On the notice board in the colonnade was the announcement, which neither Chips nor Jan could understand, that Professor Abinger would pay his annual visit on the Monday and Tuesday of the following week. On the way up the hill to second school, they asked Rawlinson, the small fellow whom Haigh had started reviling on the first morning of term.
“Who’s Abinger?” was the reply. “You wait and see! You’ll love him, Tiger, as much as I do!”
“Why shall I?” Jan liked Rawlinson, and envied him his callous cheerfulness under oppression.
“Because he’ll get us off two days of old Haigh.”
“I’m not hustling. I swear I’m not. Grand old boy, Abinger, besides being the biggest bug alive on elocution!”
“Who says so?”
“Jerry, for one. Anyway, he takes up two whole days, barring first school. 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!” Rawlinson hooted with laughter. “My good ass, it’s the other way about!”
“So we have to read to him?”
“Every mother’s son of us, in front of the whole school, and all the masters and the masters’ wives!”
“And what does he do?”
“Tears us to bits for not reading the way he likes.”
Chips went on asking questions. Jan was silent because he was more interested in the answers than he cared to show. It was an alarming prospect to a new boy with an accent which had already exposed him to some scorn. Yet his ear told him that he was by no means the only boy in the school whose vowels were broad. He was not unduly sensitive about it, and only too willing to improve. What he was more on his guard against was the outlandish word and the dialect phrase which still slipped unawares out of his mouth. But these could not affect his reading aloud . That thought calmed his fears, and he rejoiced with Rawlinson at the prospect of a break in the term’s work.
This joy was increased by the obvious exasperation of Haigh, who scarcely concealed his opinion of Professor Abinger. Many his covert sneers, and loud his laughter, as he hit on something for the Middle Remove to declaim piecemeal between them. Almost at random he chose a passage from Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales which, to his disgust, was the standard text for this purpose. But while it was plain that he disapproved of both text and expert, he could hardly say so, and nobody was surprised when he ended with a more satisfying fling at Jan.
“Some of you fellows in Mr Heriot’s house 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.”
Those who toadied to Haigh cast indignant glances at Jan, and one within reach dealt him a kick on the shin. Jan took it all with leaden front, for that was his only means of getting in the least bit even with Haigh. Nevertheless, on Sunday evening when, with special leave, one could sit in another’s study after lock-up, Chips and Jan had Hans Andersen open before them as they munched their way through a packet of biscuits bought with their Saturday allowance.
The elderly gentleman who opened his campaign next morning did not disappoint them. He had an admirable platform presence, an austere face, and a cascade of silvery hair. His opening remarks, in a voice like a silver bell, persuaded all his new hearers that Professor Abinger really was as distinguished as he looked. He was evidently the companion of even more distinguished men. He spoke of the statesmen and judges he had coached for the triumphs of their careers. He mentioned a certain cabinet minister as a particularly painstaking pupil. He recalled a recent experience in a ducal mansion, and let something slip involving an even more illustrious name. He seemed quite embarrassed by this indiscretion, and the Headmaster frowned into his watch, which he closed with a very loud snap.
“When I look about me in this schoolroom,” concluded Professor Abinger hastily, beaming upon the serried ranks, “and when I see the future generals and admirals, bishops and statesmen, eminent lawyers and physicians — men of mark in every sphere — even peers of the realm — who hear me now, whom I myself am about to hear in my turn — when I dip into your future far as human eye can see — then I realise afresh the very wide responsibility — the — the imperial importance — of these visits to this school!”
Mr Thrale cut short any applause or sly merriment by sternly summoning the Upper Fourth, who with much shambling of feet left their seats and trooped up to the platform. Jan had heard that forms were called in any order, and was thinking of the narrowness of his escape. He was also wondering if there was so much to fear after all from such a perfect gentleman, such a jolly old boy, when Evan Devereux passed him. And Evan’s ears were red to the tip — Evan, neat and dapper enough to stand up before the world — Evan, a gentleman if there was one in school!
The Upper Fourth huddled together on the platform, each with a fat blue volume of Andersen open at the fatal place. A nod from Mr Thrale, and the captain of the form took a step forward, threw out his chest, and plunged into one of the tales with a couple of sentences that made the rafters ring. The professor stood smiling his approval, and Mr Thrale nodded to the next boy. The successful performer sidled to the back, to be replaced by one in too great a hurry to get it over. “A myrtle stood in a pot in the window,” he had rattled off when the Headmaster exclaimed “Three o’clock!” and the performer melted away like a wraith.
“That’s the worst he does to you,” whispered Chips, who had made his usual inquiries. “It only means coming in at three for another shot.”
Meanwhile the professor was pointing out the second boy’s mistake. The first of first principles was that a distinct pause must follow the subject of any sentence. He had been preaching that doctrine here for so many years that he had hoped he need not preach it again; but perhaps he had not met his young friend before? His young friend had to confess with burning cheeks that they had indeed met before. When the point had been duly laboured, the next lad cleared the obstacle with an audaciously long pause after ‘myrtle.’
It was an obstacle at which many fell. But there were interludes which entertained the audience if not the performer. Stammerers were made to beat time and release a syllable at each beat. One timid child was conducted by the professor to the far end of the huge room and made to call out, “Can you hear me?” until the Headmaster signalled that he could. There was even a mirthful minute supplied by Devereux, of all people, who had looked self-conscious the whole time. When his turn came, Jan holding his breath for him, his reading was no worse than nervous until he came to the word ‘exhilarated.’ He said ‘exhilyarated.’ The professor asked him to say it again, his paternal smile changing into a sly and malevolent grin which filled Jan with revulsion. Evan said ‘ex-hill-yarated,’ making a mountain of the hill, and a stern voice cried “Three o’clock!” The unlucky Evan looked so wretched and crestfallen, and yet so attractive, that the professor was seen to plead on his behalf. But a still sterner voice repeated “Three o’clock!”
By the time the Upper Fourth returned to their place, Devereux was himself again and even came back smiling and with a jaunty walk, as some criminals foot it from the dock. But Jan could not catch his eyes, though his own were full of a sympathy which he longed to show but only succeeded in betraying to Chips.
“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 hate that old brute — don’t you?”
“What! When he’s coached a cabinet minister and been staying with the same old dukes and dukesses?”
“If he ever did,” said Jan, his 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 Bewick in the Upper Sixth, who’d heard that bit about the cabinet minister and all the rest so often that he knew it by heart, and used to settle down to sleep as soon as old Abinger got going. So one time Jerry catches him nodding and says, ‘Bewick, be good enough to repeat the substance of Professor Abinger’s last remarks.’ So Bewick stands up, blinking, not having heard a blooming word, and begins: ‘The other day, when I had the privilege of being the honoured guest of his grace the Duke of —’ ‘Three o’clock!’ says Jerry, and they say Bewick 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?”
By now, four of the lower forms had been polished off, and three more followed in third school, but the Middle Remove was not among them. There remained only second school on the second day — a half-holiday — and Chips had heard that much of the morning would be devoted to a sixth form competition for the Abinger Medal. He had also heard that not all the forms were always called upon, and that they stood a good chance of being missed out. But no sooner did the proceedings resume on a pink and frosty morning than the bolt fell for the Middle Remove.
The big school room seemed abnormally big as Jan looked shyly down from the platform. It seemed to hold four thousand boys, not four hundred. It felt as cold as an empty church. The Headmaster’s fingers, poising his joiner’s pencil over a school list, looked blue, and his breath was visible against his sombre gown. But Professor Abinger in black spats and mittens was brisker and more incisive that yesterday. His paternal smile broke more abruptly into the malevolent grin, his flowing mane looked merely hoary, and his silvery voice had the staccato ring of steel.
He was almost living up to Haigh’s opinion of him. 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 had him repeat it until a drunken man could have done better and the whole school was in a roar. At the back of the little knot on the platform, Jan set his teeth. 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 if he had been born within sound of Bow Bells and, when he denied it, his rich accent raised a titter. Gradually the little knot melted. Jan read over and over to himself the sentences that seemed certain to fall to him. He was still doing so when Chips left his side and lurched to the centre of the platform. The poor fellow had had a bad night with his bronchial troubles, which had the same effect on his speech as a more common ailment.
“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.
“Have you a cold?” inquired the professor with his most sympathetic smile.
“Yes, sir,” said Chips, too shy to give his complaint 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. He strode forward too indignant on Chips’s account to think of himself, and cut straight into the laugh at Chips’s expense. Nothing could have given him 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 felt he had come through with flying colours. He saw no smile on the sea of faces before him. Not a word came from the Headmaster on his right. Yet he was not given his dismissal, and was about to begin another sentence when Professor Abinger took the book from Jan’s hand.
“I think you should hear yourself as others hear you. Have the goodness to listen.” 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 rooders and sea chests or the skeleeton of soome 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 laughter. “What do you think of that?”
Jan stood dumbfounded with shame and rage, a graceless figure with untidy hair and a wreck of a tie and one bootlace trailing, a figure made to look even meaner than it was by the spruce and handsome old man beside him.
“What dost tha’ think o’ yon?” pursued the professor, dropping into dialect with heavy humour.
“It’s not what I said,” muttered Jan, so low that the only professor could hear.
“Not what you said, eh? We’ll take you through it. How do you pronounce ‘bones’?”
No answer, but a tightened jaw, shoulders pulled back, and a good inch more in height.
“B, O, N, E, S!” crooned the professor, showing all his teeth.
But Jan had turned into a human mule. The silence had suddenly grown profound.
“Well, we’ll try something else,” said the professor, consulting the text somewhat unsteadily. “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, and it gave him a spasm of satisfaction. Otherwise he was by now as aware of his folly as anybody else present. But it was too late to think of it now. His head was burning, his temples throbbed, and he could not have spoken if he had tried. It would have taken a better man than Abinger to make him try, and the better man sat by without a word, pale and stern.
“I can do nothing with this boy,” said Abinger, turning to him with a tremor in his thin voice. “I must leave him to you, Mr Thrale.”
“Twelve o’clock!” said the Headmaster with ominous emphasis and, as he stabbed the school list with his joiner’s pencil, the Middle Remove returned down the gangway to their place. Jan went with them as if walking in his sleep, and Chips followed him with 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 saw was Evan Devereux and the fellow next to him doubled up with laughter.
When Abinger’s campaign had ended with the award of a medal to the polly who had done least violence to a leading article in the day’s Times, the Headmaster stayed talking to the professor while the school filed out form by form. Three delinquents besides Jan went to the Upper Sixth classroom, where Mr Thrale habitually sat in judgement on the culprits of the day, to await their trial and execution. A crowd of the smaller fry pressed their noses to the diamond panes of the windows overlooking the school yard; the most notorious criminal case would hardly have attracted more to the public gallery of a law-court. One of the other malefactors showed Jan the slip of paper which described his crime: ‘Hornton thinks pepoiēkasi is a dative plural. I think he deserves a good flogging.’ Jan was just reading the master’s signature below when in sailed the judge and executioner in his cap and gown.
The boy who deserved the good flogging stepped forward and delivered his damning document. Mr Thrale examined it, exclaimed “So do I!”, and took his cane out of his desk. The criminal knelt down, the executioner gathered his gown out of the way, and eight slashing cuts 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 youth in spectacles was being interrogated, and was replying promptly and earnestly, without lowering his glasses from the flogging judge’s face.
“You may go,” said Mr Thrale at last. “Your honesty has saved you. Trevor next. I’ve heard about you, Trevor. Kneel down, shirker!”
The wily Trevor knelt with apparent reluctance, writhed convincingly through the eight strokes which made half the noise of the other eight, and serenely went his way with another wink at Jan.
Jan had long since discovered that, out of his pulpit, the Headmaster was 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 when the Middle Remove went to construe to him early in the term. And it was next time now.
