
time. And it was all very well for Jan to call him “old Jerry” in his
heart up to the last, and to ask himself what there was, after all, to
fear so acutely from a man of nearly seventy who could not eat him; his
heart quaked none the less, and if he had been obliged to answer himself
it would have been with a trembling lip.

He dared to dawdle on the way, rehearsing his scanty past relations with
the great little old man. There was the time when he was nearly flogged,
after the Abinger affair. Well, the old man might have been far more
severe than he really was on that occasion. There was that other early
scene when Jan was told that another time he would not sit down so
comfortably, and Chips’s story about his friend Olympus. It was all grim
humour that appealed to this delinquent; but it was a humour that became
terrible when the whole school were arraigned and held responsible for
some individual vileness, pronounced inconceivable in a really sound
community; for then they were all dogs and curs together, and, that
demonstrated, it was “Dogs, go to your kennels!” And go they would,
feeling beaten mongrels every one; never laughing at the odd old man,
never even reviling him; often loving but always fearing him.

Jan feared him now the more because of late especially he had been
learning to love Mr. Thrale. Though still only in the Lower Sixth, as
Captain of Cricket he had come in for sundry _ex officio_ honours, in
the shape of invitations to breakfast and audiences formal and informal.
On all such occasions Jan had been embarrassed and yet braced, puzzled
by parables but enlightened in flashes, stimulated in soul and sinew but
awed from skin to core; and now the awe was undiluted, crude, and
overwhelming. He felt that every word from that trenchant tongue would
leave a scar for life, and the scorn in those old eyes haunt him to his
grave.

Sub-consciously he was still thinking of the judge and executioner in
his gown of office, on his carved judgment seat, as the day’s crop of
petty offenders found and faced him after twelve. In his library Jan had
seldom before set foot, never with the seeing eye that he brought
to-night; and the smallness and simplicity of it struck him through all
his tremors when the servant had shown him in. It was not so very much
larger than the large studies at Heriot’s. Only a gangway of floor
surrounded a great desk in a litter after Jan’s own heart; garden smells
came through an open lattice, and with them a maze of midges to dance
round the one lamp set amid the litter; and in the light of that lamp, a
pale face framed in silvery hair, wide eyes filled with heart-broken
disgust, and a mouth that might have been closed for ever.

At last it came to mobile life, and Jan heard in strangely dispassionate
tones a brief recital of all that had been heard and seen of his
proceedings in the fatal hour when pretended illness kept him from the
match. Again he was asked if he had anything to challenge or to add; for
it was Heriot’s question in other words, and Jan had no new answer; but
this time he could only shake a bowed head humbly, as he had bent it in
acknowledgment of his own writing on the envelope. Jerry was far less
fierce than he had expected, but a hundredfold more terrible in his pale
grief and scorn. Jan felt an even sorrier and meaner figure than on
coming up for judgment after the Abinger affair; so far from the support
of secret heroics, it was impossible to stand in the white light of that
nobly reproachful countenance, and even to remember that he was not
altogether the vile thing he seemed.

“If there is one form of treachery worse than another,” said Mr. Thrale,
“it is treachery in high places. The office that you have occupied,
Rutter, is rightly or wrongly a high one in this school; but you have
dragged it in the dust, and our honour stands above our cricket. On the
eve of our school matches, when we had a right to look to you to keep
our flag flying, you have betrayed your trust and forfeited your post
and your existence here; but if it were the end of cricket in this
school, I would not keep you another day.”

Jan looked up suddenly.

“Am I to go on a Sunday, sir?”

The thought of his return to the Norfolk rectory, in this dire disgrace,
had taken sudden and most poignant shape. On a Sunday it would be too
awful, with the somnolent yet captious household in a state of either
complacent indolence or sanctified fuss, assimilating sirloin or
starting for church, according to the hour of his arrival.

Mr. Thrale seemed already to have taken this into humane consideration,
for he promptly replied: “You will remain till Monday; meanwhile you are
to consider yourself a prisoner on parole, and mix no more in the
society for which you have shown yourself unfit. So far as this school
goes you are condemned to death for lying betrayal, and mock-manly
meanness. Murder will out, Rutter, but you are not condemned for any
undiscovered crime of the past. Yet if it is true that you ever got out
of your house at night——”

Jan could not meet the awful mien with which Mr. Thrale here made
dramatic pause; but he filled it by mumbling that it was quite true, he
had got out once, over two years ago.

“Once,” said Mr. Thrale, “is enough to deprive you of the previous good
character that might otherwise have been taken into consideration. I do
not say it could have saved you; but nothing can save the traitor guilty
of repeated acts of treason. A certain consideration you will receive at
Mr. Heriot’s hands, by his special request, until you go on Monday
morning. And that, Rutter, is all I have to say to you as Head Master of
this school.”

Even so is the convicted murderer handed over to the High Sheriff for
destruction; but just as other judges soften the dread language of the
law with more human utterances on their own account, so before he was
done did Mr. Thrale address himself to Jan as man to man, merely
reversing the legal order. He asked the boy what he was going to do in
life, and besought him not to look upon his whole life as necessarily
ruined. The greater the fall, the greater the merit of rising again; he
had almost said, and he would say, the greater the sport of rising! Jan
had pulled matches out of the fire; let him take life as a game, bowl
out the Devil that was in him, and pull his own soul out of Hell! Here
he enlarged upon the lust of drink, bluntly but with a tender breadth of
understanding, as a snare set alike for the just and the unjust, a curse
most accursed in its destruction of the moral fibre, as in this very
case; and Jan could not have listened more humbly if his own whole body
and soul had been already undermined. He thought he saw tears in the old
man’s eyes; he knew he had them in his own. These last words of earnest
exhortation, beginning as they did between man and man, went on and
finished almost as between father and son, with a handshake and “God
guide you!” There was even the offer of a letter which, while not
glozing the worst, would yet say those other things that could still be
said, and might stand Jan in good stead if he were man enough to show it
in Australia.

But meanwhile he had been expelled from school, expelled in his last
term, when Captain of Cricket, and on top of his one triumph in that
capacity. And on his way back to his house, Jan stopped in the starlit
street, and what do you think he did?

He laughed aloud as he suddenly remembered the actual facts of the case.



                            CHAPTER XXVIII

                             “LIKE LUCIFER”


Mr. Heriot himself showed Jan to his room, the spare bedroom on the
private side of the house, where he was to remain until he went. All his
belongings had been brought down from dormitory, and some few already
from his study. The bed was made and turned down, with clean sheets as
if for a guest; and there was an adjoining dressing-room at his
disposal, with the gas lit and hot water placed in readiness by some
unenlightened maid.

This led Heriot to explain, gruffly enough, the special consideration to
which Mr. Thrale had referred.

“The whole thing’s a secret from the house so far, and of course the
servants don’t know anything about it. They probably think you’re
suspected of measles, not strongly enough for the Sanatorium but too
strongly for the sick-room in the boys’ part. I shall allow that
impression to prevail until—as long as you remain.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I remember better days, Rutter; we had seen a good many together before
you came to anything like this, I’m quite sure.” His glasses flashed.
“Yet all the time——”

He stopped himself as before, turned on his heel and shut a window which
he had opened on entering the room. And now Jan grasped what it was that
his house-master kept remembering, but could not trust himself to
mention. And the mutual constraint made the prisoner thankful when he
was bidden an abrupt good-night, and left alone at last.

Alone in the condemned cell, or rather a luxurious suite of cells! The
luxury was an irony not lost on Jan; he was as much alive to every
detail of his environment as he had been towards the end of the match.
And the grim humours of the situation, which had only come home to him
since his interview with the Head Master, were still a relief after the
deceptive solemnity of that ordeal. He must never again forget that he
was guiltless. That made all the difference in the world. Would he have
been able to think of condemned cells if he had deserved to be in one,
or of the portmanteau he now discovered in the dressing-room, lying
ready to be packed, as the open coffin of his school life?

