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The Hill - A Romance of Friendship
by Horace Annesley Vachell
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"Yes."

"You—you like me better than any other fellow in the school?"

"Yes; better than any other fellow in the world."

"Is it possible?"

"I have always felt that way since—yes—since the very first minute I saw you."

"How rum! I've forgotten just where we did meet—for the first time."

"I shall never forget," said John, in the same slow, deliberate fashion, never taking his eyes from Desmond's face. Ever since he had sung, he had known that this moment was coming. "I shall never forget it," he repeated—"never. You were standing near the Chapel. I was poking about alone, trying to find the shop where we buy our straws. And I was feeling as all new boys feel, only more so, because I didn't know a soul."

"Yes," said Desmond, gravely; "you told me that. I remember now; I mistook you for young Hardacre."

"You smiled at me, Caesar. It warmed me through and through. I suppose that when a fellow is starving he never forgets the first meal after it."

"I say. Go on; this is awfully interesting."

"I can remember what you wore. One of your bootlaces had burst——"

"Well; I'm——"

"I had a wild sort of wish to run off and buy you a new lace——"

"Of all the rum starts I——"

"Afterwards," John continued, "I tried to suck-up. I asked you to come and have some 'food.' Do you remember?"

"I'll bet I came, Jonathan."

"No; you didn't. You said 'No.'"

"Dash it all! I certainly said, 'No thanks.'"

"I dare say; but the 'No' hurt awfully because I did feel that it was cheek asking you."

"Jonathan, you funny old buster, I'll never say 'No' again. 'Pon my word, I won't. So I said 'No.' That's odd, because it's not easy for me to say 'No.' The governor pointed that out last hols. Somehow, I can't say 'No,' particularly if there's any excitement in saying 'Yes.' And my beastly 'No' hurt, did it? Well, I'm very, very sorry."

He held out his hand, which John took. Then, for a moment, there was a pause before Desmond continued awkwardly—

"You know, Jonathan, that the Demon is my pal. You like him better than you did, don't you?"

John had the tact not to speak; but he shook his head dolefully.

"And I couldn't chuck him, even if I wanted to, which I don't—which I don't," he repeated, with an air of satisfying himself rather than John. And John divined that Scaife's hold upon Desmond's affections was not so strong as he had deemed it to be. Desmond continued, "But I want you, too, old Jonathan, and if—if——"

"All right," said John, nobly. He perceived that Desmond's loyalty to Scaife made him hesitate and flush. "I understand, Caesar, and if I can't be first, let me be second; only, remember, with me you're first, rain or shine."

Desmond looked uneasy. "Isn't that a case of 'heads I win, tails you lose'?"

John considered; then he smiled cheerfully, "You know you are a winner, Caesar. You're cut out for a winner; you can win whatever you want to win."

"Oh, that's all rot," said Desmond. He looked very grave, and in his eyes lay shadows which John had never seen before.

And so ended John's first year at Harrow.

FOOTNOTES:

[25] All Public Houses are out of bounds.



CHAPTER VII

Reform

"'It must be a gran' thing to be a colledge profissor.'

"'Not much to do,' said Mr. Hennessy.

"'But a gr—reat deal to say,' said Mr. Dooley."

When John returned to the Hill at the beginning of the winter term the great change had taken place. Rutford had assumed the duties of Professor of Greek at a Scotch University; Warde was in possession of the Manor; Scaife and Desmond and John—but not the Caterpillar—had got their remove. They were Fifth Form boys—and in tails! John, it is true, although tougher and broader, was still short for his years and juvenile of appearance, but Scaife and Desmond were quite big fellows, and their new coats became them mightily. Trieve was Head of the House; Lovell, Captain of the House football Eleven and in the Lower Sixth.

"Lovell will have to behave himself now," the Duffer remarked to Scaife, who laughed derisively, as he answered—

"He couldn't, even if he tried."

Warde welcomed the House at lock-up, and introduced the boys to his wife and daughter. Mrs. Warde had a plain, pleasant face. Miss Warde, however, was a beauty, and she knew it, the coquette, and had known it from the hour she could peep into a mirror. The Caterpillar pronounced her "fetching." Being only fifteen, she wore her hair in a plait tied by a huge bow, and the hem of her skirt barely touched the neatest ankle on Harrow Hill. Give her a saucy, pink-and-white face, pop a pert, tip-tilted nose into the middle of it just above a pouting red mouth, and just below her father's lapis-lazuli eyes, and you will see Iris Warde. Her hair was reddish, not red—call it warm chestnut; and she had a dimple.

After the introductions, mother and daughter left the hall. Warde stood up, inviting the House to sit down. Warde was about half the width of the late Rutford, but somehow he seemed to take up more room. He had spent the summer holidays in Switzerland, climbing terrific peaks. Snow and sun had coloured his clear complexion. John, who saw beneath tanned skins, reflected that Warde seemed to be saturated with fresh air and all the sweet, clean things which one associates with mountains. "He loves hills," thought John, "and he loves our Hill." Warde began to speak in his jerky, confidential tones. Dirty Dick had always been insufferably dull, pompous, and didactic.

"I don't like speechmaking," said Warde, "but I want to put one thing to you as strongly as a man may. I have always wished to be master of the Manor. Some men may think mine a small ambition. Master of a house at Harrow? Nothing big about that. Perhaps not. But I think it big. And it is big—for me. Understand that I'm in love with my job—head over heels. I'd sooner be master of the Manor than Prime Minister. I couldn't tackle his work. Enough of that. Now, forget for a moment that I'm a master. Let me talk as an Old Harrovian, an old Manorite who remembers everything, ay—everything, good and bad. Some lucky fellows remember the good only; we call them optimists. Others remember the bad. Pessimists those. Put me between the two. The other day I had an eye, one eye, fixed on the top of a certain peak—by Jove! how I longed to reach that peak!—but the other eye was on a crevasse at my feet. Had I kept both eyes on the peak, I should be lying now at the bottom of that crevasse. You take me? Well, twenty years ago I sat here, in hall, my last night in the old house, and I hoped that one day I might come back. Why? This is between ourselves, a confidence. I came to the Manor from a beastly school, such schools are hardly to be found nowadays—a hardened young sinner at thirteen. The Manor licked me into shape. Speaking generally, I suppose the tone of the house insensibly communicated itself to me. The Manor was cock-house at games and work. I began by shirking both. But the spirit of the Hill was too much for me. I couldn't shirk that. Some jolly old boys, we all know them and like them, are always saying that their early school-days were the happiest of their lives. They're fond of telling this big lie just as they're settling down to their claret. I really believe that they believe what they say, but it is a lie. The smallest boy here knows it's a lie. Let's hark back a bit. I said I was licked into shape—and I mean licked. I had a lot of really hard fagging—much harder than any of you boys know—I was sent up and swished, I had whoppings innumerable, and it wasn't pleasant. My mother had pinched herself to send me here, because my father had been here before me; and I wondered why she did it. At that time I couldn't see why cheaper schools shouldn't be not only as good as Harrow, but perhaps better. Not till I was in the Fifth did I get a glimmering of what my mother and the Manor were doing for me. When I got into the Sixth and into the Eleven, I knew. And my last year here made up, and more, too, for the previous four. I enjoyed that year thoroughly; I had ceased to be a slacker. I tell you, all of you, that happiness, like liberty, must be earned before we can enjoy it. And you are sent here to earn it. I'm not going to keep you much longer. I have come to the marrow of the matter. I owe the Manor a debt which I hope to pay to—you. Just as you, in turn, will pay back to boys not yet born the money your people have gladly spent on you, and other greater things besides. I want to see this house at the top of the tree again: cock-house at cricket, cock-house at footer, with a Balliol Scholar in it, and a school racquet-player. And now Dumbleton is going to bring in a little champagne. We'll drink high health and fellowship to the Manor and the Hill!"

