There were three days in the year when the market place was out of bounds, all but the pavement and the few shops around it. The rest was monopolised by the vans and booths of a travelling fair, which reached the town about the second week in March. The school took little notice of this crude and tawdry festival, but the relentless din of a steam merry-go-round filled the air, and made the night especially hideous in the town houses nearest the scene.
Nearest of all was Heriot’s house, and the worst sufferers were the four boys in the little top room with the dormer window over the street. Jan was still one of them, and Toby Bingley another. The loud-mouthed Joyce had left and the red-headed Crabtree had taken over another of the dormitories, and their tishes were now occupied by Chips and a new boy. But Jan’s was still the silent corner. Even to Chips he had little to say in front of the other two, for he was passing through another bad spell. As the merry-go-round battered him with raucous renderings of ‘Over the Garden Wall’ and ‘Lardy-dah,’ it was not his work, nor a split hand or a supposedly weak heart, that troubled him. It was the first round of the All Ages Mile that kept Jan from sleeping until the steam tunes stopped.
On the strength of his performance the year before, and because he had grown several inches since, he had been seriously fancied for a place in the Mile. Such expectations, combined with too much unwise advice, had made him sadly self-conscious and over-anxious, and his race had proved a fiasco. In the very first heat he had the bad luck to meet the ultimate winner, who the year before had been down with eye-rot. As advised, Jan dogged him instead of making the running as his flesh and blood implored. And, having no spurt, he was not only badly beaten but failed even to come in third. He was out of the Mile.
That was bad enough. Enemies of the Shockley type took care to make it worse by accusing him of conceit in anticipation of victory. Jan was depressed enough to take such slander for once to heart. Still more he felt the silence of many who had believed in him, and even the cheery sympathy of a few only aggravated his sense of failure. As for Chips and his well-meant efforts to keep the dormitory talk to any other topic, they were as maddening as the merry-go-round and its infernal ‘Lardy-dah.’ That bloody tune had accompanied his hopes and fears the night before, it had run in his head throughout the fatal race today, and now it laughed at his idiotic and unpardonable failure.
Jan was usually robust enough. But he had grown a crop of sensitivities almost worthy of Chips, except that Jan agonised over his own in grim silence. He was sixteen now, an age of surprises. It took him in more ways than one. It made him long to do startling things, and it made him do some foolish ones instead — hence his catastrophic performance in the Mile. It made him feel that he had done less than nothing so far, that he had made no mark in work or games, let alone with Evan. It made him feel that he was less than nobody, yet that there was more in him than anybody knew and he wanted them to know it. It made him feel that now he didn’t care a damn what happened to him, or what chaps thought about him, at a school he had been sent to against his will. If he was a failure, if he went on failing, well, at least it would score off those who had sent him here, and never gave him enough pocket money or wrote him an unnecessary line.
So Jan came back to where he had been when he had first arrived, but trailing all the grievances accumulated over a year and a half. By the third and last night of the fair he had the whole collection of them to brood on, a monstrous array which seemed all the more monstrous because he could not and would not speak of them to a soul. And here was that fool Chips chattering away as usual about anything and everything except the sports.
“I shall be jolly glad when this beastly old fair moves on,” Chips was saying after an interval of ‘Over the Garden Wall.’
“I don’t know that I shall,” said the new boy in Crabtree’s old corner. “It sounds rather jolly when you’re dropping off.”
Jan could have stripped every stitch off the little brute’s bed, and off the little brute himself. But the remark was very properly ignored.
“I suppose you know,” said Bingley, “that two fellows were once bunked for going to it?”
“Going to what?”
“They must’ve been fools!” said Jan, opening his mouth at last.
“I thought you were asleep,” said the new boy, who had no sense.
“You keep your thoughts to yourself,” growled Jan, “or I’ll come and show you whether I am or not.”
“They were fools,” Bingley agreed, “but they were sportsmen too. They got out of one of the hill houses at night and came down in disguise, in bowlers and false beards. But they were spotted right enough, and had to go.”
“And serve them jolly well right,” said Jan cantankerously.
“I don’t call it such a crime, Tiger.”
“Who’s talking about crimes? You’ve got ’em on the brain, Toby.”
“I thought you said they deserved to be bunked.”
“So they did — for going and getting cobbed.”
“Oh, I see! You’d’ve looked every master in the face, I suppose, without being recognised?”
“I wouldn’t’ve made them look twice at me by sticking on a false beard,” snorted Jan, stung by the tone. Chips understood his mood too well to join in, but Bingley had been longer in the school than either of them and was not going to knuckle under.
“It’s a pity you weren’t here, Tiger,” he said, “to show them how to do it.”
“It’s a thing any fool could do if he tried. I’d back myself to get out of this house in five minutes.”
“Not you, old chap!” said Chips, misguidedly entering the discussion after all.
“I would. I’d do it tomorrow if the fair wasn’t going away.”
Bingley began to jeer. “I like that, when you jolly well know it’s going!”
“I’ll go tonight if you say much more, you fool!”
Jan’s bed-springs twanged as he sat bolt upright.
“You know you wouldn’t be such an idiot,” said Chips earnestly.
“Of course he does!” jeered Bingley. “Nobody knows it quite so well.”
There was a moment’s pause, filled by a blast of sound from the market place and then by the thud of bare feet on the floor.
“Surely you’re not going to let him dare you —“
“Not he. Don’t you worry!”
“Thank you, Toby,” said Jan in a strange voice, sliding into his trousers in the dark.
There was a jingle of curtain-rings and, in defiance of all the rules, Chips was out of his tish. He appeared dimly at the foot of Jan’s, and Bingley was already peering over the partition.
“Are you off your chump?” demanded Chips.
“Not he,” said Bingley again. “He’s only bunging us up!” He might have been an infant devil, but he was really only an incredulous, irritated and rather excited schoolboy.
“You’ll see directly,” muttered Jan, slipping his braces over his night-shirt.
“You’re bound to be caught, and bunked if you’re caught!” Chips was desperate now.
“And a good job too! I’ve had about enough of this place.” This was the Jan of their very first term together.
“And it’s raining like the very dickens!” That was the new boy, the little sinner, who seemed to take this enormity as a matter of course.
“So much the better. I’ll take a brolly. Less chance of being seen. You see if I don’t bring you all something from the fair.”
“It’s something he’s gone and got today,” whispered Bingley, to placate Chips. “It’s all a swizzle, you’ll see.”
“You look out of the window in about five minutes,” retorted Jan from the door, “and p’r’aps you’ll see!”
Out he stole, boots in hand, leaving Chips in muzzled consternation in the doorway.
The rain pelted on the skylight over the stairs, and Jan was glad. He foresaw the complication of wet clothes, but as a mere umbrella among umbrellas he stood a fair chance of not being seen. It was still only a chance, but that was half the fun. And fun it was, though a terrifying form of fun, though he was already feeling a bit unsound about the knees. But he had to go on with it. There was no question about that, and no looking back at the ridiculous taunts and impulses which had led to this mad adventure. Conversation had ceased in the first of the two dormitories below, but still murmured from the second. The lead-lined stairs struck, through his socks, a chill to his marrow. He began to think he really was a fool, but he would look a bigger one if he went back now. The flags of the corridor were colder than the stairs, and the slate table on which he sat to put on his boots was colder than the flags.
His first idea had been to get out into the quad, as he had got out on his very first morning, through the hall windows. But the rain spoilt that plan. The umbrellas were kept in the lower study passage, which was locked — how was he to break in? No, if he wanted an umbrella he must borrow Heriot’s. That was a paralysing alternative, but the only one. The hat-stand was in the entrance hall, just on the other side of the green baize door. Dear old Bob notoriously sat up till all hours, and his study led off the dining room which led off the hall, so there were probably two closed doors between Jan and him. It was a risk to be taken.
But was it? The image of Robert Heriot suddenly loomed up in Jan’s mind, of Heriot peaceably smoking his pipe in his inner sanctuary, of Heriot hearing a furtive footstep, of Heriot leaping out, beard bristling and spectacles flashing, to arrest the intruder. To be caught by Heriot of all men! The one master with whom the boldest boy never dared take a liberty, the one whose good opinion was best worth having and perhaps the hardest to win. Why had he not thought of Heriot before? To think of him now was to abandon the whole adventure in a panic. Better the scorn of fifty Bingleys for the rest of term than the wrath of one Heriot for a single minute.
Jan found himself creeping upstairs again. Through the door of the lower dormitory came the guttural voice of Shockley holding forth about something. It was Shockley who had said the hardest things about Jan’s running, in just that hateful voice. It was Shockley who would have the most and worst to say if he heard that his pet hate had made a chicken-hearted fool of himself. And then life would be even worse than it was now, school a rottener place, himself a greater nonentity than ever. That was unthinkable too. A minute ago there had been some excitement in life, for once he had felt somebody.
“I’m blowed if I do,” thought Jan, and crept down again to the green baize door. It opened without a sound. A light was burning in the entrance hall beyond. The dining room door was providentially shut. Here was Heriot’s umbrella, and it was wet. Over it hung a soft felt hat and an Irish tweed cape that was wet about the hem. So old Bob Heriot had been out and had come in again. It was still short of eleven. Unless tradition lied, he was safe in his study for another hour.
Cold feet gave way to almost drunken impudence. In a twinkling Jan put on Heriot’s coat and hat. It would give them something to talk about, whether he was caught or not. He would contribute to the annals of the school. The front door was still unlocked. Out in the rain, he opened the umbrella and held it low over his head. Thrusting a hand deep into a pocket, he encountered one of Heriot’s many pipes. Next instant the pipe was between his teeth, and from the opposite pavement of a dripping and deserted street he was flourishing the umbrella and pointing out the pipe to three white faces at a window in the shiny roof.
He would not have cared, at that moment, if he had known he was going to be caught the next. And nobody was there to catch him, not in the street. But, no further away than he could have thrown a fives ball, the glare of the market place lit up the stone front and archway of the Red Lion, and the blare of the steam merry-go-round thundered out as Jan marched under Heriot’s umbrella into the zone of light.
He wears a penny flower in his coat —
And a penny paper collar round his throat —
In his hand a penny stick,
In his tooth a penny pick,
And a penny in his pocket —
Lardy-dah, lardy-dah —
And a penny in his pocket —
Jan had picked up the words from some fellow who used to sing such rubbish to a worse accompaniment on the hall piano, and they ran in his head with the outrageous tune. They reminded him that he had scarcely a penny in his own pocket, thanks to his generous people in Norfolk, and for once it was just as well. Otherwise he would certainly have taken a public ride, in Heriot’s distinctive and well-known garb, on one of ‘Collinson’s Royal Racing Thoroughbreds, the Greatest and Most Elaborate Machine Now Travelling.’
Last nights are popular nights, and the fair was crowded in spite of the rain. Round and round went the little wooden horses, carrying half the young blood of the little town. Jan tilted his umbrella to have a look at them. Their shouts were drowned by the din of the steam organ, but as they whirled past him their flushed faces were illuminated by a great flare-light. One purple complexion he recognised as the pace slackened. It was Mulberry, that scoundrel of evil memory, swaying in his stirrups and whacking his wooden mount as though they were in the straight.
The deafening blare sank to a dying whine, the flare-light sputtered audibly in the rain, and Jan jerked his umbrella forward as the dizzy riders dismounted. He turned his back on them, contemplating the cobbles under his nose and the lighted puddles that ringed them like meshes of liquid gold. He watched for the unsteady corduroys of Mulberry, and withdrew as they came near. But there was no sure escape short of leaving altogether, for the market place was little larger than a tennis court, half of it covered with the merry-go-round and another quarter with stalls and vans.
One of the stalls displayed a sign which seemed to attract little custom.
Rings Must Lie to Win
2 Rings 1d.
all you ring you have
The watches lay in open cardboard boxes on a sloping board behind a table. There was a supply of wooden rings that just fitted round the boxes. Jan watched one oaf run through several coppers, his rings always lying between the boxes or on top of one. Jan felt it was a case for a spin, and he longed to have a try with that cunning left hand of his. But he only had twopence on him, and his first need was twopence-worth of evidence that he really had been to the fair. Yet what trophy could compare with one of those cheap watches in its cardboard box?
It so happened that Jan had a watch of his own worth everything on sale at this shoddy fair, but he would almost have bartered it for one of these, to show the top dormitory the kind of chap he was. He did not normally see himself in heroic terms, but he was in abnormal mood tonight, and the need to seem heroic lay behind this whole escapade. With a sudden determination, and a quick glance to make sure that Mulberry was not dogging him, he produced a penny.
“Two rings,” said the fur-hatted stallholder, handing them over. “An’ wot you rings you ’aves.”
The steam fiend broke out again with ‘Over the Garden Wall’ as Jan poised his first ring. A back-handed spin sent it well among the watches, and it went on spinning until it settled at an angle over one of the boxes.
“Rings must lie flat to win,” said the fellow in the fur cap, with a quick squint at Jan. “Try again, mister. You’d do better with less spin.”