And yet it was, it was!

But the waking night was a long succession of obstacles to oblivion.
Forgotten circumstances came back with new and dolorous significance;
this began when he emptied his pockets before undressing, and missed his
watch. It was the first night in all his schooldays that he had been
without the small gold watch which had been his mother’s when she ran
away from home. Again he remembered wondering if the boys would laugh at
him for having a lady’s watch; but they were marvellously decent about
some things; not one of them had ever made a single remark about it. The
little gold watch had timed him through all these years, and the first
time he left it behind him he came to grief. It was only in the studies;
but it would never bring his luck back now.

Then there was that pocketful of small silver and stray gold. Two pounds
eighteen and sixpence, he ought to make it; and he did. The amount was
not the only point about the money that he recalled in lurid flashes as
he counted it all out upon the dressing-table. He took an envelope from
the stationery case on another table, swept all the coins in and stuck
it up with care. He even wrote the amount outside, then dropped the
jingling packet into a drawer. Soon after this he got to bed in the
superfine sheets dedicated to guests; of course his own sheets would not
have stretched across this great bedstead; and yet these reminded every
inch of him where he was, every hour of the night.

He heard them all struck by the old blue monkey of a church clock. It
was the first time he had heard it like this since his removal from the
little front dormitory, his first year in the Eleven. It was strange to
be sleeping over the street again, listening to all its old noises ...
listening ... listening again ... at last listening to the old harsh
bell!

That was the worst noise of all; for he must have been asleep, in spite
of everything; he only really woke up standing on the soft, spacious,
unfamiliar floor. The spare bedroom was full of summer sunshine. The
fine weather had come to stay. They would get a fast wicket over at
Repton, and Goose would have to win the toss.

Goose!

Meanwhile it was only Sunday, and Jan knew the habits of his house on
Sunday morning; now was his chance of the bath. Bathrooms were not as
plentiful then as now; there was only one between both sides of the
house, of course not counting the shower off the lavatory. That,
however, was now out of bounds; the bathroom was not, and Jan got to it
first, bolted both doors and looked out into the quad while the bath was
filling.

O cursed memories! Here was another, of his very first sight of the
quad, his very first morning in the school.... Well, he had lived to be
cock of that walk, at any rate; on those fives-courts, moreover, with
their unorthodox back wall, he was certainly leaving no superior. But
how pleasant it all looked in the cool morning sun! There is a peculiar
quality about Sunday sunshine, a restfulness at once real and imaginary;
it was very real to Jan as he took leave of the quiet study windows down
the further side, and down this one the empty garden seats shaded by the
laburnum with its shrivelled blossoms, the little acacia, and the
plane-tree which had been blown down once and ever since held in leash
by a chain. Closer at hand, hardly out of reach, the dormitory windows
stood wide open; but nobody got up in dormitory till the last five
minutes on a Sunday morning, and so Jan gloated unobserved on the
set-scene of so much that had happened to the house and him—of the
burglar-hunt led by the egregious Spook—of Sprawson’s open pranks and
Shockley’s wary brutalities. It was down there that Mulberry first
showed his fatal nose, and Jan was christened Tiger, and it was there
they all lit up a slide with candles at the end of his first winter
term. Now it was the end of all terms for Jan, and in a night the old
quad had changed into a place of the past.

It was better in the cells at the front of the house; it might have been
quite bearable there, but for the bells. But on a Sunday the cracked
bell rung by Morgan was nothing to the bells you heard on the other side
of the house, if you came to listen to them as Jan did. Apparently there
was early celebration in the parish church as well as in chapel; but
that was the only time the rival bells rang an actual duet of sedate
discords. They followed each other with due propriety all the rest of
the day.

The chapel bells led off with their incorrigibly merry measure. Worse
hearing was the accompanying tramp of boys in twos and threes, in Sunday
tails or Eton jackets; looking heartlessly content with life; taking off
præpostorial hats, or touching those hot school caps, to gowned and
hooded masters; for Jan was obliged to peep through the casement blinds,
not deliberately to make things worse, but for the sake or on the chance
of a single moment’s distraction. That was all he got. It was quite true
that there were heaps of fellows now to whom he could not put a name.
There could not have been more in his second or third term; mere mortal
boys do not excite the curiosity of gods; but once or twice poor Lucifer
espied some still unfallen angel in the ribbon of shade across the
street. One was Ibbotson, a god with clay feet, if ever there was one;
but there he went, looking all he should be, to the happy jingle of
those callous bells. Ibbotson would come down as an Old Boy, and never
think twice of what he had really been. Why should he? Jan, at all
events, was not his judge; and yet he would be one of Jan’s.

The church bells came as a relief, richer in tone, poorer in
association, with townspeople on the pavement and not a sound in the
house. Jan fell to and packed. All his wardrobe had been brought in now;
his study possessions would be sent after him; so Mr. Heriot had looked
in to say, and at the same time to extract an explicit pledge that Jan
would not again set foot on the boys’ side of the house. He wondered if
the bath had been judged a step in that direction, and what it was
feared that he might do when all their backs were turned. But he gave
his word without complaining; never, to be sure, had condemned man less
cause for complaint. His dietary was on the traditional scale; excellent
meals were brought to the spare room. There was the usual sound fare for
dinner, including the inevitable cold apple-pie with cloves in it, and a
long glass of beer because Jan’s exalted place in the house entitled him
(in those unregenerate days) to two ordinary glasses. Morgan, at any
rate, could not know what he was there for! Jan was wondering whether it
was enough to make him sleepy after his wretched night, and so kill an
hour of this more wretched day, when the door burst open, without
preliminary knock, and Carpenter stood wheezing on the other side of the
bed.

His high shoulders heaved. His rather unhealthy face looked grotesquely
intense and agonised. It was plain at a glance that Old Chips knew
something.

“Oh, Jan!” he cried. “What did you do it for?”

“That’s my business. Who sent you here?”

“I got leave from Heriot.”

“Very good of you, I’m sure!”

“That wasn’t why I came,” said Chips, braced though stung by this
reception. He had shut the door behind him. He walked round the bed with
the extremely determined air of one in whom determination was not a
habit.

“Well, why did you come?” inquired Jan, though he was beginning to
guess.

“You did a thing I couldn’t have believed you’d do!”

“Many things, it seems.”

“I’m only thinking of one. The others don’t concern me. You went into my
locker and—and broke into the house money-box!”

“I left you something worth five times as much, and I owned what I’d
done in black and white.”

“I know that. Here’s your watch and your I.O.U. I found them after
chapel this morning.”

Jan took his treasure eagerly, laid it on the dressing-table, and
produced his packet of coins from one of the small side drawers.

“And here’s your money,” said he. “You’d better count it; you won’t find
a sixpence missing.”

Chips stared at him with round eyes.

“But what on earth did you borrow it for?”

“That’s my business,” said Jan, in the same tone as before, though Chips
had changed his.

“I don’t know how you knew I had all this money. It isn’t usual late in
the term like this, when all the subs. have been banked long ago.”

Jan showed no disposition to explain the deed.

“This is my business, you know,” persisted Chips.

“Oh! is it? Then I don’t mind telling you I heard you filling your
precious coffers after dinner.”

It was Chips’s own term for the money-box in which as captain of the
house he placed the various house subscriptions as he received them. He
looked distressed.

“I was afraid you must have heard me.”

“Then why did you ask?”

“I hoped you hadn’t.”

“What difference does it make?”

“You heard me with the money, and yet you couldn’t come in and ask me to
lend it to you.”

“I should like to have seen you do it!”

“The money was for something special, Jan.”

“I thought it was.”

“Half the house had just been giving me their allowances, but some had
got more from home expressly.”

