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The Hill - A Romance of Friendship
by Horace Annesley Vachell
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"You dare to look me in the face and tell me that Scaife is not drunk?"

Very seriously, John answered, "I'm sure he's not drunk, sir."

Rutford eyed the boy keenly.

"Have you ever seen anybody drunk?" he demanded.

"I live in the New Forest," said John, as gravely as before, "and on Whit-Monday——" He was aware that he had made an impression upon this big, truculent man.

"Don't try to be funny with me, Verney."

"On no, sir, as if I should dare!"

"Well, well, we are wasting time. Trieve sent you to Lovell's room to fetch Scaife?"

"Yes, sir."

"And what was Scaife doing when you went into the room? Be very careful!"

John considered. "He was laughing, sir."

"Laughing, was he?"

"But he stopped laughing when I gave him Trieve's message, and then he said what Lovell told you, sir."

"Never mind what Lovell told me. Give me your version of the story."

"Scaife asked the other fellows if Trieve had any right to fag him, now that he had got his 'fez.' If he had been drunk, sir, he wouldn't have thought of that, would he?"

"Um," said Rutford, slightly shaken. John described his return to Trieve's room, and Trieve's threat.

"Lovell and you tell the same story."

"Why, yes, sir." John made no deliberate attempt to look simple; but his face, to the master studying it, seemed quite guileless.

Just then, Dumbleton ushered in the doctor. To him Rutford recited what he knew and what he suspected. He had hardly finished speaking, when Scaife opened his eyes for the second time. By a curious coincidence, the doctor used the words of the house-master.

"Well, sir, how do you feel?"

And then Scaife answered, in the same dazed fashion as before—

"I feel as if I was jolly well screwed, sir."

Rutford nodded portentously.

"I feel," continued Scaife, "as I did once long ago, when I was a kid and got hold of some curacoa at one of my father's parties."

"Just so," said the doctor.

"Same buzzing in the head, same beastly feeling, same—same old—same old—giddiness." He closed his eyes, and his head fell heavily upon his chest.

"It looks like concussion," said the doctor, doubtfully. "You say he fell?" He turned to John.

"I was just outside the door," said John.

"We'll put him into the sick-room, Mr. Rutford. And in a day or two he'll be himself again."

"Are you sure that what I—er—feared—er——?"

The doctor frowned. "The boy has had brandy, of course."

"Mrs. Puttick and Lovell gave him plenty of that," John interpolated.

"I believe you can exonerate the boy entirely," said the doctor.

John saw that Rutford seemed relieved.

"I have ordered Lovell's room to be searched. If no wine or spirits are found, I shall be glad to believe that I have made a very pardonable mistake."

While Scaife was being removed, Lawrence came in with his report. Nothing alcoholic had been discovered in Lovell's room. After prayers, which were late that night, Dirty Dick made a short speech.

"I had reason to suspect," said he, "that a gross breach of the rules of the school had been made to-night by certain boys in this house. It appears I was mistaken. No more will be said on the subject by me; and I think that the less said by you, big and small, the better. Good night."

He strode away into the private side.

Two days later, Scaife came back to No. 15. John wondered why he stared at him so hard upon the first occasion when they happened to be alone. Then Scaife said—

"Well, young Verney, I shan't forget that, if it hadn't been for you, I should have been sacked. And I shan't forget either that you're not half such a fool as you look."

John exhibited surprise.

"The way you handled the beast," continued Scaife, "was masterly. I heard every word, though my head was bursting. I shall tell Lovell that you saved us. Oh, Lord—didn't I give the show away?"

He never tried to read the perplexity upon the other's face, but went away laughing. He came back with the Caterpillar half an hour later, and the three boys sat down as usual to prepare some Livy. John was sensible that his companions treated him not only as an equal—a new and agreeable experience—but as a friend. In the course of the first ten minutes Scaife said to the Caterpillar—

"He told Dick to his face that he would lie to save a pal."

And the Caterpillar replied seriously, "Good kid, very good kid. Lovell says he's going to give a tea in his honour."

"No, he isn't. It's my turn."

Accordingly, upon the next half-holiday, Scaife gave a tea at the Creameries. Of all the strange things that had happened during the past fortnight, this to our simple John seemed the strangest. He was not conscious of having done or said anything to justify the esteem and consideration in which Scaife, the Caterpillar, and Lovell seemed to hold him.

"You've forgotten Desmond," he said to Scaife, when the latter mentioned the names of his guests.

"Caesar isn't coming. By the way, Verney, you've not been talking to Caesar about the row in our house?"

"No," said John. "Lawrence came round and said that I must keep my mouth shut."

"And naturally you did what you were told to do?"

The half-mocking tone disappeared in a burst of laughter as John answered—

"Yes, of course."

"And I suppose it never entered your head that Lawrence would not have been so particular about shutting your mouth without good reason."

"Perhaps," said John, after a pause, "Lawrence was in a funk lest, lest——"

"Go on!"

"Lest the thing should be exaggerated."

"Exactly. Lots of fellows would go about saying that I was dead drunk—eh?"

"They might."

"And that would be coming dangerously near the truth."

"Oh, Scaife! Then you really were——"

Scaife laughed again. "Yes, I really was, my Moses in the bulrushes! Don't look so miserable. I guessed all along that you weren't quite in the know. Well, I'm every bit as grateful. You stood up to Dick like a hero. And my tea is in your honour."

"Oh, Scaife—you—you won't do it again?"

"Get screwed?" said Scaife, gravely. "I shall not. It isn't good enough. We've chucked the stuff away."

"If they'd found it——"

"Ah—if! The old Caterpillar attended to that. He's a downy bird, I can tell you. When Dick came into our room, he slipped back to Lovell's room, carried off the whisky, hid it, washed the glasses, and then dirtied them with siphon and syrup. The Caterpillar and you showed great head. We shall drink your healths to-morrow—in tea and chocolate."

John wondered what Scaife had said to the Fifth. At any rate, they asked John no questions, and treated him with distinguished courtesy and favour; but that evening, when John was fagging in Lawrence's room, the great man said abruptly—

"I saw you walking with Lovell senior this afternoon."

John explained. Lawrence frowned.

"Oh, you've been celebrating, have you? Thanksgiving service at the Creameries. Now, look here, Verney, I've met your uncle, and he asked me to keep an eye on you. Because of that I made you my fag—you, a green hand, when I had the pick of the House."

"It was awfully good of you," said John, warmly.

"We'll sink that. I'm five years older than you, and I know every blessed—and cursed"—he spoke with great emphasis—"thing that goes on in this house. I know, for instance, that dust was thrown, and very cleverly thrown, into Rutford's eyes, and you helped to throw it. Don't speak! You didn't quite know what you were up to. Well, it's lucky for Lovell and Co. that one innocent kid was mixed up in that affair. But it's been rather unlucky for you. I'd sooner see you kicked about a bit by those fellows than petted. I'm sorry—sorry, do you hear?—the whole lot were not sacked. And now you can hook it. I've said enough, perhaps too much, but I believe I can trust you."

After this John showed his gratitude by painstaking attention to fagging. Lawrence became aware of faithful service: that his toast was always done to a turn, that his daily paper was warmed, as John had seen the butler at home warm the Times, that his pens were changed, his blotting-paper renewed, and so forth. In John's eyes, Lawrence occupied a position near the apex of the world's pyramid of great men.

FOOTNOTES:

[13] {kraipale} is translated by Liddell and Scott as "the result of a debauch."



CHAPTER IV

Torpids

"Again we rush across the slush, A pack of breathless faces, And charge and fall, and see the ball Fly whizzing through the bases."

The remainder of the term slipped away without farther accident or incident. Apart from the preparation of work, John saw little of Scaife or Egerton. The Fifth nodded to him in a friendly fashion when he passed them in the street, and, greater kindness on their part, left him alone. Possibly, Lawrence had said a word to Lovell. Such leisure as John enjoyed (a new boy at Harrow has not much) he spent with the devoted Fluff. Desmond and Scaife walked together on Sunday afternoons. But the fact that Desmond seemed to be vanishing out of his horizon made no difference to John's ever-increasing affection for him. Very humbly, he worshipped at a distance. On clear, dry days Fluff and he would climb to the top of the wall of the squash racquet-courts to see Scaife and Desmond play a single. They were extraordinarily well-matched in strength, activity, and skill. John noticed, however, that the Demon lost his temper when he lost a game, whereas Caesar only laughed. Somehow John divined that the Demon was making the effort of his life to secure Desmond's friendship. And Caesar had ideals, standards to which the Demon pretended to attain. Good, simple John made sure that Caesar would elevate the Demon to his plane, that evil would be exorcised by good. Only in his dreams did the Demon have the advantage.

Just before the end of the term, Caesar said to him—

"After all, I'm jolly glad I'm coming into your House, because the old Demon is such a ripper; and he and I have been talking things over. He's as mad keen as I am about games, and although the Manorites have not played in a cock-house match at cricket or footer for years, still there is a chance for us at Torpids next term. You'll play, Verney. You've improved a lot, so the Demon says, and he'll be captain. Then there are the sports. If only Dirty Dick could be knocked on the head, the Manor might jump to the front again."

"It will," said John.

When the School reassembled after Christmas, Desmond entered the Manor, and found himself with Scaife in a two-room. A civil note from the man of millions had arranged this. To John was given a two-room, also, with the Duffer as stable companion. Fluff remained in No. 15. The Duffer had got his remove from the Top Shell into John's form. Scaife and Desmond were elevated into the Upper Remove. It followed, therefore, that Scaife and Desmond prepared work in their own room, the Caterpillar joining the Duffer and John. Thus it will be seen that, although Desmond had become a Manorite, he was, practically speaking, out of John's orbit.