Jan grinned dryly and decided to put on a bit more. He had heard his father driving hard bargains in the Saturday market at Middlesbrough. Old Rutter had known how to take care of himself across any stall or barrow, even when he was as unsteady on his legs as Mulberry. Jan felt equally in command as he poised his second ring. It skimmed gracefully away, circled one of the square boxes, and was spinning down like a nut on its bolt when the man in the fur cap whipped a finger between the ring and the sloping board.
“That’s a near one, mister!” he cried. “But it don’t lie flat.”
Nor did it. The ring had jammed obliquely on the box.
“It would’ve done if you’d left it alone!” shouted Jan above the steam fiend’s roar.
“That it wouldn’t! It’s a bit of bad luck, that’s wot it is. Never knew it to ’appen before, I didn’t. But it don’t lie straight, now do it?”
“It would’ve done,” replied Jan through his teeth. “And the watch is mine, so let’s have it.”
What precisely happened next, Jan was never sure, for his head swam. He knew he was sprawling across the table, he had seized the watch that he had fairly won, and the ruffian had seized his wrist. That horny grip remained like the memory of a handcuff. The thing developed into a tug-of-war in which Jan more than held his own. The watches in the boxes came sliding down the board and the fur cap followed them. Jan kept on pulling until a rap on his back went through him like a stab from a knife.
It was a policeman in streaming leggings, and others had arrived with him. Jan let go of his prize, recoiling from their gaze. Yet the policeman was not looking at him. He was pointing at the fur-capped rascal, and adding to Jan’s embarrassment.
“You give this young feller what he fairly won. I saw what you did. I’ve had my eye on you all night. You give him that watch, or you’ll hear more about it!”
Jan went suddenly cowardly. He tried to say he did not want it, but his tongue would not work. The lights of the fair were going round and round him. The policeman, the rogue, and three or four more, had been joined by Mulberry, who was staring and pointing and trying to say something which nobody understood. The policeman cuffed him and pushed him away, and Jan began to breathe. He felt the watch being put into his unwilling hand. He heard a good-humoured little cheer. He saw the policeman looking at him strangely, and wondered if a tip was expected. He could only stutter his thanks, and slink from the scene like the beaten dog he felt.
Luckily his legs were in better shape than his head, and they carried him in the opposite direction to his house. He had not gone far when his mind rapidly recovered tone. It recovered more tone than it had lost. He was not only safe so far, he realised, but successful beyond his wildest dreams. Not only had he been to the fair, but thanks to the policeman he had come away with a silver watch to show for the adventure. What would they have to say to that in the little dormitory? They would never be able to keep it to themselves. It would get all round the school and make him somebody after all. He would go down in history as the fellow who got out at a moment’s notice, and went to the fair in a master’s hat and coat, and won a prize at a watch-la, and brought it back in triumph to the dormitory, at Heriot’s of all houses in the school!
He would probably tell Heriot before he left. Old Bob was just the man to laugh over such an escapade. Better still, he would laugh more heartily if one kept it till one came down as an Old Boy. Jan felt ridiculously brave again under old Bob’s umbrella, which he had dropped during the rumpus at the fair. That, of course, was why he had lost his head. But now he was bold as a lion, determined to do something at school after all, so that he could come down as an Old Boy to tell of this very adventure. Not that he was a boaster. But he was still in this abnormal mood which had only been interrupted by a minute of pure panic. The sodden pavement floated under his feet like air.
Jan never so much as heard the overtaking footsteps. A strong arm slid through his, and a voice that he heard every day addressed him in everyday tones.
“Do you mind my coming under your umbrella?”
It was Dudley Relton, and his forearm felt like a steel girder. Yet his tone was too polite for that of a master addressing a boy, and there was nothing — no use of his surname — to tell Jan that he had been recognised. But he was far too startled to take advantage of that.
“Oh, sir!” he cried out as if in pain.
“I shouldn’t tell the whole town, if I were you. You’d better come in here and pull yourself together.”
He had put his latch-key into the side door of a shuttered shop. Over the shop were lighted windows which Jan suddenly connected with Relton’s rooms. He had been up there once or twice with extra work, and now he was made to lead the way. The sitting room was comfortably furnished, with a soft settee in front of a dying fire, and bookcases on either side of it. Jan came round from a nightmare vision of the certain outcome, which he had never fully realised until now, to find himself on the settee. He sat gazing at the muddy boots of Dudley Relton, who had poked the fire before standing up with his back to it.
“Of course you know what is practically bound to happen to you, Rutter. Still, in case there’s anything you’d like me to say in reporting the matter, I thought I’d give you the opportunity of speaking to me first. I don’t honestly suppose that it can make much difference. But you’re in my form, and I’m naturally sorry that you should have made such a fatal fool of yourself.”
The young man did indeed sound sorry. That was just like him. He had always been decent to Jan, and he was sorry because he knew that it was all over with a fellow who was caught getting out at night. Of course it was all over, so what was the good of saying anything? Jan kept an eye on those muddy boots, and answered never a word.
“I suppose you got out for the sake of getting out, and of saying you’d been to the fair? I don’t suppose there was anything worse behind it. But I’m afraid that’s quite bad enough, Rutter.”
And Relton heaved an unmistakable sigh. It had the effect of breaking down the silence which was Jan’s refuge in any trouble. He mumbled something about ‘a lark,’ and Relton took him up quite eagerly.
“I know that! I saw you at the fair — spotted you in a moment as I was passing — but I wasn’t going to make a scene for all the town to talk about. I can say what I saw you doing. But I’m afraid it won’t make much difference. It’s a final offence at any school, to go and get out at night.”
Jan thought he heard another sigh, but he had nothing more to say. He was comparing the two pairs of boots under his downcast eyes. His own were the cleaner, still with the boot-boy’s shine on them amid splashes of mud and blots of rain. They took him back to the little dormitory at the top of Heriot’s house.
“Why did you want to do it?” cried Relton with sudden exasperation. “Did you think it was going to make a hero of you in the eyes of the school?”
Jan hung his head lower still, as if confessing it.
“You! You who might really have been a bit of a hero, if only you’d waited till next term!”
Jan looked up at last. “Next term, sir?”
“Yes, next term, as a left-hand bowler! I saw you bowl last year, the only time you ever played on the Upper. It was too late then, but I meant to make something of you this season. You were my dark horse, Rutter. I had my eye on you for the Eleven, and you go and do a rotten thing, for which you’ll have to go as sure as you’re sitting there!”
So that was behind all those kind words and light penalties. The Eleven itself! Jan had not been so long at school without discovering that the most heroic of all distinctions was membership of the school Eleven. Once or twice he had dreamt of it as an ultimate possibility, but even Chips had regarded it as only a distant goal. And to think that it might have been next term, just when there was to be no next term at all!
“Don’t make it worse than it is, sir,” mumbled Jan as the firelight played on the two pairs of drying boots. Relton shifted impatiently on the hearthrug.
“I couldn’t. It’s as bad as bad can be. I’m only considering if it’s possible to make it the least bit better. If I could get you off with the biggest licking you’ve ever had in your life, I’d do so whether you liked it or not. But what can I do except speak to Mr Heriot? And what can he do except report it to the Headmaster? And do you think Mr Thrale’s the man to let a fellow off because he happens to be a bit of a left-hand bowler? I don’t, I tell you frankly. I’ll say and do all I can for you, Rutter, but it would be folly to pretend that it can make much difference.”
Jan never forgot that angry, reproachful, yet not unsympathetic look on a face which was not much less boyish than his own. He liked Dudley Relton more than ever, and felt that Dudley Relton had a sneaking fondness for him, quite apart from his promise as a bowler. But that only poured salt on the wound, smeared bitter irony on his inevitable fate. Here was a friend who would have made all the difference to his school life, fanning his little spark of talent into a famous flame. It was a tragedy, and of his own making.
They marched back together, once more under Heriot’s umbrella, to the house and to Heriot himself, with his flashing spectacles and annihilating rage. The merry-go-round was silent at last. In the emptying market place the work of dismantling the fair was beginning, even as the church clock struck twelve. Stalls were being cleared and half the lights were already out. But ground-floor lights were still on in Heriot’s, and the front door was still unlocked. Relton opened it softly, and shut it with equal care behind the quaking boy.
“You’d better take those things off and hang them up,” he whispered. So he had recognised Heriot’s clothes, but had thought that impertinence a detail compared with the major crime. Jan himself had forgotten it, but took the hint with trembling hands.
“Now slip up to the dormitory and hold your tongue. That’s essential. I’ll say what I can for you, but the less you talk the better.”
Jan understood that. He was the last person to confide in anybody if he could help it. But there were three fellows in the secret of his escapade, all three doubtless lying awake to hear of its outcome. It would be impossible not to talk to them. But he must use the fewest possible words. Jan groped his way to the lead-lined stairs. The lower dormitories were still, and in the utter silence he heard Heriot’s voice raised in startled greeting on his side of the house. Jan shivered as he sat down on a step to take off his boots. Was it any good taking them off? Would not the green baize door burst open and Heriot be upon him before the first lace was undone? But no Heriot appeared, and Jan crept up, dangling his boots.
The small dormitory was as still as the other two. Jan could not believe that his comrades had fallen asleep, as it were at their posts, and felt irritated. Then came simultaneous whispers from opposite corners.
“Is that you, Tiger?”
“You old caution! I wouldn’t have believed it of you.”
“You didn’t know him as well as I did.”
“I’m proud to know him now, though. Shake hands across the tish!”
“Thank goodness you’re back!”
“But how did you get back?”
“Same way as I got out,” muttered Jan at last. “Are you all three awake?”
“All but young Eaton. Eaton!”
No answer from the new boy’s corner.
“He’s a pretty cool hand” — from Bingley.
“But he’s taken his dying oath not to tell a soul” — from Chips.
“He won’t have to keep it long, then.” Jan was creeping into bed.
“I’ve gone and got cobbed.”
“But you’re back, man!”
“I was seen first. I’m certain I was. It’s no use talking about it now. You’ll all know soon enough. I’ve been a fool. I deserve all I’m bound to get.”
“I was a worse fool!” gasped Bingley over the partition. “I dared you do what I wouldn’t have done myself for a hundred pounds. But I never thought you would, either. I thought you were only hustling. I swear I did, Tiger!”
Bingley was in real distress. Chips combined sore anxiety with a curiosity which Jan might have satisfied, had it not been for Relton’s parting advice. It crossed Jan’s mind that Relton, in giving that advice, might have been thinking of himself: he might not wish it known that he had taken Jan to his own rooms before hauling him back to Heriot’s. Jan would keep his mouth shut, in gratitude for the one redeeming feature of the whole miserable affair.
Miserable it was, and, now that it had so unexpectedly opened his eyes, utterly humiliating. He had boasted that he didn’t care if he were expelled. That was not altogether a boyish idle boast. He had meant it, more rather than less. His whole school life had seemed a failure, and his old hatred of it had been revived. Bingley’s provocation had merely been a spark on existing tinder. Because he had seen no prospect of creditable notoriety, discreditable notoriety had appealed to his aching young ambition. The fact that he had ambitions at all might have shown him that school meant more to him than to the many who, like Bingley, complacently accepted a humdrum lot. But Jan was not naturally introspective and, like other healthy young minds forced into introspection, he misunderstood himself in many ways. The escapade had seemed glorious, the prospect of expulsion fine. But now that the prospect had become reality, he saw how inglorious it all was. He saw, too late, the real glory that might have been his, at the school he had pretended to despise.
But that had been a pose. He had never despised it in his heart. He knew that now. He had begun by hating it as a wild creature hates captivity. He had loathed it as a place where an awkward manner and a marked accent exposed one to ridicule. But even in the days of hatred and of loathing, when his chief satisfaction had been to damp the ardour of an enthusiast like old Chips, Jan had been conscious of a sneaking veneration for the machine into which he had been thrust. The ruling impulse of his heart had been to do as well as other fellows, to show them that he was as good as they were, even if he lacked their manners and their speech. He knew that now.
He could trace it back to his first arrival, to the football which was stopped, to the paper-chase which he had run in spite of them, and then to last year’s Mile and the cricket which was also stopped. How much had been against him! Yet how little had he suspected his own strongest point! Only to think that he might have bowled for the school this coming season! Relton should have kept that to himself. He had talked about making things better, but had only made them worse to bear. He need not have said that. It was enough to drive a fellow mad, with the thought of all he was losing through his criminal folly.
Individuals filled the stage of Jan’s cruel visions. Evan Devereux in the limelight: what would he have said if Jan had got into the Eleven? Might it not have brought them together again? Evan had got into the lowest Upper team, having been in the highest Lower one the term before Jan came, and Jan had been left out of even the lowest team on the Middle Ground, which Evan had skipped altogether. It would have been a case of the hare and the tortoise, but in the end they might both have been in the Eleven together, and then they could scarcely have failed to be friends. So simply and so yearningly did Jan think of the fellow with whom he now seldom exchanged as much as a nod. But he was nevertheless the one to whom Jan owed more than the whole school put together, for had he not kept something right loyally to himself?