“Yet you pretend you’d have let me touch it!”

Chips bore this taunt without heat, yet with a treacherous lip.

“I would, Jan, every penny of it.”

“Why should you?”

“Because it was yours already! It was only for something we were all
going to give you because of—because of those cups we got through
you—and—and everything else you’ve done for the house, Jan!”

An emotional dog, this Chips, he still had the sense to see that it was
not for him to show emotion then, and the self-control to act up to his
lights. But he could not help thrusting the packet back towards Jan, as
much as to say that it was still his and he must really take it with the
good wishes he now needed more than ever. Not a word of the kind from
his lips, and yet every syllable in his eyes and gestures. But Jan only
shook his head, wheeled round, and stood looking down into the street.



                             CHAPTER XXIX

                             CHIPS AND JAN


Anybody entering the room just then would have smelt bad blood between
the fellow looking out of the window and the other fellow sitting on the
edge of the bed. Jan’s whole attitude was one of injury, and Chips
looked thoroughly guilty of a grave offence against the laws of
friendship. Even when Jan turned round it was with the glare which is
the first skin over an Englishman’s wound; only a hoarse solicitude of
tone confessed the wound self-inflicted, and the visitor a bringer of
balm hardly to be borne.

“I suppose you know what’s happened, Chips?”

“I don’t know much.”

“Not that I’m—going?”

“That’s about all.”

“Isn’t it enough, Chips?”

“No. I want to know why.”

Jan’s look grew searching.

“If Heriot told you so much——”

“He didn’t till I pressed him.”

“Why should you have pressed him, Chips? What had you heard?”

“Only something they were saying in the Sixth Form Room; there’s nothing
really got about yet.”

“You might tell me what they’re saying! I—I don’t want to be made out
ever so much worse than I am.”

That was not quite the case. He wanted to know whether there was any
movement, or even any strong feeling, in his favour; but it was a sudden
want, and he could not bring himself to clothe it in words. It was his
prototype’s hope of a reprieve, entertained with as little reason, more
as a passing irresistible thought.

“They say there was nothing the matter with you yesterday afternoon.”

“No more there was. I was shamming.”

Chips experienced something of Heriot’s revulsion at this avowal.

“They say you went off—to—meet somebody.”

“How did they get hold of that, I should like to know?”

Of course the masters had been talking; why should they not? But then
why had Heriot pretended that nobody was to know just yet? Why had Haigh
talked about the worst cases being kept quiet? Chips allayed rising
resentment by saying he believed it had come through a fly-man,
whereupon Jan admitted that it was perfectly true.

“They say you drove out to Yardley Wood.”

“So I did.”

“It was madness!”

Jan shrugged his powerful shoulders.

“I took my risks, and I was bowled out, that’s all.”

Chips looked at him; the cynically glib admissions were ceasing to grate
on him, were beginning to excite the incredulity with which he had first
heard of the suicidal escapade. This shameless front was not a bit like
Jan, whatever he had done, and Chips who knew him best was the first to
perceive it.

“I wish I knew why you’d done it!” he exclaimed ingenuously.

“What do they say about that?” inquired Jan.

“Well, there was some talk about—about a bit of a—romance!”

Jan’s grin made him look quite himself.

“Nicely put, Chips! But you can contradict that on the best authority.”

“Now it’s got about that it’s a drinking row.”

“That’s more like it.”

“It’s what most fellows believe,” said Chips, with questionable tact.

“Oh, is it? Think I look the part, do they?”

“Not you, Jan——”

“What then?”

Chips did not like going on, but was obliged to now.

“Well, some fellows seem to think that—except yesterday, of
course—your bowling——”

“Has suffered from it, eh? Go on, Chips! I like this. I like it
awfully!”

And this time Jan laughed outright, but did not look himself.

“It’s not what I say, Jan! I wouldn’t hear of it.”

“Very kind of you, I’m sure; but I shouldn’t wonder if you thought it
all the same.”

“I don’t, I tell you!”

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did. How things fit in! Any other
circumstantial evidence against me?”

Chips hesitated again.

“Out with it, man. I may as well know.”

“Well, some say—but only some—that’s why you’ve been going about so
much by yourself!”

“To go off on the spree alone?”

Chips nodded. “You see, you often refused to go out even with me,” he
said reproachfully; not as though he believed the worst himself, but in
a tone of excuse for those who did.

Jan could only stare. His unsociability had been due of course to his
unpopularity with his Eleven, his estrangement from Evan, and his
delicacy about falling back on Chips. And even Chips could not see that
for himself, but saw if anything with the other idiots! This was too
much for Jan; it made him look more embittered than was wise if he still
wished to be taken as the only villain of the piece. But the fact was
that for the moment he was forgetting to act.

“Solitary drinking!” he ejaculated. “Bad case, isn’t it?”

“It isn’t a case at all,” returned Chips, looking him in the face. “I
don’t believe a word of the whole thing! Even if it’s true that you went
out to Yardley to meet Mulberry——”

“Who say’s that?”

“Oh, it’s one of the things that’s got about. But I can jolly well see
that if you did go to meet him it wasn’t on your own account!”

Confound old Chips! He was looking as if he could fairly see into a
fellow’s skull, and very likely making a fellow look in turn as big a
fool as he felt!

“Of course you know more about it than I do!” sneered Jan, desperately.
“But do you suppose I’d do a thing like that for anybody but myself?”

“I believe you’d do a jolly sight more,” replied Chips, “for Evan
Devereux!”

Jan made no reply beyond an unconvincing little laugh; of plain denial
he looked as incapable as he actually was, in his surprise at so shrewd
a thrust.

“The whole thing was for Devereux!” pursued Carpenter with explosive
conviction. “What about him and Sandham out at Yardley the other Sunday,
when old Mulberry beckoned to us by mistake? Obviously he mistook us for
them; I thought so at the time, but you wouldn’t have it, just because
it was Devereux! What about his coming to you yesterday morning, in such
a stew about something? Oh, I didn’t listen, but anybody could spot that
something was up. What a fool I was not to see the whole thing from the
first! Why, of course you’d never have touched that money for yourself,
let alone planting out the thing I know you value more than anything
else you’ve got!”

Still Jan said nothing, even when explicitly challenged to deny it if he
could. He only stood still and looked mysterious, while he racked his
brain for something to explain his look along with those other
appearances which Chips had interpreted so unerringly. He felt in a
great rage with Chips, and yet somehow in nothing like such a rage as he
had been in before. It had taken old Chips to see that he was not such a
blackguard as he had made himself out; that was something to remember in
the silly fool’s favour; he was the only one, when all was said and
done, to believe the best of a fellow in spite of everything, even in
spite of the fellow himself.

Condemned men cannot afford to send their only friends to blazes. But
Chips soon went the way to get himself that happy dispatch.

“Why should you do all this for Evan Devereux?” he demanded.

“All what, Chips? I never said I’d done anything.”

“Oh, all right, you haven’t! But what’s he ever done for you?”

“Plenty.”

“Name something—anything—he’s ever done except when you were in a
position to do more for him!”

And then Jan did tell him where to go. But Chips only laughed in his
face, with the spendthrift courage of a fellow who did not as a rule
show enough, though he had it all the same when his blood was up. And
now he was in as great a passion as Jan, and just for a moment it was as
fine a passion too.

“You start cursing me because you haven’t any answer. Curse away, and
come to blows if you like; you shan’t shift me out of this until I’ve
said what I’ve got to say, not if I have to hang on to this bedstead and
bring the place about our ears!”

“Don’t be a fool, Chips,” said Jan, perceiving that he required
self-control for two. “You know you’ve always had a down on Evan.”

“Well, perhaps I have. Doesn’t he deserve it? What did he ever do for
you your first term—though he’d known you at home?”