The Caterpillar had now been three years in the school, and he governed himself accordingly. He put on a "barmaid"[14] collar and spent much time on the top step of the boys' entrance to the Manor. No mere two-year-old presumed to occupy this sacred spot. Had he dared to do so, the Caterpillar would have made things very sultry for him. Also, he informed the Duffer and John that, by virtue of his position, he proposed to prepare no work at all. Each "con" was divided into two equal parts: the Duffer "mugged" up one; John the other. Then the Caterpillar would be summoned, and glean the harvest. The Duffer had a crib or two, but the Caterpillar forbade their use.

"You kids," said he, "ought not to use 'Bohns.' Besides, it's dangerous."

The Caterpillar's deportment and coolness filled John and the Duffer with respect and admiration. The master in charge of the Lower Remove happened to be short-sighted. The Caterpillar took shameful advantage of this. At repetitions, for instance, he would read Horace's odes off a torn-out page concealed in the palm of his hand, or—if practicable—pin the page on to the master's desk.

He had genius for extricating himself (and others) out of what boys call tight places. One anecdote, well known to the Lower School and repeated as proof of the Caterpillar's masterly methods, may serve to illustrate the sort of influence Egerton wielded. When he was in the Fourth, his form met in the Old Schools in a room not far from that august chamber used by the Head Master and Upper Sixth. One day, the master in charge of the form happened to be late. The small boys in the passage celebrated his absence with dance and song. When the belated man arrived, a monitor awaited him. The Head Master presented his compliments to Mr. A—— and wished to learn the names of the boys who had created such a scandalous disturbance. Mr. A—— invited the roysterers to give up their names under penalties of extra school. Hateful necessity! Silence succeeded. A—— grew irate. The monitor tried to conceal a smile.

"Any boy who was making any noise at all—stand up."

The Caterpillar rose slowly, long and thin, spick and span.

"If you please, sir," said he, "I was whispering!"

A——'s sense of humour was tickled.

"My compliments to the Head Master," said he, "and please tell him that I find, on careful inquiry, that Egerton was—whispering."

A shout of laughter from Olympus proclaimed that the message had been delivered. The Caterpillar had saved the situation.

John became a disciple of this accomplished young gentleman and tried to imitate him. For Egerton represented, faithfully enough, traditions to which John bowed the knee. Upon any point of schoolboy honour his authority ruled supreme. He told the truth among his peers; he loathed obscenity; he disliked and condemned bad language.

"The best men don't swear much," he would say. "It's doosid bad form. I allow myself a 'damn' or two, nothing more. My great-grandfather, who was one of the Regency lot, was known as Cursing Egerton, but nowadays we leave that sort of thing to bargees."

Quite unconsciously, John assimilated the Caterpillar's axioms.

"We're not sent here at enormous expense to learn only Latin and Greek. At Harrow and Eton one is licked into shape for the big things: diplomacy, politics, the Services. One is taught manners, what? I'm not a marrying sort of man, but if I do have sons I shall send 'em here, even if I have to pinch a bit."

This was the side of Egerton which appealed so strongly to John. The Caterpillar was an Harrovian to the core, like the Duffer and Caesar Desmond. He deplored the increasing predominance of sons of very rich men. And he anathematized Harrovian fathers who were persuaded by Etonian wives to send their sons to the Plain instead of to the Hill. That some of the famous Harrow families, who owed so much to the School, should forsake it, seemed to Egerton the unpardonable sin.

During this term, regretfully must it be recorded that John scamped his "prep" and "ragged" in form whenever a suitable chance presented itself. The Duffer and he bribed a "Chaw"[15] to throw gravel against the windows of the room where the boys were supposed to be mastering the problems of Euclid and algebra. The "tique"[16] master had been Third Wrangler, but he couldn't tackle his Division properly. Upon this occasion the "chaw" created such a disturbance that (on audacious demand) leave was granted to the Duffer and John to capture the offender. The young rascals pursued the "chaw" as far as the Metropolitan Station, and presented that conscientious youth with another sixpence. Then it occurred to John that it might be expedient to capture some bogus prisoner; so by means of talk, sugared with chocolates, they persuaded a little girl to impersonate the thrower of gravel. The little girl, carefully coached in her part, was led to the Wrangler, but stage-fright made her burst into tears at the critical moment. Somehow or other the truth leaked out; the Duffer and John were sent up to the Head Master and "swished." Each collected a few twigs of the birch, carefully preserved to this day.

Meantime, the Torpid house-matches were coming on, and the School agreed, wonderingly, that Dirty Dick's had a chance of being cock-house. The fact that the Manor has lost caste brought about this possibility. Boys just under fifteen found room at the Manor when other houses were full. All the Manorites in the Shell and Removes were fellows who had come to Harrow rather over than under fourteen years of age.

And when the list of the Torpid Eleven was posted, didn't John's heart boil with pride when he read his own name at the bottom of it?

The Manor won the first and the second of the matches. Then came the semi-final, with Damer's. When the teams met in the playing-fields the difference in the size of the players was remarked. Damer's Torpids were small boys, not much bigger than John or the Duffer. But they had behind them that stupendous force which is fashioned out of pride, esprit de corps, self-confidence begotten of long-continued success, and, strongest of all, the conviction that every man-Jack would fight till he dropped for the honour and glory of the crack house at Harrow. Not a boy in Damer's team was Scaife's equal as a player, but in Scaife's strength lay the weakness of the Manorites. They relied upon one player; Damer's pinned faith to eleven.

As it happened to be a fine day, the School turned out in force to witness the match. Most of the masters were present, and some ladies. Rutford, however, had business elsewhere. The School commented upon his absence with sly smiles and shrugs of the shoulder. Some of the Manorites were indifferent; the better sort raged. The Caterpillar appeared upon the ground in a faultless overcoat, carrying a large bag of lemons. His straw hat was cocked at a slight angle.

"One is really uncommonly obliged to Dirty Dick for staying away," he told everybody. "Speaking personally, the mere sight of him is very upsetting to me. Keen as one feels about this match, one can't deny that there is not room in a footer field for Dirty Dick and a self-respecting person."

None the less, the absence of their house-master had a bad effect upon the Torpids. Damer, you may be sure, had come down, prepared to cheer louder than any boy in his house; Damer, it was whispered, had been known to shed tears when his house suffered defeat; Damer, in fine, inspired ardours—a passion of endeavour.

Scaife won the toss and kicked off.

For the first five minutes nothing of interest happened. Damer's played collectively; the Manorites rather waited upon the individual. When Scaife's chance came, so it was predicted, he would go through the Damer's centre as irresistibly as a Russian battleship cuts through a fleet of fishing-smacks.

Rutford being absent, Dumbleton, the butler, stood well to the fore. He never missed a house-match, and no one could guess, looking at his wooden countenance, how the game was going; for he accepted either defeat or victory with a dignified self-restraint. A smart bit of work provoked a bland, "Well played, sir, very well played, sir!" uttered in the same respectful tone in which he requested Lovell, let us say, to go to Mr. Rutford's study after prayers. The fags believed that "Dumber," who had begun his career as boot-boy at the Manor in the glorious days of old, had given notice to leave when he learned that Dirty Dick was about to assume command; but had been prevailed upon to stay by the promise of an enormous salary. Nothing disturbed his equanimity. On the previous Saturday evening, John had heated the wrong end of the poker in No. 15, knowing that Dumber's duty constrained him to march round the House after "lights out," to rake out any fires that might be still burning. Snug under his counterpane, the practical joker awaited, chuckling, a choleric word from the impassive and impeccable butler. How did Dumber divine that the poker was unduly hot and black with soot underneath? Who can answer that question? The fact remains that he seized John's best Sunday trousers which were laid out on a chair, and holding the poker with these, accomplished his task without remark or smile. The trousers had to be sent to the tailor's to be cleaned.

Not far from Dumber stood a group of small boys, including the unhappy Fluff—unhappy because he was not playing, despite arduous training (entirely to please John) and systematic coaching. His failure meant further separation from John, whom, it will be remembered, he would have been allowed to call by his Christian name, had he been included amongst the Torpids. Of late, Fluff had not seen much of John, and in his dark hours he allowed his thoughts to linger, not unpleasantly sometimes, upon premature death and John's subsequent remorse.

Meantime, Scaife and Desmond were playing a furious game which must have proved successful had it not been for the admirable steadiness of the enemy. Lawrence watched their efforts with compressed lips and frowning brows. He knew—who better?—that his cracks were tearing themselves to tatters; but his protests were drowned by the shrill cheers of the fags.

"Rutfords—Rutfor-r-r-r-r-ds! Go it, old Demon!—Jolly well played, Caesar!—Sky him![17]—Well skied, sir!—Ah-h-h-h! Well given—well taken!"

The last, long-drawn-out exclamation proclaimed that "Yards"[18] had been given to Scaife right in front of Damer's base. Damer's retreated; Scaife, with heaving chest, balanced the big ball between the tips of his fingers.

"Oh-h-h-h-h!"

Scaife had missed an easy shot. Lawrence could see that the boy was trembling with disappointment and mortification. Barbed arrows from Damer's small boys pierced Manorite hearts.

"Jolly well boshed, Scaife!—Good, kind, old Demon!—Thank you, Scaife!—" and like derisive approbation rolled from lip to lip. The Caterpillar turned to Lovell.

"Showing temper, ain't he?"

"Yes," said Lovell.

"Clever chap," said the Caterpillar, reflectively; "but one is reminded that a stream can't rise higher than its source. Not mine that—the governor's! Caesar is facing the chaff with a grin."

The game began again. But soon it became evident that Scaife had lost, not only his temper, but his head. He rushed here and there with so little judgment that the odds amongst the sporting fellows went to six to four against the Manor. At the beginning of the game they were six to four the other way. And, inevitably, Scaife's wild and furious efforts unbalanced Desmond's play. Both boys were out of their proper places to the confusion of the rest of the team. Within half an hour Damer's had scored two bases to nothing.