Jan, left alone in the presence, was ashamed to find himself trembling. He had not trembled on the platform in front of the whole school. His blood had been frozen then. Now it was bubbling. He was being looked at, that was all, with a look such as he had never met before, a look from wide blue eyes, with dilated nostrils underneath, and under them a mouth that seemed 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. This parable did not go over his head. It might have been 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 not realised how vile it was to sulk. But now he did. The firing-party could not come too quick. But the flogging judge had sat down and was putting his cane back in his desk. Jan could have groaned. He longed to make amends for 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 my army? Any reason for not drumming him out?”
Drumming him out! Expelling him! Sending him back to the Norfolk rectory, and from there very likely back to the nearest stables! More light flooded over Jan. He had already 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 —”
Before he could explain, he broke down, and all 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 that they can never be understood by men!
Yet already the hard old man was on his feet again and with one gesture had cleared the throng from the diamond-paned windows. He laid a tender hand on Jan’s heaving shoulder.
“I do see,” he said gently. “But so must you, Rutter — so must you!”
Jan was prepared never to hear the last of his outrageous conduct, and it cost him a huge effort to show his face again in Heriot’s. The quad was full of fellows, as he knew it would be, but only Sprawson accosted him. His hand flew terrifyingly up, only to fall in a hearty slap on Jan’s back.
“Well done, Tiger!” he cried in front of half the house. “That’s the biggest score off Abinger there’s been since old Bewick’s time!”
Jan, who had come back vowing that no hostility would make him blub, rushed up to his study with a fresh lump in his throat. That night at tea Jane Eyre of all people (who was splendidly supplied with all sorts of food from home) pushed a glorious game pie across the table to him, and for a few hours there was more sympathy in the air than was altogether good for someone who had made a public display of ill temper. True, a wave of even misplaced sympathy may be encouraging to one who has gone short of sympathy all his life. But a clever gentleman was waiting to counteract all that, and to undo at his leisure what Mr Thrale had done in two minutes.
No sooner had the form returned to his hall next day than Haigh made a sarcastic speech on the subject of Jan’s enormity. A glance would have shown him the signs of improved self-respect: cleaner jacket, hair better brushed, boots properly laced, tie neatly tied. But he chose not to see. He triumphantly reminded his favourites of his prophecy that Rutter would disgrace them all. But he admitted he was not sorry that the Headmaster and Mr Heriot and all the rest of the school had now seen for themselves what the Middle Remove had to put up with every day. He ended with a plain hint to the form to “knock the nonsense out of that silly bumpkin who has made us a laughing-stock.”
To all of which Jan listened without a trace of his old resentment, and then, an unusually neat figure, stood up.
“I’m very sorry, sir. I apologise to you and the form.”
Haigh looked unable to believe his eyes and ears. But he was not the man to revise judgement of a boy already labelled Poison in his mind. He could not fail, now, to note the improvement in Jan’s person and manner. All he could do was put the worst construction on it.
“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 washed away any more easily than Haigh’s rooted hostility. Though no scholar and never likely to make one now, Jan could be sharp enough when he chose. Hitherto, under Haigh, he never had chosen. What was the point of attending to a brute who despised you whether you attended or not? Yet that little old man in the Upper Sixth classroom had made it somehow seem worth while to do one’s best without sulking, even without expecting fair play, let alone reward. Jan felt a new broom at heart, determined to sweep clean in spite of Haigh. It happened to be a Virgil morning, and the new broom began by saying his repetition as he had never said it before. Perhaps he deserved what he got for that.
“I thought you were one of those boys, Rutter, who pretend an inborn difficulty in learning repetition? I only wish I’d sent you up to Mr Thrale six weeks ago!”
Yet Jan maintained his interest, and when put on to construe the hardest passage, got through without discredit. It was easy for the Middle Remove to take an interest in Virgil. Mr Haigh was an enthusiastic teacher who might have been the best in the school if he had not been a bully himself. His method in a Virgil hour was beyond reproach. If his form knew the lesson, there was no picturesque or curious information which it was too much trouble for him to bring out for their benefit. They were doing the bit in the Aeneid about the boat-race, and what Haigh (who had been in the Cambridge eight) did not know about rowing ancient and modern was not worth knowing. He could handle a trireme on the blackboard as though he had rowed one on the Cam, to the accompaniment of a running report worthy of a sporting journalist.
But let there be one skeleton at this feast, one Jan who could not or would not understand, and the whole hour might go by in unseemly duel between haughty intellect and stubborn imbecility. If all went well — and this was one such occasion — Haigh would wind up the lesson with Conington’s great translation. Jan was attending as he had never attended before when one couplet caught his fancy.
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 his book and was putting a question to the favoured few at the top of the form. “Conington has a fine phrase there, for possunt quia posse videntur. Did any of you notice how he renders that?”
The favoured few had not noticed, and looked seriously concerned about it. Nor had the body of the form who, having less to lose, were more philosophical. No one had noticed. Haigh was visibly displeased. “Possunt quia posse videntur,” he repeated ironically as he reached the dregs. And at the very last moment Jan’s fingers flew up 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 bound, amid a volley of venomous glances, but with one broad grin from Chips.
“I do wish I’d sent you up six weeks ago!” said Haigh. “I shall be having a decent set 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 previous attempt of his, but it was clear that Haigh did not believe they were Jan’s own work. Who had helped him? Nobody, they were all his own. No help whatever? No help whatever. Haigh laughed to himself, but said nothing. Jan said something to himself, but did not laugh. Now at last he might never have been through those two minutes with Jerry Thrale.
November was over and another week would finish off the term’s work, leaving ten strenuous days for the exams. Haigh could set only one more piece of Latin verses, and Chips was as sorry for his own sake as he was thankful for Jan’s. His own knack of writing elegiacs that both scanned and construed was the best in the form, and had brought him into considerable favour. Haigh’s taste in poetry was refined, and not only in Greek and Latin poetry. For translation, he set only gems of English verse, and his voice throbbed with their music as he dictated them. This was another mistake, for when his gems were inevitably mangled in the translation, he took it as a personal grievance, and the boys acquired a not unreasonable prejudice against some of the noblest poetry in the language. Chips not only revelled in the originals, but took great pleasure in hunting out the Latin words and fitting them into their proper places as dactyls and spondees.
“That’s the finest thing he’s set us yet,” he observed when Haigh had given them Cory’s Heraclitus for the last verses of term.
“It’ll be b***** fine when I’ve done with it,” Jan rejoined darkly.
“I should start on it early, if I were you. 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 running 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, on the last Saturday but one, is one of the events of the winter term. All the morning after second school, fags have been tearing up scent in the library. A spell of hard weather has broken in sunshine and clear skies, and by half past two almost the whole school is in the paddock by Burston Beeches to watch the start. A quarter of it, indeed, in flannels and jerseys of red or white, some trimmed with the colours of a fifteen, is taking part. Off go the two hares. 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’ lead allowed them seems more like half an hour, but at last the gate is opened and the motley pack pours through.
After a mile comes the first check of many, for snow is still lying under trees and hedges and from a distance always looks like a handful of waste paper. The younger hounds, leaving their betters to pick up the scent again, take a minute off, their laboured breath like tobacco smoke, and that master stationed nearby might almost be there to make sure 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 only a remnant of the pack that started. Now the scent takes great zigzags, now it is thick again, and here is the high road rolling back to the Upper, and if it wasn’t for the red sun in your eyes there should be a view of the hares from the top of one of the 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 master’s wives to see the finish. Here come the hares, red as Indians with the sun upon their faces, rushing down that hill. They are halfway up this one, wet mud shining all over them like copper, when the first handful of hounds start up against the sky behind them.
“Surely that’s a rather small boy to be in the first dozen,” says Miss Heriot, pointing out a puppy who is running gamely by himself between the first and second batches of hounds.
“Not in any 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, to perfunctory applause. The real excitement lies in 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!” cries Heriot.
“The house isn’t done with yet, sir,” pants Sprawson. “Young Rutter’s been running like an old hound. Here he is, is the first ten!”
And here indeed is the rather small boy whom neither of the Heriots had recognised, slimmer and trimmer in his muddy flannels than in his workaday jacket and collar, more in his element, the flush on his face not only from exercise and a scarlet sky, but a flush of health and momentary happiness.
It has been one of the few afternoons of all the term that Jan will recall in later life, standing out among the weary walks with poor Chips and the hours of bitterness with Haigh. But it 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 all the difference to the Under Sixteen team, who might have beaten Haigh’s in the second round. 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. “It was he who said I had one, Loder, not me!”
Loder 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 is not sturdy enough to shine across country. He does not address Jan personally, but deigns to mention him in a remark to Sprawson.
“Useful man for us next term, Mother, if he’s under fifteen.”
“When’s your birthday, Tiger?” splutters Sprawson from the shower-bath.
“End of this month.”
“Confound your eyes! Then you won’t be under fifteen for the sports, and I’ll give you a jolly good licking!”
But what Mother Sprawson actually gives Jan is cocoa and biscuits at Maltby’s in the market place: a most unconventional gift from a man of his standing to a new boy, who feels painfully out of place in the fashionable shop and devoutly wishes himself with Chips at their humble haunt. But it 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 sends for Jan for the first time since term began and gives him a severe wigging for running in the paper-chase at all, but sends him off with a compliment for running so well.
“He said he’d only been forbidden to play football,” Bob Heriot reported to his sister. “Of course I had to jump on him for that. But I own I’m glad 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. I believe he’ll turn out a sportsman 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 one again.”
“I wonder you didn’t go to Dr Hill about it long ago, Bob.”
“I did. But Hill wouldn’t take the responsibility of letting him play football without inquiring into his past history. That was the last thing to encourage, and so my hands are tied. They always are, with Rutter. It was the same with Haigh over his Latin verses. He wanted me to write to the boy’s preparatory school master! I haven’t intervened since. Rutter’s the one boy I can’t stick up for. He must sink or swim by himself, and I think he’s going to swim. If he were in any other form, I’d be sure. But I daren’t hold out the helping hand that I would to others.”
“I’ve often heard you say you can’t treat two boys alike.”
“But I can’t treat Rutter as I ever treated any boy before. I’ve got to keep my treatment to myself, or he’ll be suspicious in a minute. He puts me on my mettle, I can tell you! I’m not sure he isn’t putting the whole public school system on 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. The boy has more character even than I thought.”
“Although he sulks?”
“That’s often a sign. It means at least the courage of one’s mood. But what you and I mustn’t 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! No, I was thinking of the absolute adventure the whole thing must be to him, and has been since 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 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, but happier than he had dreamt of being this term. The hot-water pipes threw grateful warmth upon his aching legs, outstretched on the leg-rest of the folding chair. The curtains were drawn, the tollies burning at his elbow. On his knees lay a Gradus ad Parnassum and an English-Latin dictionary, and propped against the tolly-sticks was the exercise book in which he had taken down the English version of Heraclitus. Its beauty was lost upon him. He was too weary to try very hard, and knew that any success would only invite more suspicion. He did make a tentative effort in pencil, and ten minutes before prayers pulled himself together enough to write his eight lines out in ink.
“Let’s have a look,” said Chips as they waited for the Heriots in hall. One look was quite enough. “I say, Tiger, you can’t show this up! You’ll be licked as sure as eggs are eggs.”
“I don’t care.”
“You would care. You simply can’t get this signed tonight. 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.”
By gulping down his milk and taking his dog-rock to his study, Chips was able to devote a good half hour to Jan’s verses. It was barely enough. The first hexameter began with a false quantity and ended with a grammatical blunder, the first pentameter was hopeless. Chips rectified, adapted, nudged. In the second couplet every other foot was a flogging matter.