“That was no reason why he should do anything. What could he do? We were
in different houses and different forms; besides, I was higher up in the
school, as it happened, as well as a bit older.”

“That’s nothing; still I rather agree with you, though he was here
first, remember. But what about your second term or my third? He
overtook us each in turn, but did he ever go out of his way to say a
civil word to either of us, though he’d known us both before?”

“Yes; he did.”

“Yes, he did! When you’d made a little bit of a name for yourself over
the Mile he was out for a walk with you in a minute. That’s the fellow
all over, and has been all the time. I remember how it was when you got
in the Eleven, if you don’t!”

But Jan did remember, and it made him think. Like most boys who are good
at games, he had acquired in their practice great fairness of mind. He
thought Chips was unfair to Evan, and yet he wanted to be fair to Chips,
whom he recognised in his heart as by far the sounder fellow of the two.
Chips was the loyal, unswerving, faithful friend who not only bore a
friend’s infirmities but blew his trumpet as few would blow their own.
But he had without doubt some of the usual defects of such qualities; he
was touchy, he could be jealous, though Jan was not the one to tell him
that; but on the touchiness he dwelt with a tact made tender by his own
trouble.

“The fact is, Chips, you’re such a good old chap yourself that you want
everybody else to be the same as you. You wouldn’t hurt a fellow’s
feelings, so you can’t forgive the chaps who do it without thinking. Not
one in a hundred makes as much of things as you do, or takes things so
to heart. But that’s because you’re what you are, Chips; you oughtn’t to
be down on everybody who doesn’t happen to be built as straight and
true.”

“Don’t be too sure that I’m either!” exclaimed Carpenter, flinching
unaccountably.

“You’re only about the straightest chap in the whole school, Chips.
Everybody knows that, I should think.”

“I’ve a good mind to set everybody right!” cried Carpenter, worked up to
more than he had dreamed of saying, a wild impulse burning in his eyes.
“I can’t see you bunked for nothing, when others including me have done
all sorts of things to deserve it. Yes, Jan, including me! You think
I’ve been so straight! So I was in the beginning; so I am now, if you
like, but I’ve not been all the time. Don’t stop me. I won’t be stopped;
but that’s about all I’ve got to say. I’ve always wanted you to know.
You’re the only fellow in the place I care much for, who cares much for
me, though not so much——”

“Yes I do, Chips, yes I do! I never thought so much of you as I do this
minute.... I don’t say it never crossed my mind.... But don’t you make
yourself out worse than you ever were, even to me!”

“I don’t want to.... It didn’t go on so long, and it’s all over now....
But I shall get the præpostor’s medal when I leave—unless I’m man
enough to refuse it—and you’ve been bunked for standing by a fellow who
never would have stood by you!”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Chips,” said Jan, gently.

“No, I’m not. It’s the other way about.”

“You don’t know how Evan’s stood by me all these years.”

Carpenter maintained a strange silence—very strange in him, just then
especially—a silence that made him ashamed and yet exultant.

“_Do_ you know, Chips?”

“It depends what you think he’s done.”

“I’ll tell you,” said Jan with sudden yet quiet resolution, and a lift
of his head as though the peak of a cap had been pulled down too far. “I
had a secret when I came here, and Evan knew it but nobody else. It was
a big secret—about my people and me too—and if it had come out then
I’d have bolted like a rabbit. I know now that it wouldn’t have mattered
as much as I thought it would; things about your people, or anything
that ever happened anywhere else, don’t hurt or help much in a place
like this. It’s what you can do and how you take things that matters
here. But I didn’t know that then and I don’t suppose Evan did either.
Yet he kept a quiet tongue in his head about everything he did know. And
that’s what I owe him—all it meant to me then, and does still in a
way—his holding his tongue like that!”

Still Chips held his; and now Jan was the prey of doubts which his own
voice had silenced. All that the familiar debt had gained by clear
statement was counteracted by the stony demeanour of its first auditor.

“Did he ever tell you, Chips?”

“The very first time I saw him, our very first term!”

“Not—not about my father and—the stables—and all that?”

“Everything!”

Jan threw himself back four years.

“Yet when I sounded you at the time——”

“I told you the lie of my life!” said Chips. “I couldn’t help myself.
But this is the truth!”

And Jan took it with the enviable composure which had only deserted him
when Evan was being traduced; it was several seconds before he made a
sound, still standing there with his back to the bedroom window; and
then the sound was very like a chuckle.

“Well, at any rate he can’t have told many!”

“I don’t suppose he did.”

“Then he picked the right one, Chipsey, and I still owe him almost as
much as I do you.”

“You owe old Heriot more than either of us.”

“Heriot! Why? Does he know?”

“He knew all along, but he never meant you to know that he knew. He
guessed how you’d feel it if you did; he guesses everything! Why, that
very first Saturday, if you remember, when Devereux turned up for
call-over and began telling me the minute afterwards, it was as though
Bob Heriot simply saw what he was saying! He pounced upon us both that
instant, dropped a pretty plain hint on the spot, but asked us to
breakfast next morning and then absolutely bound us over never to let
out a single word about you in all our days here!”

“So Evan’d been talking before he told me he never would,” mused Jan.
“Well, I can’t blame him so much for that. I’m not sure, Chips, that I
should have done so differently now even if I’d known. I liked him even
in the old days when we were kids. Must you go?”

The question was asked in a very wistful tone. Chips felt, rather
uneasily, that in these few minutes he had ousted Evan and taken his old
place. He could not help it if he had. It had not been his intention on
coming into the room. It was no use regretting it now.

“I told Heriot I wouldn’t stay very long,” he answered. “I’ll get him to
let me come up again.”

“And you won’t tell him anything about Evan?”

“How do you mean?”

“You won’t tell him a single word about our having seen him and Sandham
that day?”

Chips was silent.

“Surely you wouldn’t go getting them bunked as well as me?”

“Well—no—not exactly.”

“I should think not! It wouldn’t do any good, you see, even if you did,”
said Jan, suddenly discovering why he had looked so mysterious some
minutes back. “You forget that Evan and I used to go about together
quite as much as he and Sandham have been doing all this year. What if
it was me that first started playing the fool in Yardley Wood? What if
old Mulberry knows more against me than anybody else? It wouldn’t do me
much good to put them in the same boat, would it?”

“But does he, Jan, honestly?”

“Honestly, I’m sorry to say.”

“It’s too awful!”

“But you will hold your tongue about the other two, won’t you, Chips?”

“If you like.”

“You promise?”

“Very well. I promise.”

But Chips Carpenter was reckoning without Mr. Heriot, a magnificent
schoolmaster, but a Grand Inquisitor at getting things out of fellows
when he liked. To his credit, he never did like a task which some
schoolmasters seem to enjoy; but he was not the man to shirk a
distasteful duty. Carpenter had long outstayed his leave upstairs and
the spare room was directly over Heriot’s study. Voices had been raised
at one time to an angry pitch, and this had set the man below thinking,
but certainly not listening more than he could help. Nor had he caught a
single word; but he had to remember that Carpenter’s pretext for the
visit was a private money matter, and other circumstances connected with
Jan’s finances.

He waylaid Chips on his way down.

“Well, Carpenter, you’ve been a long time?”

“I’m afraid I have, sir.”

“I gave you ten minutes and you took five-and-twenty. However, I hope
you got your money?”

Chips started.

“What money, sir?”

“Didn’t you go to collect a private debt?”

“I don’t know how you knew, sir.”

“I happen to know that Rutter had a good deal of money on Saturday, and
that he never as a rule has half enough.”

“Yes, sir; he paid me back every penny,” said Chips, without attempting
to escape.