The Caterpillar distributed halves of lemons. Lawrence went up to Scaife. The captain of the Torpids was standing apart, not far from Desmond, who was sucking a lemon with a puzzled expression. Gallant, sweet-tempered, and always hopeful, Caesar could not understand his friend's passion of rage and resentment. With the tact of his race, however, he held aloof, smiling feebly, because he had sworn to himself not to frown. Had he looked to his right, he would have seen John, also sucking a lemon, but understudying his idol's nonchalant attitude and smile. John was sensible of an overpowering desire to fling himself upon the ground and howl. Instead he sucked his lemon, stared at Desmond, and smiled—valiantly.

"Scaife," said Lawrence, gravely, "you're not playing the game."

Scaife scowled. "I only know I've half killed myself," he muttered.

Lawrence continued in the same steady voice, "Yes; because you missed an easy base which has happened to me and every other player scores of times. Come here, Desmond."

Desmond joined them. Lawrence's face brightened when he saw hopeful eyes and a gallant smile.

"You don't despair?"

"We'll knock 'em into smithereens yet."

"That's the Harrow spirit, but temper your determination to win with a little common sense. You've overdone it, both of you. Take my tip: they'll play up like blazes. Defend your own base; and then, when they're spent, trample on 'em."

"Thank you," said Desmond.

Scaife nodded sulkily.

None the less he had too great respect for Lawrence's ability and experience as a captain to disregard his advice. After the kick-off, Damer's did play up, and the Manor had to defend its base against sustained and fierce attack. Again and again a third base was almost kicked, again and again superior weight prevailed in the scrimmages. Within ten minutes Damer's were gasping and weary. And then, the ball was forced out of the scrimmage and kicked to the top side, Desmond's place in the field. Comparatively fresh, seeing the glorious opportunity, grasping it, hugging it, Caesar swooped on the ball. He had the heels of any boy on the opposite side. Down the field he sped, faster and faster, amid the roars of the School, roars which came to his ears like the deep booming of breakers upon a lee shore. To many of those watching him, the sight of that graceful figure, that shining, ardent face, revealing the promise which youth and beauty always offer to a delighted world, became an ineffaceable memory. Damer turned to the Head of his house.

"And Desmond ought to be one of us," he groaned.

And now Caesar had passed all forwards. If he keeps his wits a base is certain. The full back alone lies between him and triumph. But this is the moment, the psychological moment, when one tiny mistake will prove irrevocable. The Head of Damer's whispers as much to Damer, who smiles sadly.

"His father's son will not blunder now," he replies.

Nor does he. The mistake—for mistake there must be on one side or t'other—is made by Damer's back. As the ball rolls halfway between them, the back hesitates and falters.

One base to two—and eighteen minutes to play!

The second base was kicked by Scaife five minutes later.

By this time the School knew that they were looking on at a cock-house match, not a semi-final. It was the wealth of Dives against the widow's mite that the winner of this match would defeat easily either of the two remaining houses. And not a man or boy on the ground could name with any conviction the better eleven. The betting languished at evens.

Moreover, both sides were playing "canny," risking nothing, nursing their energies for the last furious five minutes. Damer began to fidget; than he dropped out of the front rank of spectators. He couldn't stand still to see his boys win—or lose. He paced up and down behind the fags, who winked at each other.

"Damer's got the needle," they whispered.

Dumbleton, however, stood still; a graven image of High Life below Stairs.

"What do you think, Dumber?" asked Fluff.

"I think, my lord," replied Dumber, solemnly, "that every minute improves our chance, but if it goes on much longer," he added phlegmatically, "I shall fall down dead. My 'eart's weak, my lord."

This was an ancient joke delivered by Dumber as if it were brand-new, and received by the fags in a like spirit.

"Bless you, you've got no heart, Dumber. It's turned into tummy long ago," or, in scathing accents, "It's not your heart that's out of whack, Dumber, but your blithering old headpiece. What a pity you can't buy a new one!" and so on and so forth.

Very soon, however, this chaff ceased. Excitement began to shake the spectators. They felt it up and down their spinal columns; it formed itself into lumps in their throats; it gave one or two cramp in the calves of their legs; it reddened many cheeks and whitened as many more. The Caterpillar pulled out his watch.

"Three and a half minutes," he announced in a voice which fell like the crack of doom upon the silent crowd. If they could have cheered or chaffed! But the absolute equality of the last desperate struggle prevented any demonstration. The ball was worried through a scrimmage, escaped to the right, slid out to the left, only to be returned whence it came. It seemed as if both sides were unable to kick it, and when kicked it seemed to refuse to move as if weighted by the ever-increasing burden of suspense....

"Now—now's your chance!" yelled the Manorites. To their flaming senses the ball appeared to be lying, a huge blurred sphere, upon the muddy grass; and the Elevens were stupidly staring at it. The Saints be praised! Some fellow can move. Who is it? The players, big and little, are so daubed with mud from head to foot as to be unrecognizable. Ah-h-h! It's young Verney.

"Good kid! Well played—I say, well played, well pla-a-a-a-yed!"

Our John has, it seems, distinguished himself. He has charged valiantly into the captain of Damer's at the moment when that illustrious chief is about to kick the ball to a trusted lieutenant on the left. He succeeds in kicking the ball into John's face. John goes over backwards; but the ball falls just in front of the Duffer.

"Kick it, Duffer—kick it, you old ass!"

The Duffer kicks it most accurately, kicks it well out to the top side. Now, can Desmond repeat his amazing performance? Yes—No—he can't. The conditions are no longer the same. Half a dozen fellows are between him and the Damer base.

Alas! The Manor is about to receive a second object-lesson upon the fatuity of trusting to individuals. Confident in Caesar's ability to take the ball at least within kicking distance of the base, they have rushed forward, leaving unguarded their own citadel. Caesar, going too fast, misjudges the distance between himself and the back. A second later the ball is well on its way to the Manor's base. The back awaits it, coolly enough; knowing that Damer's forwards are offside. Then he kicks the sodden, slippery ball—hard. An exclamation of horror bursts from the Manorites. Their back has kicked the ball straight into the hands of the Damerite captain, the steadiest player on the ground.

"Yards!"

The chief collects himself for a decisive effort, and then despatches the ball straight and true for the target.

* * * * *

It passed between the posts within forty-five seconds of time.

FOOTNOTES:

[14] The "barmaid" collar is the double collar, at that time just coming into fashion.

[15] "Chaw," short for Chawbacon.

[16] "Tique," ab. for arithmetic. "Tique-beaks" are mathematical masters.

[17] To "sky," i.e. to charge and overthrow.

[18] In the Harrow game a boy may turn and kick the ball into the hands of one of his own side. The boy who catches it calls "Yards!" and, the opposite side withdrawing three yards, the catcher is allowed a free kick.



CHAPTER V

Fellowship

"Fellowship is Heaven, and the lack of it is Hell."

John was squelching through the mud, wondering whether his nose was broken or not, when Lawrence touched his shoulder.

"Never mind, Verney," he said cheerily; "the Manor will be cock-house at Torpids next year, and I venture to prophesy that you'll be Captain."

"Oh, thanks, Lawrence," said John.

But, much as he appreciated this tribute from the great man, and much as it served to mitigate the pangs of defeat, a yet happier stroke of fortune was about to befall him. Desmond, who always walked up from the football field with Scaife, conferred upon John the honour of his company.

"Where's Scaife?" said John.

"The Demon is demoniac," said Desmond. "He's lost his hair, and he blames me. Well, I did my best, and so did he, and there's no more to be said. It's a bore that we shall be too old to play next year. I told the Demon that if we had to be beaten, I would sooner take a licking from Damer's than any other house; and he told me that he believed I wanted 'em to win. When a fellow's in that sort of blind rage, I call him dotty, don't you?"

"Yes," said John.

"You played jolly well, Verney; I expect Lawrence told you so."

"He did say something decent," John replied.

The Caterpillar joined them as they were passing through the stile. "We should have won," he said deliberately, "if the Demon hadn't behaved like a rank outsider."

"Scaife is my pal," said Desmond, hotly.

The Caterpillar shrugged his shoulders, and held high his well-cut, aquiline nose, as he murmured—

"One doesn't pretend to be a Christian, but as a gentleman one accepts a bit of bad luck without gnashing one's teeth. What? That Spartan boy with the fox was a well bred 'un, you can take my word for it. Scaife isn't."

The Caterpillar joined another pair of boys before Desmond could reply. John looked uncomfortable. Then Desmond burst out with Irish vehemence—

"Egerton is always jawing about breeding. It's rather snobbish. I don't think the worse of Scaife because his grandfather carried a hod. The Egertons have been living at Mount Egerton ever since they left Mount Ararat, but what have they done? And he ought to make allowances for the old Demon. He was simply mad keen to win this match, and he has a temper. You like him, Verney, don't you?"

John hesitated, realizing that to speak the truth would offend the one fellow in the school whom he wished to please and conciliate. Then he blurted out—

"No—I don't."

"You don't?" Desmond's frank, blue eyes, Irish eyes, deeply blue, with black lashes encircling them, betrayed amazement and curiosity—so John thought—rather than anger. "You don't?" he continued. "Why not? The old Demon likes you; he says you got him out of a tight place. Why don't you like him, Verney?"

John's mind had to speculate vaguely whether or not Desmond knew the nature of the tight place—tight was such a very descriptive adjective—out of which he had pulled Scaife. Then he said nervously—

"I don't like him because—because he likes—you."

"Likes me? What a rum 'un you are, Verney! Why shouldn't he like me?"

"Because," said John, boldly meeting the emergency with the conviction that he had burnt his ships, and must advance without fear, "because he's not half good enough for you."

Desmond burst out laughing; the clear, ringing laugh of his father, which had often allayed an incipient mutiny below the gangway, and charmed aside the impending disaster of a snatch-division. And it is on one's own side in the House of Commons that good temper tells pre-eminently.

"Not good enough for me!" he repeated. "Thanks awfully. Evidently you have a high opinion of—me."

"Yes," said John.

The quiet monosyllable, so soberly, so seriously uttered, challenged Desmond's attention. He stared for a moment at John's face—not an attractive object. Blood and mud disfigured it. But the grey eyes met the blue unwaveringly. Desmond flushed.