His face broke into the smile his form knew so well; he sat down, as the house roared its welcome to a friend.

As soon as the champagne was drunk ("Dumber" was careful to put more froth than wine into the glasses of the kids), the boys filed out of the Hall. The Duffer, Desmond, John, and the Caterpillar assembled in John's room. Desmond, you may be sure, was afire with resolution. Warde was the right sort, a clinker, a first flighter. And he meant to stick by him through thick and thin. John said nothing. The Caterpillar drawled out—

"Warde didn't surprise me—much. I've found out that he's one of the Wardes of Warde-Pomeroy, the real old stuff. Our families intermarried in Elizabeth's reign."

"Chance to do it again, Caterpillar," said the Duffer. "Warde's daughter is an uncommonly pretty girl."

Then the Caterpillar used the epithet "fetching."

"She's fetching, very fetching," he said. "It's a pleasure to remember that we're of kin. One must be civil to Warde. He's a well bred 'un."

"You think too much of family," said Desmond.

"One can't," replied the Caterpillar, solemnly. "One knows that family is not everything, but, other things being equal, it means refinement. The first of the Howards was a swineherd, I dare say, but generations of education, of association with the best, have turned them from swine-herds into gentlemen, and it takes generations to do it."

"Good old Caterpillar!" said the Duffer.

"Not my own," said the Caterpillar; adding, as usual, "My governor's, you know."

"Warde hasn't a soft job ahead of him," said Desmond.

"Soft or hard, he'll handle it his own way."

Desmond went out, wondering what had become of Scaife. Scaife was in his room, talking to Lovell senior, who spent a fortnight with Scaife's people in Scotland, fishing and grousing. Desmond had been asked also, but his father, rather to Caesar's disgust (for the Scaife moor was famous), had refused to let him go. Lovell and Scaife were arguing about something which Desmond could not understand.

"I left it to my partner," said Scaife, "and the fool went no trumps holding two missing suits. The enemy doubled, my partner redoubled, and the others redoubled again: that made it ninety-six a trick. The fellow on the left held my partner's missing suits; he made the Little Slam, and scored nearly six hundred below the line. It gave 'em the rubber, too, and I had to fork out a couple of quid."

"What are you jawing about, Demon?" said Desmond.

"Bridge. It's the new game. It's going to be the rage. Do you play bridge, Caesar?"

"No. I want to learn it."

"All right, I must teach you."

"We could get up a four in this house," said Lovell. "We three and the Caterpillar. He plays, I know. The Colonel is one of the cracks at the Turf. It would be an awful lark. A mild gamble: small points—eh? A bob a hundred. What do you say, Caesar?"

Desmond hesitated. Bridge had not yet reached its delirious stage. But Desmond had seen it played, had heard his father praise it as the most fascinating of card-games, and had determined to learn it at the first convenient opportunity. None the less Warde's words still echoed in his ear.

"I think we ought to give Warde a chance," he said.

"You don't mean to say you were taken in by him?" said Lovell, contemptuously.

Desmond burst into enthusiastic praise of Warde and his methods. Lovell shrugged his shoulders and walked out of the room, nodding to Scaife, but ignoring Desmond.

"You must go canny with Lovell," said Scaife. "He's the fellow who ought to give you your 'fez' after the first house-game."

"Never mind that. You won't play bridge, Demon, will you?"

"Why not?" said Scaife. "Where's the harm? Your governor plays——"

"Yes; but——"

"You're afraid of getting sacked?"

"I'm not."

"All right; I'll take that back. You're not a funk, Caesar, but you're so easily humbugged. Warde caught you with his 'pi jaw' and a glass of gooseberry."

"The champagne was all right, wasn't it?"

"Oh, ho! So you do mean to stand in with Warde against Lovell and me? Thanks for being so candid. Now I'll be candid with you. I like Lovell. There's no nonsense about him. He don't put on frills because he's in the Sixth, and he don't mean to take to their sneaking, spying ways. He's just as anxious as Warde to see the Manor cock-house at footer and cricket, and I'm as keen as he is; but we stop there. The Balliol Scholarship may go hang. And as for sympathy and fellowship and pulling together between masters and boys, I never did believe in it, and never shall. My hand is against the masters, so long as they interfere with anything I want to do. I like bridge, and I mean to play it. And I'll take jolly good care that I'm not nailed. That's part of the fun, as the drinking used to be. I chucked that because it wasn't good enough; but bridge is ripping, and, take my word for it, you'll be keener than I when you begin."

"Perhaps. But I'm not going to begin here."

"Right—oh!"

Scaife turned aside, whistling, but out of the corner of his shrewd eye he marked the expression of Desmond's face, the colour ebbing and flowing in the round, boyish cheeks, the perplexity on the brow. Then he spoke in a different voice.

"Don't worry, old chap. You've stuck to me through thick and thin, and I'm grateful, really and truly. You're right, and I'm wrong; I always am wrong. I was looking forward to larks. If you count 'em purple sins, I don't blame you for letting me go to the devil by myself."

"I never said bridge was a purple sin."

"Warde thinks it is. If you're going to look at life here with his eyes, you'll have to rename things. Babies play Beggar my Neighbour for chocolates; why shouldn't we play bridge for a bob a hundred? The game is splendid for the brain; ten thousand times better than translating Greek choruses."

"But it is—gambling, Demon; you can't get away from that."

"Pooh! It's gambling if I bet you a 'dringer' that you won't make ten runs in a house-match; it's gambling if I raffle a picture and you take a sixpenny ticket. Are you going to give up that sort of gambling?"

"No; but——"

"What would Warde say to our co-operative system of work—eh? You're not prepared to go the whole hog? You want to pick and choose. Good! But give me the same right, that's all. Play bridge with your old pals, or don't play, just as you please."

No more was said. Scaife's manner rather than his matter confounded the younger and less experienced boy. Scaife, too, tackled problems which many men prefer to leave alone. Here heredity cropped up. Scaife's sire and grandsire were earning their bread before they were sixteen. Of necessity they faced and overcame obstacles which the ordinary Public School-boy never meets till he leaves the University.

For some time after this bridge was not mentioned. Lovell, acting, possibly, under advice from Scaife, treated Desmond courteously, and gave him his "fez" after the first house-game. Both boys now were members of the Manor cricket and football Elevens, and, as such, persons of distinction in their small world. Scaife, moreover, began to play football with such extraordinary dash and brilliancy, that it seemed to be quite on the cards that he might get his School Flannels. This possibility, and the Greek in the Fifth, absorbed his energies for the first six weeks of the winter quarter. John had come back to Scaife's room to prepare work. Desmond felt that Scaife had been generous in proposing that John should join them, because in many small ways it had become evident that the Demon disliked John, although he still spoke of the tight place out of which John had hauled him. Through Scaife John received his "fez"; and when John wore it for the first time, Scaife came up and said, smiling—

"I'm nearly even with you, Verney."

"What do you mean?" said John.

"You know well enough what I mean," said Scaife, winking his eye maliciously.

John flushed, because in his heart he did know. But when he told Egerton what Scaife had said, that experienced man of the world turned up his nose.

"Just like him," he said. "He wants you to feel that he has wiped out his debt."

"Do you think my 'fez' ought to have been given to young Lovell?"

The Caterpillar, who played back for the Manor, considered the question.

"I don't know," he said. "You are pretty nearly equal; but it's a fact that the Demon turned the scale. He pointed out to Lovell that if he gave a 'fez' to his young brother, the house might accuse him of favouritism. That did the trick."

This made John uneasy and unhappy for a week or two; but the consciousness that another might be better entitled to the coveted "fez" made him play up with such energy that he succeeded in proving to all critics that he had honestly earned what luck had bestowed on him.