He was in fact extremely interested in this question of the money, which
had been driven out of his mind by other matters, only to return now
with evident and yet puzzling significance. He was wondering whether
this was not a point on which he could confide honourably in Heriot,
since Jan had laid no embargo on the subject. He might only have
forgotten to do so—Chips had a high conception of honour in such
matters—but anything to throw light on the mystery before it was too
late!

“Now, you and Rutter have been great friends, haven’t you, Carpenter?”

It was the skilful questioner proceeding on his own repugnant lines.

“Yes, sir, I think we have, on the whole.”

“Has he ever borrowed money from you before?”

“Never a penny, sir.”

“Had he rather strong principles on the point?”

“I used to think he had, sir.”

“Do you think he’d break them for his own sake, Carpenter?”

“No, sir, I don’t! I—I practically told him so,” replied Chips, after
considering whether he was free to say as much.

“I’ve only one other question to ask you, Carpenter. You told me, before
I let you go up, that several of the leading fellows know something
about what’s happened.”

“They do, sir.”

“Can you think of anybody who doesn’t know, and perhaps ought to know,
while there’s time?”

Chips felt his heart leap within him, only to sink under the weight of
his last promise to Jan; he shrank from the very mention of Evan’s name
after such a solemn undertaking as that. And yet Jan came first.

“Well, sir, I—_could_.”

“Then won’t you?”

“If you wouldn’t ask me for my reasons, sir.”

Heriot smiled in incipient inquisitorial triumph. It was a wry smile
over a wry job, but he had come to his feet, and his spectacles were
flashing formidably. The poor lad’s honest reservation was more eloquent
than unconditional indiscretion in ears attuned to puerile nuances.

“I may ask you anything I like, Carpenter, but I can’t make you answer
anything you don’t like! I can only suggest to you that there’s probably
some fellow who might help us if he were not in the dark. Will you give
me the name that occurred to you?”



                              CHAPTER XXX

                             HIS LAST FLING


Jan turned back to the bedroom window, and stood looking out with eyes
that saw less than ever. The window was open at the bottom; he kept a
discreet distance from the sill, but might have seen a strip of the
pavement opposite, now dappled by a sudden shower. He was as the blind,
however, until a slight crash below made him pop his head out without
thinking. Then he saw that it was raining, because Mr. Heriot had
emerged from the house, and broken into a run instead of returning for
his umbrella.

The only thought Jan gave him was a twinge of wonder that he could go
his ways so briskly with the virtual head of his house lying under
sentence of expulsion in the spare room. Heriot was mighty keen on his
house, keenly critical and appreciative of every fellow in it, but
keener yet on a corporate entity, mysteriously independent of the
individuals that made it up, which expressed itself in Jan’s mind as
“the house itself.” He too had felt like that about the house cricket
and the school Eleven; the best bat got measles, and it was no good
giving him another thought. And yet somehow it made Jan himself feel
bitterly small to see Heriot gadding about his business like that in the
rain.

Otherwise the sight did him good, in liberating his mind from the
overload of new ideas that weighed it down. Always a great talker, that
poor old Chips had told him so much in such quick time that it was
impossible to keep his outpourings distinct and apart from each other;
they were like the blots of rain on the pavement, spreading, joining,
overlapping into a featureless whole. But the shower ceased even as Jan
looked down; the pavement began to dry before all semblance of design
was obliterated; and the fusion of fresh impressions suffered an
analogous arrest.

Evan dried by himself....

Jan brought a cane chair to the window, and sat down to think about
Evan, to be fair to old Evan at all costs. It was easy to be down on
him, to feel he had been guilty of unpardonable perfidy; but had he? Was
there any great reason why he should not have told Chips—Chips whom he
knew of old, and whom he had seen with Jan? Surely it was the most
natural confidence in the world; and then it was the only one, even
Chips thought that, though Jan was not so sure when he recalled the bold
scorn of Sandham and some others in the Eleven—their indistinguishable
whispers and their unmistakable looks. But, even so! Had he ever asked
Evan to keep his secret? Had not Evan, on the other hand, kept it on the
whole unasked? Was it not due to him first and last that the whole
school had not got hold of it? Chips might say what he liked about
Heriot, but no master could impose secrecy upon a boy against the boy’s
will. Evan’s will towards Jan must always have been of the best. It was
Jan’s own fault if he had imagined himself under an inconceivable
obligation; it only showed what a simpleton he had always been about
Evan Devereux. That was it! He was far too simple altogether; even now
he could not shake off all his unreasonable disappointment because Evan
had been a trifle less loyal to him, in the very beginning, than he had
chosen to flatter himself all these years.

It was a comfort to turn to the other side of the account. Thank
goodness he had been able to do something for Evan in the end! He did
owe it to him, whatever Chips chose to say or think. Chips was a jealous
old fool; there was no getting away from that. Jan only hoped he had not
given Chips an inkling of the real facts of the case. He did not think
he had. It had been a happy thought to pretend that Evan’s connection
with his downfall was that of the feeble accomplice whom he and not
Sandham had led astray; it really made expulsion too good for him, so
Chips would be under no temptation to let it out or to drag in Evan’s
name at all. In any case he had promised. He was a man of his word. He
was the soul of honour and integrity, old Chips ... so at least Jan had
always thought him down to this very afternoon. Simpleton again!

Chips, of all people, not always any better than he should have been....
Jan could not get that out of his head; it was another disappointment to
his simplicity. He had thought he knew the worst of Chips, his
touchiness, his jealousy, taking too much notice of himself and
sometimes thinking that other people did not take enough. A bit
weak-minded and excitable, Jan would have called him, thinking of the
morbid and emotional side of his friend’s character which had certainly
shown itself that day. But what enthusiasm, what a heart, and what a
head too in its way! It only showed that you knew very little, really,
about anybody else, even your intimate house-mate; but it might also
have shown Jan that he was slow to think evil, slow to perceive the
worst side of the life around him, and not only simple but pure in heart
in spite of all those years about the stables.

He supposed he had not the same temptations as other fellows. Here were
his two friends, as opposite to each other as they were to him, the
three of them as far apart as the points of an equilateral triangle.
Each of the other two had gone wrong in his way. And yet perhaps neither
of them would have touched money that did not belong to him, on any
pretext or in any circumstances whatsoever!

The money took Jan back to the wood; the wood led him straight to
Mulberry; and suddenly he wondered whether Evan had really heard the
last of that vagabond. The very thought of a doubt about it made Jan
uneasy. Had he frightened the blackmailer sufficiently as such? He had
gone away without his money; that might or might not be mere drunken
forgetfulness. Jan, however, would have felt rather more certain of his
man if he had put himself more in the wrong by actually taking every
penny he could get; that and the very drastic form of receipt—never
signed—had been the pivot of his scheme for scotching Mulberry. If it
were to miscarry after all, in its prime object of saving Evan from
persecution and disgrace; if appearances should still be doubted and
Mulberry be bribed or frightened into telling the truth; why, then—good
Lord!—_then_ he himself might yet be reinstated—at Evan’s expense!

Once more Jan despised himself for harbouring any such thought for a
single moment; he kicked it out like a very Mulberry of the mind, and
saw it in the mental gutter as a most unlikely contingency. He
considered his own handling of the creature, the motive given him for
revenge, the dexterous promptitude with which revenge had been taken.
No; such an enemy, so made, would never willingly avow a very
inspiration of low cunning....

The mossy, wrinkled roofs of the old tiled houses opposite Heriot’s
stood out once more against a cloudless sky; the pavement underneath was
dry as a bone; the little town was basking in the sleepy sunshine of the
Sunday afternoon. Suddenly those irrepressible chapel bells broke out
with their boyish clangour.

Boyish they are and always will be while there are boys to hear them;
they ring in the veins after thirty years, and make old blood pelt like
young. Surely there is no such hearty, happy peal elsewhere on earth! It
got into Jan’s blood though he was only leaving next morning, and would
never, never be able to come down as an authorised Old Boy. So he would
never be allowed in chapel again, unless he stole in when nobody was
about, some day, a bearded bushman “home for a spell.” It seemed hard.
There went the bells again! They might have let him obey their kindling
call for the last time; it might have made some difference to his life.