"You've stuck me on a sort of pedestal." His tone was as serious as John's.

"Yes," said John.

They were opposite the Music Schools. The other Manorites had run on. For the moment they stood alone, ten thousand leagues from Harrow, alone in those sublimated spaces where soul meets soul unfettered by flesh. Afterwards, not then, John knew that this was so. He met the real Desmond for the first time, and Desmond met the real John in a thoroughfare other than that which leads to the Manor, other than that which leads to any house built by human hands, upon the shining highway of Heaven.

Shall we try to set down Desmond's feelings at this crisis? Till now, his life had run gaily through fragrant gardens, so to speak: pleasaunces full of flowers, of sweet-smelling herbs, of stately trees, a paradise indeed from which the ugly, the crude, the harmful had been rigorously excluded. Happy the boy who has such a home as was allotted to Harry Desmond! And from it, ever since he could remember, he had received tender love, absolute trust, the traditions of a great family whose name was part of English history, an exquisite refinement, and with these, the gratification of all reasonable desires. And this magnificent upbringing shone out of his radiant face, the inexpressible charm of youth unspotted—white. Scaife's upbringing, of which you shall know more presently, had been far different, and yet he, the cynic and the unclean, recognized the God in Harry Desmond. He had not, for instance, told Desmond of the nature of that "tight" place; he had kept a guard over his tongue; he had interposed his own strong will between his friend and such attention as a boy of Desmond's attractiveness might provoke from Lovell senior and the like. It is true that Scaife was well aware that without these precautions he would have lost his friend; none the less, above and beyond this consciousness hovered the higher, more subtle intuition that the good in Desmond was something not lightly to be tampered with, something awe-inspiring; the more so because, poor fellow! he had never encountered it before.

Desmond stood still, with his eyes upon John's discoloured face. Not the least of Caesar's charms was his lack of self-consciousness. Now, for the first time, he tried to see himself as John saw him—on a pedestal. And so strong was John's ideal that in a sense Desmond did catch a glimpse of himself as John saw him. And then followed a rapid comparison, first between the real and the ideal, and secondly between himself and Scaife. His face broke into a smile.

"Why, Verney," he exclaimed, "you mustn't turn me into a sort of Golden Calf. And as for Scaife not being good enough for me, why, he's miles ahead of me in everything. He's cleverer, better at games, ten thousand times better looking, and one day he'll be a big power, and I shall always be a poor man. Why, I—I don't mind telling you that I used to keep out of Scaife's way, although he was always awfully civil to me, because he has so much and I so little."

"He's not half good enough for you," repeated John, with the Verney obstinacy. Unwittingly he slightly emphasized the "good."

"Good? Do you mean 'pi'? He's not that, thank the Lord!"

This made John laugh, and Desmond joined in. Now they were Harrow boys again, within measurable distance of the Yard, although still in the shadow of the Spire. The Demon described as "pi" tickled their ribs.

"You must learn to like the Demon," Desmond continued, as they moved on. Then, as John said nothing, he added quickly, "He and I have made up our minds not to try for remove this term. You see, next term is the jolliest term of the year—cricket and 'Ducker'[19] and Lord's. And we shall know the form's swat thoroughly, and have time to enjoy ourselves. You'll be with us. Your remove is a 'cert'—eh?"

John beamed. He had made certain that Caesar would be in the Third Fifth next term and hopelessly out of reach.

"Oh yes, I shall get my remove. So will the Caterpillar."

"Hang the Caterpillar," said Desmond.

"He'd ask for a silken rope, as Lord Ferrers did," said John, with one of his unexpected touches of humour. Again Desmond bent his head in the gesture John knew so well, and laughed.

"I say, Verney, you are a joker. Well, the old Caterpillar's a good sort, but he's not fair to Scaife. Here we are!"

They ran upstairs to "tosh" and change. John found the Duffer just slipping out of his ducks. He looked at John with a rueful grin.

"Are you going to chuck me?" he asked.

"Chuck you?"

"Fluff says you've chucked him. He was in here a moment ago to ask if your nose was squashed. I believe the silly little ass thinks you the greatest thing on earth."

"I don't chuck anybody," said John, indignantly. And he made a point of asking Fluff to walk with him on Sunday.

After the Torpid matches the school settled down to train (more or less) for the athletic sports. John came to grief several times at Kenton brook, essaying to jump it at places obviously—as the Duffer pointed out—beyond his stride. The Duffer and he put their names down for the house-handicaps, and curtailed their visits to the Creameries. After this self-denial it is humiliating to record that neither boy succeeded in winning anything. Caesar won the house mile handicap; Scaife won the under sixteen high jump—a triumph for the Manor; and Fluff, the despised Fluff, actually secured an immense tankard, which one of the Sixth offered as a prize because he was quite convinced that his own particular pal would win it. The distance happened to be half a mile. Fluff was allowed an enormous start and won in a canter.

The term came to an end soon after these achievements, and John spent a week of the holidays at White Ladies, the Duke of Trent's Shropshire place. Here, for the first time, he saw that august and solemn personage, a Groom of the Chambers, with carefully-trimmed whiskers, a white tie, a silky voice, and the appearance of an archdeacon. This visit is recorded because it made a profound impression upon a plastic mind. John had never sat in the seats of the mighty. Verney Boscobel was a delightful old house, but it might have been put, stables and all, into White Ladies, and never found again. Fluff showed John the famous Reynolds and Gainsborough portraits, the Van Dycks and Lelys, the Romneys and Richmonds. Fair women and brave men smiled or frowned at our hero wherever he turned his wondering eyes. After the first tour of the great galleries, he turned to his companion.

"I say," he whispered solemnly, "some of 'em look as if they didn't like my calling you—Fluff."

"I wish you'd call me Esme."

"All right," said John, "I will; and—er—although you didn't get into the Torpids, you can call me—John."

"Oh, John, thanks awfully."

Ponies were provided for the boys to ride, and they shot rabbits in the Chase. Also, they appeared at dinner, a tremendous function, and were encouraged by some of the younger guests to spar (verbally, of course) with the duke's Etonian sons. Fluff looked so much stronger and happier that his parents, delighted with their experiment, were inclined to cry up the Hill, much to the exasperation of the dwellers in the Plain.

When he left White Ladies John had learned one valuable lesson. His sense of that hackneyed phrase, noblesse oblige, the sense which remains nonsense with so many boys (old and young), had been quickened. Little more than a child in many ways, he realized, as a man does, the true significance of rank and wealth. The Duke of Trent had married a pleasure-loving dame; White Ladies was essentially a pleasure-house, to which came gladly enough the wit and beauty of the kingdom. And yet the duke, not clever as compared to his guests, not even good-looking as compared to the splendid gentlemen whom Van Dyck and Lely had painted, undistinguished, in fine, in everything save rank and wealth, worked, early and late, harder than any labourer upon his vast domain. And when John said to Fluff, "I say, Esme, why does the duke work so beastly hard?" Fluff replied with emphasis, "Why, because he has to, you know. It's no joke to be born a duke, and I'm jolly glad that I'm a younger son. Father says that he has no amusements, but plenty of occupation. Mother says he's the unpaid land-agent of the Trent property."

John went back to Verney Boscobel, and repeated what Fluff had said, as his own.

"It was simply splendid, mum, like a sort of castle in fairyland and all that, but I am glad I'm not a duke. And I expect that even an earl has a lot of beastly jobs to do which never bother us."

"Oh, you've found that out, have you, John? Well, I hesitated when the invitation came; but I'm glad now that you went."

"Yes; and it's ripping to be home again."

* * * * *

The summer term began in glorious sunshine; and John forgot that he owned an umbrella. The Caterpillar and he had achieved their remove, but the unhappy Duffer was left behind alone with the hideous necessity of doing his form's work by himself. The boys occupied the same rooms, but John prepared his Greek and Latin with Scaife, Caesar, and the Caterpillar; whom he was now privileged to call by their nick-names. They began to call him John, hearing young Kinloch do so; and then one day, Scaife, looking up with his derisive smile, said—

"I'm going to call you Jonathan."

"Good," said Desmond. "All the same, we can't call either the Duffer or Fluff—David, can we?"

"I was not thinking of Kinloch or Duff," said Scaife, staring hard at John. And John alone knew that Scaife read him like a book, in which he was contemptuously amused—nothing more. After that, as if Scaife's will were law, the others called John—Jonathan.

Very soon, the sun was obscured by ever-thickening clouds. John happened to provoke the antipathy of a lout in his form known as Lubber Sprott. Sprott began to persecute him with a series of petty insults and injuries. He accused him of "sucking up" to a lord, of putting on "lift" because he was the youngest boy in the Upper Remove, of kow-towing to the masters—and so forth. Then, finding these repeated gibes growing stale, he resorted to meaner methods. He upset ink on John's books, or kicked them from under his arm as he was going up to the New Schools. He put a "dringer"[20] into the pocket of John's "bluer."[21] He pinched him unmercifully if he found himself next to John in form, knowing that John would not betray him. When occasion offered he kicked John. In short, he was successful in taking all the fun and sparkle out of the merrie month of May.

Finally, Caesar got an inkling of what was going on.

"Is Sprott ragging you?" he asked point-blank.

"Ye-es," said John, blushing. "It's n-nothing," he added nervously. "He'll get tired of it, I expect."

"I saw him kick you," said Desmond, frowning. "Now, look here, Jonathan, you kick him; kick him as hard as ever you can where, where he kicks you—eh? And do it to-morrow in the Yard, at nine Bill, when everybody is looking on. You can dodge into the crowd; but if I were you I'd kick him at the very moment he gets into line, and then he can't pursue. And if he does pursue—which I'll bet you a bob he don't, he'll have to tackle you and me."

"I'll do it," said John.