During the last week of October, John began those long walks with Desmond which, afterwards, he came to regard as perhaps the most delightful hours spent at Harrow. Scaife detested walking. He had his father's power of focusing attention and energy upon a single object. For the moment he was mad about football. Talk about books, scenery, people, bored him, and he said so with his usual frankness and impatience of restraint. Desmond, on the other hand, was also like his father, inasmuch as his tastes were catholic. He was a bit of a naturalist, learned in the lore of woods and fields, and he liked to talk about books, and he liked to talk about his home. Simple John would sooner hear Caesar talk than listen to the heavenly choir. So it came to pass that once a week at least the boys would stroll down the avenue at Orley Farm (where Anthony Trollope's sad boyhood was passed), or take the Northwick Walk, which winds through meadows to the Bridge, or visit John Lyon's farm at Preston, or, getting signed for Bill, attempt a longer ramble to Ruislip Reservoir, or Oxhey Wood, or Headstone with its moated grange, or Horsington Hill with its long-stretching view across the Uxbridge plain.

Very soon it became the natural thing for Caesar to give John a glimpse, at least, of whatever floated in and out of his mind. John, being himself a creature of reserves, could not quite understand this unlocking of doors, but he appreciated his privileges. Caesar's ingenuousness, sympathy, and impulsiveness, seemed the more enchanting because John himself was of the look-before-you-leap, think-before-you-speak, sort. One Sunday evening they were hurrying back to Chapel, when they passed a woman carrying a heavy child. The poor creature appeared to be almost fainting with fatigue and possibly hunger. Her pinched face, her bent figure, her thin garments, bespoke a passionate protest against conditions which obviously she was powerless to avert or control. The boys glanced at her with pitying eyes as they passed. Then Desmond said quickly—

"I say, Jonathan, she looks as if she was going to fall down."

John, seeing what was in his friend's mind, said—

"We must hurry up, or we shall miss Chapel."

They offered the woman sixpences, and blushes, because through the tattered shawl might be seen a shrunken bosom.

The woman stared, stammered, and burst into tears.

"We shall miss Chapel," John repeated.

"Hang Chapel," said Desmond.

He was looking at the child. When the woman took the silver, she let the child slip to the ground, where it lay inert.

"What's the matter with it?" said Desmond.

Half sobbing, the woman explained that the child had sprained its ankle.

"I'm just about done," she gasped; "an' the sight o' you two young gen'lemen runnin' up the 'ill finished me. I ain't the leaky sort," she added fiercely, still gasping and trembling.

Then she bent down and tried to lift the heavy child, which moaned feebly.

"You run on, Jonathan," said Desmond.

"Why?"

"I'm going to carry this kid up the hill."

"I'll help."

"No—hook it, you ass."

"I won't hook it."

Between them they carried the child as far as the Speech-room, where a policeman accepted a shilling, and gave in return a positive assurance that he would see woman and child to their destination. When the boys were alone, John said—

"Caesar——"

"Well?"

"What a fellow you are! I wouldn't have thought of that. It was splendid."

"Oh, shut up." There was a slight pause; then Caesar said defiantly, "I thought of carrying that kid; but I wouldn't have done it, unless I'd known that every boy was safe in Chapel. I couldn't have faced the chaff. And—you could."

They were punished for cutting Chapel, because Caesar refused to give the reason which would have saved them.

"I'd have told the truth," he admitted to John, "if I could have shouldered that kid with the Manorites looking on."

John agreed that this was an excellent and a Caesarean (he coined the adjective on this occasion) reason.

* * * * *

Among the Fifth Form boys of the Manor was a big, coarse-looking youth of the name of Beaumont-Greene. Everybody called him Beaumont-Greene in full, because upon his first appearance at Bill he had stopped the line of boys by refusing to answer to the name of Greene.

"My name," said he, in a shrill pipe, "is Beaumont-Greene, and we spell the Greene with a final 'e'."

Beaumont-Greene was a type of boy, unhappily, too common at all Public Schools. He had no feeling whatever for Harrow, save that it was a place where it behoved a boy to escape punishment if he could, and to run, hot foot, towards anything which would yield pleasure to his body. He was known to the Manorites as a funk at footer, and a prodigious consumer of "food" at the Creameries. His father, having accumulated a large fortune in manufacturing what was advertised in most of the public prints as the "Imperishable, Seamless, Whale-skin Boot," gave his son plenty of money. As a Lower Boy, Beaumont-Greene had but a sorry time of it. Somebody discovered that he was what Gilbert once described as an "imperfect ablutioner." The Caterpillar made a point of telling new boys the nature of the punishment meted out to the unclean. He had assisted at the "toshing" of Beaumont-Greene.

"A nasty job," the Caterpillar would remark, looking at his own speckless finger-nails: "but it had to be done. We took the Greene person" (the Caterpillar alone refused to defame the fine name of Beaumont by linking it to Greene) "and placed him naked in a large tosh. Into that tosh the house was invited to pour any fluid that could be spared. One forgets things; but, unless I'm mistaken, the particular sheep-wash used was made up of lemonade, syrups, ink—plenty of that—milk (I bought a quart myself), tooth-powder, paraffin, and a cake of Sapolio—Monkey Brand! We scrubbed the Yahoo thoroughly, washed its teeth, ears, hair, and then we dried it. I don't know who smeared marmalade on to the towel, but the drying part was not very successful. Rather tough—eh? Yes, very tough—on us, but effective. The Greene person has toshed regularly ever since. At least, so I'm told; I never go near him myself, and he's considerate enough to keep out of my way."

Beaumont-Greene had not, it is true, the appetite for reckless breaking of the law which distinguished Lovell and his particular pals; but Lovell's good qualities cancelled to a certain extent what was vicious. A fine cricketer, a plucky football-player, he might have proved a credit to his house had a master other than Dirty Dick been originally in command of it. Before he was out of the Shell, he had declared war against Authority. Beaumont-Greene, on the other hand, detested games, and sneered at those who played them. Pulpy, pimply, gross in mind and body, he stood for that heavy, amorphous resistance to good, which is so difficult to overcome.

During the first half of the winter quarter, John saw but little of Esme Kinloch. It is one of the characteristics of a Public School that the boys—as in the greater world for which it is a preparation—are in layers. Some layers overlap; others never touch. Fluff was a fag; his friend John was in the Fifth Form, and a "fez." In a word, an Atlantic rolled between them. John, however, would often give Fluff a "con," and occasionally they would walk together. Fluff was no longer the delicate, girlish child of a year ago. He had bloomed into a very handsome boy, attractive, like all the members of his mother's family, with engaging manners, and he had also shown signs of developing into a cricketer. Fluff could paddle his own canoe, provided, of course, that he kept out of the rapids.

But about the middle of the term John noticed that Fluff was losing colour and spirits, the latter never very exuberant. It was not in John's nature to ask questions which he might answer for himself by taking pains to do so. He watched Fluff closely. Then he demanded bluntly—

"What's up?"

"Nothing."

"That's a cram," said John, severely. "I didn't believe you'd tell me a cram, Esme."

"You don't care tuppence whether I tell crams or not—now."

John weighed the "now" deliberately.

"That's another cram," he said slowly. "Has anybody been rotting you?"

Silence. John repeated the question. Still silence. Then John added—

"You know, Esme, that I shall stick to you till I find out what's up; so you may as well save time by telling me at once."

"It's Beaumont-Greene," faltered Fluff.

"That fat beast! What's he done?"

"He hasn't done much—yet."

"Tell everything!"

"He came into my room one night and turned me up in my bed. I woke, on my head, in the dark, half-smothered, and couldn't think what had happened; it was simply awful. Then I heard his beastly voice saying, 'If I let you down, will you do what I ask you?' I'd have promised anything to get out of that horrible, choking prison, and now he threatens to turn me up every night, and I dream of it——"

"Go on," said John, grimly. "No, you needn't go on. I can guess what this low cad is up to."