How could they stop him? Could they stop him? Would they if they could?
The questions followed each other almost as quickly as the three bright
bells; they got into his blood as well. And it was blood always
susceptible to a sudden impulse; that was a thing Jan did not see in
himself, though all his escapades came of that hereditary drop of pure
recklessness. It did not often come to a bubble, but when it did the
precipitate was some rash act.

Already the street was “alive with boys and masters,” like another more
famous but not more dear; masters in silken hoods, masters in humble
rabbit-skins, and boys in cut-away coats, boys in Eton jackets. Jan had
put on his Sunday tails as usual; it had never occurred to him not to
dress that morning as a member of the school still subject to the rules.
His school cap was already packed, a sad memento filled with collars. He
had it out in an instant, and the collars strewed the floor, for he was
going to chapel whether they liked it or not. They would never make a
scandal by turning him out, but he must slip in at the last moment after
everybody else, and the last bell had not begun yet. Jan was waiting for
it in great excitement, touching up his hair in the dressing-room, when
the landing shook to a familiar stride and the bedroom door opened
unceremoniously for the second time that afternoon.

“Rutter! Where are you, Rutter?”

Heriot, of course, when he was least wanted! Jan slipped behind the
dressing-room door, and saw him through the crack as he looked in
hastily. Luckily there was no time for an exhaustive search. Heriot gave
it up, the door below drowned the opening strokes of the last bell, and
Jan had shut it softly in his turn before they stopped.

The fellows went into chapel there in droves under gowned and hooded
shepherds. Jan so timed matters as to enter in the wake of the last lot,
but well before the appearance of Mr. Thrale and his chaplain. Not being
in the choir, his place in chapel, where the seats were allotted on a
principle unknown to the boys, was mercifully unexalted, and he reached
it with no worse sign or portent than the raised eyebrows and whispered
welcome of his immediate neighbours. A congregation of four hundred
persons absorbs even a Captain of Cricket more effectually than he
thinks. And a voluntary, bright and exhilarating as all the music in
that chapel, gave him heart and hope until the arrival of the
officiating pair afforded an ineffable sense of security and relief.

Jan stood up with the rest, not quite at his full height, yet with his
eyes turned in sheer fascination towards the little old Head Master. He
looked very pale and stern, but his eyes could not have been fixed more
steadfastly in front of him if he himself had been marching to his doom.
In his left hand he held something that Jan was glad to see; it was dear
old Jerry’s purple and embroidered sermon-case, a gift no doubt, and yet
almost an incongruous vanity in that uncompromising hand.

Jan sank down and breathed his thanks for the last mercy of this
service, for his perhaps undeserved escape from open humiliation and
public shame. It was not to be seen through his forcible composure, but
the glow of momentary victory filled every cell of a heart which the
bells had first expanded. And he had never joined in the quick and
swinging psalms with a zest more grateful to himself or so distressing
to one or two of his hypercritical neighbours; there could not have been
much wrong with Rutter, either physically or morally, these opined; or
else he had been let off, and was already wallowing in an indecent odour
of sanctity.

Wallowing he was, but for once only in the present, without dwelling on
old days or on the wrath already come. This was not the house of wrath,
but of brightness and light; he was not going to darken it for the last
time with cheap memories and easy phantoms. Any fool could think of his
first Sunday, and recall his first impressions of chapel; it was rather
Jan’s desire so to receive his last impression as to have something
really worth recalling all the days of his life; but even that was a
vague and secondary consideration, whereas the present recompense was
certain, vivid, and acute.

One wonders whether any fellow ever loved a public-school chapel as much
as Jan loved his that afternoon, and not from the conscious promptings
of reverence and piety, but purely as a familiar place of peace and
comfort which he might never see again. The circumstances were probably
unique, and they gave him that new eye for an old haunt which had been
opened on the pitch the day before. But then he had been as a dying man,
and now he was as the dead come sneaking back to life for an hour or
less; the defiant enjoyment of forbidden fruit was among the springs of
his infinite exaltation.

The great east window made the first impress on his sensitised film of
vision; he had not been at the school four years, on a cricketer’s easy
footing with so many of the masters, without hearing that window frankly
depreciated; but it was light and bright, and good enough for Jan. Then
there were the huge brass candelabra in the chancel, pyramids of light
on winter evenings, trees of gold this golden afternoon; for the summer
sun came slanting in over everybody’s right shoulder, as all sat in rows
facing the altar, and not in the long opposing lines of other school
chapels. Tablets to Old Boys who had lived great lives or died gallant
deaths brought a sigh of envy for the first time. They were the only
sight that reminded Jan sorely of himself, until he looked up and saw
dear old Jerry standing in his marble pulpit for the last time. The hymn
ceased. The organ purred like a cat until the last stop had been driven
in. Jan supposed it must have done it always. A sparrow chirped outside,
and Mr. Thrale pronounced the invocation in that voice which knew no
lip-service, but prayed and preached as it taught and thundered, from
the heart.

“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for
my sake shall find it.”

That was his text; and many there were present, boys and Old Boys,
masters and masters’ wives, who reverenced the preacher before all
living men, yet knew what was coming and faced it with something akin to
resignation. Life was the first word in his language, if not his last.
It meant so much to him. He never used it in the narrow sense. True Life
was his simple watchword; where the noun was, the adjective was never
far away, and together the two rolled out like noble thunder. The
corporate life, the life of a nation, the life of that school, it was
into those great streams that he sought to pour the truth that was in
him—sometimes at the expense of the individual ripple. Boys do not
listen to abstractions; abstract truths are better read than heard by
boy or man. Mr. Thrale was too elusive, perhaps too deep, for ordinary
ears; in his daily teaching he was direct, concrete, and dramatic, but
from his pulpit he soared above heads of all ages. Yet that earnest
voice and noble mien, which had so impressed Jan on his very first
Sunday in the school, were as the voice from Sinai and the face of God
to him to-day.

He began by drinking in every syllable; but again it was too soon the
look and tone rather than the words that thrilled him. He began
listening with eyes glued to that noble countenance in its setting of
silver hair; but soon they drooped to the edge and corners of the purple
sermon-case, to the leaves that rose and fell, at regular intervals,
under that strong, unrelenting, and yet most tender hand. Jan could feel
its farewell grip again; he was back in the study full of garden smells
and midges in the lamplight.... Goodness! He really had been back there
for an instant; it was the old trouble of keeping awake at this time of
the afternoon. It had struck him painfully in others, on his very first
Sunday in the school; but almost ever since he had felt it himself, say
after a long walk; and he simply could not help feeling it after an
almost sleepless night and that condemned man’s allowance of beer....

I say! It was incredible, it was contemptible, unpardonable in Jan of
all the congregation that sunny afternoon. But it would not happen
again; something had awakened him once and for all.

It was something in the old man’s voice. His voice had changed, his
manner had changed, he was no longer reading from the purple case, but
speaking directly and dramatically as was his wont elsewhere. His hands
were clasped upon his manuscript. He was looking steadfastly before
him—just a trifle downward—looking indeed Jan’s way, in clear-sighted
criticism, in gentle and yet strong rebuke.