Next day, a whole holiday, at nine Bill, both Caesar and John were standing close to the window of Custos' den, waiting for Lubber Sprott to appear. While waiting, an incident occurred which must be duly chronicled inasmuch as it has direct bearing upon this story. Only the week before Rutford had come up to the Yard late for Bill, he being the master whose turn it was to call over. Such tardiness, which happens seldom, is reckoned as an unpardonable sin by Harrow boys. Briefly it means that six hundred suffer from the unpunctuality of one. Therefore, when Rutford appeared, slightly flushed of countenance and visibly annoyed, the School emphasized their displeasure by derisive cheers. Rutford, ever tactless where boys were concerned, was unwise enough to make a speech from the steps condemning, in his usual bombastic style, a demonstration which he ought to have known he was quite powerless to punish or to prevent. When he had finished, the School cheered more derisively than before. After Bill, he left the Yard, purple with rage and humiliation.

Upon this particular morning, one of the younger masters, Basil Warde, was calling Bill. The School knew little of Warde, save that he was an Old Harrovian in charge of a Small House, and that his form reported him—queer. He had instituted a queer system of punishments, he made queer remarks, he looked queer: in fine, he was generally regarded as a radical, and therefore a person to be watched with suspicion by boys who, as a body, are intensely conservative. He was of a clear red complexion with lapis-lazuli blue eyes, that peculiar blue which is the colour of the sea on a bright, stormy day. The Upper School knew that, as a member of the Alpine Club, Warde had conquered half a dozen hitherto unconquerable peaks.

Into the Yard and into this book Warde comes late. As he hurried to his place, the School greeted him as they had greeted Rutford only the week before. If anything, the demonstration was slightly more hostile. That Bill should be delayed twice within ten days was unheard-of and outrageous. When the hoots and cheers subsided, Warde held up his hand. He smiled, and his chin stuck out, and his nose stuck up at an angle familiar to those who had scaled peaks in his company. In silence, the School awaited what he had to say, hoping that he might slate them, which would afford an excuse for more ragging. Warde, guessing, perhaps, the wish of the crowd, smiled more genially than before. Then, in a loud, clear voice, he said—

"I beg pardon for being late. And I thank you for cheering me. I haven't been cheered in the Yard since the afternoon when I got my Flannels."

A deafening roar of applause broke from the boys. Warde might be queer, but he was a good sort, a gentleman, and, henceforward, popular with Harrovians.

He began to call over as Lubber Sprott neared the place where Desmond and John awaited him. The Lubber took up his position near the boys, turning a broad back to them. He stood with his hands in his pockets, talking to another boy as big and stupid as himself. The Lubber, it may be added, ought to have worn "Charity" tails, but he had not applied for permission to do so. He was fat and gross rather than tall, and certainly too large for his clothes.

"Now," said Caesar.

John measured the distance with his eye, as Caesar thoughtfully nudged other members of the Upper Remove. John had room for a very short run. The Lubber was swaying backwards and forwards. John timed his kick, which for a small boy he delivered with surprising force, so accurately that the Lubber fell on his face. The boys looking on screamed with laughter. The Lubber, picking himself up (John dodged into the crowd, who received him joyfully) and glaring round, encountered the contemptuous face of Desmond.

"Let me have a shot," said Caesar.

The Lubber advanced, spluttering with rage.

"Where is he—where is he, that infernal young Verney?"

By this time fifty boys at least were interested spectators of the scene. Desmond stood square in the Lubber's path.

"You like to kick small boys," said Caesar, in a very loud voice. "I'm small, half your size, why don't you kick me?"

The Lubber could have crushed the speaker by mere weight; but he hesitated, and the harder he stared at Desmond the less he fancied the job of kicking him. Quality confronted quantity.

"Kick me," said Desmond, "if—if you dare, you big, hulking coward and cad!"

"Come on, Lubber, get into line!" shouted some boy.

Sprott turned slowly, glancing over his vast, fat shoulder to guard against further assault. Then he took his place in the line, and passed slowly out of the Yard and out of these pages. He never persecuted John again.[22]

Not yet, however, was the sun to shine in John's firmament. As the days lengthened, as June touched all hearts with her magic fingers, insensibly relaxing the tissues and warming the senses, John became more and more miserably aware that, in the fight between Scaife and himself for the possession of Desmond, the odds were stupendously against him. Truly the Demon had the subtlety of the serpent, for he used the failings which he was unable to hide as cords wherewith to bind his friend more closely to him. When the facts, for instance, of what had taken place in Lovell's room came to Desmond's ears, he denied fiercely the possibility of Scaife, his pal, making a "beast" of himself. The laughter which greeted his passionate protest sent him hot-foot to Scaife himself.

"They say," panted Caesar, "that last winter you were dead drunk in Lovell's room. I told the beasts they lied."

Scaife's handsome face softened. Was he touched by Caesar's loyalty? Who can tell? Always he subordinated emotion to intelligence: head commanded heart.

"Perhaps they did," he answered steadily; "and perhaps they didn't. I deny nothing; I admit nothing. But"—his fine eyes, so dark and piercing, flamed—"Caesar, if I was dead drunk at your feet now, would you turn away from me, would you chuck me?"

Desmond winced. Scaife pursued his advantage.

"If you are that sort of a fellow—the Pharisee"—Desmond winced again—"the saint who is too pure, too holy, to associate with a sinner, say so, and let us part here—and now. For I am a—sinner. You are not a sinner. Hold hard! let me have my say. I've always known that this moment was coming. Yes, I am a sinner. And my governor is a sinner, a hardened sinner. His father made our pile by what you would call robbery. The whole world knows it, and condones it, because we are so rich. Even my mother——"

He paused, trembling, white to the lips.

"Don't," said Desmond. "Please don't."

"You're right. I won't. But I'm handicapped on both sides. It's only fair that you should know what sort of a fellow you've chosen for a pal. And it's not too late to chuck me. Rutford will put Verney in here, if I ask him. And, by God! I'm in the mood to ask him now. Shall I go to him, Desmond, or shall I stay?"

He had never raised his voice, but it fell upon the sensitive soul of the boy facing him as if it were a clarion-call to battle.

Desmond sprang forward, ardent, eager, afire with generous self-surrender.

"Forgive me," he cried. "Oh, forgive me, because I can't forgive myself!"

After this breaking of barriers, Scaife took less pains to disguise a nature which turned as instinctively to darkness as Desmond's to light. A score of times protest died when Scaife murmured, "There I go again, forgetting the gulf between us"; and always Desmond swore stoutly that the gulf, if a gulf did yawn between them, should be bridged by friendship and hope. But, insensibly, Caesar's ideals became tainted by Scaife's materialism. Scaife, for instance, spent money lavishly upon "food" and clothes. So far as a Public Schoolboy is able, he never denied his splendid young body anything it coveted. Desmond, too proud to receive favours without returning them, tried to vie with this reckless spendthrift, and found himself in debt. In other ways a keen eye and ear would have marked deterioration. John noticed that Caesar laughed, although he never sneered, at things he used to hold sacred; that he condemned, as Scaife did, whatever that clever young reprobate was pleased to stigmatize as narrow-minded or intolerant.

Cricket, however, kept them fairly straight. Each was certain to get his "cap,"[23] if, as Lawrence told them, they stuck to the rigour of the game. This was Lawrence's last term. He had stayed on to play at Lord's, and when he left Trieve would become the Head of the House—a prospect very pleasing to the turbulent Fifth.

About the middle of June John suffered a parlous blow. He was never so happy as when he was sitting in Scaife's room, cheek by jowl with Desmond, sharing, perhaps, a "dringer," poring over the same dictionary. This delightful intimacy came to a sudden end in this wise. The form-master of the Upper Remove happened to be a precisian in English. A sure road to his favour was the right use of a word. The Demon, appreciating this, bought a dictionary of synonyms, and made a point of discarding the commonplace and obvious, substituting a phrase likely to elicit praise and marks. Desmond and John joined in this hunt of the right word with enthusiasm.

One evening the four boys encountered the simple sentence—"majoris pretii quam quod aestimari possit."

"'Priceless''ll cover that," said Caesar.

"Or 'inesteemable,'" said the Demon.

The three other boys stared at the Demon, and then at each other. The Caterpillar, something of a purist in his way, drawled out—

"One pronounces that 'inestimable.'"

"My father doesn't," said Scaife, hotly. "I've heard him say 'inesteemable.'"

"No doubt," said Egerton, coldly. "How does your father pronounce it, Caesar?"

Desmond said hurriedly, "Oh, 'inestimable'; but what does it matter?"

The Demon sprang up, furious. "It matters this," he cried. "I'm d——d if I'll have Egerton sitting in my room sneering at my governor. After this he'll do his work in his own room, or I'll do mine in the passage."

Before Desmond could speak, Scaife had whirled out of the room, slamming the door. John looked stupefied with dismay.

The Caterpillar shrugged his shoulders. Then he said slowly—

"Scaife's father pronounces 'connoisseur' 'connoysure,' and so does Scaife."

Desmond stood up, flushed and distressed, but emphatic.

"Scaife is right about one thing," he said. "He won't sit here like a cad and listen to Egerton sneering at his father. I'm very sorry, but after this we'd better split up. Verney and you, Egerton; and Scaife and I."

"Certainly," said the Caterpillar, rising in his turn.

Poor John cast a distracted and imploring glance at Desmond, which flashed by unheeded. Then he got up, and followed the Caterpillar out of the room. The passage was empty.

The Caterpillar sniffed as if the atmosphere in Scaife's room had been polluted.

"One has nothing to regret," he remarked. "Scaife has good points, and—er—bad. You've noticed his hands—eh! Very unfinished! And his foot—short, but broad." The Caterpillar surveyed his long, slender feet with infinite satisfaction; then he added, with an accent of finality, "Scaife talks about going into the Grenadiers; but they'll give him a hot time there, a very hot time. One is really sorry for the poor fellow, because, of course, he can't help being a bounder. What does puzzle me is, why did Caesar want such a fellow for his pal?"

"But he didn't," said John.

"Eh?—what?"

"Scaife wanted Caesar," John explained. "And I've noticed, Caterpillar, that whatever Scaife wants he gets."