Then there was old Haigh. He would have seen there was something after all in a fellow who could not write Latin verses, something in even a sulky fellow. And Jan no longer sulked as he used to; he was getting out of that. And yet he had done this thing, and would have to go ...
Then there was Shockley and all that lot, the rotten element in the house. If he had really got into the Eleven, it would have made all the difference in the world between Jan and them. They never touched him now, but their words were worse than blows, and far more difficult to return. But if Jan had got into the Eleven ...
And there was Chips. He had robbed his prophet of the vindication of a lifetime. For Jan to have made the Eleven would have been a greater victory to that unselfish soul than making the Middle himself. And Relton spoke as if he really would have had a chance, but for this thing that he had done!
He lay in his bed and groaned aloud, and found himself listening for an answering movement from one of the others. He could have opened out to them now, to any one of them, but they were all evidently fast asleep. The church clock had struck two some time ago, and Jan was still poignantly awake. He had not lain awake like this since his very first night in the school, and in this same tish. And now it was his last!
Tomorrow night he would be back in the rectory attic where he was less at home than here, and back under the blackest cloud of his boyhood. That was saying something. Term-time was still preferable to the holidays, except when he went to stay with Chips and see some of the sights of London. And now it was his last night of his last term, unless a miracle saved him ...
And now it was his last morning, and Jan felt another creature, because he had slept like a top after all, and the wild adventure of the night was no longer the sharp reality which had kept him awake so long. It was more like a dream which might or might not have happened. If it had happened, why were Chips and Bingley washing and dressing without a word about it? Jan forgot about young Eaton in the fourth tish, but at the back of his muddled mind he knew well enough that it was no dream, even before his muddied boots gave him the final proof. Yet he rushed downstairs as the last bell was ringing, flew along the street without a bite of dog-rock or a drop of milk, and hurled himself through the schoolroom door as the polly of the week was about to shut it in his face. As though it still mattered whether he was late or not!
He thought of that while he recovered his breath during the psalms. Throughout the prayers he could only think of the awful voice reading them, and whether it would pronounce his doom before the whole school, and whether it would not be more awful in private. Jan watched the pale old face, laden with another day’s stock of stern care. And he wondered whether his beggarly case would add a flash to those austere eyes, or a passing furrow to that formidable brow.
Jan could not see Heriot’s face, but his shoulders looked relentless, and from the pose of his head it was certain that his beard was sticking out. There was no catching Heriot’s eye after prayers, and even young Relton, at first school, looked as though nothing had happened overnight. He took his form in Greek history with that rather perfunctory air which marked all his work in school. But so far from ignoring Jan, or showing him any special consideration, Relton was down on him twice for inattention, and the second time he ordered him to stay behind the rest. Jan did so, and was not called up until the last of the others had left.
“I didn’t keep you back for inattention,” explained young Relton calmly. “I could hardly expect you to attend this morning. I kept you back to tell you of my conversation with Mr Heriot last night.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I began by sounding him out on the punishment for getting out at night — even on the pretext of a lark — in which I was prepared to corroborate your statement as far as possible.”
Dudley Relton was already falling into the schoolmaster’s trick of literary language, and here was at least one word of which Jan did not know the meaning. But he said “thank you” again. Relton gathered his books together with some care before continuing.
“It’s perfectly plain from what he says that the one and only punishment is — the sack!”
Jan said nothing. Neither did he wince. He was prepared for the blow, and from Dudley Relton he could take it like a man.
“That being so, Rutter,” continued Relton, stepping down from his desk, “I said nothing about last night.”
This was far harder to hear unmoved.
“You said nothing about it?” Jan even forgot to say “sir.”
“Please don’t raise your voice, Rutter.”
“But — sir! Do you mean you never told Mr Heriot at all?”
“I do. I went in to tell him, but I soon saw it meant the end of you. So I said nothing about you after all. You’ll kindly return the compliment, Rutter, or it will mean the end of me!”
It was Jan who first broke into a smothered jumble of thanks, expostulations, and solemn vows. There were only three fellows who knew he had got out, but even they did not know that he had actually encountered any master, and they never would. His gratitude was less coherent, but his anxiety on Mr Relton’s behalf was so great that even that unconventional master had to laugh.
“We’re in each other’s hands, Rutter, and perhaps my motives were not so pure as you think. Remember that you’re my dark horse. Run like a good ’un, and you’ll soon be even with me. But never run amuck again as you did last night!”
“I never will, sir. That I’ll swear.”
“I don’t only mean to that extent. I saw a pipe in your mouth before the row. You weren’t actually smoking, but I fancy you do.”
“I have done, sir,” said Jan, without going into detail.
“Well, give it up. If you want to do something for me, don’t go smoking again while you’re here. It’s bad for your eye and worse for your hand, and a bowler has need of both. Run straight as a die, Rutter, and let’s hope you’ll bowl as straight as you run!”
There was really only one bowler in that year’s Eleven, and Chips Carpenter was his prophet. There were others who took turns at the other end, who even captured a few wickets between them; but ‘the mainstay of our attack was Rutter,’ as the Magazine found more than one occasion to remark. The Magazine displayed a marked belief in the new bowler, from his very first appearance with his lowly black school cap pulled down behind his prominent ears. Its rather too pointed phrases were widely attributed to the new editor, who was none other than Crabtree, now a polly and captain of Heriot’s house. The fact was, however, that Crabtree employed Chips as cricket correspondent, though he had to edit him severely, especially in those remarks which found disfavour in other houses.
Old Crabtree, who had suddenly grown into a young man, made by far the best captain the house ever had in Jan’s time. But he was a terrible martinet. You had to shut yourself up in your study to breathe the mildest expletive, and it cost you sixpence to throw the smallest stone in the quad. Crabtree was not precisely popular, but he was respected for his scornful courage and his caustic tongue. He ruled by dint of personality unaided by athletic prowess, and during his four terms of authority there can have been few better houses than Heriot’s in any school. Shockley likened it to a nunnery without the nuns, and left in disgust for reasons best known to himself. Buggins and the portly Eyre grew into harmless and even useful members of the community. And the fluent and versatile Chips learnt a lesson or two for the rest of his literary life.
“I wish you’d use people’s names, instead of saying ‘the latter’ and ‘the former’,” said Crabtree, coming into Chips’s study with a proof. “And look here! I’m blowed if I have ‘The Promise of May’ dragged in just because we happen to have lost a match in June! And we won’t butter Rutter more than twice in four lines, if you don’t mind, Chips.”
But Crabtree was not cricketer enough to distinguish the quality of the butter from its quantity, and some sad samples escaped detection. ‘Rutter took out his bat for a steadily-played five,’ for instance, and ‘the third ball — a beauty — bowled Rutter for a well-earned eight.’ They were certainly Jan’s largest scores for the team, for he was no batsman, but even on firmer ground the biased historian went much too far. ‘Better bowling than Rutter’s would be hard to imagine. Many of his deliveries were simply unplayable.’ Jan really had taken six wickets, but at considerable cost. And this report concluded: ‘At the end of the first day’s play I. T. Rutter received his First XI colours which, needless to say, were thoroughly well merited.’
Jan’s best performance, however, was against the Old Boys on Founder’s Day. Repton and Haileybury Schools it was good to meet and better to defeat. But the Old Boys’ Match was the most popular feature of the chief festival of the school year. It inspired the rising generation with a glimpse of famous forerunners, and gave the forerunners the chance to judge their successors. This year the Old Boys came down in force. There was Boots Ommaney who, despite being a Cambridge don, had played for England at both ends of the earth. There was A. G. Swallow, for some seasons the best bowler and still the finest all-round player the school had ever turned out. There was the ever-cheerful Swiller Wilman, younger and less exalted, who nevertheless compiled an almost annual century in the match. In all there were six former Captains of the Eleven and four old university Blues. But Jan had seven of their wickets in the first innings — five of them clean bowled — on a wicket a shade less than fast.
“Well done again!” said Dudley Relton in the pavilion. “Don’t be disappointed if you don’t do so well next innings, or even next year. But on that wicket you might run through the best side in England — for the first time of asking.”
“It’s the break that does it,” replied Jan modestly, “and I don’t even know how I put it on.”
“Most left handers bowl leg-breaks. Batsmen expect it. You bowl off-breaks, which are unexpected. But they’re easier to play, once they’re ready for them. If only you had ’em both, there’d be no holding you. You’re coming to the Conversazione, of course.”
“I don’t think so, sir.” Jan was blushing furiously.
“But you’ve got your colours, and all the team came last year. It’s school songs from the choir, and ices and things for all hands, you know.”
“I know, sir.”
“Then why aren’t you coming?”
Jan looked left and right to make sure that nobody could hear. “I haven’t got a dress suit,” he whispered bitterly. “That’s why, sir!”
“What infernal luck! We’re much the same build, though, aren’t we? Would you let me see if I can fix you up, Jan?”
Had it been possible to strengthen the existing bond between man and boy, those words would have done so. But it was the last of those words that meant most to Jan, for it was the first time that Relton had called him by his Christian name. The Eleven traditionally went by theirs among their peers, but as yet the Eleven had not exactly treated Jan as one of themselves. He was younger than any of them, and lower in the school than most. In moments of excitement there was still a marked breadth to his vowels; and when he pulled his new white cap tight over his head, making his ears stick out more than ever and parting his back hair horizontally to the skin, there was sometimes a wink or a grin behind his back. That this little habit was often the prelude to a wicket was noticed not only by the fielding side, but by many of the spectators on the rugs.
‘Don’t hustle,’ you would hear some fellow say. ‘The Tiger’s got his cap pulled down, and I want to watch.’
Chips had never had so much material for his poetising (‘The bowler came down like a wolf on the fold’) and Jan, on whom he tried it all out, listened as usual with tolerance and amusement.
“Cricket’s your religion, isn’t it, Chips?” he remarked one day. ”And these are your hymns.”
Chips was much struck. “That’s a ripping idea, Tiger! There’s any amount of raw material there!”
He seized a bit of paper and scribbled. “What about this?
Abide with me; fast fall the wickets and
The time has come to make a final stand.
When other batsmen fail and hope’s all gone,
Tail-end left-hander, save the follow-on!
Well, it could do with a bit of polishing, but you see the possibilities.”
Jan had winced both at the words and at Chips’s attempt at singing. “Hmm. Crabtree’d never accept things like that — he’d smell blasphemy. I don’t think you could use hymns.”
Chips was a little dashed. “I suppose not. All right, not hymns, then. Still, you’re right. Cricket is a sacred subject, and sacred subjects need sacred poems.”
That was a halcyon term for Jan, and to crown it all he was still in Dudley Relton’s form. There he was treated with cynical indulgence, for Relton’s job was to uphold the cricketing tradition, and he would not have upset his best bowler even if there had been no other tie between them. That other tie was never mentioned, but thinking of it sweetened the bowler’s triumph.
Heriot, moreover, was delighted to see a colleague giving Jan the encouragement which delicate circumstances prevented him from giving himself. There was no jealousy or narrowness in Robert Heriot. He was a staunch champion of Relton, whose methods and temperament scarcely commended themselves to hardened masters like Haigh. But then Heriot himself was having a very good term. His house was in order under the incomparable Crabtree, and Rutter was not its only member in the Eleven. Stratten already had his colours for wicket-keeping, and Jellicoe looked certain of his as a batsman. The three provided a bit of the best of everything for the house eleven, which was already carrying all before it in the All Ages competition. Haigh had not spoken to Heriot for two whole days after his own house went down before ‘the most obstinate blockhead that ever cumbered my hall.’
Jan enjoyed that match, like all his triumphs, but it was not his nature to show it. Chips made up for him. He not only penned his sacred poems singing Jan’s praises in print, but talked about him by the hour, so much so during the match in question that Haigh told him straight that he was ‘behaving like a private-school cad.’ Heriot, on the other hand, had never thought so highly of Chips, for he knew what he would have given to be a practical player instead of a mere enthusiast. And Heriot liked Jan no less for sticking to his first friend. He wished he could overhear their Sunday evening chats, which still took place in the immaculate museum of Chips’s study, the only one of the two fit to sit in. Jan was still indifferent to his surroundings. His walls were still innocent of pictures, grease-spots had multiplied on Shockley’s green tablecloth, and the papers on the floor were now transparent with blots of oil from his bat.
“I hope you’re keeping the scores of all your matches,” said Chips one night. “You ought to stick ’em in a book. If you won’t, I’ll do it for you.”
“What’s the good?”
“Good? Well, for one thing, it’ll be jolly interesting for your kids some day.”
Chips had not smiled, but Jan grinned from ear to ear. He was feeling indolent and content.
“Steady on! It’s just like you to look a hundred years ahead.” He did not add that he was unlikely to have kids.
“Well, but surely your people would take an interest in them?”
Chips knew it was a sore subject. “But surely they’re jolly proud of your being in the Eleven?”
“My uncle might be. But he’s in India.”
“And I suppose the old people don’t know what it means?”
“They might. I haven’t told them.”
Chips could hardly believe his ears. But he could not comment on that revelation, so he shifted back to where he had started.