"He said he'd be my friend; as if I'd have a beast like that for a friend."

"Did you tell him that?"

"Yes, I did."

"You're a good-plucked 'un, Esme. And he's made it warm for you ever since?"

"Yes."

"But he hasn't turned you up again?"

"N-no; but he will. I'd almost sooner he'd do it, and have done with it. I can't sleep."

"Now, don't be a silly fool," John commanded. "I'm going to think this out, and I'll bet I make that fat, pimply beast sit up and howl."

"Thanks awfully, John."

But the more John thought of what he had undertaken to do, the less clearly he saw his way to do it. Evidently Beaumont-Greene was too prudent to bully Fluff; he had resorted to the crueller alternative of terrorizing him. Lawrence would have settled this fellow's hash—so John reflected—in a jiffy, but Trieve, "Miss Trieve," was hopelessly incapable. Presently inspiration came. He seized an opportunity when Beaumont-Greene happened to be by himself; then he marched boldly into his room, leaving the door ajar.

"Hullo! what do you want?"

Beaumont-Greene was sitting opposite the fire, reading a novel and leisurely consuming macaroons.

"I want you to leave young Kinloch alone—please."

Beaumont-Greene nearly choked; then he spluttered out—

"Say that again, will you?"

"I want you to leave young Kinloch alone."

"Really? Anything else?"

"Nothing more, thank you."

Beaumont-Greene slowly raised himself out of his chair and glared at John, whose head came to his chin.

"You've plenty of cheek."

"What I have isn't spotty, anyway."

John saw the veins begin to swell in Beaumont-Greene's throat. He thought with relief of the door ajar, but it was part of his policy—a carefully devised policy—to provoke, if possible, a scene. Then others would interfere, explanations would be in order, and public opinion would accomplish the rest.

"You infernal young jackanapes!"

"You pretty pet!"

"Get out of my room! Hook it!"

"I want to," said John, coolly enough, although his heart was throbbing. "It's horribly fuggy in here, and I've Jambi[26] to do; but I'm not going till you give me your word that you'll leave young Kinloch alone."

"If you don't walk out I'll chuck you out."

"You must catch me first," said John.

And then a very pretty chase took place. Beaumont-Greene, fat, scant of breath, full of macaroons, began to pursue John round and round the table. John skilfully interposed chairs, sofa-cushions, anything he could lay hands on. Passing the washstand, he secured an enormous sponge, which an instant later flew souse into the face of the grampus. An abridged edition of Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon followed. This nearly brought the big fellow to grass. In his rage he, too, began to hurl what objects happened to be within reach, but he was a shocking bad shot; he missed, or John dodged every time. John did not miss. Finally, as John had foreseen, a couple of Sixth Form fellows rushed in.

"What's the meaning of this infernal row?" asked one.

"Ask him," said John.

Authority stared at Beaumont-Greene, and then at his wrecked room.

"I told him to hook it, and he wouldn't," spluttered the gasping Greene.

"Why?"

Half a dozen other fellows had come into the room. Amongst them the Duffer and the Caterpillar.

"I wanted to hook it," John explained, "because it's so beastly fuggy; but Beaumont-Greene wouldn't promise me to do something he ought to do."

"This is mysterious."

"The swaggering young blackguard cheeked me," growled Greene.

"I was very polite—at first," pleaded John.

"Hook it now, anyway," said Authority.

"Not till he promises. If you turn me out, I'll come back after you're gone."

"What is it you want him to promise?"

John had achieved his object.

"I want him to leave young Kinloch alone."

The two Sixth Form boys glanced at each other; at John; at the gross, spotted face of Beaumont-Greene. Then the senior said coldly—

"I suppose you have no objection, Beaumont-Greene, to promising Verney or any one else that you will leave young Kinloch alone?"

"I've never laid a finger on the kid," growled the big fellow; but he looked pale and frightened.

"Then you promise—eh?"

"Yes."

"On your word of honour?"

"Yes."

That night John told Fluff with great glee how Beaumont-Greene had been made to "sit up and howl."

FOOTNOTES:

[26] "Jambi"—Iambic verses.



CHAPTER VIII

Verney Boscobel

"In honour of all who believe that life was made for friendship."

The immediate result of the incident described in the last chapter was to strengthen the bond between John and Desmond. Desmond had the epic from Fluff, from the Caterpillar, and finally from John himself.

"You bearded that poisonous beast in his den," exclaimed he; "you plotted and planned for the scrimmage; you foresaw what would happen. Well, you are a corker, Jonathan."

"You'd have thought of something much better."

"Not I," Desmond replied.

Scaife, however, made no remarks. Possibly, because Desmond made too many, singing John's praises behind his back and to his face, in and out of season. This, of course, was indiscreet, and led to hard words and harder feelings. Beaumont-Greene realized that John had tarred and feathered him. The fags, you may be sure, rubbed the tar in. If Beaumont-Greene threatened to kick an impudent Fourth Form boy, that youngster would bid him be careful.

"If you don't behave yourself," he would say, "I shall have to send Verney to your room."

Lovell senior remarked that Beaumont-Greene was a "swine," but that Verney had put on "lift" and must be snubbed. What? A boy who had not been two years in the school dared to take the law into his own hands! The matter ought to have been laid before the Head of the House.

Accordingly, John found himself, much to his dismay, unpopular with the Olympians. The last month of this term was, in some ways, the most disagreeable he had yet spent at Harrow.

But the gain of Desmond's friendship far outweighed the loss of popularity. John tingled with pleasure when he reflected that he had achieved his ambition to stand between Scaife and Desmond. At the same time, he was uncomfortably aware that Scaife seemed to have climbed high above Desmond, who had stood still. In moments of depression John told himself that he was a makeshift, that Desmond would leave him and join the Demon whenever that splendid young person chose to whistle him up. Scaife had failed to get his Football Flannels, but he came so near to beating all previous records that the School began to regard him as a "Blood." He was seen arm-in-arm with Lovell, strolling up and down the High Street, and the fags breathlessly repeated what Desmond had predicted a year ago: the Demon was the coming man. And always, when John and Desmond passed him, John thought he could read a derisive triumph upon the Demon's handsome face, an expression which said plainly: "You young fool, don't you know that I'm playing cat and mouse with you?"

The three still met twice daily to prepare work. But the moment that was done, Scaife disappeared, leaving John and Desmond together.

"He's playing bridge in Lovell's room," said Desmond.

More facts were gleaned from the Caterpillar, who had joined the bridge-players, but played seldom.

"One draws the line," said he, "at playing for stakes one can't afford to lose. Lovell and the Demon have made it too hot."

"And Warde will make it hotter," said John.

"Not he," replied the Caterpillar. "The Demon is a wonder. Thanks to his brains, detection is impossible. He suggested that Lovell's room should be used. Warde wouldn't dare to burst in upon one of the Sixth. And you ought to see their dodgy arrangements. Lovell has his young brother on guard. I'm hanged if the Demon didn't invent a sort of drill, which they go through with a stop-watch. It's a star performance, I tell you. Young Lovell bolts in. In thirty-five seconds—they have got it down to that—the cards and markers are hidden; and the four of 'em are jawing away about footer."

"All the same," said John, obstinately, "Warde will be too much for 'em."

"Oh, rot!" said the Caterpillar.

The Manor got into the semi-finals of the football matches, and when the School broke up for the Christmas holidays it was generally conceded that the fortunes of the ancient house were mending. In the Manor itself Warde's influence was hardly yet perceptible: only a very few knew that it was diffusing itself, percolating into nooks and crevices undreamed of: the hearts of the Fourth Form, for instance. In Dirty Dick's time there had been almost universal slackness. In pupil-room Rutford read a book; boys could work or not as they pleased, provided their tutor was not disturbed. Warde, on the other hand, made it a point of honour to work with his pupils. His indefatigable energies, his good humour, his patience, were never so conspicuous as when he was coaching duffers. In other ways he made the boys realize that he was at the Manor for their advantage, not his own. The gardens and park were kept strictly private by Dirty Dick. Warde threw them open: a favour hardly appreciated in the whiter quarter, but the House admitted that it would be awfully jolly in the summer to lie under the trees far from the "crowd." In a word—a "privilege."