"He wants breeding, Jonathan, but he'll never get that—never."

After this, John saw but little of Desmond; and Scaife hardly spoke to him. Accordingly, much of our hero's time was spent in the company of the Duffer and Fluff. The three passed many delightful hours together at "Ducker." Armed with buns and chocolate, they would rush down the hill, bathe, lie about on the grass, eat the buns, and chaff the kids who were learning to swim.

"Long, long, in the misty hereafter Shall echo, in ears far away, The lilt of that innocent laughter, The splash of the spray."

During the School matches they spent the afternoons on the Sixth Form ground, carefully criticizing every stroke. The theory of the game lay pat to the tongue, but in practice John was a shocking bungler. At his small preparatory school in the New Forest, he had not been taught the elementary principles of either racquets or cricket; but he had a good eye, played a capital game of golf, rode and shot well for a small boy. Fluff, although still delicate, gave promise of being a cricketer as good, possibly, as his brothers, when he became stronger.

Upon Speech Day John's mother and uncle came down to Harrow, and you may be sure that John escorted them in triumph to the Manor. Mrs. Verney has since confessed that John's expression as she greeted him surprised and distressed her. He looked quite unhappy. And the dear woman, thinking that he must be in debt, seriously considered the propriety of tipping him handsomely in advance. A moment later, as she slipped out of an old and shabby dust-cloak, revealing the splendours of a dress fresh from Paris, she divined from John's now radiant face what had troubled him.

"John," she said, "you didn't really think that I was going to shame you by wearing this dreadful cloak—did you?"

"I wasn't quite sure," John answered; then he burst out, "Mum, you look simply lovely. All the fellows will take you for my sister."

And after the great function in Speech-room came the cheering. How John's heart throbbed when the Head of the School, standing just outside the door, proclaimed the illustrious name—

"Three cheers for Mr. John Verney."

And how the boys in the road below cheered, as the little man descended the steps, hat in hand, bowing and blushing! Everybody knew that he was on the eve of departure for further explorations in Manchuria. He would be absent, so the papers said, three years at least. The School cheered the louder, because each boy knew that they might never see that gallant face again.

Later in the afternoon a selection of Harrow songs was given in the Speech-room. "Five Hundred Faces," as usual, was sung by a new boy, who is answered, in chorus, by the whole School. How John recalled his own feelings, less than a year ago, as he stood shivering upon the bank of the river, funking the first plunge! And his uncle, now sitting beside him, had said that he would soon enjoy himself amazingly—and so he had! The new boy began the second verse. His voice, not a strong one, quavered shrilly—

"A quarter to seven! There goes the bell! The sleet is driving against the pane; But woe to the sluggard who turns again And sleeps, not wisely, but all too well!"

In reply to the weak, timid notes came the glad roar of the School—

"Yet the time may come, as the years go by, When your heart will thrill At the thought of the Hill, And the pitiless bell, with its piercing cry!"

Ah, that pitiless bell! And yet because of it one wallowed in Sunday and whole-holiday "frowsts."[24] John, you see, had the makings of a philosopher. And now the Eleven were grunting "Willow the King." And when the last echo of the chorus died away in the great room, Uncle John whispered to his nephew that he had heard Harrow songs in every corner of the earth, and that convincing proof of merit shone out of the fact that their charm waxed rather than waned with the years; they improved, like wine, with age.

Caesar's father came down with the Duke of Trent. The duke tipped John magnificently and asked him to spend his exeat at Trent House, and to witness the Eton and Harrow match at Lord's from the Trent coach. John accepted gratefully enough; but his heart was sore because, just before the row over that infernal word "inestimable," Caesar had asked John if he would like to occupy an attic in Eaton Square. After the row nothing more was said about the attic; but John would have preferred bare boards in Eaton Square to a tapestried chamber in Park Lane.

Now, during the whole of this summer term there was much animated discussion in regard to the rival claims of lines or spots upon the white waistcoat worn by all self-respecting Harrovians at Lord's. Upon this important subject John had betrayed scandalous indifference. Accordingly, just before the match, the Caterpillar took him aside and spoke a solemn word.

"Look here," he said; "one doesn't as a rule make personal remarks, but it's rather too obvious that you buy your clothes in Lyndhurst. I was sorry to see that the Duke of Trent was the worst-dressed man at Speecher; but a duke can look like a tinker, and nobody cares."

"I'd be awfully obliged if you'd tell me what's wrong," said John, humbly.

"Everything's wrong," said the Caterpillar, decisively. He looked critically at John's boots. "Your boots, for instance—most excellent boots for wading through the swamps in the New Forest, but quite impossible in town. And the 'topper' you wear on Sunday! Southampton, you say? Ah, I thought it was a Verney heirloom. Now, it wouldn't surprise me to hear that your mother, who dresses herself quite charmingly, bought your kit."

"She did," John confessed.

"Just so. One need say no more. Now, you come along with me."

They marched down the High Street to the most fashionable of the School tailors, where John was measured for an Eton jacket of the best, white waistcoat with blue spots, light bags; while the Caterpillar selected a new "topper," an umbrella, a pair of gloves, and a tie.

"Be very careful about the bags," said the Caterpillar. "They are cutting 'em in town a trifle tighter about the lower leg, but loose above. You understand?"

"Perfectly, Mr. Egerton," replied the obsequious snip. "What we call the 'tighto-looso' style, sir."

"I don't think they call it that in Savile Row," said the Caterpillar; "but be careful."

The tailor was assured that he would receive an order properly signed by Mr. Rutford. And then John was led to the bootmaker's, and there measured for his first pair of patent-leathers. The Caterpillar was so exhausted by these labours that a protracted visit to the Creameries became imperative.

"You've always looked like a gentleman," said the Caterpillar, after his "dringer," "and it's a comfort to me to think that now you'll be dressed like one."

So John went up to town looking very smart indeed; and Fluff (who had ordered a similar kit) whispered to John at luncheon that his brothers, the Etonians, had expressed surprise at the change for the better in their general appearance.

This luncheon was eaten on the top of the duke's coach, and it happened that the next coach but one belonged to Scaife's father. John could just see Scaife's handsome head, and Caesar sitting beside him. The boys nodded to each other, and the Etonians asked questions. At the name of Scaife, however, the young Kinlochs curled contemptuous lips.

"Unspeakable bounder, old Scaife, isn't he?" they asked; and the duchess replied—

"My dears, his cheques are honoured to any amount, even if he isn't."

Her laughter tinkled delightfully; but John reflected that Desmond was eating the Scaife food and drinking the Scaife wine—all bought with ill-gotten gold.

Later in the afternoon it became evident that the Scaife champagne was flowing freely. To John's dismay, the Harrovians (including Caesar) on the top of the Scaife coach became noisy. The Caterpillar and his father, Colonel Egerton, sauntered up, and were invited by the duke to rest and refresh themselves. John was amused to note that the colonel was even a greater buck than his son. He quite cut out the poor old Caterpillar, challenging and monopolizing the attention of all who beheld him.

"Those boys are makin' the devil of a row," said the colonel, fixing his eyeglass. "Ah, the Scaifes! A man I know dined with them last week. He reported everything overdone, except the food. Their chef is Marcobruno, you know."

Presently, to John's relief, Desmond left the Scaifes and joined the Trent party, upon whom his gay, radiant face and charming manners made a most favourable impression. He laughed at the duchess's stories, and made love to her quite unaffectedly. The Etonians looked rather glum, because their wickets were falling faster than had been expected. Desmond told the duke, in answer to a question, that his father was in his seat in the pavilion, with his eyes glued to the pitch.

"He's awfully keen," said Caesar.

"You boys are not so keen as we were," said the duke, nodding reflectively.

"Oh, but we are, sir—indeed we are," said Caesar. "Aren't we, Caterpillar?"

The Caterpillar replied, thoughtfully, "One bottles up that sort of thing, I suppose."

"Ah," said the duke, kindly, "if it's the right sort of thing, it's none the worse for being bottled up."

The boys went to the play that night and enjoyed themselves hugely. Next day, however, the match ended in a draw. John was standing on the top of the coach, very disconsolate, when he saw Desmond beckoning to him from below. The expression on Caesar's face puzzled him.

"How can you pal up with those Etonians?" whispered Caesar, after John had descended. "Every Eton face I see now I want to hit." Then he added, with a smile and a chuckle, "I say, there's going to be a ruction in front of the Pavvy. Come on."

A minute later John was in the thick of a very pretty scrimmage between the Hill and the Plain. Hats were bashed in; cornflowers torn from buttonholes; pale-blue tassels were captured; umbrellas broken. Finally, the police interfered.

"Short, but very, very sweet," said Caesar, panting.

John and he were lamentable objects for fond parents to behold, but the sense of depression had vanished. And then Caesar said suddenly—

"By Jove! I have got a bit of news. It quite takes the sting out of this draw."

"What's happened?"

"My governor has been talking with Warde. Rutford is leaving Harrow."

John gasped. "That is ripping."

"Isn't it? But who do you think is coming to us? Why, Warde himself. He was at the Manor when it was the house, and the governor says that Warde will make it the house, again. He's got his work cut out for him—eh?"

"You bet your life," said John.

FOOTNOTES:

[19] "Duck-Puddle," the school bathing-place.

[20] A "Dringer" is composed of the following ingredients: a layer of strawberries is secreted in sugar and cream at the bottom of a clean jam-pot; and this receives a decent covering of strawberry ice, which brings the surface of the dringer and the top edge of the jam-pot into the same plane. The whole may be bought for sixpence. (P. C. T., 1905.)

[21] A "Bluer" is the blue-flannel jacket worn in the playing fields. It must be worn buttoned by boys who have been less than three years in the school.

[22] Small boys are not advised to copy John's tactics. The victory is not always to the weak.

[23] The house-cap, only worn by members of the House Cricket Eleven.

[24] Lying in bed in the morning when there is no First School is a "frowst." By a subtle law of association, an armchair is also a "frowst."