I wept when I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
Chips loved the lines enough to blush for his own respectable attempt at a Latin version, but his blood ran cold at Jan’s —
Flevi quum memini nostro quam saepe loquendo
Defessum Phoebum fecimus ire domum.
He flung himself on this monstrosity, but had to leave it at —
Cum lacrymis memini nostro quam saepe loquendo
Hesperias Phoebus fessus adisset aquas.
He did not plume himself on this. But at any rate nostro loquendo was Jan’s own gem, bad enough to distract suspicion from the superiority of the rest. This was a subtle calculation. He was conscious of it, and not as ashamed of it as such a desperately honest person should have been. He justified the means to the end, which was to save Jan a certain flogging; and he felt something very like a guilty relish at a first offence. The third couplet almost passed muster; a touch or two and it was safe. But the last hexameter would never do, and Chips replaced it by plagiarising his own line. That would have been fine, if he not come to grief over it himself.
“Excellent as usual, Carpenter,” said Haigh on Monday. “I could have given you full marks but for an odd mistake towards the end. You seem to have misread the 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 if 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’ — meaning songs, as I told you — ‘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?”
“That accounts for it! Ha, ha, ha! But it may be my fault.” He was geniality itself as he turned from the mantlepiece where he was going through the week’s verses. “Will those who have a comma after ‘nightingales’ hold up their hands?” A forest of hands flew up. “Then I’m afraid it’s your mistake, Carpenter. I couldn’t have pitched on a better object-lesson in the importance of punctuation if I’d tried.”
He turned back to the pile of verses on the mantlepiece, and the incident seemed over.
“But surely there was some other fellow did the same thing,” he said, frowning thoughtfully. “Ah! Rutter, of course! Jucundae voces tacitae sunt, carmina vivunt!”
His voice completely changed as it rasped out the abhorred name. It changed again before the end of Jan’s hexameter.
“Were you helped in this, Rutter?”
“Did you help him, Carpenter?”
There was not an instant’s hesitation before either answer. Yet the culprits’ readiness to confess their crime only aggravated Haigh. He flew into a passion.
“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.”
“Silence!” Haigh roared. “I don’t believe a word you say. You’re not such a fool as you pretend to be. You saw you were found out at last, so you might as well make a clean breast of it! That doesn’t minimise your cheating, or the impudence of a brace of beggarly new boys. Do you know how dishonesty is treated in this school? I would send you both to Mr Thrale at twelve o’clock, but we don’t consider that a flogging meets this kind of case. It’s one in which all must suffer for the misdeeds of a few. I shall devise some detention for the entire form, and we’ll see if they can’t knock some rudimentary sense of honour into you!”
Black looks were showered on Chips and Jan. They knew what they were in for now, and trembled in their shoes. A message from Shockley was passed to them on a slip of paper, “I’ll murder you for this,” and the moment they were out in Haigh’s quad the storm burst.
“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 b***** pious, aren’t you? Couldn’t do Thicksides for other people, too b***** moral and 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 as he aimed a kick at Jan. “It’s for being such infernal fools as to own up!”
So much for the sense of honour to be knocked into them. It was a revelation. Jan and Chips knew that Shockley and Buggins and Jane Eyre regularly helped each other with their composition, and more than once had heard them flatly denying it to a suspicious Haigh. That code of honour in that precious trio hardly surprised them. What did shock them was that some of the nicest fellows in the form condemned the honesty that had got them all into trouble.
Chips and Jan did not question the system that had brought all this about. It did not occur to them to take their grievance to Mr Heriot, whose opinion might have been interesting. In the bitterness of their hearts they simply felt that an injustice had been done. The fury of the whole form, at being punished for the crimes of only two, was human and understandable. But they had been subtly encouraged by a master to do his dirty work for him. Could any trick be shabbier, and could anything be more demoralising? The form were supposed to instil a higher sense of schoolboy honour. What they actually did was to curse and kick you for not piling dishonour on dishonour’s head.
Haigh held his threat over all their heads until the two boys’ lives had been made a sufficient misery. He then withdrew it, and instead gave Chips and Jan a holiday task, to learn a long poem by heart and to say it to him without a mistake, on pain of further penalties, when they came back after Christmas.
Christmas weather set in before the holidays. On the last Saturday of term, 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 the Old Boys’ football match could not take place. The ground was thick with snow, and a swept patch proved as hard and slippery as the slide in Heriot’s quad. This slide was an authorised institution, industriously swept by the small fry under the supervision of old Mother Sprawson, who sent more than one of them down it barefoot as a remedy for the chilblains which they had rashly pleaded as an excuse for shirking their duty.
On the Sunday, morning chapel was dominated by the Old Boys’ presence. But before dinner they had all dispersed, and by second chapel the school had returned to business as usual. The first lesson was the story of Naaman and his leprosy, and from it the Headmaster took the inspiration for his sermon.
“Your bodies are the temple of God,” he began, “and are not to be defiled.” What exactly he had in mind he did not spell out in so many words.
“In the struggle between purity and impurity of thought and deed lies for many of you, perhaps for most of you, one of the first decisive turning-points of life. Acquaintance with your own constitution and the functions of life, combined with knowledge of the fatal consequence of sins of impurity, can alone be trusted as a safeguard.”
But by now only the youngest and most innocent of his listeners could have failed to understand. What he meant by the sin of impurity was what a fellow did, by himself, with his own right hand. Five minutes later, for he kept his sermons short, the Headmaster ended:
“Leprosy was chosen by God to mark the curse of sin by a visible vileness in the body. Suppose that every secret sin came out in leprous spots upon us, that our foreheads and faces bore the dead white mark of the sin within. What a ghastly revelation there would be; for the very best amongst us would have brought home to him, in a way he never had before, the secret curse of sin in the world. However much the rush of True Life would overmaster it, surely a great horror would come upon him, as he felt his own flesh deaden and reflect the struggles which hitherto had gone on silently in his heart; and when he saw all round the ghastly evidence written in every human form, the presence of sin would be a reality more than he could bear.”
Jan was accustomed by now to being stirred by what this fierce little man pronounced from the pulpit, and he tried to listen with care. Today, the second Sunday after their encounter in the Sixth Form classroom, he listened with unusual care. The consistent message of these sermons boiled down to a demand. It might at root be a demand for the team-work required of a soldier, it might be a demand for a decent and honourable way of life. The message was mounted, it need hardly be said, in a godly frame, designed for the listener who at least pretended to piety. But ignore that frame, and the message could equally appeal to the impious. For all his impiety, Jan had no objection to team-work or to a decent and honourable way of life, as he saw them; quite the reverse.
But today’s sermon irritated him, for he could not see that it carried any message for him. He could not see why the so-called impurity castigated by that stern old voice should detract from a decent way of life. To Jan, it was no sin, but a relief, a consolation for the buffets of life, a norm. So it was too, from all that he had deduced and from what old Jerry clearly assumed, to practically every other boy in the school. Jan did not often think deeply, but this thought occupied him throughout the final hymn.
As he left the chapel another thought was bothering him, and to tackle it he stood aside while the chattering hordes dispersed. The Bible might insist that leprosy was the visible mark of sin. But in Norfolk, shortly before term had started, there had been a sermon by a visiting preacher, a missionary from darkest Africa where, it appeared, leprosy abounded. Was sin, then, so much more prevalent in Africa than in England, where leprosy was all but unknown? No, it was not. Leprosy, the missionary had made plain, was a disease, just like mumps or measles but much worse. Was it the victim’s fault? No, it was not, any more than mumps or measles were. The Headmaster was backing the wrong horse today, or rather two wrong horses.
Still deep in reflection, Jan picked his slow way along the slippery pavement to Heriot’s, remembering that he had agreed to go for a walk with Chips. That put a further thought into his head, which made him chuckle dourly. If leprous patches were the reward of impurity, then only the likes of Chips would remain unblotched. The sermon seemed to have put a similar thought into the disreputable head of Shockley, who was hovering, hands deep in the trouser pockets that were allowed to older boys, outside the gate which led from the street into the quad. With him, as usual, was Buggins.
As Jan passed the studies, Chips opened his window above, stuck out his head, and called down, “Wait there for me, Tiger! I’m coming!”
“Small chance of him coming!” Shockley remarked to Buggins, none too quietly. “Too pi and too young to come.” Buggins obligingly guffawed.
As Chips closed his window, Jan boiled with internal rage, but he held his peace. Chips might not have heard that cruel crudity or, if he had, might not have understood; whereas if Jan made a scene, Chips would undoubtedly ask why. In a minute Chips emerged from the gate, swaddled in overcoat and muffler, and joined Jan in the street. They headed for the open country, and the moment they were out of earshot of the dangerous pair, Chips showed that he had indeed heard but not understood.
“Tiger, what did Shockley mean? I know they call me pi, but what did he mean that I’m too young to come?”
Jan groaned silently.
Am I my brother’s keeper? he asked himself, for the language of chapel and divinity lessons was willy-nilly rubbing off on him. Chips was younger than he was. His voice had not yet broken but, from the glimpses of his nakedness which Jan had had in the lavatory when changing after fives, it soon would. Half of Shockley’s comment might already be untrue. The other half, though, was valid. Chips was undoubtedly a pious innocent. But he could hardly pass his whole life in pious innocence. Somebody, at some point, had to enlighten him. If Jan ignored his question now, or laughed it off, the answer might soon be supplied more hurtfully by Shockley & Co with their crude insinuations, or even by Joyce with his untrammelled vocabulary. Chips might be an old ass, but he was Jan’s only companion. Yet more to the point, Jan was Chips’s only companion. As such, Jan had a duty. In perhaps the first conscious act of responsibility in his life, he took the plunge.
“Well — did you understand what Jerry was talking about in chapel?”
Chips blushed bright scarlet. “Yes,” he said, after a long pause.
“Well —” Jan suddenly realised that, in this realm, his own vocabulary was limited to what he had picked up in the stables. He had not the faintest idea of the words which gentlemen used — pious well-bred gentlemen, that is, as opposed to the Shockleys or Joyces of this world — when talking about these things, assuming they ever did talk about them. He had to fall back on such mother wit and delicacy as he could muster.
“Well, ‘coming’ means — it’s a low word for — for what happens when — when you do what Jerry was talking about. As you finish doing it. I don’t know if you know about that. And I’m sorry, I don’t know the proper word for it.”
Chips was still bright red. “Ejaculation,” he muttered through his teeth.
The word was completely new to Jan, but he had enough Latin in him by now to see that it fitted.
“Then you do know! How do you know, Chips? Have you — done it yourself?”
“No! My father told me about it. And told me not to do it. He said it made you go blind.”
“That’s rot, Chips, absolute rot.” It did not cross Jan’s mind that it might be tactless to contradict Carpenter senior so bluntly. “If it was true, almost every boy in the school would have gone blind long since. Almost every man in the country. But they haven’t. Any more than they’ve got Jerry’s leprosy. After all, I’m not blind, am I?”
He could have bitten his tongue off, but it was too late to retract. Chips was gaping at him, open-mouthed in raw astonishment.
“Tiger! How did you — well, learn about it?” he asked at last.
“Oh, I — heard about it at my last school.”
That was truth, but not the whole truth. The older boys at the National School in the suburbs of Middlesbrough had indeed talked about it, but Jan had first heard of it at an early age in the stable, and there, a year or so ago, it had also been demonstrated to him. He had hidden himself in the hayloft one evening to indulge, out of his father’s sight, in another illicit practice. He was just filling his pipe when he heard Ted the groom climbing the ladder to his own retreat. The end of the hayloft was divided off by a crude wooden partition into a little cubicle where Ted occasionally slept when there was a sick horse to tend or even — so rumour told — when there was not. On this occasion, being surprised and curious, Jan had abandoned his designs on his pipe and peeped cautiously through a crack in the partition. What he saw he imitated; not only there and then, but regularly thereafter in his truckle bed in the coachman’s cottage. But this was a story not for Chips’s ears.