Upon the last Saturday, to John's delight, Desmond asked him to spend a week in Eaton Square. John had paid two visits to White Ladies; he was now about to experience something entirely new. White Ladies and Verney Boscobel were typical of the past; they illustrated the history of the families who had inhabited them. The great world went to White Ladies to see the pictures and the gardens, the Gobelin tapestries, the Duchess and her guests; but the same world dined in Eaton Square to see Charles Desmond.

During this visit, our John first learned what miracles one individual may accomplish. At White Ladies, he had dimly perceived, as has been said, the duties and responsibilities imposed upon rank and wealth. In Eaton Square he saw more plainly the duties and responsibilities imposed upon a man of great talents. Both Charles Desmond and the Duke of Trent were hard workers, but the labours of the duke seemed to John (and to other wise persons) drab-coloured. Charles Desmond's work, in contrast, presented all the colours of the spectrum. John left White Ladies, thanking his stars that he was not a duke; he came away from Eaton Square filled with the ambition to be Private Secretary to the great Minister. And when Mr. Desmond said to him with his genial smile, "Well, young John, Harry, I hope, will be my secretary, and the crutch of my declining years. But what would you like to be?" John replied fervently, "Oh, sir, I should like to be Harry's understudy."

"Would you?"

And then John saw the face of his kind host change. The smile faded. Mr. Desmond had taken his answer as John meant it to be taken—seriously. He examined John as if he were already a candidate for office. The piercing eyes probed deep. Then he said slowly, "I should like to have you under me, John. We shall talk of this again, my boy. My own sons——" He paused, sighed, and then laughed, tapping John's cheek with his slender, finely-formed fingers. But he passed on without finishing his sentence. John knew that, of Caesar's brothers, Hugo, the eldest, was Secretary of Legation at Teheran; Bill "devilled" for a famous barrister; Lionel wore her Majesty's livery. Strange that none had elected to serve his own father! Caesar explained later.

"You see," he said, "the dear old governor outshines everybody. Hugo and the others felt that under him they would be in eclipse, for ever and ever—eh?"

"I see," said John, gravely. "Yes, there's something in that. He wants you, Caesar."

"Dear old governor!" the other replied. "Yes—he's keen on that. But I hope to make my own little mark. I'd like to have my name on a brass tablet in Harrow Chapel; that would be something." His eyes began to glow and sparkle.

Next day, at dinner, Rodney's name cropped up.

"Rodney paved the way for Nelson," Mr. Desmond observed. "I look upon him as one of our greatest Harrovians. We ought to have a building to Rodney's memory. I put him before Peel or Byron."

"Oh, I say, father——" Hot protest from Caesar.

"Act before word, Harry; practice before precept. Rodney was a man of action. I should like to have been Rodney."

"I should like to have been Sheridan," said Caesar. "I often look at his name on the third panel of the Fourth Form Room."

He glanced at his father, who smiled, knowing that a delicate compliment was intended, for enthusiastic admirers had spoken of Charles Desmond as the Richard Brinsley Sheridan of the modern House of Commons. The father said curtly—

"A sky-rocket, my dear Harry." Then he turned to John. "And of all our famous Harrovians whom would you like to take as a pattern, young John?"

John hesitated. Two or three of the guests present were celebrities. Amongst them was England's greatest critic sitting beside an ambassador. There happened to be a lull in the talk. All looked curiously at John.

"I'd like to be another Lord Shaftesbury," he said slowly.

"Good! Capital!" Mr. Desmond nodded his head. "I knew him well." He poured out anecdote after anecdote illustrating the character and temperament of the statesman-philanthropist: his self-sacrifice, his devotion to an ideal, his curious exclusiveness, his refinement, his faith in an aristocracy never diminished by the indefatigable zeal wherein he laboured to better the condition of the poor. "If every rich man were animated by Shaftesbury's spirit," said Mr. Desmond, in conclusion, "extreme poverty would be wiped out of England, and yet we should retain all that makes life charming and profitable. He was no leveller, save of foul rookeries. First and last he believed in order, particularly his own—a true nobleman. And the inspiration of his great career came to him on the Hill."

"Indeed?" said the Critic.

"John Verney will tell you all about it," said Mr. Desmond, glancing cheerily at our hero. His was ever the habit to draw out the humblest of his guests.

So John recited how young Anthony Ashley, standing on the Hill, just below the churchyard, chanced to see a pauper's coffin fall to the ground and burst open, revealing the pitiful corpse within, and how he had exclaimed in horror, "Good heavens! Can this be permitted simply because the man was poor and friendless?" And how, then and there, the boy had sworn to devote his powers to the amelioration of poverty-stricken lives.

"Yes," said Mr. Desmond. "He told me that the next fifteen minutes decided his career. Ah, he succeeded greatly. Why, when I was at Harrow we used to cross from Waterloo to Euston through some of the worst slums in the world. You boys can't realize what they looked like. And Shaftesbury's work and example wiped them out of our civilization."[27]

When John returned to his uncle's house of Verney Boscobel (his home since his father's death), Caesar Desmond accompanied him. Then it seemed to John that his cup brimmed, that everything he desired had been granted unto him. Verney Boscobel stood in the heart of the great forest, one of the few large manors within that splendid demesne. The boys arrived at Lyndhurst Road Station late in the evening, long after dusk, and were driven in darkness through Bartley and Minstead up to the high-lying moors of Stoneycross. Next morning, early, John woke his friend, and opened the shutters.

"Jolly morning," he said. "Have a look at the Forest, old chap."

Caesar jumped out of bed, and drew a long breath.

"Ah!" he exclaimed; "it's fairyland."

Frost had silvered all things below. Above, motionless upon the blue heavens, as if still frozen by the icy fingers of a December night, were some aerial transparencies of aqueous vapour, amethystine in colour, with edges of white foam. In the east, obscured, but not concealed, by grey mist, hung the crimson orb of the sun. From it faint rays shot forth, touching the clouds beneath, which, roused, so to speak, out of sleep, drifted lethargically in a southerly direction.

"Underneath the young grey dawn A multitude of dense, white, fleecy clouds Were wandering in thick flocks, ... Shepherded by the slow, unwilling wind."

Desmond drew in his breath, sighing with purest delight. From the lawns encompassing the house his eyes strayed into a glade of bracken, gold gleaming through silver—a glade shadowed by noble oaks and beeches, with one birch tree in the middle of it surpassingly graceful. Upon this each delicate bough and spray were outlined sharply against the sky. Beyond the glade stretched the moor, rugged, bleak, and treeless, sloping sharply upward. Beyond the moor lay the Forest—belts of firs darkly purple; and flanking these the irregular masses of oaks and beeches, varying in tint from palest lavender to rose and brown, some still in shadow, some in ever-increasing glow of sunlight; not one the same and each in itself containing a thousand differing forms, yet all harmonious parts of the resplendent whole.

"I'm so glad you like my home," said John. "Shall we have a gallop before breakfast? It's only a white frost."

So they galloped away into fairyland, returning with mortal appetites to the oak-panelled dining-hall, whence a Verney had ridden forth to join his kinsman, Sir Edmund, in arms for the King upon the distant field of Edge Hill. After breakfast the boys explored the quaint old house; and John showed Caesar the twenty-bore gun, and promised his guest much rabbit-shooting, and two days' hunting, at least, with the New Forest Hounds, and some pike-fishing, and possibly an encounter with a big grayling—which, later, the boys saw walloping about in the Test above Broadlands—a splendid fish, once hooked by John, and lost—a three-pounder, of course.