CHAPTER VI

A Revelation

"Forty years on, when afar and asunder Parted are those who are singing to-day, When you look back, and forgetfully wonder What you were like in your work and your play; Then, it may be, there will often come o'er you Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song,— Visions of boyhood shall float them before you, Echoes of dreamland shall bear them along."

Before the end of the summer term, both Desmond and Scaife received their "caps" and a word of advice from Lawrence.

"There are going to be changes here," said he; "and I wish I could see 'em, and help to bring 'em about. Now, I'm not given to buttering fellows up, but I see plainly that the rebuilding of this house depends a lot upon you two. It's not likely that you're able to measure your influence; if you could, there wouldn't be much to measure. But take it from me, not a word, not an action of yours is without weight with the lower boys. Everything helps or hinders. Next term there will be war—to the knife—between Warde and some fellows I needn't name, and Warde will win. Remember I said so. I hope you," he looked hard at Desmond, "will fight on the right side."

The boys returned to their room, jubilant because the house-cap was theirs, but uneasy because of the words given with it. As soon as they were alone, Scaife said sullenly—

"Does Lawrence expect us to stand in with Warde against Lovell and his pals? If he does, he's jolly well mistaken, as far as I'm concerned."

Desmond flushed. He had spent nearly five terms at Harrow, but only two at the Manor. Of what had been done or left undone by certain fellows in the Fifth he was still in twilight ignorance. He discerned shadows, nothing more, and, boylike, he ran from shadows into the sunlight. Desmond knew that there were beasts at the Manor. Had you forced from him an expression approaching, let us say, definiteness, he would have admitted that beasts lurked in every house, in every school in the kingdom. You must keep out of their way (and ways)—that was all. And he knew also that too many beasts wreck a house, as they wreck a regiment or a nation.

But once or twice within the past few months he had suspected that his cut-and-dried views on good and evil were not shared by Scaife. Scaife confessed to Desmond that the Old Adam was strong in him. He liked, craved for, the excitement of breaking the law. Hitherto, this breaking of the law had been confined to such offences as smoking or drinking a glass of beer at a "pub,"[25] or using cribs, or, generally speaking, setting at naught authority. That Scaife had escaped severe punishment was due to his keen wits.

Now, when Scaife gave Desmond the unexpurgated history of the row which so nearly resulted in the expulsion of six boys, Desmond had asked a question—

"Do you like whisky? I loathe it."

Scaife laughed before he answered. Doubtless one reason why he exacted interest and admiration from Desmond lay in a rare (rare at fifteen) ability to analyse his own and others' actions.

"I loathe it, too," he admitted. "Really, you know, we drank precious little, because it is such beastly stuff. But I liked, we all liked, to believe that we were doing the correct thing—eh? And it warmed us up. Just a taste made the Caterpillar awfully funny."

"I see."

"Do you see? I doubt it, Caesar. Perhaps I shall horrify you when I tell you that vice interests me. I used to buy the Police News when I was a kid, and simply wallow in it. I told a woman that last Easter, and she laughed—she was as clever as they make 'em—and said that I suffered from what the French call la nostalgie de la boue; that means, you know, the homesickness for the gutter. Rather personal, but dev'lish sharp, wasn't it?"

"I think she was a beast."

"Not she, she's a sort of cousin; she came from the same old place herself; that's why she understood. You don't want to know what goes on in the slums, but I do. Why? Because my grand-dad was born in 'em."

"He pulled himself out by brains and muscles."

"But he went back—sometimes. Oh yes, he did. And the governor—I'm up to some of his little games. I could tell you——"

"Oh—shut up!" said Caesar, the colour flooding his cheeks.

Upon the last Saturday of the term the School Concert took place. Few of the boys in the Manor, and none out of it, knew that John Verney had been chosen to sing the treble solo; always an attractive number of the programme. John, indeed, was painfully shy in regard to his singing, so shy that he never told Desmond that he had a voice. And the music-master, enchanted by its quality, impressed upon his pupil the expediency of silence. He wished to surprise the School.

The concerts at Harrow take place in the great Speech-room. Their characteristic note is the singing of Harrow songs. To any boy with an ear for music and a heart susceptible of emotion these songs must appeal profoundly, because both words and music seem to enshrine all that is noble and uplifting in life. And, sung by the whole School (as are most of the choruses), their message becomes curiously emphatic. The spirit of the Hill is acclaimed, gladly, triumphantly, unmistakably, by Harrovians repeating the creed of their fathers, knowing that creed will be so repeated by their sons and sons' sons. Was it happy chance or a happier sagacity which decreed that certain verses should be sung by the School "Twelve," who have struggled through form after form and know (and have not yet had time to forget) the difficulties and temptations which beset all boys? They, to whom their fellows unanimously accord respect at least, and often—as in the case of a Captain of the Cricket Eleven—enthusiastic admiration and fealty; these, the gods, in a word, deliver their injunction, transmit, in turn, what has been transmitted to them, and invite their successors to receive it. To many how poignant must be the reflection that the trust they are about to resign might have been better administered! But to many there must come upon the wings of those mighty, rushing choruses the assurance that the Power which has upheld them in the past will continue to uphold them in the future. In many—would one could say in all—is quickened, for the first time, perhaps, a sense of what they owe to the Hill, the overwhelming debt which never can be discharged.

Desmond sat beside Scaife. Scaife boasted that he could not tell "God save the Queen" from "The Dead March in Saul." He confessed that the concert bored him. Desmond, on the other hand, was always touched by music, or, indeed, by anything appealing to an imagination which gilded all things and persons. He was Scaife's friend, not only (as John discovered) because Scaife had a will strong enough to desire and secure that friendship, but because—a subtler reason—he had never yet seen Scaife as he was, but always as he might have been.

Desmond told Scaife that he could not understand why John had bottled up the fact that he was chosen to sing upon such an occasion. Scaife smiled contemptuously.

"You never bottle up anything, Caesar," said he.

"Why should I? And why should he?"

"I expect he'll make an awful ass of himself."

"Oh no, he won't," Desmond replied. "He's a clever fellow is Jonathan."

As he gave John his nickname, Desmond's charming voice softened. A boy of less quick perceptions than Scaife would have divined that the speaker liked John, liked him, perhaps, better than he knew. Scaife frowned.

"There are several Old Harrovians," he said, indicating the seats reserved for them. "It's queer to me that they come down for this caterwauling."

Desmond glanced at him sharply, with a wrinkle between his eyebrows. For the moment he looked as if he were short-sighted, as if he were trying to define an image somewhat blurred, conscious that the image itself was clear enough, that the fault lay in the obscurity of his own vision.

"They come down because they're keen," he replied. "My governor can't leave his office, or he'd be here. I like to see 'em, don't you, Demon?"

"I could worry along without 'em," the Demon replied, half-smiling. "You see," he added, with the blend of irony and pathos which always captivated his friend, "you see, my dear old chap, I'm the first of my family at Harrow, and the sight of all your brothers and uncles and fathers makes me feel like Mark Twain's good man, rather lonesome."

At once Desmond responded, clutching Scaife's arm.

"You're going to be Captain of the cricket and footer Elevens, and School racquet-player, and a monitor; and after you leave you'll come down here, and you'll see that Harrow hasn't forgotten you, and then you'll know why these fellows cut engagements. My governor says that an hour at a School Concert is the finest tonic in the world for an Old Harrovian."

"Oh, shut up!" said Scaife; "you make me feel more of an outsider than good old Snowball." He glanced at a youth sitting close to them. Snowball was as black as a coal: the son of the Sultan of the Sahara. "Yes, Caesar, you can't get away from it, I am an 'alien.'"

"You're a silly old ass! I say, who's the guest of honour?"

Next to the Head Master was sitting a thin man upon whose face were fixed hundreds of eyes. The School had not been told that a famous Field Marshal, the hero of a hundred fights, was coming to the concert. And, indeed, he had accepted an invitation given at the last moment—accepted it, moreover, on the understanding that his visit was to be informal. None the less, his face was familiar to all readers of illustrated papers. And, suddenly, conviction seized the boys that a conqueror was among them, an Old Etonian, making, possibly, his first visit to the Hill. Scaife whispered his name to Desmond.

"Why, of course," Desmond replied eagerly. "How splendid!"

He leaned forward, devouring the hero with his eyes, trying to pierce the bronzed skin, to read the record. From his seat upon the stage John, also, stared at the illustrious guest. John was frightfully nervous, but looking at the veteran he forgot the fear of the recruit. Both Desmond and he were wondering what "it felt like" to have done so much. And—they compared notes afterwards—each boy deplored the fact that the great man was not an Old Harrovian. There he sat, cool, calm, slightly impassive. John thought he must be rather tired, as a man ought to be tired after a life of strenuous endeavour and achievement. He had done—so John reflected—an awful lot. Even now, he remained the active, untiring servant of Queen and country. And he had taken time to come down to Harrow to hear the boys sing. And, dash it all! he, John, was going to sing to him.

At that moment Desmond was whispering to Scaife—

"I say, Demon; I'm jolly glad that I've not got to sing before him. I bet Jonathan is in a funk."

"A big bit of luck," replied Scaife, reflectively. Then, seeing the surprise on Desmond's face, he added, "If Jonathan can sing—and I suppose he can, or he wouldn't be chosen—this is a chance——"

"Of what?"

"Caesar, sometimes I think you've no brains. Why, a chance of attracting the notice of a tremendous swell—a man, they say, who never forgets—never! Jonathan may want a commission in the Guards, as I do; and if he pleases the great man, he may get it."

"Jonathan's not thinking of that," said Desmond. "Shush-h-h!"

The singers stood up. They faced the Field Marshal, and he faced them. He looked hardest at Lawrence, pointed out to him by the Head Master. Perhaps he was thinking of India; and the name of Lawrence indelibly cut upon the memories of all who fought in the Mutiny. And Lawrence, you may be sure, met his glance steadily, being fortified by it. The good fellow felt terribly distressed, because he was leaving the Hill; and, being a humble gentleman, the old songs served to remind him, not of what he had done, but of what he had left undone—the words unspoken, the actions never now to be performed. The chief caught his eye, smiled, and nodded, as if to say, "I claim your father's son as a friend."