“You’ll bowl for the Gentlemen before you’ve done. And then you’ll be sorry you haven’t got the first chapter in black and white. You should see the book A. G. Swallow keeps! I saw it once when he visited my private school. He’s even got his leave to be in the Eleven, signed by Jerry. If I were you I’d have yours in a frame!”
Nobody could obtain his Eleven or Fifteen colours without a permit signed by house-master and form master and finally endorsed by Mr Thrale himself, whose signature was seldom added without a cordial word of congratulation.
“I believe I have got that, somewhere or other.”
Chips eventually found it among the Greek and Latin litter on the floor.
“What a chap you are! I’m going to keep this for you until one or other of us leaves, Tiger. You’re — well, I can’t say you’re not fit to be in the Eleven, but I’m blowed if you deserve to own a precious document like this!”
Yet there was another document which Jan already had under lock and key, except when he took it out to read once more. Chips never saw or heard of this one, but he would have recognised the writing at a glance, and Jan knew what sort of glance it would have been. This was what it said:
Dear old Jan,
I can never tell you how I rejoice at your tremendous success. Heaps of congratulations! I’m proud of you, so will they all be at home. School is awful for dividing old friends unless you’re in the same house or form. You know that’s all it is or ever was! Will you forgive me and come for a walk after second chapel on Sunday?
Always your old friend,
Chips knew nothing until the Sunday, when he said he supposed Jan was coming out after second chapel as usual, and Jan replied very off-hand that he was awfully sorry, he was engaged. “One of the Eleven, I suppose?” said Chips, not in the least inclined to grudge him to them. Then Jan told the truth aggressively, and Chips made a tactless comment, and Jan told him he could get somebody else to sit in his study that night. It was the first break in an arrangement which had lasted since their first term.
In the event, Jan enjoyed the afternoon walk and talk more than any since the affair of the haunted house a year before. It was just as well that Chips had been left out. He would not have found Evan Devereux improved; indeed he saw quite enough of him in school to be convinced of that already. They never fraternised in the least, and it is in his intimate moments that a boy is at his worst or best.
Evan was immediately as intimate with Jan as though they had been at different schools for the past year. Outside the chapel he took Jan’s arm, at which Jan rejoiced, and off they went like old bosoms. Evan seemed a good deal more than a year older. His voice had settled into a rich tenor and his reddish hair was crisper and perhaps less red. But he was still short for his age, and acquiring the cock-sparrow strut of some short men. His conversation strutted deliciously. It would have made Chips grind his teeth. Of course it was cricket conversation, but Evan soon turned it to his own cricket, and Jan followed him in all humility. Evan had been a bit of a batsman all his life. The stable lad, who in the old days had usually been able to bowl him out at will, had always wished that he could bat as well. He said so now, and Evan, who was going to get into the third eleven with luck, was full of sympathy with the best bowler in the school.
“It must be beastly always going in last. I expect you’re jolly glad when you don’t get a ball. But at least you don’t have to walk back alone!”
“I’m always afraid I may have to go in when a few runs are wanted to win the match, and a good bat well set at the other end. That’s the only thing I should mind.”
“You remember the Pinchington ground?” asked Evan abruptly, as though he had not been listening.
“I do that!” cried Jan, and Evan looked round at him. Jan remembered how he had longed, when as small boys they played village cricket there, to be in flannels like Master Evan instead of his Sunday shirt and trousers. Evan was thinking that the school bowler had spoken exactly like the stable lad.
They reminisced about past cricket for a while, and then moved to present cricket. But Jan, who always preferred doing a thing to talking about it, and who wanted to know a lot of things that he did not like to ask, tried to change the subject. He tried the horses, and was sorry and embarrassed to hear that the stables had been reduced. He tried the Miss Christies. But cricket was the only talk that Evan would sustain. As they wandered back towards the thin church spire with the golden cock atop, looking rather like an inverted exclamation mark on a sheet of pale blue paper, it was made clear to Jan that he was not to regard himself as the only cricketer. But he had no desire to do so, and he could not have been heartier in his agreement.
“You’ll get your colours next year, Evan, and then we’ll be in the same game every day of our lives!”
“I have my hopes, I must say. But it’s not so easy to get in as a bat.”
“No. You may get a trial and not come off, but a bowler’s bound to if he’s any good. Anyhow, you’re in a jolly strong house, and that’s always a help.”
“We ought to be in the final this year,” said Evan thoughtfully.
“And so ought we.”
They were both right, and the last match of the term on the Upper, on the last Saturday, was the decisive one between their two houses. A few days beforehand Evan told Jan that his people were coming down to see it. Jan could not conceal his nervousness at that prospect. But it left him more determined than ever that Heriot’s should have the cup. He had some new flannels specially made at the last moment, and had his hair cut the day before the match. As he took the ball and pulled his cap down further than ever, it gashed his back hair the more conspicuously to the scalp.
In the event, his bowling was on form. True, variety was lacking, and a first-class batsman would have taken its measure in about an over. But there were scarcely the makings of one in the Lodge team, and great was the fall of that house. Heriot’s won a low-scoring match by an innings in the course of an afternoon. Jan had fifteen wickets in all, including Evan’s twice over. The first time, when he was caught in the slips, Evan’s nought might be counted as hard luck. But in the second innings it was a complex moment for Jan when Evan strutted in with the air of a saviour of situations. Jan did not want him to fail again, and yet he did because Evan’s people were looking on. He felt mean and yet exalted as he led off with a trimmer, and the leg bail hit Stratten in the face.
“I’m awfully sorry!” he stammered tactlessly, but Evan passed him flaming, without a sign of having heard.
Mr Devereux, however, could afford to treat the whole affair differently. He was a florid and fine-looking man with a light grey bowler, a flower in his coat, and all the boisterous self-confidence proper to a successful ironmaster. He was far from grudging Jan his success. On the contrary, he seemed only too ready to transfer his paternal pride to his old coachman’s son, and was sorely tempted to boast of him as such. Some saving sense of fitness, assisted by a quiet hint from Heriot, sealed his itching lips. But in talking to Jan by himself Mr Devereux naturally saw no need for restraint.
“I remember when you used to bowl to my son in front of your father’s — ah — in front of those cottages of mine — with a solid india-rubber ball! We never thought of all this then, did we? But I congratulate you, my lad, and very glad I am to have the opportunity.”
“Thank you very much, sir,” said Jan, in a grateful glow from head to heel.
“I’ll tell them all about you down there. And some day you must come and stay with us, as a guest, you know, and play a match or two for Evan and his friends at Pinchington. You’ll be one too many for the village lads. Quite a hero, you’ll find yourself!”
Jan was not sure what to say to that, and could only be grateful again when Mr Devereux slipped a sovereign into his hand. It was the first whole sovereign that he had been given in all his life.
But whatever Jan’s gratitude to Devereux senior, his bitterness over Devereux junior had been reviving ever since their walk together. Evan turned his charm on and off as he chose, now fanning the flames, now damping them down; aware, surely, that he was playing with the flames of friendship, but unaware that they were flames of something more. And ever since that walk, when his place had been usurped by Evan, Chips had been quite unusually aloof and distant. Jan found himself even more sorry about that than about Evan’s blowing hot and cold. The evening of the day after the All Ages final he went, as he always had done until things turned sour, to sit in Chips’s study as if nothing had happened, and silly old Chips nearly wept with delight. But nothing was said about the few weeks of sourness.
Thenceforward Jan’s career was that of the cricketer who made no indelible mark as anything else. Like other people, he had his ordinary life to lead. Like them, he had to rush out every day to early school. In form, he had to work harder than most to keep afloat. ‘Solid work in the bullies,’ as the Magazine put it, eventually landed him in the Fifteen. But there was less glory there than in the Eleven, for the school was still playing its own age-old brand of football — although there was already talk of adopting the Rugby rules — and apart from the Old Boys’ Match no outside fixtures were possible. And Jan was placed more than once in the Mile and the Steeplechase without winning either. None of these were his strong points, though he took them seriously at the time. They kept him fit during the winter, but it was not they that made his name. Some of his bowling analyses, on the other hand, were as unforgettable as the date of the Norman Conquest, and were instantly and equally imprinted on every mind in the school. So too was the image of him on the Upper, with his Eleven cap pulled down over his eyes and a grim twinkle under the peak.
His second year in the Eleven was nearly — not quite — as successful as his first. He took even more Haileybury and Repton wickets, but experienced batsmen in other teams sometimes made almost light of that clockwork off-break of his. The cheery Swiller Wilman (who owed his nickname to his notorious teetotalism) again compiled his usual century for the Old Boys. It was a hotter summer, and the wickets a trifle faster than those after Jan’s own heart. Still, he had a fine season and a marvellously happy one. He was now somebody in the Eleven, not a mere upstart bowler of no previous standing, not a fish out of water. Bruce, the new captain, was a good fellow who not only always gave Jan the choice of ends and an absolute say in the placing of his field, but took his best bowler’s advice on all sorts of points. Jan found himself in a position of high authority without the cares of office, and the day came when he appreciated the distinction.
Stretton and Jellicoe were in the team for their second and last year, and the All Ages cup remained undisturbed on the baize shelf in Heriot’s hall. Crabtree, moreover, was still the captain of a house in which his word was martial law. But he too was leaving. All the bigwigs were, except Jan himself. After the holidays Heriot had to face a younger house than for some years past, with a colourless polly in command till Christmas, and only old Chips to succeed him.
Chips was now a polly himself, being actually in the Upper Sixth, and he now edited the precious Magazine to which he had so long contributed. This gave him his own standing in the school, and he had long outgrown — or been lured out of — the priggishness of his earlier days. Not only that; his old enthusiasm was often missing too. It had been his weak patch of boyhood, which he had struck later than most. He was an ardent wicket-keeper who had incurred a flogging in his saintlier days by cutting a detention to keep wicket on the Lower, and he was still on the Lower, though he thought he ought to have been in one of the Middle teams. In the winter months, with his new Lillywhite usually concealed about his person, he used to dream of runs from his own unhandy bat. But he knew in his heart that his only place in the game was as student and trumpeter of glories beyond his grasp. He was frank about it in his lament for the examinations he had failed properly to revise for.
But ’tis no use lamenting. What is done
You couldn’t undo if you tried.
Oh, if only they’d set us some Wisden,
Or Lillywhite’s Guide!
Many fellows liked old Chips nowadays and even took a charitable view of his writings, but few would have picked him out as a born leader of men.
Meanwhile Evan Devereux had been elected Captain of Games, a most important officer in the Easter term, the games in question being nothing of the kind except in an Olympic sense, but just the ordinary athletic sports. The Captain of Games arranged the heats, fixed the times, acted as starter, and exercised an overall control that just suited Evan. He proved himself a born master of ceremonies, with a jealous eye for detail, but a little apt to fuss and strut. He dressed well, and had a pointed way of taking off his hat to the masters’ ladies. There were those, of course, who crudely described his mannerisms as mere roll; but on the whole it would have been hard to find a keener or more capable Captain of Games.
The office was usually held by a member of the Eleven or the Fifteen. Evan was in neither, though on the edge of both. On the other hand, he was a polly and high in the Upper Sixth, having lost neither his flair for acquiring knowledge nor his inveterate horror of incurring rebuke. It is at first sight a little odd that such a blameless boy should ever have made the bosom friend he did. Sandham was a big fellow low down in the school and in another house, but a handsome daredevil of strong but questionable character, whom it suited to have a leading polly for his friend.
One hesitates to add, in case it is thought that this accounted for Evan’s side of the friendship, that Sandham was the younger son of a rather prominent peer. He was not the only fellow whose parentage was marked in the school list by the curious prefix of ‘Mr.’ But the others were nobodies, and Evan did not make up to them. Yet in the aristocracy of sport he could bow as low as the next boy, and Sandham was an athlete of the first water — in the Fifteen and the Eleven, and winner of the Steeplechase, Hurdles, Hundred Yards, Quarter Mile and Wide Jump. He became Athletic Champion by a large margin, and wore his halo with a rakish indifference which lent colour to the report that ‘Mr’ Sandham had already been bunked from Eton before old Thrale gave him another chance.
“He’s a marvellous athlete, whatever else he is,” said Chips to Jan on the last Sunday of the Easter term.
“I’m blowed if I know what else he is,” replied Jan. “But I wouldn’t see quite so much of him if I were Evan.”
“If you were Evan, you’d jolly well see all you could of anybody at the top of the tree!”
“Look, Chips, dry up! Evan’s pretty near the top himself.”
“Are you going to stick him in the Eleven?”
“If he’s good enough, and I hope he will be.”
“Of course it’s expected of you.”
“Who expects it?”
“Sandham for one. And Devereux himself for another. Look how they stopped to make up to you when they overtook us just now!”
Two faults which Chips still retained were touchiness and jealousy, especially where Jan was concerned. As for Jan, if he had been on brink of Evan’s friendship last summer, Sandham had usurped his place; but Jan still could — still had to — rise to Evan’s defence.