O golden age! You will never forget that Christmas—will you, John? If you live to be Prime Minister of England, the memory of those first days alone with your friend will remain green when the colour has been sucked by Time out of everything else. Fifty years hence, maybe, you will see Caesar's curly head and his blue eyes full of fun and life, and you will hear his joyous laughter—peal upon peal—echoing through the corridors of Verney Boscobel. Your mother took him to her heart—didn't she? And all the servants, from butler to scullery maid, voted him the jolliest, cheeriest boy that ever came to Hampshire. Why, Mrs. Osman, the cook, with a temper like tinder from too much heat, refused flatly to let Caesar make toffee in her kitchen. But just then a barrel-organ turned up, and before she could open her mouth, Caesar was dancing a polka with her; and after that he could make toffee, or hay, or anything else, wherever and whenever he pleased.

When they returned to the Manor, John hoped and prayed that this blessed intimacy would continue. It did—for a time. The three boys got their remove, and found themselves in the Second Fifth, where they proposed to linger till after the summer term. Lovell and Scaife seemed inseparable, and bridge began again, apparently an inexhaustible source of amusement and excitement. Then came the Torpid matches; and John, as Lawrence predicted, was captain of the cock-house Eleven—the first great victory of the Manorites. During the term, Scaife and Desmond won no races, being in age betwixt and between winners of Upper and Lower School races. Scaife refused to train. Desmond took a few runs, but abandoned them for racquets, the chief game in the Easter term, but only played regularly by boys whose purses are well lined. John confined his attention to "Squash." Caesar played "Harder" with the Demon. The three worked together as of yore. John now perceived that Scaife had joined a clique pledged to fight Reform. It was in the air that something might happen. Warde eyed the big fellows shrewdly, as if measuring weapons. He confounded some by asking them to dine with him. At dessert he would talk of sport, or games, or politics—everything, in fine, except "shop." The more worthy came away from these pleasant evenings with rather a hangdog expression, as if they had been receiving goods under false pretences. John and Desmond were made especially welcome. And, after dinner, John, whose voice had not yet cracked, would sing, to Mrs. Warde's accompaniment, such songs as "O Bay of Dublin, my heart yu're throublin'," or "Think of me sometimes," or Handel's "Where'er you walk." The Caterpillar made no secret of a passion for Iris Warde, and became a dangerous rival of one of the younger masters. He talked to Warde about genealogies and hunting, topics of conversation in which they had a common interest outside Harrow. John guessed that Warde was making an effort to secure Egerton, who, for his part, took the world as he found it, consorting alike with John and his friends, and also with Lovell and Co. From the Caterpillar John learned that Beaumont-Greene had begun to play bridge.

"Scaife and Lovell are skinning the beast," he added confidentially. "Green he is, and no error."

"Ructions soon," said John.

"I don't believe it," replied the Caterpillar. "Take my word, Warde knows what he's about. He's playing up to the younger members of the house—you, Caesar, and you, Jonathan—and he's letting the others slide."

"Giving 'em rope," said John, "to hang 'emselves."

"Well, now, there's something in that. That hadn't occurred to me. What? You think that he's eggin' 'em on, eh? Eggin' 'em on!"

"I think that, if I were you, Caterpillar, I'd cut loose from that gang."

"They've made it rather warm for you."

"I don't care a hang about that."

As a matter of fact, John's life had been made very unpleasant by the fast set. Upon the other hand, the Duffer, Fluff, and many Lower School boys reckoned him their leader and adviser. And—such is the irony of Fate—John's popularity with friends caused him more anxiety than unpopularity with enemies. Towards the end of the term, Desmond spoke of applying to Warde for a certain room to be shared by himself and John. John had to decline an arrangement desired passionately, because he had indiscreetly promised not to chuck the Duffer. Caesar dropped the subject. After this, John noticed a slight coldness. He wondered whether Caesar were jealous, jealousy being John's own besetting sin. Finally, he came to the conclusion that his friend might be not jealous but unreasonable. In any case, during the last three weeks of the term, John saw less of Caesar, and more—more, indeed, than he wanted—of the Duffer and Fluff.

And then came the paralysing news that Desmond had promised to spend ten days with Scaife's people, that a Professional had been hired, and that both boys were going to give their undivided energies to cricket.

Afterwards, John often wondered whether Scaife, with truly demoniac insight into Desmond's character, had let him go, so as to seize him with more tenacious grasp when an opportunity presented itself.

* * * * *

As soon as John saw Caesar after the Easter holidays, he knew that, temporarily, at any rate, he had lost his friend. Caesar, indeed, was demonstratively glad to see him, and dragged him off next day to walk to a certain bridge where a few short weeks before the boys had carved their names upon the wooden railing, surrounding them with a circle and the Crossed Arrows. But Caesar could talk of nothing else but Scaife and cricket. They had both "come on" tremendously. Scaife's people had a splendid cricket-ground.

Poor John! If he could have submerged the Scaife cricket-ground and the Scaife family by nodding his head, I fear that he would have nodded it, although he told himself that he was an ungenerous beast and cad not to sympathize with his pal.

And before the boys got back to the Manor, Caesar said, not without a blush, that he had learned to play bridge.

"I shall teach you, Jonathan."

"No."

"I say—yes."

"You're not going to play with Lovell and that beast Beaumont-Greene?"

"The Demon says no cards this term, when lock-up's late. And look here, Jonathan, I've made the Demon promise to make the peace between Lovell and you. You'll play for the House, of course, and we must all pull together, as Warde says."

John might have smiled at this opportune mention of Warde, but sense of humour was swamped in apprehension. Desmond went on to talk about Scaife.

"He'll make 'em sit up, you see! The 'pro.' we had is the finest cover-point in England. I never saw such a chap. He dashes at the ball. Hit it as hard as you please, he runs in, picks it up, and snaps it back to the wicket-keeper as easy as if he was playing pitch and toss. And, by Jove! the Demon can do it. You wait. I never saw any fellow like him. He's only just sixteen, and he'll get his Flannels. You needn't shake your old head, I know he will. And we must work like blazes to get ours next summer."

John discounted much of this talk, but he soon found out that Caesar had not overestimated the Demon's activity. The draw at Lord's in the previous summer had been attributed, by such experts as Webbe and Hornby, to bad fielding. The Demon told John, with his hateful, derisive smile, that he had remembered this when he selected a "pro." Not for the first time, John realized Scaife's overpowering ability to achieve his own ends. Who, but Scaife, would have made fielding the principal object of his holiday practice?

Within a fortnight, Scaife was put into the Sixth Form game. Desmond found himself—thanks to Scaife—playing in the First Fifth game; but John was placed in Second Fifth Beta. Fortunately, he found an ally in Warde, who had a private pitch in the small park surrounding the Manor, where he coached the weaker players of his House. John told himself that he ought to get his "cap"; but, as the weeks slipped by, despite several creditable performances, he became aware that the "cap" was withheld, although it had been given to Fluff. There were five vacancies in the House Eleven, but, according to precedent, these need not be filled up till after the last House-match, and possibly not even then. In a word, John might play for the House, and even distinguish himself, without receiving the coveted distinction. How sore John felt!

About the end of May he noticed that something was amiss with Caesar. Generally they walked together on Sunday, but not always. During these walks, as has been said, Caesar did most of the talking. Now, of a sudden, he became a half-hearted listener, and to John's repeated question, "What's up?" he would reply irritably, "Oh, don't bother—nothing."

Finally, John heard from the Caterpillar that Caesar was playing bridge, and losing.

"They don't play often," the Caterpillar added; "but on wet afternoons they make up for lost time. Caesar is outclassed. I've told him, but he's mad keen about the game."