When the song came to an end, John was seized with an almost irresistible impulse to bolt. His turn had come. He must stand up to sing before nearly six hundred boys, who would stare down with gravely critical and courteously amused eyes. And already his legs trembled as if he were seized of a palsy. John knew that he could sing. His mother, who sang gloriously, had trained him. From her he had inherited his vocal chords, and from her he drew the knowledge how to use them.

When he stood up, pale and trembling, the silence fell upon his sensibilities as if it were a dense, yellow fog. This silence, as John knew, was an unwritten law. The small boy selected to sing to the School, as the representative of the School, must have every chance. Let his voice be heard! The master playing the accompaniment paused and glanced at his pupil. John, however, was not looking at him; he was looking within at a John he despised—a poltroon, a deserter about to run from his first engagement. He knew that the introduction to the song was being played a second time, and he saw the Head Master whispering to his guest. Paralysed with terror, John's intuition told him that the Head Master was murmuring, "That's the nephew of John Verney. Of course you know him?" And the Field Marshal nodded. And then he looked at John, as John had seen him look at Lawrence, with the same flare of recognition in the steel-grey eyes. Out of the confused welter of faces shone that pair of eyes—twin beacons flashing their message of encouragement and salvation to a fellow-creature in peril—at least, so John interpreted that piercing glance. It seemed to say, far plainer than words, "I have stood alone as you stand; I have felt my knees as wax; I have wished to run away. But—I didn't. Nor must you. Open your mouth and sing!"

So John opened his mouth and sang. The first verse of the lyric went haltingly.

Scaife growled to Desmond, "He is going to make an ass of himself."

And Desmond, meeting Scaife's eyes, half thought that the speaker wished that John would fail—that he grudged him a triumph. None the less, the first verse, sung feebly, with wrong phrasing and imperfect articulation, revealed the quality of the boy's voice; and this quality Desmond recognized, as he would have recognized a fine painting or a bit of perfect porcelain. All his short life his father had trained him to look for and acclaim quality, whether in things animate or inanimate. He caught hold of Scaife's arm.

"Make an ass of himself!" he whispered back. "Not he. But he may make an ass of me."

Even as he spoke he was aware that tears were horribly near his eyes. Some catch in John's voice, some subtle inflection, had smitten his heart, even as the prophet smote the rock.

"Rot!" said Scaife, angrily.

He was angry, furiously angry, because he saw that Caesar was beyond his reach, whirled innumerable leagues away by the sound of another's voice. John had begun the second verse. He stared, as if hypnotized, straight into the face of the great soldier, who in turn stared as steadily at John; and John was singing like a lark, with a lark's spontaneous delight in singing, with an ease and self-abandonment which charmed eye almost as much as ear. Higher and higher rose the clear, sexless notes, till two of them met and mingled in a triumphant trill. To Desmond, that trill was the answer to the quavering, troubled cadences of the first verse; the vindication of the spirit soaring upwards unfettered by the flesh—the pure spirit, not released from the pitiful human clay without a fierce struggle. At that moment Desmond loved the singer—the singer who called to him out of heaven, who summoned his friend to join him, to see what he saw—"the vision splendid."

John began the third and last verse. The famous soldier covered his face with his hand, releasing John's eyes, which ascended, like his voice, till they met joyfully the eyes of Desmond. At last he was singing to his friend—and his friend knew it. John saw Desmond's radiant smile, and across that ocean of faces he smiled back. Then, knowing that he was nearer to his friend than he had ever been before, he gathered together his energies for the last line of the song—a line to be repeated three times, loudly at first, then more softly, diminishing to the merest whisper of sound, the voice celestial melting away in the ear of earth-bound mortals. The master knew well the supreme difficulty of producing properly this last attenuated note; but he knew also that John's lungs were strong, that the vocal chords had never been strained. Still, if the boy's breath failed; if anything—a smile, a frown, a cough—distracted his attention, the end would be—weakness, failure. He wondered why John was staring so fixedly in one direction.

Now—now!

The piano crashed out the last line; but far above it, dominating it, floated John's flute-like notes. The master played the same bars for the second time. He was still able to sustain, if it were necessary, a quavering, imperfect phrase. But John delivered the second repetition without a mistake, singing easily from the chest. The master put his foot upon the soft pedal. Nobody was watching him. Had any one done so, he would have seen the perspiration break upon the musician's forehead. The piano purred its accompaniment. Then, in the middle of the phrase, the master lifted his hands and held them poised above the instrument. John had to sing three notes unsupported. He was smiling and staring at Desmond. The first note came like a question from the heart of a child; the second, higher up, might have been interpreted as an echo to the innocent interrogation of the first, the head no wiser than the heart; but the third and last note had nothing in it of interrogation: it was an answer, all-satisfying—sublime. Nor did it seem to come from John at all, but from above, falling like a snowflake out of the sky.

And then, for one immeasurable moment—silence.

John slipped back to his seat, crimson with bashfulness, while the School thundered applause. The Field Marshal shouted "Encore," as loudly as any fag; but the Head Master whispered—

"We don't encourage encores. A small boy's head is easily turned."

"Not his," the hero replied.

Two numbers followed, and then the School stood up, and with them all Old Harrovians, to sing the famous National Anthem of Harrow, "Forty Years on." Only the guests and the masters remained seated.

"Forty years on, growing older and older, Shorter in wind, as in memory long, Feeble of foot and rheumatic of shoulder, What will it help you that once you were strong? God give us bases to guard or beleaguer, Games to play out, whether earnest or fun; Fights for the fearless, and goals for the eager, Twenty, and thirty, and forty years on! Follow up! Follow up! Follow up! Follow up! Till the field ring again and again, With the tramp of the twenty-two men. Follow—up!"

As the hundreds of voices, past and present indissolubly linked together, imposed the mandate, "Follow up!" the Head Master glanced at his guest, but left unsaid the words about to be uttered. Tears were trickling down the cheeks of the man who, forty years before, had won his Sovereign's Cross—For Valour.

* * * * *

After the concert, but before he left the Speech-room, the Field Marshal asked the Head Master to introduce Lawrence and John, and, of course, the Head of the School. When John came up, there was a twinkle in the veteran's eye.

"Ha—ha!" said he; "you were in a precious funk, John Verney."

"I was, sir," said John.

"Gad! Don't I know the feeling? Well, well," he chuckled, smiling at John, "you climbed up higher than I've ever been in my life. What was it—hey? 'F' in 'alt'?"

"'G,' sir."

"You sang delightfully. Tell your uncle to bring you to see me next time you are in town. You must consider me a friend," he chuckled again—"an old friend. And look ye here," his pleasant voice sank to a whisper, "I daren't tip these tremendous swells, but I feel that I can take such a liberty with you. Shush-h-h! Good-bye."

John scurried away, bursting with pride, feeling to the core the strong grip of the strong man, hearing the thrill of his voice, the thrill which had vibrated in thousands of soldier-hearts. Outside, Fluff was awaiting him.

"Oh, Jonathan, you can sing, and no mistake."

"Five—six—seven mistakes," John answered.

The boys laughed.

John told Fluff what the hero had said to him, and showed the piece of gold.

"What ho! The Creameries! Come on, Esme."

At the Creameries several boys congratulated John, and the Caterpillar said—

"You astonished us, Jonathan; 'pon my soul you did. Have a 'dringer' with me? And Fluff, too? By the way, be sure to keep your hair clipped close. These singing fellows with manes may be lions in their own estimation, but the world looks upon 'em as asses."

"That's not bad for you, Caterpillar," said a boy in the Fifth.

"Not my own," said the Caterpillar, solemnly—"my father's. I take from him all the good things I can get hold of."

John polished off his "dringer," listening to the chaff, but his thoughts were with Desmond. He had an intuition that Desmond would have something to say to him. As soon as possible he returned to the Manor.

There he found his room empty. John shut the door and sat down, looking about him half-absently. The Duffer had not contributed much to the mural decoration, saying, loftily, that he preferred bare walls to rubbishy engravings and Japanese fans. But, with curious inconsistency (for he was the least vain of mortals), he had bought at a "leaving auction" a three-sided mirror—once the property of a great buck in the Sixth. The Duffer had got it cheap, but he never used it. The lower boys remarked to each other that Duff didn't dare to look in it, because what he would see must not only break his heart but shatter the glass. Generally, it hung, folded up, close to the window, and the Duffer said that it would come in handy when he took to shaving.

John's eye rested on this mirror, vacantly at first, then with gathering intensity. Presently he got up, crossed the room, opened the two folding panels, and examined himself attentively, pursing up his lips and frowning. He could see John Verney full face, three-quarter face, and half-face. And he could see the back of his head, where an obstinate lock of hair stuck out like a drake's tail. John was so occupied in taking stock of his personal disadvantages that a ringing laugh quite startled him.

"Why, Jonathan! Giving yourself a treat—eh?"

John turned a solemn face to Desmond. "I think my head is hideous," he said ruefully.

"What do you mean?"

"It's too long," John explained. "I like a nice round head like yours, Caesar. I wish I wasn't so ugly."

Desmond laughed. John always amused him. Caesar was easily amused, saw the funny side of things, and contrasts tickled his fancy agreeably. But he stopped laughing when he realized that John was hurt. Then, quickly, impulsively, he said—

"Your head is all right, old Jonathan. And your voice is simply beautiful." He spoke seriously, staring at John as he had stared in the Speech-room when John began to sing. "I came here to tell you that. I felt odd when you were singing—quite weepsy, you know. You like me, old Jonathan, don't you?"

"Awfully," said John.

"Why did you look at me when you sang that last verse? Did you know that you were looking at me?"

"Yes."

"You looked at me because—well, because—bar chaff—you—liked—me?"

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