“... There is the life of the individual too. 'He that findeth his life
shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.’
But let him be sure for whose sake he would lose his life; let him not
take his own life, on any provocation or under temptation
whatsoever—not even to save his dearest friend—for Christ did not make
and cannot countenance such a sacrifice. No soldier of Christ can die by
his own hand, even to save his comrade; he must think of the army, think
of those to whom his own life is valuable and dear, before he throws it
away from a mistaken or unbalanced sense of sacrifice. I will have no
false or showy standards of self-sacrifice in this school; I will have
no moral suicides. Suicide is a crime, no matter the motive; evil is
evil, good cannot come of it, and to step in between a friend and his
folly is to stand accessory after the fact. And yet—_humanum est
errare_! And he who errs only to save an erring brother has the divine
spark somewhere in his humanity: may it light his brain as well as fire
his heart, give him judgment as well as courage, and burn out of him the
Upas growth of wrong-headed self-sacrifice. You cannot rob Peter to pay
Paul, just because you happen to be Peter yourself. Has Paul the first
or only claim upon you? Yet my heart goes out to the boy or man who can
pick his own pocket, ay, or shed his own blood for his friend! Blame him
I do, but I honour him, and I forgive him.”

In such parables spake their Master to those who sat daily at his feet;
not often so to the school in chapel, nor was it to them that he was
speaking now. Yet few indeed knew that he was addressing Jan Rutter, who
sat spellbound in his place, chidden and yet shriven, head and heart
throbbing in a flood of light and warmth.



                             CHAPTER XXXI

                                  VALE


The only two fellows who were leaving out of Heriot’s house had been
dining with the Heriots on the last night of the term. One of them,
after holding forth to Miss Heriot like a man and a brother, had gone on
to the Sanatorium to take leave of a convalescent; the other accompanied
Mr. Heriot into the jumble of books and papers, old oak and the insignia
of many hobbies, which made his study such an uncomfortable yet
stimulating little room. It appeared smaller and more crowded than ever
when invaded by two tall ungainly men; for the young fellow, though
never likely to be as lanky as the other, but already sturdier in build,
stood about six feet from his rather flat soles to the unruly crest of
his straight light hair. A fine figure of a man he made, and still under
nineteen; yet his good and regular features were perhaps only redeemed
from dulness by a delightfully stubborn mouth, and by the dark eyes that
followed Heriot affectionately about the room.

“There’s one thing we’ve had in common from the start,” said Heriot,
“and that’s our infernally untidy studies! I remember Loder speaking to
me once about yours. I brought him in here to discuss the point, and he
went out agreeing that indifference to your surroundings doesn’t
necessarily spell the complete scoundrel. But it isn’t a merit either,
Rutter, and I expect Carpenter to embellish life more than either of
us.”

“I wonder what he’ll do, sir?”

“Get things into the _Granta_ for a start. Not all his things; his style
wants purging. Smoke, Rutter?”

Heriot was filling his own pipe; but it was one thing for a master to
consider himself free to smoke before a leaving boy, on the last night
of the term, in defiance of Mr. Thrale’s despotic attitude on the point,
and quite another thing for him to offer the boy a cigarette. Jan
declined the abrupt invitation with an almost shocked embarrassment.

“I thought a cigarette was no use to you,” said Heriot, laughing. “And
yet you’ve never gone back to your pipe, I believe?”

“Sir!”

Heriot was smiling the beatified smile that always broke through his
first cloud.

“You don’t suppose I didn’t know, Rutter, that you used to smoke when
you first came here?”

“You never let me see that you knew it, sir.”

“You never let me catch you! I 'smelt it off you,’ as they say, all the
same; but I shouldn’t have done so if I hadn’t known all those things I
was not supposed to know.”

“It was magnificent of you to hush them up as you did!”

“It was a duty. But it wouldn’t have been quite fair to trade on one’s
knowledge at the same time.”

“Every master wouldn’t look at it like that.”

“Perhaps I had a sneaking sympathy as well,” laughed Heriot, when he had
blown a fresh cloud. “Still, I should have caught you if you hadn’t
given it up; and I’ve often wondered why you ever did.”

“It was all Mr. Relton,” said Jan after a pause. “I promised him I
wouldn’t smoke if I got into the Eleven.”

“Relton, eh?” Jan found himself gazing into still spectacles. “I’ve been
wondering lately, Rutter, whether you’re the fellow he thought he saw at
the fair?”

Jan was more taken aback than he had been about the smoking. This was
the first time Heriot had ever mentioned the ancient escapade which had
come to light with so much else a month ago. It was the one thing they
had not threshed out since the Sunday after Founder’s Day, and yet on
that awful Saturday night Jan felt that Heriot had been twice on the
edge of the subject, and twice stopped short because he could not trust
himself to discuss it calmly. Getting out of the best house in the
school was an offence not to be condoned or belittled by the best
house-master, even after two long years and a quarter. So Jan had felt
till this minute; even now he had to face a lingering austerity behind
the fixed glasses.

“Did he tell you he saw somebody, sir?”

“Not in so many words. He came in and asked what I thought would happen
to a fellow who got out and went to the fair. I told him what I knew
would happen. Then he began to hedge a bit, and I smelt a rat before he
went. But I little dreamt it was a rat from my own wainscot! However,
I’m not going to ask any questions now.”

Cunning old Heriot! Jan made a clean breast on the spot, conceiving that
the whole truth said more for Dudley Relton than Bob Heriot was the man
to gainsay when he heard it. But Jan added a good deal on his own
account, ascribing even more than was justly due to that old night’s
work, and yet extracting an ultimate admission that meant much from Mr.
Heriot.

“I’m glad he took the law into his own hands, Jan; it would be an
affectation to pretend I’m not, at this time of day. But I’m thankful I
never knew about it when he was here! What beats me most is your own
audacity in marching out, as you say, without the least premeditation,
and therefore presumably without any sort or shape of disguise?”

Jan took his courage between his teeth.

“I not only walked out of your own door, sir, but I went and walked out
in your own coat and hat!”

Heriot flushed and flashed. He could not have been the martinet he was
without seeing himself as such, and for the moment in a light injurious
to that essential quality. Then he laughed heartily, but not very long,
and his laughter left him grave.

“You were an awful young fool, you know! It would have been the end of
you, without the option of a præpostors’ licking, if not with one from
me thrown in! But you may tell Dudley Relton, when you see him out
there, that I’m glad to know what a debt I’ve owed him these last three
years. I won’t write to him, in case I might say something else while I
was about it. But Lord! I do envy you both the crack you’ll have in
those forsaken wilds!”

Mr. Heriot perhaps pictured the flourishing port of Geelong as a bush
township, only celebrated for Dudley Relton and his young barbarians.
Colonial geography, unlike that of Ancient Greece, was not then a
recognised item in the public-school curriculum. It may be now; but on
the whole it is more probable that Mr. Heriot was having a little dig at
the land to which he grudged Jan Rutter even more than Dudley Relton.
And Jan really was going to the wilderness, or a lodge therein where one
of the uncles on his mother’s side ran sheep by the hundred thousand. It
was said to be a good opening. Jan liked the letters he had read and the
photographs he had seen; and if that uncle proved a patch on the one in
the Indian Army, he was certain to fall on his feet; but his
house-master held that after a more or less stormy schooling the peace
(with cricket) of the University would have replenished the man without
impairing the eventual squatter. The immediate man was Mr. Heriot’s
chief concern; but when the thing had been decided against him, after a
brief correspondence with the Revd. Canon Ambrose, he saw the best side
of a settled future, and took an extra interest from his own point of
view.

“What are your sheep going to get out of your Public School?” said
Heriot. “Will you herd them any better for having floundered through the
verbs in μι? Don’t you think a lot that you have learnt here will be
wasted?”

“I hope not, sir,” replied Jan, with the solemn face due to the
occasion, though there was an independent twinkle behind Heriot’s
glasses.

“So do I, indeed,” said he. “But I shall be interested; you’re a bit of
a test case—you see—and you may help us all.”

“I only know I’m jolly glad I came here,” said Jan devoutly. “I wasn’t
once, but I am now, and have been long enough.”