“Tiger, why do you do it?”
“Because — well, because they say it’s the next best thing to doing it for real. It makes you feel so good.”
“Good? How can you say that? It’s a sin!”
That irritated Jan, just as the Headmaster had irritated him from the pulpit. “It’s only a sin if you believe in sin. It doesn’t hurt you, it doesn’t hurt anyone else. It might hurt God, if you believe in God. But I don’t. So I don’t believe this is a sin either.”
Jan had never consciously reasoned in that way before, not even in chapel just now, and the words had flowed out unrehearsed. Hearing them from his own lips, he was quite impressed, and emboldened.
“There’s no God, Chips,” he blurted out. “Not the way I see it. There’s nobody up there to help us along, or to kick us down. There’s only people. Other people — good ones helping us along, bastards kicking us down. And there’s us. We have to help ourselves along. And shagging helps me along, shagging and thinking of ...”
Jan shut his mouth, regretting his impulse, conscious that for once he had said too much, dimly aware that this philosophy could be seen as revolutionary and subversive, determined — almost too late — not to reveal who or what he thought about while shagging. But Chips had not even winced at ‘bastards’ or at ‘shagging.’ Maybe he had never heard that last word before, even though it was regular school slang; but he could hardly miss its meaning. Instead, he was looking Jan full in the face again, open-mouthed once more. They had stopped abreast of a field entrance, and after a full minute Chips turned round and leant on the gate, breathing hard, his breath steaming the air, gazing across the fields where misty winter twilight was already muting the white tones of the landscape. A pair of crows, in bad-tempered conversation nearby, made up their differences and flew off together in apparent amity. Jan waited with apprehensive patience, growing steadily colder, and after another five minutes Chips turned back to him, the faintest of smiles on his face.
“Better not let anyone else hear that, Tiger,” he said mildly. “Specially not Jerry. Let’s get home.”
They walked back to Heriot’s without another word between them. Shockley and Buggins were as usual hanging around the door into the studies, and favoured Chips with pitying leers. But Chips, rather than scuttling hastily past as he normally would, stopped and gave them a tight-mouthed and inscrutable look, so unexpected from him that it momentarily wiped the leers from their faces. Chips abruptly turned his back on them and marched with determination to his study, and Jan heard him lock his door.
A hour later there was a knock at Jan’s own door, and Chips stuck his head in. He seemed elated now.
“Thank you, Tiger,” he said simply. “Shockley was wrong!”
With that, he was gone, leaving Jan at first bewildered, then relieved and amused as Chips’s meaning sank in, and finally thinking more highly of the old ass than he had ever thought before.
It remained exceptionally cold. The fire in 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 appeared to rely more than ever on his surreptitious flask, but as he never displayed the usual symptoms except before a select audience, and could convincingly sham sober whenever necessary, his antics were more amusing than thrilling. It was Sprawson who, after lock-up on the last night, lit up the slide in the quad with tollies and kept the fun fast and furious until the school bell rang sharply through the frost, and the quad dispatched its quota of glowing faces to prize-giving in the big school-room.
The break-up concert had been given there the night before, but this final function was more exciting, with the Headmaster 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 stirring to hear and swell the thunders of applause as the prize-winners steamed up for their books. 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. When it came to the Middle Remove, Chips could not keep still and even Jan sat up with a tight mouth. On their places depended their chance of moving out of Haigh’s clutches. Jan was higher than he expected to be, but Chips was higher still, with the Shocker and Jane Eyre just above him, and Buggins was the lowest of the group.
“I wish to blazes old Haigh would hop it in the holidays, Tiger,” said Buggins 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 not because he was surprised at the sudden friendliness of an inveterate foe. Everyone was friendly on the last day. Jane Eyre was profuse in his hospitality at tea. Even Shockley himself was civil. As for Chips, he had already presented Jan with a silver pencil-case out of his journey-money. But Jan himself had never been more glum than when all the rest were packing, and 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 people to call his own.
That was perhaps an unfair way of putting it, even to himself. But Jan had some excuse. In all those thirteen weeks he had received no more than three letters from the rectory. This shortage had become notorious. He had soon given up looking for letters, and when one did come for him it lay on the window-sill until somebody told him it was there. This had supplied the chivalrous Shockley with yet another taunt. And the occasional letter never enclosed a money-order or heralded a hamper on its way by rail. Jan had brought so little with him by way of eatables or 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 in return.
These of course had been minor troubles, but they were the very ones a fellow’s people might have foreseen and remedied, if they had cared for a moment to do the thing properly. 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 they were giving him. That again was only Jan’s view of their letters, and was perhaps as unfair as his whole instinctive feeling towards his mother’s family. But it was strong enough to make him feel the outcast when he came down on the last morning, in his unaccustomed bowler, to the meat breakfast provided in the gas-lit hall, and out into the chilling dawn to squeeze into an omnibus because he had failed, back in the middle of term, to take Chips’s advice and order a trap well in advance.
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. He knew few of them even by name, yet he was sorry when they had all been left behind. They were the last links to a place where, he now realised, 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. Leaving casual instructions about his luggage, he walked up through the snow to the rectory.
The rectory 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 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 conducted a forbidding form of family prayer every weekday. He happened 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 snowman, and the old gentleman, watching with amusement from the swept gravel, cut for the moment a sympathetic figure. Jan had to pass close by him and felt bound to report his return, but no one seemed to see him. He had been hovering for some moments almost at the rector’s elbow, too shy to announce himself, when the lady came smiling across the snow.
“Surely this is Jan, papa?” she said, at which the rector turned round.
“Why, my good fellow, when did you turn up?”
Jan explained that he had just walked up from the station. There was an awkward interval while his grandfather took open stock of him, with a quite different face from the one which had beamed upon the children in the snow. The lady made amends with a kind smile.
“I’m your Aunt Alice, 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 to return to the snowman, and she went back with a speed which told its tale. Jan did not know whether to go or stay, until the rector observed, “If you want anything to eat they’ll look after you indoors.” Jan accepted the dismissal thankfully, though he felt its cold abruptness. But the old man had been curt and chill to him from their first meeting, and throughout these holidays it remained clear that he took no sort of interest in the schooling which, on a whim, he was providing. This was nothing new, and Jan would not have minded for a moment if he had not caught such a very different old fellow smiling on the other grandchildren in the snow.
Jan’s grandmother went to the opposite extreme by taking too much notice of him, and embarrassing notice at that. Her duty, she felt, was to supplement the school in turning him into a gentleman. She searched through her spectacles for the first term’s crop of visible improvements. She found few, but plenty of surviving blemishes, each of which she berated. Mrs Ambrose was one of those formidable old ladies who have to say exactly what they think, whatever the time or place. Jan could hardly come into a room without being told to wipe his boots properly, without his fingers and nails being inspected, or his collar or hair. He seldom sat at table without hearing that he had used the wrong fork or that knives were not made to enter mouths. Again he would have been less resentful if the other grandchildren had not been present and their equally glaring misdemeanours consistently overlooked.
But he disliked the other grandchildren chiefly because Aunt Alice was the one person present whom he really did like, and they would never let him have a word with her. They were whining, selfish, demanding little wretches. Their father spent most of his time shooting with another uncle, a military one, thus leaving the burden of discipline to Aunt Alice. Now and then Jan did get her to himself, and her gentleness might have sweetened his holidays if her eldest had not celebrated the New Year by nearly putting out Jan’s eye with a stone contained in a snowball. Usually good-tempered and long-suffering with his small cousins, on this occasion Jan 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.” In futile self-defence he repeated what the boy had called him. “And so you are!” cried Aunt Alice, her tears as hysterical as her child’s. That cut Jan to the heart, for he could not see that, where her children were concerned, she lost her reason. He only saw it was no use trying to justify his conduct. 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 agree, wholeheartedly and rudely.
He had to spend the rest of the day in his room and to endure a further period of ostracism until Captain Ambrose, the military uncle, returned from a few days away and heard from the ladies of Jan’s heinous offence. Being no admirer of his younger nephews and nieces, he took a seditious view of it, which he reinforced by tipping the offender half a sovereign.
“Thank you very much, sir!”
“Not sir, please! Call me Uncle Dick. And don’t thank me — you deserve it, for I’m afraid you’ve been having a pretty poor time. But take my advice. Don’t treat little swabs spoiling for school as though you’d actually got ’em there. They’ll get there in time, thank God, and I wouldn’t be in their little breeches then! By the time they reach your age they might be wiser. How old are you, by the way?”
“Fifteen. And eight days,” said Jan a trifle bitterly.
“And eight days? So your birthday was on —”
“December the twenty-seventh.”
“And nobody marked it? Or even mentioned it? I didn’t know.” He pointedly refrained from saying that his parents must have known. “I’m sorry about that. Let me make amends.”
Another half-sovereign changed hands. He smothered Jan’s thanks by repeating, “I’m afraid you are having a poor time of it. Found something good to read?”
“I’m not reading.” Jan showed him his book. “I’m learning The Burial-March of Dundee.”
“That sounds cheerful! So they give you holiday tasks at your school?”
“Not exactly. This is something special.”
Under friendly pressure he explained what and why. Uncle Dick’s sympathetic attitude was making another boy of Jan, and his views on Haigh and his vindictive punishment verged on the treasonable.
“I never heard of such a thing in my life! A master spoil a boy’s holidays for something he’s done at school? It’s monstrous, if not illegal, and if I were you I shouldn’t learn a line of it.”
“I’ve learnt very near every line already. 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 try 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 Old Etonian 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 Jan did after all have a few congenial days, in which he slew his first pheasant and acquired a devotion to his Uncle Dick, who might miss a difficult shot but never missed an opportunity of encouraging a youngster. That was precisely what Jan needed, even more than open sympathy and affection. Captain Ambrose told his mother they would make something of the boy if they did not bother too much about trifles, and 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 after that Jan had a dreary week to himself.
He spent much of the time in solitary prowling with a pipe and tobacco bought out of Uncle Dick’s tips. He had learnt to smoke in his stable days and, unlike most boys, genuinely enjoyed it. At any rate a pipe passed the time, if less challengingly 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 life under the rectory roof. But his grandmother made up for that, with such incessant fault-finding and calling-to-order that, by the end of the holidays, Jan was longing for the privacy of his unsightly little study, and for a life free of old ladies and little children.
He was therefore anything but overjoyed, the day before he was due to return to school, when a telegraph-boy tramped up through the heavy snow with a telegram to say that the railway was blocked and the start of term had been postponed. Some four hundred such telegrams had been hurriedly sent to the four quarters of Britain, and all but one were doubtless received with rapture. Jan received his with a smile, but a very strange smile for a boy on the brink of his second term, which is notoriously as hard as the first but without its redeeming novelty.
Shockley, Eyre and Carpenter found themselves promoted to the Lower Fifth. Rutter and Buggins had failed to get their remove, the line being actually drawn at Jan, who was left official captain of the Middle Remove. Chips bewailed their being separated during school hours, but Jan was not so much depressed by that. What scared him was the prospect of spending most of the time in the same class as Evan Devereux. It was bad enough to be despised by Haigh, but how much worse to be despised in front of Master Evan! Expecting to make a bigger fool of himself than ever, he spent the first morning in an angry glow, feeling Evan’s eyes upon him, wondering what reports would go home about him now, forgetful of the ordeal hanging over Chips and himself.