“I don’t know what you mean. Evan’s a friend of mine, and of course I’ve seen a lot of Sandham. They only asked if I was going to get any practice in the holidays.”
“They took good care to let you know they were going to have some. So Evan’s going to stay with Sandham’s people, is he?”
“So Sandham said.”
“And they’re going to have a professional down from Lord’s!”
“Well, they might be worse employed.”
“So they might. But I’d rather like to know what they’re up to this very minute.”
They were on one of the undulating country roads that radiated from the little town like tentacles — the Binchester road, as it happened, a mile past Castle Hill — and were strolling lazily between the jewelled hedgerows of early April. They had now caught a fresh sight of Evan and Sandham on the skyline, climbing a gate into the fields that led down to Bardney Wood.
Jan stopped. “I votes we go some other way. I don’t like spying on chaps, even if it’s only a case of a cigarette.” That was not wholly true, for he had had no qualms about watching those boys at Castle Hill eighteen months before. But this was an entirely different matter.
So another way they went, their conversation killed stone dead as both thought back to those events at Castle Hill. Two boys in a wood then — two of Evan’s bosoms. Two boys heading for a wood now — Evan and his current bosom. Jan’s mind recoiled from the similarities. As if his mind were on bosoms too, Chips suddenly ran his arm through Jan’s, and for once Jan allowed it to stay there.
“Isn’t it beastly to be so near the end of our time, Tiger?” Chips was determined to move to a new subject. “Only one more term!”
“It is a bit,” agreed Jan lukewarmly, as he pulled himself together. “I know you feel it, but I sometimes think I’d have done better to leave a year ago.”
Chips looked round at him as they walked.
“And you Captain of Cricket!”
“That’s why,” said Jan in the grim old way.
“But, my dear chap, it’s by far the biggest honour you can possibly have!”
“I know all that, Chipsy. But there’s a good deal more in it than honour and glory. There’s any amount to do. You’re responsible for all sorts of things. Bruce used to tell me last year. It isn’t only writing out the order, nor yet changing your bowling and altering the field.”
“No. You’ve first got to catch your Eleven.”
“And not only that, but all the other teams on the Upper, and captains for both the other grounds. You’re responsible for the lot, and you’ve got to make up your mind you can’t please everybody.”
Chips said nothing. He would have loved the unexalted post of Captain of the Middle, but he had no claim to that, and evidently Jan had no intention of favouring his friends.
“One ought to know every fellow in the school by sight,” he was saying. “But I don’t know half as many as I did. Do you remember how you were always finding out fellows’ names, Chips, our first year or so? You didn’t rest till you could put a name to everybody above us in the school. But these days neither of us take much stock of the crowd below.”
“I find the house takes me all my time, and you must feel the same about the Eleven, only much more so. By Jove, I’d give all I’m ever likely to have on earth to change places with you!”
“And I’m not sure I wouldn’t change places with you. Somehow things always look different when you really get anywhere,” sighed Jan, discovering an eternal truth for himself.
“But to captain the Eleven!”
“To make a good captain. That’s the thing.”
“But you will, Jan. Look at your bowling.”
“It’s not everything. You’ve got to drive your team. It’s no good only putting your own shoulder to the wheel. And they may be a difficult team to drive.”
“Sandham may. And if Devereux —“
“Sandham’s not the only one,” interrupted Jan, who was not talking gloomily, but only frankly as he felt. “There’s Goose and Ibbotson — who are in already — and Chilton who’s bound to get in. A regular gang of them, and I’m not in the gang, and never was.”
“But you’re in another class, Jan!” argued Chips, forgetting himself entirely in the affectionate concern for a friend which was his finest point. “You’re one of the very best bowlers there ever was in the school.”
“I may have been. I’m not now. But I might be again if I could get that leg-break.”
“You shall practice it every day on our lawn when you come to us these holidays.”
“Thanks, old chap. Everybody says it’s what I want. That uncle of mine said so the very first match we played together, when he was home again last year.”
“Well, he ought to know.”
The conversation turned into a highly technical discussion in which puny Chips, who would never get into any eleven, held his own and more. The strange fact was that he still knew more about cricket than the captain of the school team. At heart, indeed, he was the more complete cricketer of the two, for Jan was just a natural left-hand bowler, only too well aware of his limitations, and in some danger of losing his gift by laboriously cultivating a quite different knack which was not his by nature.
If only Jan himself could bowl better than ever, or even up to his first year’s form, then he would carry the whole side to victory on his shoulders. If only he could overcome his current problem. The trouble had begun about the time of the last Old Boys’ Match, when Jan had heard more than enough of that damned break which he did not have. Egged on by Captain Ambrose in the summer holidays, he had tried it with some success in village cricket, and had thought about it all the winter. Now it was uppermost in his mind. Was he going to make the ball break both ways this season? It mattered more than the constitution of the Eleven, more than the personal relations of its members, more than Evan’s inclusion in it. Possibly it mattered more than his own muddled view, that hotchpotch of yearning and jealousy, of Evan himself.
There was one great loss which the school and Jan had suffered since the previous summer. Tempted by the prospect of a free hand, unfettered by tradition, and really very lucky in his selection for the post, Dudley Relton had accepted the headmastership of a Church of England grammar school in Victoria. Already he was out there, already no doubt at work on the raw material of future Australian teams, while Jan was left sighing for the masterful support which the last two captains had rather resented. Relton was replaced not by another of his rare kind, but by the experienced captain of a purely professional county team, a fine player and a steady man, but not an inspired teacher of the game. To coach anybody in anything, it is obviously better to know a little and to be able to impart it, than to know everything except how to transmit your knowledge. George Grimwood had plenty of patience, but flew too high for his young beginners, and he naturally encouraged Jan to persevere with his leg-breaks.
Not a day of that term went by but the Captain of Cricket sighed for Dudley Relton, with his confident advice and his uncanny knowledge of the game. This was especially true in the early part of May, when trial matches had to be arranged without the support of a single outsider who knew anything about anybody’s previous form. Jan found that he knew really very little about the new men himself, and Grimwood’s idea of a trial match was that it was ‘matterless’ who played for the Eleven and who for the Best. The new captain no doubt took his duties too seriously from the first, but he had hoped for more help from the new professional. At the same time he was under a cross-fire of suggestions from the other fellows already in the team, of whom there were four. Five old hands make a fine backbone to any school eleven, but Jan wished there were only one or two offering him advice.
Old Goose, who as Captain of Football thoroughly lived up to his surname in the eyes of the masters but not at all in public opinion, would have filled half the vacancies from his own house. His friend Ibbotson, a steady bat but a most unsteady youth, had other axes to grind. Tom Buckley, a dull fellow, invariably agreed with the last view put forward. But what annoyed Jan most was the way in which, from the very first day of term, Sandham ran Evan as his candidate, pressing his claims as though other people were bent on disregarding them.
“I saw Evan play before you did, Sandham,” said Jan, bluntly, “and there’s nobody keener than me to see him come off.”
“But you didn’t see him play in the holidays. The two bowlers we had down from Lord’s thought no end of him. I don’t think you know what a fine bat Evan is.”
“Well, I’m only too ready to learn. He’s got the term before him, like all the rest of us.”
“Yes, but he’s the sort to put in early, Rutter, you take my word for it. He has more nerves in his little finger than you and I in our whole bodies.”
“I do know him,” said Jan, rather tickled at having Evan of all people explained to him.
“Then you must know that he’s not the fellow to do himself justice till he gets his colours.”
“Well, I can’t give him them till he does, can I?”
“I don’t know. You might if you’d seen him playing those professionals. And then you’re a friend of his, aren’t you, Rutter?”
“Well, I can’t give him his colours for that!“
“Nobody said you could. But you might give him a chance.”
“I might, even without you telling me, Sandham!”
And they parted company with mutual displeasure. Jan resented the suggestion that he was not going to give his own friend a fair chance, even more than the strong hint that he ought to do his friend a favour. Sandham, who had expected a rough dog like Rutter to be flattered by his advice, went about warning the others that they had for captain a Jack-in-office who wouldn’t listen to a word from any of them. There were whisperings behind Jan’s back, there were unfriendly looks, until the captain felt less a part of the Eleven that he had ever felt before.
Nevertheless Evan played in the first two matches, made 5, 0 and 1, and was not given a place against the M.C.C. Jan perhaps unwisely sent him a note of very real regret, which Evan acknowledged with a sneer when they met on the Upper.
Jan had even said in his note, in a purple patch of deplorable imprudence, that on his present form he knew he ought not to be playing himself, but that as captain he supposed it was his duty to do his best. He could not very well kick himself out, but if he could he would have given Evan his place that day.
Indeed, he had not proved worth his place in either of the first two matches. Scores were not expected of him, though he no longer went in absolutely last, but his bowling had given away any number of runs while accounting for hardly any wickets at all. Jan had lost his bowling. That was the simple truth of it. In trying to cultivate a ball which nature had never intended him to bowl, he had squandered his natural gifts of length and spin. His hand had lost its innate cunning. It is a phase in the development of every artist, but it had come upon Jan at a most unfortunate stage of his career. Moreover it had coincided with that gust of unpopularity which in itself was enough to chill the ardour of a more enthusiastic cricketer.
Jan had never professed a real enthusiasm for the game. He had been a match-winning bowler who had thoroughly enjoyed winning matches, especially when they looked as bad as lost. He could never have nursed a hopeless passion for cricket as futile old Chips did. But he still had the knack of meeting his troubles with a glow rather than a shiver, and against the M.C.C. he bowled like a lonely demon. It was a performance not to be named in the same breath as his former glories, but he did get wickets, and all of them with the old off-break. The new leg-break betrayed itself by an unconscious change of action, pitched anywhere, and went for four nearly every time. Nevertheless, in the obstinacy of that glowing heart of his, Jan still bowled the new ball once or twice an over. And the school were beaten by the M.C.C.
But there was, that term, one continual excuse for a bowler of this type. The weather was wretched, and the easy wet wicket seldom dried into a really difficult one. When it did, it was not the wicket on which Jan was most dangerous, and Chips, in almost the last of his sacred poems penned for the Magazine, could only wish —
Break, break, break,
On a dead slow pitch, O ball!
And I would that the field would butter
The catch that’s the end of all!
And the beastly balls come in —
But the trouble was that Jan’s came in so slowly on the juicy wickets that a strong back-player had leisure to put them where he liked.
Some matches were abandoned without a ball being bowled, but towards Founder’s Day there was some improvement, and to add insult to injury there had been several fine Sundays before that. On one of these, the last of a few dry days in early June, Chips and Jan did what they rarely did now, and went for a walk together. They took the same road on which Devereux and Sandham had overhauled them before the Easter holidays, but this time they went further, and leant against the fence as they looked down across a couple of great sloping meadows to Bardney Wood, packed into the valley with more fields rising beyond.
The nearest meadow was bright emerald after so much rain. The next one had already a glint of gold in the middle distance. The fields that rose beyond, over a mile away behind the dense dark wood, were neither green nor yellow but smoky blue. Yet it was the wood itself that drew their attention. It might have been a patch of dark green lichen on the venerable roof of England, and the further fields its mossy slates.
“It looks about as good a jungle as they make,” said Chips. “I should go down and practise finding my way across it, if I was thinking of going out to Australia.”
Chips looked round as he spoke, but Jan seemed not to notice the bitterness and even despair in his voice.
“It’d take you all your time. It’s more like a bit of overgrown coconut matting than anything else.”
Chips welcomed the vigorous image as a rare departure from Jan’s listlessness, but it dodged the subject he was trying to raise. He was deeply distressed by his friend’s plans for his future. The Reverend Canon Ambrose was supremely indifferent about them. Jan’s own dream of following in the footsteps of his military uncle had proved impracticable. There had long been talk of his going to Australia, to another uncle who had settled out there and ran sheep by the hundred thousand. Jan liked the letters he had read and the photographs he had seen, and felt certain he would fall on his feet, and Dudley Relton, when consulted, had written back to say that Australia was the very place for such as Jan.
Heriot, on the other hand, had quite different ideas, holding that after a more or less stormy schooling he needed to be refreshed by the peace (with cricket) of the University. Jan had therefore sat for the Cambridge entrance, and to his astonishment had been offered a place. He strongly suspected, and with reason, that an interested Old Boy, in the shape of Boots Ommaney the cricketer don, had pulled strings behind the scenes, and that his promise as a bowler was felt to outweigh his deficiencies as a scholar.
Chips, himself bound for Cambridge, had been over the moon. But during the last few months Jan had suffered an attack of very cold feet. Sportsmen at Cambridge were not expected to shine as scholars, but now that he had lost his knack of bowling he would shine as neither. It was not, he increasingly felt, the place for him, and last week he had announced that he had accepted a post on his uncle’s station in the outback. Old Chips had been desolated, and Jan was too sick of the whole question to want to discuss it for the hundredth time. He therefore kept the conversation firmly on Bardney Wood.
“Just about room for the foxes, and no more.”
“What’s that, though?” asked Chips, peering.
“Well, I’m blowed.”