“But what have you gained?” asked Heriot. “That’s what I always want to
know—for certain. A bit of Latin and a lot of cricket, no doubt; but
how far are they coming in? If you get up a match at the back of beyond,
you’ll spoil it with your bowling. On the other hand, of course, you’ll
be able to measure your paddocks in parasangs and call your buggy-horses
Dactyl and Spondee—or Hex and Pen if you like it better!”

Jan guffawed, but there was an unsatisfied sound about Heriot’s chuckle.

“I want a fellow like you, Rutter, to get as nearly as possible 100 per
cent. out of himself in life; and I should like to think
that—what?—say 10 or 20 per cent. of the best of you came from this
place. Yet you might have learnt to bowl as well on any local ground.
And I wonder if we’ve taught you a single concrete thing that will come
in useful in the bush.”

“I might have been a pro. by this time,” said Jan, set thinking of his
prospects in his father’s life-time. “I certainly was more used to
horses when I came here than I am now.”

“It isn’t as if we’d taught you book-keeping, for instance,” continued
Heriot, pursuing his own line of thought. “That, I believe, is an
important job on the most remote stations; but I doubt if we’ve even
fitted you to audit books that have been kept for you. The only books we
_have_ rubbed into you are the very ones you’ll never open again. And
what have you got out of them?”

“I can think of one thing,” said Jan—“and I got it from Mr. Haigh, too!
_Possunt quia posse videntur_—you can because you think you can. I’ve
often said that to myself when there was a good man in—and sometimes
I’ve got him!”

“That’s good!” exclaimed Heriot. “That’s fine, Jan; you must let me tell
Haigh that. Can you think of anything else?”

“I don’t know, sir. I never was much good at work. But sometimes I’ve
thought it teaches you your place, a school like this.”

“It does—if you want teaching. But you——”

“I’d learnt it somewhere else, but I had it to learn all over again
here.”

“You always have—each time you get your step—that’s one of the chief
points about promotion! You may have been schoolmastering for fifteen
years, but you’ve got to learn your place even in your own house when
you get one.”

That touch put Jan more at his ease.

“And you may have been in the Eleven two or three years,” said he, “but
you’ve got a new job to tackle when you’re captain. They say there’s
room at the top, but there isn’t room to sit down!”

“_That_ was worth learning!” cried Heriot, eagerly. “I’m not sure it
wasn’t worth coming here to pick up that alone. And you’ll manage your
men all right, though I daresay they’re not any easier out there than
here. That’s all to the good, Rutter.”

“But suppose I hadn’t been a left-hand bowler?”

Jan grinned; it had struck him as a poser.

“Well, you’d have come to the front in something else. You did, you
know, in other things besides cricket. It’s a case of character, and
that was never wanting.”

But if he had not been an athlete at all! That was the real poser.
Heriot was glad it was not put to him. It would have been unanswerable
in the case of perhaps half the athletes in the school. What would Goose
have been?

“Then there’s manners,” said Jan, who could warm up to a discussion if
he was given time. “But I doubt I’m no judge of them.”

“They’re the very worst criterion in the world, Jan. The only way to use
your judgment, there, is not to judge anybody on earth by his manners.”

That was not quite what Jan meant, but he felt vaguely comforted and
Heriot breathed again. He was not a man who could say what he did not
mean to people whom he did care about. He knew that Jan could still be
uncouth, that it might tell against him here and there in life, and yet
that what he meant was no more than flotsam on the surface of a noble
stream—strong, transparent, deep—and in its depths still undefiled.
Indeed, there were no lees in Jan. And Heriot loved him; and they fell
to talking for the last time (and almost the first) of old Thrale’s
sermon on the Sunday after the Old Boys’ Match, and the curious fact
that he meant Jan to be there, that Heriot himself had come to fetch
him; that was when Jan hid behind the door, little dreaming that Evan
had owned up everything on learning what had happened.

“I might have known he would!” said Jan fondly. “It was only a question
of time; but you say he didn’t hesitate an instant? He wouldn’t! But
thank goodness he didn’t go and make bad worse like I did for him. It
would have killed him to get expelled; he says it was the bare thought
that very nearly did, as it was.”

Jan did not see that was a confession he could not have made, or have
had to make, about himself; and Heriot did not point it out to him.
Presently Chips came in from the Sanatorium. He reported Evan as
convalescent in body and mind, and so appreciative of the verses on the
Old Boys’ Match in the July Mag. that he was getting them framed with
the score.

“We’ve been talking about what you fellows get out of a school like
this,” said Heriot. “If you ever take to your pen, I think you may owe
us more than most, Carpenter; but there was one man once who said what
we’re all three probably thinking to-night. Here’s his little book of
verses. I’ve had a copy bound for each of you. Here they are.”

The little books were bound in the almost royal blue of the Eleven sash
and cap-trimming. Carpenter had scarcely opened his when he exclaimed,
“Here’s an old friend!” and read out:

     “They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
      They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
      I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
      Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.”

“Rather an old enemy, that,” said Jan, grinning.

“Then, my good fellow, you’re incapable of appreciating four of the most
classically perfect lines in a modern language!”

Heriot had quite turned on Jan. It took Chips to explain their former
acquaintance with the lines, which he did with much gusto. And then they
all three laughed heartily over his misconstruction of “Still are thy
quiet voices, thy nightingales, awake,” in the second stanza, and roared
at Jan’s _nostro loquendo_ in the first.

“But that’s not the poem I mean,” said Heriot, borrowing Jan’s copy.
“It’s this 'Retrospect of School Life.’ Can you stand it?”

“Rather, sir!”

And Heriot read a verse that made them hold their breath; then this one,
with his head turned towards Jan, and a rich tremor in his virile voice:

               “There courteous strivings with my peers,
                  And duties not bound up in books,
                And courage fanned by stormy cheers,
                  And wisdom writ in pleasant looks,
                And hardship buoyed with hope, and pain
                  Encountered for the common weal,
                And glories void of vulgar gain,
                  Were mine to take, were mine to feel.”

“Isn’t that rather what we were driving at?” he asked of Jan.

Jan nodded. Chips begged for more, with a break in his voice. Heriot
wagged his spectacles and went on....

              “Much lost I; something stayed behind,
                 A snatch, maybe, of ancient song;
               Some breathings of a deathless mind,
                 Some love of truth, some hate of wrong.”

              “And to myself in games I said,
                 'What mean the books? Can I win fame?
               I would be like the faithful dead
                 A fearless man, and pure of blame.
               I may have failed, my School may fail;
                 I tremble, but thus much I dare;
               I love her. Let the critics rail,
                 My brethren and my home are there.’”

Chips had laid an emotional hand on Jan’s arm after the last line but
four; and Heriot went almost as far after the last one of all; but Jan
had himself well in hand.

“That’s what you and I were forgetting, and we mustn’t,” Heriot said to
him. “Your name isn’t only up in the pavilion. It’s in some of our
hearts as well. Your brethren and your home are here!”

Still Jan looked rather stolid.

“There’s just one line I should like to alter,” said he with hardihood.
“Do you mind reading the first verse over again, sir?”

And Heriot read:

              “I go, and men who know me not,
                 When I am reckoned man, will ask,
               'What is it then that thou hast got
                 By drudging through that five-year task?
               What knowledge or what art is thine?
                 Set out thy stock, thy craft declare.’
               Then this child-answer shall be mine,
                 'I only know they loved me there.’”

“It’s just that last line,” said Jan. “It should be the other way
about.”

                                THE END

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                      THE NOVELS OF E. W. HORNUNG

                  Published by CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                153-157 FIFTH AVENUE           NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                            THE CAMERA FIEND

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

                   CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS - NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          Transcriber’s notes

1. Silently corrected typographical errors; retained non-standard
   spellings and dialect.

2. Italic text in the original is delimited by _underscores_.

3. Transliterated Greek words are delimited by +plus+.





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