Chips had not forgotten, but had written to Jan about it in the holidays, without receiving any reply. The moment they met up again, he had taxed him about it but had got no further. Jan’s dry and secretive manner, part-product of his Yorkshire blood, could be very irritating when he chose, and it was impossible to tell whether or not he was word-perfect in The Burial-March of Dundee. Chips, who had left nothing to chance, was word-perfect, and Jan was his only anxiety when he went to Haigh’s after second school on the first day and found his friend awaiting him with impassive face.
“Now, you boys!” cried Haigh when the three of them were in his hall. “Carpenter, begin.”
“‘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.
Jan made no response.
“Come, come, Rutter,” said Haigh, unexpectedly encouraging, as though the holidays had softened him. “‘Lo! We bring with us the hero’” — and, after a pause, in the old snarl — “‘Lo! We bring the conquering Graeme’?”
Even this prompting drew nothing out of Jan.
“Give him another lead, Carpenter.” Chips continued, more nervously but no less accurately, down to the end of the first long stanza.
“Now then, Rutter. ‘On the heights of Killiecrankie’ — come on, my good boy!”
Haigh was evidently so flattered and mollified by Chips’s obedience that Jan was to be given every chance. But he did not take it.
“Have you learnt your task, or have you not?”
No answer even to that.
“Sulky brute!” Haigh was pardonably angry now. “Do you remember what was to happen if you failed to pay for your dishonesty last term? You remember, Carpenter?”
“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 tomorrow.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Jan, breaking silence at last, not with impertinence but devout sincerity. Haigh took him by the shoulders and ran him out of the hall in Chips’s wake.
Chips was miserable about the whole affair. He was sure his friend would be instantly expelled, or so publicly degraded that he would perversely sulk his way to expulsion. The worst of it was that Jan was so uncommunicative. He would not explain himself any more than he had done to Haigh. The only consolation was that nobody else knew about the latest developments, and Chips was not the man to discuss with others what Jan refused to discuss with him.
Next day, in his new form in the Lodge, there was no more absent mind than Chips’s. It was after second school that the day’s delinquents were flogged by the Headmaster before the eyes of anyone who liked to peer through the diamond panes of his class-room windows. But, as Chips passed by on his way out of school, there were no spectators outside and no judge or executioner within. In response to an anxious question, Chips was told by a youth who addressed him as ‘my good man,’ that even old Thrale didn’t start flogging on the second day of term. Instead of being relieved, he was only more depressed, having heard that really serious cases were not taken in this public way, but privately in the Headmaster’s sanctum. Chips went back to Heriot’s full of dire forebodings and, after looking vainly into Jan’s study, shut himself in his own. He was still sitting there when Jan’s unmistakable slipshod step brought him to his door.
“Tiger!” he called under his breath, with a world of anxiety in his voice.
“What’s up now?” asked Jan, coming in with a rough swagger which Chips had seen only once or twice before.
“That’s what I want to know. What’s happened? What’s going to happen? When have you got to say it by?”
“I’ve said it.”
Chips might have been knocked down by the proverbial feather.
“You’ve said The Burial March to Haigh?”
“Without a mistake. I’ve just finished saying it.”
“But when on earth did you learn it, man?”
“In the holidays.” Jan grinned uncouthly at Chips’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’s a right to do what he b***** well likes 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 dursn’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 really sick 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” — Jan grinned complacently — “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!”
By this time Chips was in a fever of excitement, too demonstrative for Jan’s outward liking, much as it might cheer his secret heart.
“Tiger!” was all Chips could cry as he wrung the Tiger’s paw. “Oh Tiger, Tiger, you’ll be the hero of the house when this gets known!”
“Don’t be a daft hap’orth.” Jan did not have to watch his dialect in Chips’s company, not now. “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!”
“It won’t do me any good. Haigh knows. That’s good enough for me, and you bet it’s good enough for Haigh.”
Chips respected Jan all the more because he was not bidding for respect.
“But who put you up to it?”
He was already cross with himself for being so docile about the whole business, and it would be a comfort to know that the Tiger had not thought of such a counterstroke himself. And the Tiger was perfectly candid, repeating Captain Ambrose’s views and singing his praises with an enthusiasm worthy of Chips.
“Ambrose? What’s his initials?”
“R. N., I think. They call him Dick.”
“R. N. it is!” cried Chips, reaching for the little row of green and red Lillywhites on his shelf. “He’s the cricketer — must be — did he never tell you so?”
“We never talked about cricket,” said Jan indifferently. “But he used to wear cricketing ties, now you remind me. One was red and yellow —“
“— and another was half the colours of the rainbow.”
“That’s the I.Z.! And here’s the very man as large as life!” He read the entry out loud. “‘Captain 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, infected for once with Chips’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 turns out first,” replied Jan with native shrewdness. “I’ve had my bit of fun, but old Haigh has the term to get on to me more than ever.”
Yet on the whole Jan had a far better term than he expected. Haigh, if he loathed him more than ever, at least did not loathe him so blatantly. Though from time to time he displayed his old contempt, he no longer gave it free rein. Instead of loading Jan with elaborate abuse and unnecessarily exposing his ignorance, he systematically ignored him, treating him as if he seldom existed and was not to be taken seriously when he did. All of which suited Jan very well, without hurting him in the least. He often caught Haigh’s eye upon him, and something in its wary glance gave the Tiger quite a tigerish satisfaction. He hardly thought the man was frightened of him (though in a sense he was), 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 thinking for himself, he would occasionally go to the top of the class at a bound, as in the scarcely typical case of possunt quia posse videntur. It was not only Haigh’s face that was worth watching as he gave the devil his due, but also Master Evan’s, who was quick to learn but slower to apply, who was nearly always top, and who hated being displaced. Jan was sore to the soul about Evan Devereux, now that they worked together but seldom spoke, nor ever went up and down the hill together, though that was when Evan was at his best and noisiest with a gang of his own cronies.
Jan was unreasonably jealous and bitter about that, but at the same time grateful to Evan for holding his tongue. His policy, evidently, was better never speak to a chap than speak about him, and one day at least his silence was more golden than speech. Buggins, who was rather too friendly with Jan now that they were the only two Heriot’s boys in the form, described the old Tiger as his ‘stable companion.’ Evan happened to hear. His eyes caught Jan’s and dropped at once, and he blushed. That was enough for simple Jan. Lack of friendliness was forgiven. Evan was as sensitive about his secret as he was himself.
This term, however, saw two further developments. One was a startling change in old Chips. It had begun in December, with his departure from rectitude over Jan’s verses and with the aftermath of that memorable sermon. It had intensified in January, when Jan had shown him how meek subservience to authority was not necessarily the best policy. Now the image of the pious innocent was almost visibly peeling away. Not that Chips became loud or intemperate — far from it — but he was much less disapproving of Jan’s more unorthodox habits. Indeed he went so far, sometimes, as to aid and abet them. Having been brought up to view juvenile smoking with contempt, he had been shocked when, after the holidays, Jan showed him his new pipe. But, with his broadening outlook, he soon tolerated and even rather envied the smoker, and looked on at many a surreptitious rite. Words which had once disgusted him no longer had the power to pain, and he even ventured the occasional quiet ‘b*****’ himself.
There was also an episode which did Jan even more direct good. This was his own performance in the Mile. It was frustrating 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 All Ages ones until Sprawson gave out in the quad that he had put that young Tiger down for the Mile and the Steeplechase. Jan happened to be crossing the quad at the time, and he could only stop and stare, whereupon Sprawson promised him a tremendous licking if he dared to scratch or run below the form he had shown last term in the paper-chase.
“Little boys who can run, and don’t want to run, must be made to run,” said Sprawson with the genial ferocity 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 of those who’ve entered won’t start, with all this eye-rot about.” This was a pretty reference to a mild infection 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. Both are forbidden until further orders! You’ve got to get into training, Tiger, and come for runs with me.”
And Jan said he didn’t mind doing that, and Sprawson said he didn’t mind 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, 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 everyone 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. He even boasted of the good example he himself was setting by pawning his precious flask until the Finals. He was top favourite for both the Mile and the Steeplechase, in one or other of which he had run second or third for years. These two events counted for more marks than any others, and as the great Charles Cave was expected to do well in the Hundred and the Hurdles, there was a strong chance of adding the Athletic Cup to the others on the shelf in Heriot’s hall. It might have been a certainty had Jan been a few weeks younger.
As it was, he felt a fool as he ran off his first heat. His only comfort was that it would be his first and last. But despite his forebodings he finished third, and won 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 and unwarranted advice about not putting on a roll. Heriot said a good word for the performance in front of the fire after prayers. Sprawson took the credit with unctuous humour, but allowed his man jam that night at tea. “You fellows who were so keen on giving him some before, now’s your chance!” he said. Chips’s greengage proved the winning brand, though Jane Eyre’s fleshpot was undoubtedly a better offer. Neither Sprawson nor anyone 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 the young ’un of fifteen and a bit actually found himself in the Final with Sprawson and four other young men with bass voices and budding moustaches.
Not that Jan looked so much younger 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. All six, in those simple days, wore cricket trousers tucked into their socks, but again his jersey was the only one without the trimming of a football fifteen. And his ears looked more prominent than usual, and much redder on a strong west wind.
For the rest, let us quote the report in the School Magazine.
Dodds began to make the pace, and by the end of the first lap was a good way ahead. Imeson, however, stuck close to him, and the rest were not far behind. Greenhill then fell back. A lap later, Dodds showed signs of distress from an old strain in his leg, and Imeson, Sproule and Sprawson began to gain on him. The race became exciting when, in the middle of the fourth lap, Sproule and Imeson overtook Dodds. Then Sprawson, who had reserved his pace, passed Dodds and then Sproule, and by the last corner was abreast of Imeson. Both had a splendid spurt left, and finally Sprawson passed Imeson and broke the tape four yards ahead of him. Sproule was a good third, closely followed by Rutter, who had run very pluckily and had a gallant wind.
There are some details the scribe leaves out: Jan’s unlovely, dogged, flat-footed style, of which Sprawson himself could not cure his young ’un; and the extreme brilliance of his ears at the finish. And that evening at tea a simple ceremony took place. When a boy had won his colours for football or cricket, or gained marks for his house in athletics, the captain of the house called out ‘Well played,’ or ‘Well run, So-and-So!’ and the hero was clapped loud and long. That evening old Mother Sprawson looked round the hall in the middle of the uproar in his honour, and shouted something that few could hear. But Chips always swore that it was ‘Well run, Tiger!’ And though there were no marks for fourth place, from that moment the din redoubled.
Next day was a saint’s day, which you had to yourself from chapel in the early morning until 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 throb. Evan Devereux had broken away from some bosom companion and was 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 thing of being in different houses — we never see anything of each other, even now we’re in the same form.”
Boys are artless animals. Here were two, the second simpleton outshining the first in beams of pure goodwill.
“That can’t be helped,” said Jan reassuringly, so that Evan should not think he could possibly have been offended.
“Still, I don’t see why we shouldn’t help it for once. There’s nothing on this morning, is there? Why shouldn’t we go for a stroll together?”
Gloom crossed Jan’s beaming face like thunder-clouds over sunlit fields. “I — I’d promised another chap,” he groaned.
“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 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. “It’s been arranged for a long time.”
“The haunted house!” Evan was torn 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?” Evan asked anxiously.
“I should hope so,” replied Jan unscrupulously. “But here’s Chips. You ask him.”
Evan, however, for all his law-abiding instincts, was not one to draw back when two were for going on. He had a fund of high spirits, but not an infinity, and they ran out sometimes when least expected. But this morning he was at his best, and incomparably better company than either of the others. Jan was shy and awkward, though his soul sang with pride and pleasure. Chips the articulate, Chips the loquacious, Chips the irrepressible in congenial company, had least of all to say, except in the bitterness of his heart against the boy who had usurped his place.