A surprising figure had emerged from the wood. To Chips it was just a lighter mark moving against the dense woodland wall, but as he screwed up his eyes to see more clearly it turned into a man staggering into the lower meadow. All he could make out was a purple face and a pair of wildly waving arms.
“What’s up, do you suppose?"
“I’m just waiting to see.”
The unsteady figure was signalling and gesticulating more and more frenetically. The dark edge of the wood contrasted with the faded brown of his corduroys, the incredible plum-colour of his complexion. Signals were never flown against better background.
“Something must have happened!" exclaimed Chips. “Hadn’t we better go and see what it is?”
“Not quite. Don’t you see who it is?"
Chips screwed his eyes into slits behind his glasses.
“Is it old Mulberry?”
“Did you ever see another face that colour?”
“You’re right. But what does he want with us? Look, he’s beckoning! Can you hear what he’s shouting?”
A hoarse voice had reached them, roaring.
“No, and I don’t want to. He’s drunk as a fool, as usual.”
“I’m not so sure, Jan. I believe something’s up.”
“Well, we’ll soon see. Maybe you’re right after all.”
Mulberry was almost at the nearer meadow, still waving and ranting as he came. Chips said he knew he was right, and it was a shame not to meet the fellow half-way; there might have been some accident in the wood. He had actually climbed the lowest rail of the fence when the drunkard halted in the golden meadow, snatched off his battered hat, and bowed so low that he nearly fell over on his infamous nose. Then he turned his back on them, and retreated rapidly to the wood, with only an occasional stumble in his hurried stride.
“Come on,” said Jan with a swing of the shoulder. “I never could bear the sight of that brute. He’s spoilt the view.”
The boys walked back along the road, one in the grip of a double memory, the other puzzling over what had just occurred.
“I can’t make out what he meant by it, can you, Jan? It was as though he thought he knew us, and then found he didn’t.”
Jan came back to the present. He not only agreed with Chips’s explanation but carried it a step further.
“You’ve hit it! He took us for two other fellows in the school.”
“In the school? I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Who else wears a topper on Sundays, except you pollies? Besides, he came near enough to see my school cap.”
“But what fellows in the school would have anything to do with a creature like that?”
“I don’t know. We’re not all nobility and gentry. There’s some might get him to do some dirty work or other for them. It might be a bet, or it might be a bit of poaching, for all you know.”
“That doesn’t sound like a polly,” said Chips, speaking up for the Upper Sixth like a man after old Thrale’s heart.
“You never know.”
At that point Evan Devereux and his friend Sandham came into sight, hurrying up the road towards them with glistening faces. They did not stop, but passed with a curt greeting.
“Talk of the nobility and gentry!” said Chips.
But Jan’s chance phrase was not the only coincidence. They had passed at the very corner where all four had also met by accident on the last Sunday of last term. Moreover Evan, like Chips, was wearing the praepostor’s Sunday top hat, while Sandham and Jan were in their ordinary school caps. Jan found himself hugely relieved. Evan and Sandham were no doubt up to something. But they could not be up to that. Nobody in their right minds would be up to that with Mulberry around. Whatever else they might be up to did not bother him. But still he defended them against Chips’s speculations.
Founder’s Day was mercifully fine. A hot sun lit up the scene outside the colonnade, where the Old Boys assembled before the special service with which the day began, and greeted each other to the cheerful peal of the chapel bells. Most of the hardy annual faces were there, with here and there a bronzed one not to be seen every year, but a good sprinkling of young ones as smooth as the other day when they left the school. These were the men of fashion, coming down at last in any clothes they liked; among them Bruce, last year’s captain, and Stratten his wicket-keeper, who was also a friend of Jan’s.
Under the straw hats with the famous ribbons were Swallow and Wilman, who never looked a day older, and the great Charles Cave who did. It was his first appearance as an Old Boy, and perhaps only due to the fact that his young brother was playing for the school. Charles Cave wore a Zingari ribbon and a Quidnunc tie and the Cambridge sash around his waist. He looked down his aristocratic nose at what he heard of the Eleven and of the captain’s bowling. Fancy that young Rutter being in at all, let alone captain! Fine bowler his first year? So were lots of them, but how many lasted? It was the old story, and Charles Cave looked the Methuselah of cricket as he shook his handsome head.
But the captain’s bowling was not the worst of it. They said his actual captaincy was just as bad, and that he was frightfully barred by the team. Of course he never had been quite the man for the job, whatever young Stratten chose to say. Stratten would stick up for anybody, especially in his own house, but he would soon see for himself. And what about these measles? A regular outbreak, apparently, within the last week, fresh cases every day, among others the best bat in the school, that young Sandham, no less. Hard luck? Scarcely worth playing the match, with such a jolly good lot of Old Boys down. So the tongues wagged, and with them those cheerful chapel bells, until one was left ringing more sedately by itself, and the Old Boys filed in and up to their prominent places at the top of the right-hand aisle.
Evan Devereux, always a musical member of a very musical school, sat in the choir in full view of the young men of all ages, but might not have known they were there. It was not the pretended indifference of one only too conscious that they were there, and who they all were, and which of them were going to play in the match. Evan might have felt that he ought to be playing against them, that only a brute with a spite against him would have left him out. But he did not seem to be thinking of that now. He did not look bitter or contemptuous; he did look worried and distracted. Anyone might have noticed that he seldom turned a page or remembered to open his mouth. Anyone might have seen that he was miserable, but no one could possibly have guessed why.
Neither did Jan when he chased Evan to his study immediately after chapel.
“It’s all right, Evan! You’ve got to play, if you don’t mind!”
“Who says so?" cried Evan, swinging round.
Of course it was not his old study, but it was just as dark inside, like all the Lodge studies leading straight out into the quad; and Jan naturally misread the angry tone, missing altogether its note of alarm.
“I do, of course. I was awfully sorry ever to leave you out, but what else was I to do? Thank goodness you’ve got your chance again, and I only hope you’ll make a century!”
Jan, ever the weathercock where Evan was involved, was already swinging towards enthusiasm. Any residual ill-will, all the reflex resentment of an unpopular character, was evaporating. His delight on his friend’s behalf was well on the way to restoring his self-confidence.
“Then I’ll see if I can’t bowl a bit,” he added, “and between us we’ll make Charles Cave & Co sit up!“
“I — I don’t think I’m awfully keen on playing, thank you,” said Evan, in a wavering voice of would-be stiffness.
“I’m not, really, thanks all the same.”
“But you can’t refuse to play for the school, just because I was obliged —”
“It isn’t that!” snapped Evan without thinking. It was too late to recall it, and he did not try. He stood there, silent and desperate. “I thought I wasn’t even twelfth man?” he sneered at last.
“Well, as a matter of fact —” Jan had not the heart to agree outright.
“I thought Norgate had got Sandham’s place?”
“So he had. I couldn’t help it, Evan. I really couldn’t. But now Norgate has got measles too, and you’ve simply got to come in instead. You will, Evan! Of course you will, and I’ll bowl twice as well for having you on the side. I simply hated leaving you out. But there’s life in the old dog yet, and I’ll let ’em know it, and so will you!"
His hand flew out spontaneously. To no one else would he have been so unreserved, but he had described himself more accurately than he knew. Evan always awakened the faithful old hound in Jan, as Jerry Thrale stirred the lion in him, Haigh the mule, and sane Bob Heriot the mere man. We all hit each other in different places. But it was only Evan who had found Jan’s softest spot, and therefore only Evan who could hurt him as he did now.
“Oh, all right, I’ll play! Anything to oblige, I’m sure! But there’s nothing to shake hands about, is there?”
So history repeated itself and exaggerated itself. But it was a long time before Jan thought of that. Even then he was not angry with himself, as he had been four years before. He was far too hurt to be angry with anybody. And in that old dog, after all, there was very little life that day.
Jan went through the preliminaries to the match, which generally gave him visible embarrassment, with a casual unconcern that was even less admirable. He only realised he had lost the toss when he found himself mechanically leading his men into the field. All that time he had been thinking of Evan. But now he took himself in hand, set his field and in a fit of desperation opened the bowling himself. It was no good. He had lost the art. That fatal new leg-break of his was an expensive present to such batsmen as Cave and Wilman. The soft wicket was still too slow for the off-break. They could step back to it and place it for a single every time. After three overs Jan took himself off, and watched the rest of the innings from various positions in the field.
It lasted well into the afternoon, when the wicket turned crusty and one of the change bowlers took advantage of it, subsequently receiving his colours for a very creditable performance. It was the younger Cave, and he had taken the last five wickets for under thirty runs. His gifted brother had taken just enough trouble to contribute an elegant 29 out of 47 for the first wicket; the celebrated Swallow had batted up to his great reputation for three-quarters of an hour; and Swiller Wilman, who played serious cricket with a misleading chuckle, would certainly have achieved his usual century but for the collapse of the Old Boys’ rearguard. He carried his bat through the innings for 83 out of 212, but was good enough to thank Jan, to whom he had been delightful all day.
“If you’d gone on again after lunch,” said Wilman, “I believe you’d have made much shorter work of us. I was jolly glad you didn’t — but you shouldn’t take a bad streak too seriously, Rutter. It’ll all come back before you know where you are.”
Jan shook a hopeless head, but he was grateful for Wilman’s friendliness. It had made three or four hours in the field pass quicker than in previous matches. It had even affected the attitude of the rest of the Eleven towards him — or Jan thought it had — because the Swiller was undoubtedly the most popular personality, man or boy, upon the ground. Jan was none the less thankful to write out the batting order and then to retire to a corner of the pavilion for the rest of the afternoon.
But that was not to be. The Fates, after robbing the school of its best batsman, now turned a slow wicket into a sticky one. Two wickets were down before double figures were up, and four for under 50. Then came a bit of a stand in which the younger Cave, who had his share of the family insolence, seized the chance of treating his big brother’s bowling with spectacular disrespect. But it was not Charles Cave, despite his graceful action and his excellent length, who had been taking the wickets. It was A. G. Swallow. The pitch was just right for him. For over an hour he had the boys at his mercy until a passing shower made matters easier, and when Jan went in, seventh wicket down, there was just a chance of saving the follow-on, with 91 on the board and half an hour to go. Somehow he managed to survive that half-hour, and was not out 20 at close of play, when the score was 128 for nine.
At the Conversazione in the evening, he found that he still had some friends, who made too much not only of his little innings, but still more of his election to the Pilgrims during the day. The Pilgrims Cricket Club was the famous and exclusive Old Boys’ club for which few were chosen out of each year’s Eleven. This year the honour was reserved for Jan and the absent Sandham, and with his new colours worn in a transverse band between evening shirt and waistcoat, the fine awkward fellow was at the centre of the congratulations. Wilman was as pointedly nice as he had been in the field, after hearing in the morning of Jan’s unpopularity. Stratten had never been anything else to anybody in his life, but he could not have been nicer about this if he had been a Pilgrim himself, instead of feeling rather sore that he was not one. A. G. Swallow pretended to see another good bowler degenerating into a batsman in accordance with his own bad example. And the other members of the present team very properly disguised their disgruntlement.
Only Evan Devereux, who had again failed to get into double figures, said nothing at all. He seemed so lost without Sandham, and so wretched when he was not laughing rather loud, that Jan was not altogether surprised at what happened next morning.
It happened in Jan’s study, now one of the large ones up the steps at the end of the passage. Chips was in there, jawing away about the match and the prospect at last of a wicket after Jan’s own heart. Jan sat with the tolerant twinkle which was quite enough to encourage Chips to go on and on. It was tolerance tinged with affection; and never had captain of a house a more valuable ally. If Chips raised the voice of command, it was the muscle in the next study that persuaded the insubordinate to obey. Old Chips was man enough not to trade on this, and yet to recognise the true source of nearly all the power that he contrived to wield. And the house was in satisfactory state because the two big fellows were such friends.
Yet Jan seldom dropped into Chips’s study now, and never dragged him out for walks, but preferred to go alone unless Chips took the initiative. This was not a cricketer’s superiority, but tact. He was afraid of seeming to fall back on old Chips as the second string to Evan that he really was; and Evan, after having honoured Jan off and on since his first year in the Eleven, had now taken up with Sandham. Yet Sandham had only to vanish to the Sanatorium for Evan to come round to Jan’s study directly after breakfast, this second morning of the Old Boys’ Match.
Chips retired in disgust, giving the unspoken message that Evan had no shame. But, strangely, Evan did for once look very much ashamed of himself as he shut the door with a mumbled apology and turned awkwardly to Jan. He had reddened and he spoke in a laboured way.
“I say, Jan, do you think there’s any chance of our getting them out again this morning?”
“This morning! Why, they’ve got to get us out first. And they may make us follow on.”
“You’ll save that, won’t you?”
“I hope so, but you never know. We want another five runs. Suppose we get them, it’d be a job to run through a side like that by tea-time, let alone lunch.”
“You did it two years ago.”
“Well, that’s not now. But what’s the hurry, Evan, if we can save the match?”
“Oh, nothing much. Only I’m afraid I shan’t be able to field after lunch.”
Evan had finally floundered to the point. He was not even looking at Jan, who jumped out of his chair with one glance at Evan.