Later, John learned from the same source that Sunday afternoon was a bridge-fixture with Lovell and Co. At any rate, Caesar did not play on Sunday. That was something.

Upon the following Saturday, after making an honest fifteen runs and taking three wickets in a closely-contested game, John was running into the Yard just before six Bill, when Lovell stopped him.

"You can get your 'cap,'" he said coldly.

"Oh, thanks; thanks awfully!"

Caesar received this agreeable news with indifference.

"You ought to have had it before Fluff," he growled.

"To-morrow, we'll walk to John Lyon's farm," said John, eagerly.

"Engaged," Caesar replied.

"Oh, Caesar, you're—you're——"

"Well?"

"You're going to play bridge?"

"Yes. What of it? It's only once in a way. I do bar cards on Sunday; but there are reasons."

"What reasons?"

"Reasons which—er—I'll keep to myself."

"All right," said John, stiffly, but with a breaking heart.

Next day he asked Fluff to walk with him, but Fluff was walking with some one else. The Duffer had letters to write, and stigmatized walking as a beastly grind. John determined to walk by himself; but as he was leaving the Manor he met the Caterpillar, a tremendous buck, arrayed in his best—patent-leather boots, white waistcoat, a flower in his buttonhole.

"Where are you off to, Jonathan?"

"To Preston. You'd better come, Caterpillar."

"I never walk far in these boots. Peal made 'em."

"Change 'em, can't you?"

"Right."

While he was absent, John seriously considered the propriety of taking Egerton into his confidence. Sincerely attached to Egerton, and valuing his advice, he knew, none the less, that the Caterpillar looked at everybody and everything with the eyes of a colonel in the Guards. To tell Colonel Egerton's son that one's heart was lacerated because Caesar Desmond was playing bridge on Sunday seemed to invite jeers. And, besides, that wasn't the real reason. John felt wretched because the Sunday walk had been sacrificed to Moloch. Presently Egerton came downstairs, spick and span, but not quite so smart. The boys walked quickly, talking of cricket.

"The Demon'll get his Flannels," said Egerton. "I'm glad Lovell gave you your cap, Jonathan; you deserved it a month ago. It wasn't my fault you didn't get it at the beginning of the term."

"I'm sure of that," said John, gratefully.

"You don't look particularly bucked-up. A grin improves your face, my dear fellow."

At this John burst into explosive speech. Those beasts had got hold of Caesar. The Caterpillar stared; he had never heard John let himself go. John's vocabulary surprised him.

"Whew-w-w!" he whistled. "Gad! Jonathan, you do pile on the agony. Caesar's all right. Don't worry."

"He's not all right. I thought Caesar had backbone, I——"

"Hold on," said the Caterpillar, gravely.

John thought he was about to be rebuked for disloyalty to a pal, an abominable sin in the Caterpillar's eyes.

"Well?" said John.

"I'm going to tell you something," said Egerton. "But you must swear not to give me away."

"I'll swear."

"You're a good little cove, Jonathan, but sometimes you smell just a little bit of—er—bread and butter. Keep cool. Personally, I would sooner that you, at your age, did smell of bread and butter than whisky. Well, you think that Caesar is going straight to the bow-wows because he plays bridge. You accuse him in your own little mind of feebleness, and so forth. Yes, just so. And it's doosid unfair to Caesar, because he's given up his walk to-day entirely on your account. Ah! I thought that would make you sit up."

"My account?" John repeated blankly.

"Yes; Caesar would be furious if he knew that I was peaching, but he won't know, and instead of this—er—trifling affair weakening your good opinion of your pal, it will strengthen it."

"Oh, do go on, Caterpillar."

"Yesterday I was in Lovell's room. We were talking of the first House match. Scaife and Caesar were there. I took it upon myself to say you ought to be given your 'cap'; and then Caesar burst out, 'Oh yes, Lovell, do give him his "cap." If you knew how he'd slaved to earn it.' But Lovell only laughed. And then Scaife chipped in, 'Look here, Caesar,' he said, 'do I understand that you put this thing, which after all is none of your business or mine, as a favour which Lovell might do you?' And Caesar answered, 'You can put it that way, if you like, Demon.' And then Scaife laughed. I don't like Scaife's laugh, Jonathan."

"I loathe it," said John.

"Well, when Scaife laughed, Lovell looked first at him and then at Caesar. It came to me that Lovell was primed to say something. At any rate, he turned to Caesar, and said slowly, 'Tit for tat. If I do this for you, will you do something for me?' And Caesar spoke up as usual, without a second's hesitation, 'Of course I will.' And then Scaife laughed again, just as Lovell said, 'All right, I'll give Verney his "cap" before tea, and you will make a fourth at bridge with us to-morrow afternoon.'"

"Oh, oh!" groaned John.

"Dash it all, don't look so wretched. There's not much more. Caesar hesitated a moment. Then he said quietly enough, 'Done!' Personally, I don't think Lovell was playing—well—cricket, but I do know that he wanted a fourth at bridge, because I'd just refused to make that fourth myself. They play too high for me."

"It's awfully good of you to have told me this."

"Pray don't mention it! Hullo! What's up now?"

John's face was very red, and his fists were clenched.

"Nothing," he gasped. "Only this—I'd like to kill Scaife. I'd like to cut off his infernal head."

The Caterpillar laughed indulgently. "Jonathan, you're a rum 'un. You think it wicked to play cards on Sunday; but you would like"—he imitated John's trembling, passionate voice—"you would like to cut off Scaife's infernal head."

"Yes—I would," said John.

That same week he had a memorable talk with Warde; recorded because it illustrates Warde's methods, and because, ultimately, it came to be regarded by John as the turning-point of his intellectual life. Since he had taken the Lower Remove, John's energies of mind and body had been concentrated upon improving himself at games. Vaguely aware that some of the School-prizes were within his grasp, he had not deemed them worth the winning. To him, therefore, Warde abruptly began—

"You pride yourself upon being straight—eh, Verney?"

"Why, yes," said John, meeting Warde's blue eyes not without misgiving.

"Well, to me, you're about as straight as a note of interrogation. I never see you without saying to myself, 'Is Verney going to bury his talents in the cricket-ground?'"

"Oh!"

"Some parents, too many of them, send their boys here to make a few nice friends, to play games, to scrape up the School with a remove once a year. That, I take it, is not what Mrs. Verney wants?"

"N—no, sir."

"You ought to be in the Sixth—and you know it. Twice, or oftener, you have deliberately taken things easy, because you wanted a soft time of it during the summer term, and because you wished to remain in the same form with Desmond, who, intellectually, is your—inferior. Is that square dealing with your people?"

John was silent, but red of countenance. Warde went on, more vehemently—

"I know all about your co-operative system of work. I have a harder name for it. And I know just what you can do, and I want to see you do it, for your own sake, for the sake of Mrs. Verney, and for the Hill's sake. I've pushed you on at cricket a bit, haven't I? Yes. You owe me something. Pay up by entering for a School-prize, and winning it!"

"A School-prize?"

"Yes; Lord Charles Russell's Shakespeare Medal. The exam. is next October. I'll coach you. Is it a bargain?"

He held out his hand, staring frankly, but piercingly, into John's eyes.

"All right, sir," said John, after a pause. "I'll try."

"And buck up for your remove."

John smiled feebly, and sighed.

FOOTNOTES:

[27] There is a tablet on the wall of the Old Schools which bears the following inscription:—Near this spot ANTHONY ASHLEY COOPER Afterwards the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, K.G. While yet a boy in Harrow School Saw with shame and indignation The pauper's funeral Which helped to awaken his lifelong Devotion to the service of the poor And the oppressed.



CHAPTER IX

Black Spots

"The Avon bears to endless years A magic voice along, Where Shakespeare strayed in Stratford's shade, And waked the world to song. We heard the music soft and wild, We thrilled to pulses new; The winds that reared the Avon's child Were Herga's[28] nurses too."