“He’s hardly spoken to either of us,” he 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 enthusiasm is that it readily turns to cynicism and, as in Jan’s case now, the other way round. Jan had also felt very bitter about Evan, if not exactly against him. Yet here he was basking in Evan’s first and almost mercenary smile. But Jan’s case was peculiar. Everything good had come together at once, filling his empty cup to overflowing. He might despise public-school traditions as much as (for Chips’s benefit) he pretended, but he was too honest to be indifferent to his little success of the day before. He knew it was not little for his age. It was, he would have admitted, 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 marring of his school life lay in Evan’s power. It had not been marred as it might have been by a cruel or thoughtless tongue. It might still be made by kind words and even an occasional show of equality. Jan had never dared think of Evan as an equal, let alone treat him as one; still less could he hope for anything more. So 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, and in Jan’s heart too. Birds were singing, and Evan was bubbling like a brook with laughter and talk of the holidays and the home that Jan knew all about. Yet never a word to let poor old 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 asked incautiously, the use of the ‘Miss’ betraying his inferior social standing.
“The Christies!” Evan exclaimed, emphatically and with a sidelong glance at Chips. “Oh yes, the girls skated on our pond all last holidays. Phyllis can do the outside edge backwards.”
“She would. I suppose 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 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 Chips with a forced laugh. “All this reminiscing must be pretty boring for you. But this chap and I used to know each other at home.”
“I wish we did now,” said Jan. “There’s nobody to talk to down in Norfolk.”
“Except R. N. Ambrose,” put in Chips dryly. “I suppose you know that’s his uncle?”
Evan did not know, and it proved useful information all round. It reminded him that Mrs Rutter had been a lady. It reminded Jan that not all his people had sprung from the stables, and made him distinctly less liable to say ‘the Miss Christies’ or ‘Master Evan.’ Above all, in introducing the topic of cricket, it gave Chips a chance at last and made a whole mile go like the wind. Chips could have gained full marks in any examination set on the row of green and red booklets on his shelves. He was a staunch supporter of Middlesex, but Jan and Evan were Yorkshire to the marrow, and the discussion that followed was fairly heated. It lasted them until they had almost reached the straggling and deserted street of the village famous for its haunted house.
“I suppose it’s at the other end. 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 fell silent for the first time. He was the smallest of the three, but much the most attractive with his clean-cut features, his auburn hair, and that clear, radiant, tell-tale skin which blushes so readily. It was blushing now, saying something he found difficult to put into words.
“Aren’t haunted houses rather rot?” was his first attempt.
“Rather not!” cried Chips.
“Still, it strikes me we’re bound to be seen, and it seems rather a rotten row to get into.”
Chips, once the law-abider himself, growing now under Jan’s spell into the relative dare-devil, was amused. He knew Evan of old, and that what he hated above all was getting into any sort of row. Jan might have known it too, by the pains he took to play down the risk. Nobody was around to see them. Nobody who did would dream of reporting them. Anyway, now that there were three of them, one could keep watch while the others explored. From all he had heard, the house was no better than a ruin, but now that they were there they must see for themselves. It was one of the two things worth doing at school, apart from games which you had to go in for whether you liked them or not.
“”What’s the other thing?” asked Evan with a bit of a sneer. He had been longer in the school, but had apparently learnt less.
“Oh yes, I’ve heard of that. Some fellows are fool enough to walk through it, aren’t they?”
“Some who have the pluck,” said Chips. “There aren’t too many.”
“Are you one?” asked Evan sarcastically.
“No. But he is.” Chips jerked his head towards Jan. “I turned tail at the last minute.”
“Don’t you believe him,” said 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 in if you like. There’s nothing in it. Half the time you can see one end or the other. 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!” The last sentence came out almost as “ba goom it mairkes ya moocky.”
“It’d make you moockier if you met a train,” Evan suggested slyly.
“But I didn’t, you see.”
“You jolly nearly did,” Chips retorted. “The express came through the minute after you did.”
“Not the minute after,” Jan protested, “nor yet five minutes after. But here we are. If that isn’t the haunted house I’ll eat my cap.”
It stood behind a row of tall iron palings in a little wilderness of a garden, but a million twigs with emerald tips quivered with joy in the breezy sunshine. It was no day for ghosts. But you could see how, in less inspiriting weather, the house could hold an evil reputation. Its windows were filthy and broken and some of them flaunted the draggled remnants of old and futile ‘For Sale’ notices. Its paint was bleached and bloated in hideous blisters, damp and mould held foul revel from gutter to door-step, and the whole fabric cried for destruction, as the dead for burial.
“I reckon they won’t have got much of an offer,” said Jan, pointing to the notices. “Yet it must have been a tidy little place in its day.”
He forced the drooping gate through the weeds of the path and was first into the disreputable garden. Evan was peering up and down the empty road, and Chips was watching Evan with interest.
“I shouldn’t come in if I were you, Devereux.”
“Why not?” demanded Evan with instant heat.
“Well, it really is out of bounds, I suppose, and some master might be there already, having a look round. And then we should be done!”
Evan told Chips to go to blazes, and was second through the gate, which Chips closed behind them. Jan was already leading the way to the back. Instinctively they stole gently over the weeds, though there was only a blank wall on the other side of the road, and only open fields beyond the matted ruin of a garden. The back windows had escaped the stones of the village urchins, but the glass top of the garden door was smashed. Jan put his hand in to turn the key, but the door was unlocked all the time. Inside, they trod equally softly, and when Chips gave an honest shudder, Evan replied with a wry giggle. In the hall it could hardly be more depressing: mouldy paper peeling off the walls, rotting floorboards that threatened to let a leg clean through, and a musty atmosphere that made Jan pull a face.
“I should like to open a window or two,” he commented, looking into a room better lighted and better aired by broken panes.
“I should start my pipe if I were you,” suggested Chips, perfectly sincerely but with a bad sense of timing.
It was not the first time that morning that he had thought of Jan’s pipe. Nobody else seemed to know about it, but Sprawson had threatened his young ’un with hot bodkins if he caught him smoking while training, and Jan had toed the line. But today he had been going to indulge again. Chips had kept an eye on the pocket bulging with pipe and pouch, wondering if Evan’s presence would prevent them emerging. But he had never meant to let the cat out like this, and 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 an 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 it’s a rotten sort of row to get into. I smoke at home myself,” said Evan loftily.
“All rows are rotten, aren’t they?” remarked Chips with apparent innocence. But Evan was not deceived. These two were like steel and flint today, and more than sparks might have flown if Jan had not created a diversion.
“I’m going upstairs. 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, but close together for all their bickering. The stairs were in better shape than the lower floor, and sound enough to creak alarmingly. That made them stop dead, as though they expected a door to open and a terrible challenge to echo through the empty house. Jan pulled himself together, led the way to the landing, and picked up a newspaper which had been left hanging on the banisters.
“Some sporting card’s been here before us. Here’s the Sportsman of last Saturday week.”
A window with a border of red and blue glass in peculiarly atrocious shades splashed the boys with vivid colour as they stood abreast. All the doors leading off the landing were shut. Jan opened one of them. Chips and Evan went into another room where, their differences forgotten in their excitement, they were chattering happily when a dreadful cry brought them headlong to the door. It was Jan’s voice. They could not see him, but a large mouse came scuttling through the door where he had gone, and almost over their toes. Chips skipped to one side, but Evan threw his cap at it with a shout of nervous laughter.
“Don’t laugh, you chaps!” said Jan, lurching into sight in the doorway. The strongest light was in the room behind him and they could not see his face, but they did see him swaying.
“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, leaning on the door handle as if for support.
Evan came up alongside him. “Oh, I say, we must smash a window here!” he cried with the same strained brightness. Then Chips, bringing up the rear, saw him leap from Jan’s side back into the landing. Chips pushed past him and hugged Jan’s arm.
It was not another empty room. Between fireplace and window there was a tall built-in cupboard, its door wide open. 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. “He’s come in here and hung himself!”
Crashing noises came from the stairs. It was Evan in full flight, jumping many at a time. Chips rushed after him, and Jan after Chips once he had closed the door behind him. The horrified boys did not leave by the gate, but smashed the rotten garden fence in their frenzied flight across country, as if they had done the hideous deed themselves. Over the fields they fled pell-mell, through emerald-dusted hedge and brimming ditch, as though in a panic of blood-guiltiness. Spring still smiled on them sunnily, breezily. Birds welcomed them back with uninterrupted song. The boys had neither eyes nor ears, but only bursting hearts and aching limbs, until a well-known steeple pricked the sky, and they flung themselves down by the fence between a ploughed field, rich as chocolate, and a meadow alive with ewes and lambs.
Chips was badly broken-winded and speechless, because he was not supposed to run. Evan, a notoriously dapper little dandy, was quite unusually dishevelled. But Jan sat himself on the fence and repeated the same remark at intervals.
“It’s a bad job.”
“But are you sure about it?” Evan sat up to ask eventually. “Are you positive it was a man, and that he was dead?”
“I can swear to it.”
“So can I,” wheezed Chips. “And that’s what we’ll 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 could sometimes go too far. Evan promptly and snappily told him not to be a beast.
“I didn’t mean to be. But I’d think myself one if I slunk out of a thing like this without a word to anyone.”
“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 was stolidly listening from his perch.
“Besides what, Devereux?”
“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. The consequences, he implied, were the last thing he was thinking about, as far as his own skin went. He was ready to stand the racket, though he had been against the beastly haunted house from the start, and it was rather hard luck on him. But it really did seem hard luck on all their people if the three of them had to give evidence at the inquest and the whole thing got into the papers.
Chips felt that he would rather enjoy that part, though he did not say so, and Jan still preserved his Delphic silence.
“Besides,” added Evan, returning suddenly to his original point, “I’m blowed if I could swear I’d ever seen the body myself.”
“You wouldn’t,” Jan said sympathetically. “You didn’t have a good enough look.”
“Yet you saw enough to make you bolt,” Chips offensively pointed out, opening all the dampers of Evan’s rage.
“It wasn’t what I saw, my good fool!” he cried. “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 fence.
“Then you agree with Carpenter, do you, that it’s our duty to report the whole thing and get a licking for our pains?”
Carpenter smiled satirically at the ‘licking.’ He knew of old that Evan’s horror of the cane was on a par with the ordinary citizen’s horror of gaol. And he could not help wanting Jan to know it. But Jan already did.
Once, in the very earliest 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 admit to the crime instead. Jan would not have told this to Chips for worlds, and was sorry to have recalled so dim an incident out of the dead past. But there it was, unbidden, and here was the same inveterate horror, not so much of actual punishment as of being put in an unfavourable light. This was a trait of Evan’s, distinctive and unpleasant, and both his companions were now reminded of it. But Jan’s position was the harder. 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 undermined by this display of a radical fault! Though he put it to himself more simply, this was Jan’s chief problem, and it would have been bad enough without having to choose 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 to Jan, in a threatening voice whose meaning was not lost on him. It meant out-of-touch again in no time, and for good.
“I don’t know.” Jan sighed. “I suppose we ought to say what we’ve seen. And it’ll pay us to, 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 up. “Look here! I votes us two tell Heriot what we’ve seen, Chips! Most likely he won’t ask us 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 Chips, and waited anxiously for his reply. 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 could not see that it mattered much which course they took — they could not bring the dead man back to life. He supposed, on the whole, that Chips was right. Jan would have sided with Evan against any other fellow in the school; but it was the new friend who had been the true friend these two terms, and it was not in Jan’s body to go against him now.
“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.”
Evan 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; or words to that effect. Chips, having gained his point, was content to look volumes of unspoken criticism. Jan felt heartily sick of the whole discussion. He was prepared to do what was necessary, to suffer what was inevitable, but he had talked plenty enough about it by now.