“I knew it!”
“What did you know?”
“You’re not fit. You weren’t yesterday, but now it’s plain as a pikestaff. You’re in for these infernal measles!”
It was a fair deduction to draw, so flushed was Evan’s face. Again Evan dropped his head.
“Oh, no, I’m not. I rather wish I was!”
“Why? What’s happened? What’s wrong?”
Evan flung up his hangdog head in sudden desperation.
“I’m in a frightful scrape!”
“Not you, Evan!”
“I am, though.”
“What sort of scrape?”
“I don’t know how to tell you. I don’t know what you’ll think.”
Jan got him into the armchair and took the other one himself. It was something to feel that Evan cared what he thought.
“Come on! I don’t suppose it’s anything so very bad.”
“Bad enough to prevent me from playing today, I’m afraid.”
“You surely don’t mean — that anybody’s dead?”
“I know I wish I was!”
“It isn’t that, then?”
“No. But I’ve got to meet somebody at two o’clock. I simply must,” declared Evan with an air of dull determination.
“Some of your people?” But Jan knew the answer before Evan could shake his head. “I thought not. Then do you mind telling me who it is?”
No answer from Evan but averted eyes.
“Well, where is it that you’ve got to meet them?”
Jan was there in a flash. He was looking over the fence at the besotted figure waving and beckoning in the lower meadow. He was meeting Sandham and Evan hurrying up the road not five minutes afterwards.
“It’s old Mulberry!” cried Jan, with absolute certainty.
“What do you know about him?” Evan’s voice was full of suspicion.
Jan forced a conciliatory grin. “I thought everybody knew something about Mulberry.”
“But what makes you think of him the moment I mention Bardney Wood?”
“I saw him come out the other Sunday.”
“I daresay. He hides there half the summer. But what’s that got to do with me?”
“He waved to us by mistake, and the next thing was that we met you and Sandham coming up as we went down.”
“So you put two and two together on the spot?”
“Well, more or less, between us.”
“Oh, Carpenter, of course! He was with you, wasn’t he?”
“Yes. But Chips wouldn’t let out a word, Evan, any more than I would. Not that there’s anything to let out in what you’ve told me yet ...” He paused pointedly, but Evan did not take the hint. “Is there, Evan? You may as well tell me now you’ve got so far — but don’t if you’ve thought better of it.” There again was the studious tact that was growing on Jan.
Evan flung up his head once more.
“I’ll tell you, of course. I came to tell you. It’s nothing awful after all. There’s no harm in it, really. Only you can do things at home, quite openly, with your people, that become a crime if you do them here.”
“That’s true enough.” Jan, who still smoked his pipe in Norfolk, felt relieved. Evidently it was some such trifle that law-abiding Evan was magnifying in his constitutional horror of a row.
Jan asked outright if it was smoking, if Mulberry had been getting them cigars, and was told eagerly that he had. But that was not all. The tell-tale face was scarlet at what else had to be confessed. And out it all came at last.
“The fact is, Sandham and I have had a bit of a spree now and again in Bardney Wood. Champagne. Not a drop too much, of course, or you’d have heard of it, and so should we. No more harm in it than if you had it in the holidays. We used to have champagne every night at home. Heaps of people do. They certainly did at Lord Allenborough’s. And yet it’s such a frightful crime to touch it here!”
“I suppose Mulberry found out?”
“No — he got it for us.”
“I see. And I suppose you paid him through the nose?” Jan would have been the first to take a lenient view of such a peccadillo if Evan himself had said less in self-excuse.
“That’s just it. We’ve paid a wicked price, but we haven’t quite squared up, and now it’s all falling on me.”
“How much do you still owe him?”
“Between four and five pounds.”
Jan gaped. Any such sum seemed huge to him.
“Can’t you raise it from your people?”
“No, I can’t. They’re all abroad, for one thing.”
“What about Sandham and his lot?”
“I can’t write to him, you see. Anybody might get hold of it. Besides, there’s no time.”
“He’s pressing you, is he?”
“I’ve got to pay up this afternoon.”
“The moment Sandham’s out of the way!”
Jan’s eyes had brightened, but Evan was too miserable to meet them any more. He could speak more freely without facing his confessor. His tone was injured, naively superior, as though the worst part of it all was having to come with his troubles to the likes of Jan, if he would kindly bear that in mind.
Details came out piecemeal, each with its covering excuse. Evan went over the humiliating ground planting defiant flags of self-justification. It had all begun last term. But Sandham had easily become Athletics Champion — that showed how harmless the whole thing had been, didn’t it? But when Jan asked how much Mulberry had been paid already, the amount amazed him. Evan had told him without thinking; but when asked whether he and Sandham had got through all that alone, he blushed again and refused to answer, saying that was their business. At any rate he was not going to drag in anybody else, he declared, as though he were standing up to old Thrale himself and risking the extreme penalty for his silence.
Jan saw exactly what had happened. It was Sandham who had led Evan into mischief. But that was the last thing that Evan could be expected to admit. These two might have led others. But all that mattered to Jan was the old story of the strong villain and the weak-kneed accomplice. Of course it was the villain who escaped the consequences, and very hard it seemed even to Jan. Sandham, who was said to have his own bank account, could have written a cheque for four or five pounds without feeling it. Probably he had refused to do so, probably the whole thing was a dextrous attempt to blackmail Evan while he himself was out of reach.
Jan asked a few questions, and extracted answers which left him nodding with rare self-satisfaction. On Evan they had the opposite effect. Unless he went with the money to the wood before three o’clock, the villainous Mulberry was “coming in to blab the whole thing out to Jerry.” And he would do it, too, a low wretch like that, with nothing to lose by it! And what would that mean but being bunked in one’s last term, breaking one’s people’s hearts — Jan knew them — as well as one’s own?
Evan’s voice broke as it was. He laid his forehead on his hand, hiding and yet trying to save his face. Jan could not help a thrill at the sight of Evan, of all people, coming to him, of all people, for help in such a crisis. He was ashamed of feeling as he did. Yet it was not a selfish sense of power, much less a sense of poetic justice or revenge, that fired his still very simple heart. He only knew that here at last was his chance of doing something for Evan, something to win a new place in his regard, and to rub out for ever the persistent memory of the social gulf between them. He looked with true compassion at the bowed and wretched head of the boy he had loved and envied all his days. Yet he also looked with an all-too-human recognition of what he stood to gain.
“He hasn’t put his threat into black and white, I suppose?”
Jan felt that he was asking a stupid question. Of course Evan would already have told him, had it existed. But he had not realised the brake that Evan’s vanity was still putting on Evan’s tongue, and when Evan reluctantly produced a dirty little document which contained that very word ‘blab’ and specified the time, place and exact amount, Jan saw why he had not done so before. It referred to a broken appointment on the day of writing — yesterday. That was something else that Evan had not mentioned. It accounted for his strange unreadiness to play in the match, as well as for the threats accompanying the final demand.
“This is what he asks, eh? So this would settle him?”
“There’s no saying. I thought we had settled, more or less.”
“More or less is no good. Have you nothing to show by way of a receipt?”
“Sandham may have. I know he stumped up a lot that very Sunday you saw us.”
“Then what did you think of doing, if you did get out to see him after dinner?”
“Stave him off till the holidays, I suppose.”
“You didn’t mean to stump up any more?”
“No, I’m hard up, that’s the point.”
“And you’d have staved him off by promising him a good bit more if he’d wait?”
“By hook or crook! But unless I can get away from the match, I’m done.”
Jan put on an air of sombre mystery, but lightened by a crafty twinkle in his eyes. Chips would have read it as Jan’s first step to the rescue. But Evan missed the twinkle, and everything else except the explicit statement:
“You can’t get away, Evan.”
“Then it’s all up with me!”
“But the fellow means it!”
“Let him mean it.”
“If I’m not there —”
“Somebody else may take your place.”
“In the field? My dear fellow —”
“No, not in the field, Evan, nor yet at the crease. In Bardney Wood.”
Jan allowed himself a smile at last. And Chips could not have been quicker than Evan to see his meaning now.
“Who will you get to go, Jan?”
“You must leave that to me, Evan.”
“One of the Old Boys?”
“If I’m to help you, you must leave it all to me.”
“Of course you know so many more of them than I do. It’s your third year ...”
Evan was unconsciously acknowledging Jan’s influence among them, a Pilgrim himself, already one of them. Jan Rutter! But it was certainly decent of him, very decent indeed, especially when they had seen so little of each other all the year. Evan was not unaware that he had treated Jan badly, that Jan was therefore treating him really very well. It allowed him to overlook the rather triumphant air of secrecy which Jan was wearing. Perhaps it was better, after all, that he should not know who was actually going to step into the breach. The chances were that almost any Old Boy, remembering that blackguard Mulberry, would be only too glad to give him a fright, if not to lend the money to pay him off.
But even Evan was not blind to his immediate debt.
“I never expected you to help me like this,” he said frankly. “I only came to ask you about this afternoon. I — I was thinking of shamming seedy!”
Jan seemed struck with the idea. He said, more than once, that it was a jolly good idea, but there would have been a great risk of his being seen, and now thank goodness all that was unnecessary. If only they could save the follow-on and then get those Old Boys out quickly before lunch! That would still be worth doing still, Jan hastened to add, as though aware of some inconsistency in what he had just said. His eyes were alight. As he stood up in the litter from which a fag could not cleanse the Augean study, he looked capable of all his old feats.
But Evan fell into a shamefaced mood. He was comparing himself to Jan and not liking what he saw. Even on the surface his self-conceit was suffering. Jan would never have fallen into Mulberry’s clutches. He would have kept him in his place, as indeed Sandham had done. Either of those two was capable of coping with fifty Mulberries, whereas Evan had to admit that he was no match for one. He may even have realised already that in all the crises of life he was a natural follower, a leaner on others. If he was not so very ready to lean on Jan, there were reasons for his reluctance ... And at least one reason did him credit.
“I don’t know why you should want to do all this for me,” he muttered on their way to the Upper. “It isn’t as if I’d ever done anything for you!”
“Haven’t you!” said Jan. They were arm-in-arm like bosoms once more, in physical contact once more, to his huge inward joy.
“I’ll do anything in the world after this. I’ll never forget it in all my days.”
“You’ve done quite enough as it is.”
“I wish I knew what!” sighed Evan, honestly.
And he seemed quite startled when Jan reminded him.
“By Jove!” exclaimed Carpenter in the scoring tent. “I haven’t seen Jan do that for years. It used to mean that he was on the spot.”
“He did it when he went in just now,” said the polly who was scoring. “It only meant five more runs to him then.”
“But those five saved the follow-on! I don’t believe he meant to get any more.”
“You don’t suggest that he got out on purpose, Chips?”
“I shouldn’t wonder. He told me the wicket would be just right for him when the heavy roller had been over it. By Jove, he’s doing it again!”
What Jan had done, and was doing again, was something which had been chaffed out of him his first year in the Eleven. He was pulling the white cap trimmed with its honourably faded blue ribbon tight down over his head, so that his ears became unduly prominent and his back hair gaped transversely to the scalp.
The scorer remarked that he had better sharpen his pencil, and Chips retorted that he had better watch the over first. It was the first over of the Old Boys’ second innings, and the redoubtable Swiller had already taken guard. Jan ran up to the wicket, with all his old clumsy precision but with more buoyancy and verve than he usually put into his run these days. And the Swiller’s face broke into a good-humoured grin as the ball went thud into the wicket-keeper’s gloves; it had beaten him completely. The next one he played. Off the third he scored a brisk single, and this brought Charles Cave to the striker’s crease, with the air of the player who need never have got out in the first innings, and had half a mind not to do it again.
Curious to find that in those days there were only four balls to the over, but such was the case. And the fourth and last ball of Jan’s first over in a memorable innings has a long line to itself in the report in the Magazine. It was his own old patent, irreproachable in length, but pitching well outside the off-stump, and whipping in like lightning. It sent Charles Cave’s leg-bail flying, if we believe the report, over thirty yards. What the reporter does not state, though he noticed it at the time, is that Jan had given the peak of his cap a special tweak.
“Bowled, sir, bowled indeed!” roared Chips from the tent. “I knew it’d be a trimmer. Didn’t you fellows see how he pulled down his cap?”
The great Charles Cave stalked back to the pavilion with the nonchalant dignity of a Greek statue put into flannels. But at the pavilion fence he had a word to say to the next batsman, already emerging with indecent haste.
The next batsman was one of the bronzed brigade who could not grace the old ground every season. This one had been in the Eleven two years in his time, and had since made prodigious scores in regimental cricket in India. But in the first innings his lack of practice had showed up and he had failed to score. This time he had to watch Swiller Wilman play an over from young Cave with ease, scoring three off the last ball, and then playing a maiden from Jan with more pains than confidence. The gallant soldier did indeed draw blood, with a sweeping swipe in the following over from the younger Cave. But the first ball he had from Jan was also his last, and the very next one was too much for ex-captain Bruce.