But Evan would not drop the subject until they were back in the town. The familiar street looked cynically sleepy and serene, and yet subtly altered to young eyes seared with a horror which would only emerge by degrees but was beginning to settle over them like a blight. By the time they reached Heriot’s corner, two of them had already forgotten all about the consequences, while Evan blushed and stammered.
“Of course, if you found 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 Chips 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 Evan’s nobility, as it turned out, was not called on. Heriot knew that the two boys who came to him after dinner were always out together, and he was much too disturbed to ask if they had been alone as usual. He took that for granted when he reported it to the police and the Headmaster, who in turn took it for granted when he spoke to the pair of them in his study in School House. He was very stern, 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. Chips was by this time utterly unstrung. Jan, who looked unmoved, was reminded that this was the second time he had escaped his deserts for a serious offence, and was grimly warned against a third. If they appreciated his mercy, the old man added, they would both hold their tongues about the whole affair.
Between themselves, the boys agreed to that, reluctant though Chips was to lock up the conversational capital of a school lifetime. Yet within a week the adventure was being talked about, despite the fact that coroner had been persuaded to call neither boy as a witness at the inquest. Jan asked Chips if he had told anybody.
“I’ve never said a word, my good Tiger!”
“Well, I haven’t either.”
“Then it must be Devereux.”
“I thought you’d say that.” But he kept his ears open in form, before Haigh came in, and actually overheard Evan boasting of the adventure. Jan, since nobody questioned him about it, concluded that Evan was acting on the principle of one good turn deserving another, and was 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 about it.” Poor Jan hid his feelings as best he could.
“I won’t say what I think,” returned Chips.
And he never did.
“O summer term, sweet to the cricketer, whose very existence is bliss;
O summer term, sweet to the Editor, who writes 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,” Chips explained impatiently, 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’re 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.”
“Oh, I see. But not enough rhymes for them, eh?”
“That’s about it, I suppose.”
Chips was laughing, though Jan was a shade too sardonic for him, as he often was these days. The scene was the poet’s study, and the time after lock-up on a Sunday evening, when they always sat together until prayers. The twilight of early June was deepening, Chips had his tollies burning, and the tiny den that he kept so spick and span, its pictures seldom out of the horizontal, their plush frames brushed, looked very attractive in the two dim lights. The poet 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 nothing new. Jan 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 come in their first term, and Chips had promptly offered a companion effort (‘Earth hath not anything to show more bare’) to the School Magazine. There it was publicly declined with something more than thanks:
‘C. — Your composition shows talent, but tends to vulgarity. Choose a more lofty subject, and try again!’
The result of this encouragement was a shipwreck ballad (‘The sea was raging with a boisterous roar’) which deeply impressed Jan, but not the editor. The response in the February issue was simply
‘C. — Very sorry to discourage you, but —.’
Discouraged poor C. had been, but no more than he was now by his friend’s frivolous repartee.
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. They had kept all hours and seen a play or two, besides producing one themselves (‘Alone in a Pirates’ Lair’) in a toy theatre. Jan had privately reflected that the whole thing revealed the child which still survived in old Chips, alongside the precocious poet. Yet the child was becoming the man. In the three weeks since they last had met, Chips had acquired spectacles — or rather pince-nez — which made him look so much older and wiser, and his voice had descended from unsteady treble to unsteady tenor. So Jan, out of kindness and friendship, had readily lent a hand at printing programmes and shifting scenes.
“Go on, Chips!” he now cried through half a biscuit. “It’s first-class. Let’s have some more.”
But Chips only went on 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?” asked the relentless Jan.
“Oh, dash it, you want to know too much! You’re as bad as old Jerry. 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 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. But I needed a rhyme for Upper, 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. What’s that song?
Tupper and Tennyson, Daniel Defoe,
Anthony Trollope and Mr Guizot.”
Chips 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 tollies into a cup 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 Jan warmly contradicted him, until he was allowed to listen to the rest like a better friend. Yet he was not, just then, at his best as friend or companion. It did rather try his temper to have to listen to vapid verses 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!”
Why Chips, who rarely made a run and was always upset about it, chose to celebrate cricket in doggerel, Jan did not begin to understand. 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, for 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 new boy. If he goes with a reputation, he will have his chance. Unknown talent has to wait for it, mere ardour is simply swamped. Jan had neither a reputation nor a private school where he could say that he had played. He did not know he was a cricketer. Indeed at that time he was not a cricketer. 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 to Chips of his own bowling. 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. Yet Jan was a natural left-hand bowler, and the first three balls which Jan delivered to him, at their first net, took an informal hat-trick at the expense of the theorist.
As a result Chips, who already had a reputation as a bit of a windbag about the game, went around talking more generously than wisely of the Tiger’s prowess. Cricket was played in a whole series of games on the three grounds — Lower, Middle and Upper — in ascending order of age, size and ability. Chips, being small for his age, had put his name down for the Lower Ground, and Jan, being bigger, his for the Middle. But there were plenty of lusty louts on the Middle, and he had to go several days without playing. When he did get a game he was not put on to bowl, and May was well advanced before he found himself taking wickets.
It was Shockley of all people — by chance the captain of the game — who had tossed the ball to him, with a characteristic reference to Chips’s 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!”
Significantly, it was not Jan who was threatened with violence, but the Shocker’s subtle approach put him on his mettle. He 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 batsman did not stir from the crease. “I’m not going,” he said.
“You jolly well are!” thundered Shockley. “The umpire didn’t give 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. You should have said he was one.”
“I’m blowed if I knew,” replied the Shocker, truthfully enough, and turned to the bowler. “Why the blue blazes didn’t you tell us, Rutter?”
“I never thought of it.”
Curses descended on Jan’s head, but the batsman stuck to his crease. The umpires, as usual the two next men in, had a tricky point to settle. One gave it ‘out’ with indecent haste, and took his coat off. The other, a younger boy in the batsman’s own house, was not so sure. Jan offered a rash and insolent solution.
“Suppose I bowl him out again?”
“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, and partly because the batsman was even bigger than he was, and partly out of open spite against Jan, he allowed the game to proceed.
The batsman took fresh guard and Jan shambled up. This time the ball seemed well off the wicket, and the batsman took a vindictive slash only to find his off stump mown down. This time he did retire, and Jan took the remaining wickets at nominal cost. In any other game, such a bowler would immediately have been promoted to the game above. But Shockley kept him to himself, and the next half-holiday put the cap on Jan’s misfortunes.
It was a rainy day, hardly fit for cricket, and Jan had never bowled with a wet ball before. He lost his length so badly that his first two overs were expensive, and Shockley abused him viciously. The first ball of his third over was returned as a half-volley 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 run. He was about to bowl again when he saw blood pouring over his flannels. His bowling hand was split so far down that he could see between the knuckles of the second and third fingers. He went dripping to the doctor’s, but found he was out. So he himself strapped the fingers together in their drying blood, and for most of the next three weeks he carried his arm in a sling.
It was a depressing time for him, full of ironies which Chips’s gushing verses only underlined. House matches began, and in the Under Sixteen competition Heriot’s were promptly defeated by a side which a decent bowler would have wiped out. In the All Ages, despite Charles Cave and the runs he could not help making, they survived only one round. True, the rest of the house did not realise their loss, though Shockley could have told them had he chosen. Then the list of the school teams came out, and Jan was not in any. Chips had just scraped into the lowest of the Lower teams.
Founder’s Day came, with the match against the Old Boys who fielded a galaxy of brilliant young men. It 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 now out of the sling, though he was still forbidden to play. That did not prevent him bowling to one of the veterans who stuck single stumps down the length of the white palings that bounded the ground on one side. Each was bombarded by batteries of volunteers, but Jan’s batsman asked the other volunteers to wait while the left-hander gave him a little practice. After his single stump had been laid low, the Old Boy asked Jan his name, and why he was not bowling for the school. He was laughing as he spoke, and the knot of bystanders laughed louder, which sent Jan off to his rug in dudgeon. There Chips joined him, bubbling with enthusiasm.
“Tiger! Tiger! You’re as good as made!”
The Tiger’s claws came out, and he growled.
“Don’t you know who you were bowling to?” demanded Chips in self-defence.
“No, I don’t, and I don’t care either.”
“It’s only A. G. Swallow!”
“Never heard of him.”
“He was captain here before we were born, and about the best all-rounder 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 to Dudley Relton and told him all about you. I swear he did. I saw him imitate your action — no mistaking it — and I saw Relton look this way.”
Jan stopped being indifferent, but he was not easily convinced. Dudley Relton was a young master, new that term, who only the season before had captained Oxford. He was the pioneer of a new movement, the very first so-called cricket master in any school, to whom the professional now plays second fiddle. The innovation was Mr Thrale’s, prompted by the death of the previous professional, the giant off whom Chips and Jan had bought their first school caps. Whether Dudley Relton was the right man remained to be seen. It was said that he interfered with the selection of the Eleven, that a strong captain would have put him in his place, that the great Charles Cave had done so, that Relton had still to justify his existence as a discoverer of buried talent. Out of all this, Chips built a castle in the air and installed Jan as tenant of the castle.
He was so full of his unselfish dream that the July Magazine which contained his ‘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 read the cricket sections of the papers. He found a group of fellows skimming the new Magazine, just that minute out, and chuckling indulgently over something in it.
“That’s not bad about ‘basking on rugs on the Upper’,” remarked Crabtree critically, and Chips felt his heart between his teeth.
“The whole thing isn’t bad,” agreed none other than Charles Cave, which was the blessing of royalty.
“You might let me see!” Chips gasped at Crabtree’s elbow.
“Why should I?” demanded Crabtree, with the outraged dignity of his very decided superiority.
Chips knew very well he was taking a large liberty. But nobody else was listening yet, so he whispered in Crabtree’s ear, “Because I wrote it!”
“I wrote that thing.”
Everybody was listening now.
“That thing you’re reading about ‘Summer Term’.”
“What a lie!”
“It isn’t. I swear I did.”
Charles Cave was too great a man to add any comment, or to withdraw the one he had already made. But Crabtree was nodding his red head with intimidation.
“Oh! So you wrote the thing, did you?”
“I did, I swear!”
“Then it’s the greatest rot I ever read in my life, and the most infernal piece of cheek for a kid of your standing!”
There was something bracing about this change of tune, and the laughter it raised was not ill-natured, and Chips received not only banter but a good many compliments. He was always sorry that he had not held his tongue and enjoyed the delights of anonymity a little longer. But nothing could rob him of that great moment when Cave major praised the whole thing in the highest schoolboy terms, which were not retracted.
Old Mother Sprawson was among those who congratulated him, though his praise was accompanied by a mild cuff on the ear for using the word ‘eulogic.’ Sprawson declared it was not a word at all but a base creation of Chips’s brain, and when Chips showed it to him in a dictionary he got another cuff for defending the indefensible. There was no venom in Mother’s hearty violence. It was he 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.
Jan’s second winter term proved his best so far. He played football every day, not brilliantly, for he was never quite quick enough on the ball, but with a truculence and tenacity which won him the black trimmings of a quite lowly team. In form he was no longer a laughing stock, even though it was now the Middle Fifth where one began to cope with Greek iambics as well as Latin elegiacs. But it was a bed of roses after the Middle Remove, and its form-master was Dudley Relton, an angel of forbearance after the inhuman Haigh.
As the cricket master, Relton had watched Jan bowling in the one game in which he had played, thanks to the departed Sprawson, on the Upper. He kept 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 a moment. He only wished that Relton would not look at him sometimes in class as if he knew all about him, and it rather bothered him to get off lighter than he deserved for a grammatical howler in his prose or a vile copy of verses.
Chips was now in the Upper Fifth, uncomfortably alongside Evan, and his extravagant prophesies of Jan’s future were neither remembered nor repeated. His enthusiasms had toned themselves down, but his relations with Jan continued as they always had. They were still in and out of each other’s studies, they still sat together on Sunday evenings, they still went side by side on walks. But they did not go arm in arm as many fellows did, for they were not bosoms.
That term, which originated with Mrs Thrale, demands a little explanation. It was generally agreed that School House was the best to be in as far as quality and quantity of food were concerned, because its supply was overseen by Mrs Thrale. She was German by birth and, despite her thirty years on these shores, her English was not perfect. She was most famous, after her kind and motherly heart, for her plum cakes, which took the place of the desiccated dog-rocks of other houses, and which she dispensed with her own fair hand. It was her standard practice, if a boy came to her to collect his wedge of cake by himself and without his usual companion, to present him with another wedge ‘for ze bosom.’ School parlance, therefore, had long since abbreviated ‘bosom friend’ to ‘bosom.’
Jan did not have a bosom. There was but one boy in the school he yearned to have as a bosom and more than a bosom, but that boy remained inaccessible. Chips he regarded as a good friend. It was a nice distinction, but a real one, and it discouraged him from putting his arm through Chips’s.
So it was side by side, not arm in arm, that they walked out along the Binchester road one Sunday afternoon in early October and headed for the interesting old church at Bardney: interesting to Chips the omnivorously curious, if less so to Jan. Some distance ahead of them was another pair of boys who were walking arm in arm and who, when abreast of the Burston turn, climbed over a stile to the left and disappeared. Chips and Jan, on reaching the stile, looked down the fields into the valley and saw the boys vanishing into the small copse which surrounded a very distinct hillock.
“That’s Castle Hill,” remarked Chips. “Some fellow was telling me about it. There was a castle there once, not a proper stone castle, but a wooden one, on that mound. It might be worth having a look at one day.”
Not today, with Bardney beckoning. But next Sunday, on a mild and mellow autumn afternoon, they decided to investigate the site. They climbed the stile and strolled down from the road across the soft meadowland, and as they approached the copse Jan stopped dead of a sudden, grabbing Chips by the sleeve and putting his finger to his lips. Chips looked his question. Jan answered by stealing carefully forward to the edge of the trees, with Chips close behind. There, in a russet and rustling nest of dead leaves, a few yards into the woodland and a few yards short of the castle mound, were the two boys again, but engaged in an energetic and most unexpected activity. Their trousers were round their ankles and their buttocks gleamed pale in the shade. They were facing away from the watchers, quite unaware that they were being observed, and both were grunting like pigs.
For a long minute Jan looked. He turned to glance at Chips, who was staring open-mouthed and trembling-lipped, his eyes narrowed behind his glasses. Jan jerked his head, swung on his heel and led the way, equally quietly, back to the stile. There they perched on the top rail, facing the road and bending forward as if they had something to hide, and looked at each other again. Chips for once had no words, and Jan was unsure what to say. Less than a year ago he had guided Chips one step along this educational path. Here now was another step, and a trickier one.
“Rutting like animals!” he finally observed, deciding to keep the tone light. He gave a short laugh. “I wonder if that’s where my name comes from? Rutter.”
It was the sort of academic query in which Chips’s inquisitive mind normally rejoiced, but not in these circumstances. He too was clearly feeling his way.
“I’d heard about — what they were doing,” he ventured after another pause. “Had you, Tiger?”
He had not only heard about it, but he had witnessed it; and not merely between horses and cattle and sheep, but between men, or rather boys. As gentry’s stables went, the Devereuxs’ had been quite modest. Old Rutter the coachman ruled them with a rod of iron. Jan the stable-boy, when he was not attending the local school, carried out such menial tasks as mucking out and cleaning the harness. Between them in the hierarchy came Ted the groom, a lad of nineteen who groomed and exercised the horses and sat beside the coachman when the Devereuxs went visiting in their landau. Ted’s language, like old Rutter’s, was always free, and so too, Jan discovered, was Ted’s behaviour. He never made any passes at Jan himself, for fear perhaps of old Rutter. But only a few months after Jan had spied on Ted’s solitary pleasures in his retreat in the hayloft, he had spied on him again as he indulged in a less solitary activity.
The Devereuxs had had visitors staying, whose carriage was manned by a coachman and a smart and eye-turning groom of perhaps sixteen, a real ‘tiger.’ One evening when both coachmen had repaired to the public house, Jan had come into the stable just in time to see both grooms disappearing up the ladder to Ted’s retreat. Intrigued again, he had climbed to the hayloft by the outside stairs, and had again peeped through the partition. What he saw, as he watched spell-bound for half an hour, was a revelation to him. Far from shocking or disgusting him, it had cast a great flood of light on a feeling which, he suddenly realised, had long been lurking dormant and unrecognised in the depths of his soul. Having seen what the two grooms were doing, he had instantly known with whom he would like to do it himself.
“Have you ever done it, Tiger?” was Chips’s next question.
“No.” Perhaps the regret was audible.
“Would you like to do it?”
Jan gazed along the road. A trap was trotting towards them from the town. From the opposite direction another pair of boys, evidently bosoms, were approaching arm-in-arm. Independent-minded Jan may have been, but he felt suddenly lonely. Yes, he would like to do it, he would very much like to do it. The trap clattered past, leaving behind a whiff of horse-flesh. That stallion would happily mount the first mare in heat that came his way. Stallions did not love, they lusted. Maybe those fellows in the copse were just lusting stallions. But Jan was not an animal. He was a human being of a sort, and not just a flirt, for he had his pride and his conscience. He could not rut the first willing youngster who came his way.
For him, in his embryonic thinking, to rut meant having at least a bosom to rut. For him, it demanded at least that blend of equality, trust, honesty and physical attraction, that meeting of minds which made up bosom friendship. That was the first stage. The next stage beyond it was different. It was love, or it could be love.
But as well as his pride and his conscience Jan had his shame. If he was honest and revealed his shameful secret, what boy in the school would trust him or treat him as an equal? The two bosoms passed by, chattering gaily. Only one single boy in the school knew Jan’s secret, and although he seemed trustworthy he did not treat him as an equal, or only very occasionally when it served his purpose. Much as Jan yearned for his bosom friendship, even for his love, he was beyond his reach. And if Evan was beyond his reach, then everyone else in the school was even further beyond.
Or was equality, was treating each other as equals, really so far beyond reach? Jan thought of his father and of the mother he had never known, who must have loved each other and presumably treated each other as equals — Rutter senior may have been a rough diamond, but not a bad man. They had been separated by a huge gulf of rank, but it had not mattered, not to them. A song came into Jan’s head from the opera that he and Chips had gone to last Easter.
Never mind the why and wherefore,
Love can level ranks and therefore —
in that case, a captain’s daughter had married a common sailor. Love had been shown on both sides, as it must have been between the squire’s daughter and the squire’s groom. But the ironmaster’s son and the ironmaster’s stable-boy were a different matter. No love had been shown on either side, however much it budded in the stable-boy’s heart. No love could be shown, not as things were.
Jan suddenly remembered that Chips was still waiting for an answer. He was a decent old stick, was Chips, who deserved an honest answer, though not a totally honest one. In any event, Jan had taken so long in supplying it that Chips must have guessed what it would be.
“Yes. With the right person.”
Chips nodded slowly. “With the right girl, or — well — the right boy?”
Jan was startled. Ever since that episode in the hayloft he had known where his inclinations lay. That did not worry him, any more than the fact that he could bowl with his left hand but not with his right. It was the way he was made. He was well aware that in the eyes of society and authority, while it was reprehensible for a groom to rut a lady, it was utterly scandalous for a man to rut a man, or a boy a boy. Love between man and woman was normal and, within limits, accepted, whereas love between men — or boys — was beyond society’s comprehension. But he did not care, for the whole of society’s attitude was beyond his own comprehension.
Jan drew no distinction between the genders. Of course there were differences of technical detail, just as there were between bowlers. But whereas the rules of cricket were the same for left-handers as they were for right-handers, society laid down discriminatory rules for love. Jan’s mind was too independent and unconventional to feel bound by them. But old Chips had probably been shocked enough for today. The options were best left open.
“With the right person,” he repeated.
Chips evidently recognised that the options remained open, and nodded again. He followed his nod with an almost hopeful look which Jan, already back into his thoughts, barely noticed.
“Excuse us,” said a voice behind them. It was the two boys from the copse, bold as brass and sublimely ignorant that their activities had been witnessed, wanting to cross the stile. And Jan and Chips recognised them: Gillespie from the Upper Fifth and Richardson from the Lower Fifth. Both were in the Lodge, and both were bosoms of Evan. As he made way for them, Jan’s mind swooped. Did that mean that Evan rutted too? No, far from necessarily. If two of a small gang of bosoms rutted, it did not mean that they all did. But they might, they might.
That thought was a shock to him, and Chips saw that it was. Wrestling with this new question saw Jan the whole of the way home. Chips, beside him, seemed equally preoccupied, as if he was drawing unwelcome conclusions, and was equally silent.
Nearly two weeks later the buzz spread like wild-fire around the school that Richardson and Gillespie in the Lodge had been bunked, and it told what their crime had been. It proved true enough: Chips and Jan, comparing notes next day, confirmed that neither boy had been in first school.
“I say, Chips, it wasn’t you who reported them, was it?”
“No!” His instant and emphatic denial made Jan regret his unworthy suspicion.
Next Sunday the stern little old man, looking down at his flock from the pulpit, spoke to them more in sorrow than in anger, and more directly than he usually did.
“Curiosity, ignorance and lies form a very hotbed of impurity, the very negation of True Life. We pay heavily for our civilised habits of false shame and for the mystery in which sex is wrapped. I confess that for curiosity I have no remedy. But lies are on a different footing, lies about the impossibility of being pure; and to them the only answer is a flat denial, for purity is entirely possible and, once attained, it is easy; ask anyone who has attained it. Perfect ignorance is a good protection; but in a boy perfect ignorance is impossible, and half-ignorance is deadly.
“It is for this reason that every year I speak to you upon this subject. It is for this reason that the school tries to detect and check the subtle beginnings of impure thought, to create a healthy disgust for impure conversation, to set up all possible guards against the temptation to impure act, to arm you for the inevitable struggle with your own lower nature or against the influence of evil associates. This the school tries to do, and in this it has failed.”
All very well for him and the likes of him, thought Jan as he listened, all very well for those who subscribe to his standards. But they are not my standards. And for once my standards cannot be put down to an upbringing in the stable, because poor old Gillespie and Richardson were not brought up in a stable.
On their afternoon walk neither Jan nor Chips mentioned the sermon. But Chips had a question to put, rather nervously.
“Tiger, confirmation classes are starting next week, aren’t they? Are you going to them? Are you going to be confirmed?”
“Worse luck, yes.”
It was a sore point with Jan. You did not have to be confirmed, much though it was encouraged.
“No choice,” he explained. “My grandfather asked when I was going to be, and if I’d said I wasn’t going to be, he’d have lost his wool.”
“Well, I’m not going to be.” Chips sounded unusually defiant. “And when I told old Pagan” — which was the highly inappropriate surname of the school chaplain — “at least he had the decency not to ask why.”
Chips would not elaborate, and Jan found himself reflecting that he knew the old ass not nearly as well as he thought, and approving of the old ass more and more. So Jan attended confirmation classes, which were run by Jerry and old Pagan. He sat through hours of exhortation, his heart and his head barricaded off by a solid wall of reservations. In December the Bishop of Paulbury came to conduct the service, and in the congregation — though he did not have to be — was Chips, lending moral support. Or, as Jan impiously and gratefully wondered as godly hands were laid on his ungodly head, was it immoral support?