“I told you it’d all come back, Rutter,” said Wilman with a wry laugh at the bowler’s end. “I’m sorry I prophesied quite so soon.”
“It’s the wicket,” Jan explained genuinely enough. “I always liked a wicket like this — the least bit less than fast — but you’ve got its pace to a nicety.”
“I wish I had yours. You’re making them come as quick off the pitch as you did two years ago. I wish old Boots Ommaney was here again.”
“I’d rather have him to bowl to than the next man in. Ommaney always plays like a book, but Swallow’s the man to knock you off your length in the first over!”
Swallow looked just that as he came in grinning, with a sunny storm-light in his skilled eyes. It was capital fun to find this boy suddenly at his best again — good for the boy, better for the Eleven, and by no means bad for an old man of thirty-eight who was on the point of turning out once more for the Gentlemen at Lord’s. But practice and the bowler apart, it would never do for the Old Boys to go to pieces, not after leading a rather weak school Eleven as it was only proper that they should. It was time for a stand. And a stand was made.
But A. G. Swallow did not knock Jan off his length. He played him with flattering care and was content to make his runs off Cave. Jan made a change at the other end, but went on pegging away himself. Wilman began to treat him with less respect. In club cricket there were few sounder or more consistent players than the Swiller. He watched the ball on to the very middle of a perpendicular bat, and played the one that came with Jan’s arm so near to his left leg that there was no room for it between bat and pad. And he played it so hard that with luck it went to the boundary without really being hit at all.
Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, went up ever more rapidly. Jan was trying all he knew, and now he had Cave back at the other end. Another ten or so, and he felt that he himself must take a rest, especially as Swallow was beginning to hit ruthlessly all round the wicket. Yet Wilman’s was the wicket he most wanted, and it was on Wilman that he was trying all his wiles — but one. That fatal leg-break was not in his repertoire for the day. He had forsworn it before taking the field, and he kept his vow. What he was trying to do was to pitch the off-break a little straighter, a fraction slower, and just about three inches shorter than all the rest. At last he did it to perfection. Wilman played forward pretty hard, the ball came skimming between the bowler and mid-off, and Jan shot out his left hand. The ball hit it in the right place, his fingers closed automatically, and he had made a very clever catch off his own bowling.
“Well caught, old fellow!” cried Evan from mid-off. “I was afraid I’d baulked you.”
The others were loud in their congratulations, and the field rang with cheers. But Evan kept Jan buttonholed at mid-off, and they had a whisper together while the new batsman was on his way out.
“What about bowling them all out by lunch? You might almost do it after all!”
“I mean to, now.”
“Six wickets in three quarters of an hour?”
“But there isn’t another Wilman or Swallow.”
“We shan’t get him in a hurry.”
“Even if we don’t, I believe I can run through the rest.”
“You’re a wonder!” Evan drew still nearer and dropped his voice. “I say, Jan!”
“What is it? There’s a man in.”
“If you did get them, I might still go by myself this afternoon.”
“I’d have time if you put me in as late as I deserve. I can fight my own battle. I —”
“Shut up, will you? Man in!”
The telegraph now read 65 for 4, last man 33. Two overs later it was 79 for 5, last man 2.
The new batsman had succumbed to Jan after an airy couple through the slips, but Swallow had begun to force the game. He did not say it was his only chance. He was too old a hand to discuss casualties with the enemy. He kept his own counsel in the now frequent intervals, but his eyes sparkled with appreciation of the attack (from one end) and with zest in the exercise of his own powers. Such a combination of attack and defence had not been demanded of him for some time; and yet for all his preoccupation he had a fatherly eye on the young bowler who was taxing his resources. Really, on his day, the boy was good enough to bowl for almost any side, and he seemed quite a nice boy too, though perhaps a little rough. There was no sign of unpopularity now. That good-looking little chap at mid-off seemed pretty fond of him, and he was not the only one. At the fall of each wicket a bigger and more enthusiastic band surrounded the bowler, the cheers were louder from every side. If an unpopular fellow could achieve this popular success, well, it said all the more for his pluck and personality.
Eight wickets were down for 95, and Jan had taken every one of them, before Stratten stayed with Swallow for another stand. Stratten was only a moderate bat, but he had been two years in the team with Jan and three years in the same house, and he knew how to throw his left leg across to the ball that looked as though it wanted cutting. He had never made 30 runs off Jan in a game, and he did not make 10 to-day, but he stayed while the score rose to 130 and the clock crept round to 1.15. Then he spoilt Jan’s chance of all ten wickets by being caught off a half-volley from Goose, last hope at the other end.
A. G. Swallow had crossed before the catch was made, and he trotted straight up to Jan in the slips.
“Hard luck, Rutter! I hoped you were going to set a new school record.”
“I don’t care as long as we get you all out before lunch.”
Jan was wiping sweat off his forehead, and only saw his mistake when Swallow looked at him with a smile.
“Why before lunch, with the afternoon before us?”
“Because I feel dead,” exclaimed Jan with unusual presence of mind. “I could go on now till I drop, but I feel more like lying up than lunch.”
“Not measles, I hope?” Certainly Jan looked very red.
Swallow turned to George Grimwood the umpire, who looked as proud as if he had taught Jan all he knew. “I’ve often noticed that one does one’s best things when one isn’t absolutely fighting fit, and I’ve heard lots of fellows say the same.”
Now George Grimwood was a professional cricketer of high achievement, but he was also, now, a school umpire, and his original impartiality had not entirely resisted the temptations of that subtly demoralising role. Not only did he give himself undue credit for Mr Rutter’s remarkable performance, but he grudged Mr Goose that last wicket far more than Jan did. All morning he had cherished one hope which was not yet dead. He longed to see Mr Swallow, his old opponent in many a first-class match, succumb to his young colt. But now there was little chance of it, with only one more over before lunch, especially if Mr Rutter was really going to lie up afterwards.
What happened next may have been the correct verdict, but as the climax of a great performance it was not altogether satisfactory. Whitfield, the last batsman, clubbed the first ball of Jan’s last over for three. The next ball may or may not have been on the off-stump. It seemed to come from a tired arm, to lack the sting of previous deliveries, to be rather slower and just short of a good length. But Swallow came out to hit a straight half-volley on the strength of the usual break. He missed the ball, and it hit his pad. There was no appeal from the bowler: that was the great point against George Grimwood. Jan was giving his cap another tug over his nose when Evan appealed for him from mid-off.
“Out!” roared Grimwood without an instant’s hesitation. The Old Boys’ second innings had closed for 135. Jan had taken 9 wickets for 41 runs. And A. G. Swallow was last out for 57 — if out at all, but only his eye betrayed his opinion on the point.
The school was already streaming off the ground, on its way back to dinner in the houses. But many remained, and some turned back, to give batsman and bowler the reception they deserved. Praises pursued them to the dressing-room and ran like water off Jan’s back as he sat stolidly changing his shoes. He explained his apparent ungraciousness by mentioning ‘a splitting head.’ But he had every one of his wits about him, and his immediate anxiety was to avoid Evan, whom he saw waiting to waylay him. It went against the grain to shun his company but, for the sake of his plans, he had to. Before leaving the pavilion he made a point of writing out the batting order, the same as before except that Jan promoted the last two men and wrote his own name last of all.
“I’ll turn up if I can,” he announced as he tacked himself on to Charles Cave, of all people, to Evan’s final discomfiture. “But let’s hope I shan’t be wanted. Unless it’s a case of watching the other fellow make the winning hit, I’ll be as much use in my study as on the pitch.”
Evan heard this as he walked as near them as he could. The narrow street was a running river of men and boys with glistening foreheads, who hugged the shadows and shrank ungratefully from the first hot sunshine of the term. Charles Cave, stalking indolently next the wall, said he hoped Jan was going up to the Varsity, as they wanted bowlers there, and a man who could bowl like that would stand a good chance of his Blue at either Oxford or Cambridge. Jan replied that he was afraid he was not going to either, but to the Colonies, a scheme which Cave seemed to think so deplorable that Evan dropped out of earshot, feeling that the conversation was taking a private turn. And sure enough it took one that surprised Jan himself almost as much as it did Charles Cave.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” said Jan with apparent deliberation, but really on a sudden impulse. “You see, you don’t know what it is to be a beggar, Cave!”
“I don’t, I’m glad to say.”
“Well, I do, and it’s rather awkward when you’re captain of the Eleven.”
“It must be.”
“It is. And if you could lend me a fiver, Cave, I’d promise to pay you back before the end of term.”
The tone was so calm, matter-of-fact and everyday, that after a second’s amazement Cave could only charitably assume that Jan’s splitting head had already affected the mind inside it. That did not prevent him from refusing the monstrous request out of hand, and his refusal was received without surprise.
“After all, why should you?” asked Jan, with a strange chuckle. “But I shall have to raise it somewhere, and I daresay you won’t tell anybody that I tried you first.”
Before Cave could answer, Jan had turned into Heath’s, the saddlery shop where the boys ordered flies to take them to their trains at the end of term. The fly that Jan now ordered was to be outside Mr Heriot’s quad at 2.45 that afternoon.
“Is it to go to Molton, sir?”
“But there’s no train before the 4.10, Mr Rutter.”
“I can’t help that. I was asked to order it for some people who’re down for the match. They may be going to see some of the sights of the country first.”
Outside the shop he found Evan waiting for him.
“I say, Jan, what’s all this about your being seedy?”
“That’s my business. Do you think I’m shamming?”
Evan missed the twinkle again. There was some excuse for him, for it was unintentional now.
“I don’t know, but if I thought you were going yourself —”
“Shut up, Evan! It’s all settled. You go in fourth wicket down again, and mind you make some.”
“But if you’re seen —”
“What on earth makes you think I’m going? I’ve fixed up the whole thing. That should be good enough. I thought you left it to me?”
At Heriot’s corner, old Bob himself was talking to Mr Haigh, the two of them mechanically returning the salutes of the passing stream of boys. Charles Cave paused a moment before going on into the house.
“I’m afraid the hero of the morning’s a bit off-colour, Mr Heriot.”
Cave nodded. “He says his head’s bad. It looks to me like a touch of the sun.”
“I hope not,” said Heriot as Cave passed on. “He really is a fine fellow, Haigh, as well as a fine bowler. I sometimes think you might forget what he was, after all these years.”
“Oh, I’ve nothing against the fellow,” said Haigh grandly. “But I take a boy as I find him, and I found Rutter the most infernal nuisance I ever had in my form.”
“Well, there’s no question of a grudge on my side. I wouldn’t condescend to bear a grudge against a boy.”
Haigh spoke as though he meant it. His principles were as sound as his heart could be kind, but both were influenced by a temper never meant for schoolmastering. At this moment Jan hove into sight. Heriot questioned him about his head, reassured himself that he really had had measles, and agreed with Jan’s suggestion that he should stay quietly in his study until he felt fit to go back to the ground. He did not want any lunch.
Meanwhile, Haigh had stayed to put in a word of his own, as though to prove the truth of what he had told Heriot.
“By the way, Rutter, I’ve a very good prescription for that kind of thing, now I think of it. I’ll send it up to you if you like.”
“Oh, thank you, sir.”
“You shall have it as soon as they can make it up. They’ve probably kept a copy at the chemist’s. I’ll go in and see.”
Jan, embarrassed, could only thank his old enemy again. He did not like malingering. But, if he was to do the deed which he could depute to no one else, there were worse things in front of him. It was more than risky. But it could be done, and the greatest obstacle was not the risk, but money. And Jan had only eight shillings left.
He sat in his untidy study, listening to the sound of knives and forks and voices in the hall, and eyeing his few possessions which might conceivably be turned into ready cash. There were the four or five second and third prizes that he had won in the sports, and there was his mother’s gold watch. He had worn it throughout his schooldays. It had struck him that nobody had ever asked him why he wore a lady’s watch. But there were some things on which even a new boy’s feelings were respected, now he came to think of it. And he came to think of too many things that had nothing to do with his present need. Of the other watch that he had won at the fair and sold for the very few shillings it would bring. Of the mad way he had thrown himself into that adventure, just as he was throwing himself into this one now. But it was no good raking up the past and comparing it with the present. Besides, there had been no sense in the risk he ran then. Now there was not only sense but necessity.
So absolute was Jan’s necessity that he would not have hesitated to part with his precious watch, if only there had been a pawnbroker’s shop within reach. But there was none in the little town, and there was no time to try the ordinary tradesmen, even if any of them was likely to oblige and to hold his tongue. Jan thought of Lloyd the jeweller, thought of George Grimwood and old Maltby, and was still only thinking when the quad filled under his window, the study passage creaked and clattered with boots, and Chips was heard demanding less noise in a far more authoritative voice than usual.
It was almost too much to hear poor old Chips steal like a mouse into his own study next door, to hear what he was doing, oh so quietly, and then to see the anxious face he poked into Jan’s study before going back to the Upper. Chips left him his Saturday allowance of a shilling — that made nine — but it was no good consulting or trying to borrow from a chap who hated Evan so. Jan got rid of him by feigning a preposterous twitch of agony, and in a very few minutes had the studies to himself.