That evening John told Caesar what Warde had said to him, and then added, "I mean to have a shot at 'the Swan of Avon.'" Caesar looked glum.

"But how about the remove? We'd agreed to stay in the Second Fifth till Christmas. It's the jolliest form in the school."

"If we put our backs—and heads—into Trials,[29] we can easily get a remove."

"Blow Trials."

John turned aside.

"Look here, Jonathan," said Caesar, eagerly. "To please me, give up your swatting scheme. We can't spoil the end of this jolly term."

He caught hold of John's arm, squeezing it affectionately. Never had our hero been so sorely tempted.

"We must stick together, you and I," entreated Desmond.

"No," said John.

"As you please," Caesar replied coldly.

A detestable week followed. John tackled his Shakespeare alone, working doggedly. Then, quite suddenly, the giant gripped him. He had always possessed a remarkable memory, and as a child he had learnt by heart many passages out of the plays (a fact well known to the crafty Warde); but these he had swallowed without digesting them. Now he became keen, the keener because he met with violent opposition from the Caterpillar and the Duffer, who were of opinion that Shakespeare was a "back number."

John won the prize, and on the following Speech Day saw his mother's face radiant with pride and happiness, as he received the Medal from the Head Master's hands.

"You look as pleased as if I'd got my Flannels," said John.

"Surely this Medal is a greater thing?"

"Oh, mum, you don't know much about boys."

"Perhaps not, but," her eyes twinkled, "I know something about Shakespeare, and he's a friend that will stand by you when cricketing days are over."

"If you're pleased, so am I," said John.

* * * * *

Scaife got his Flannels; and at Lord's his fielding was mentioned as the finest ever seen in a Public School match. John witnessed the game from the top of the Trent coach, and he stopped at Trent House. But he didn't enjoy his exeat, because he knew that Caesar was in trouble. Caesar owed Scaife thirteen pounds, and the fact that this debt could not be paid without confession to his father was driving him distracted. Scaife, it is true, laughed genially at Caesar's distress. "Settle when you please," he said, "but for Heaven's sake, don't peach to your governor! Mine would laugh and pay up; yours will pay up and make you swear not to touch another card while you're at Harrow."

"Just what he will do," Caesar told John.

"And the best thing that could happen," John said bluntly. "If you don't cut loose now, it will be much worse next term."

"Rot," Desmond had replied. "I'm paying the usual bill for learning a difficult game. That's how the Demon puts it. But I've a turn for bridge, and now I can hold my own. I'm better than Beaumont-Greene, and quite as good as Lovell. The Demon, of course, is in another class."

"And therefore he oughtn't to play with you. It's robbery."

"Now you're talking bosh."

The Eton and Harrow match ended in another draw. Time and Scaife's fielding saved Harrow from defeat. The fact of a draw had significance. A draw spelled compromise. John had indulged in a superstitious fancy common enough to persons older than he. "If Harrow wins," he put it to himself, "Caesar will triumph; if Eton wins, Caesar will lose." When the match proved a draw, John drew the conclusion that his pal would "funk" telling the truth; an apprehension presently confirmed.

"I didn't tell the governor," said Caesar, when John and he met. "My eldest brother, Hugo, is coming home, and I shall screw it out of him. He's a good sort, and he's going to marry a girl who is simply rolling. He'll fork out, I know he will. I feel awfully cheery."

"I don't," said John.

He had good reason to fear that Caesar and he were drifting apart. Now he worked by himself. And his voice had broken. A small thing this, but John was sensible that his singing voice touched corners in Caesar's soul to which his speaking voice never penetrated. More, Caesar and he had agreed to differ upon points of conscience other than card-playing. And every point of conscientious difference increases the distance between true friends in geometrical progression. Poor Jonathan!

But we have his grateful testimony that Warde stood by him. And Warde made him see life at Harrow (and beyond) in a new light. Warde, indeed, decomposed the light into primary colours, a sort of experiment in moral chemistry, and not without fascination for an intelligent boy. Sometimes, it became difficult to follow Warde—members of the Alpine Club said that often it was impossible—because he jumped where others crawled. And he clipped words, phrases, thoughts so uncommonly short.

"You're beginning to see, Verney, eh? Scales crumbling away, my boy. And strong sunshine hurts the eyes—at first. Black spots are dancing before you. I know the little devils."

Or again—

"This remove will wipe a bit more off the debt, won't it? Ha, ha! I've made you reckon up what you owe Mrs. Verney. But there are others——"

"I'm awfully grateful to you, sir."

"Never mind me."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"New Testament; Matthew; twenty-fifth chapter—I forget verse.[30] Look it up. Christ answers your question. Make life easier and happier for some of the new boys. Pass on gratitude. Set it a-rolling. See?"

John had appetite for such talk, but Warde never gave much of it—half a dozen sentences, a smile, a nod of the head, a keen look, and a striding off elsewhere. But when John repeated what Warde had said to Caesar, that young gentleman looked uneasy.

"Warde means well," he said; "and he's doing wonders with the Manor, but I hope he's not going to make a sort of tin parson of you?"

"As if he could!" said John.

"You're miles ahead of me, Jonathan."

"No, no."

"I say—yes."

"Caesar," said John, in desperation, "perhaps we are sliding apart, but it isn't my fault, indeed it isn't. And think what it means to—me. You've heaps of friends, and I never was first, I know that. You can do without me, but I can't do without you."

"Dear old Jonathan." Caesar held out his hand, smiling.

"I'm a jealous ass, Caesar. And, as for calling me a parson," he laughed scornfully, "why, I'd sooner walk with you, even if you were the worst sinner in the world, than with any saint that ever lived."

The feeling in John's voice drove Caesar's gay smile from his face. Did he realize, possibly, for the first time, that if John and he remained friends, he might drag John down? Suddenly his face brightened.

"Jonathan," he said gravely, "to please you, I'll not touch a card again this term, and we'll have such good times these last three weeks that you'll forget the rest of it."

"And what delights can equal those That stir the spirit's inner deeps, When one that loves but knows not reaps A truth from one that loves and knows?"

The Manor played in the cock-house match at cricket, being but barely beaten by Damer's. Everybody admitted that this glorious state of affairs was due to Warde's coaching of the weaker members of the Eleven. Scaife fielded brilliantly, and John, watching him, said to himself that at such times the Demon was irresistible. Warde invited the Eleven to dinner, and spoke of nothing but football, much to every one's amusement.

"He's right," said the Caterpillar; "we're not cock-house at cricket this year, but we may be at footer."

John spent his holidays abroad with his mother, and when the School reassembled, he found himself in the First Fifth alone. With satisfaction he reflected that this was Lovell's last term, and Beaumont-Greene's, too. Warde said a few words at first lock-up.

"We are going to be cock-house at footer, I hope," he began, "and next term Scaife will show the School what he can do at racquets; but I want more. I'm a glutton. How about work, eh? Lot o' slacking last term. Is it honest? You fellows cost your people a deal of money. And it's well spent, if, if you tackle everything in school life as you tackled Mr. Damer's last July. That's all."

"He's giving you what he gave me," said John.

"Good fellow, Warde," observed the Caterpillar; "in his room every night after prayers to mug up his form work."

"What?" Murmurs of incredulity.

"Fact, 'pon my word. And he never refuses a 'con' to a fellow who wants it."

"He's paid for it," sneered Scaife.

The other boys nodded; enthusiasm was chilled. Yes, of course Warde was paid for it. John caught Scaife's eye.

"You don't believe that he's in love with his job, as he told us?"

"Skittles—that!"

John looked solemn. He had a bomb to throw.

"Skittles, is it?" he echoed. The other boys turned to listen. "Do you think he'd take a better paid billet?"

Scaife laughed derisively. "Of course he would, like a shot. But he's not likely to get the chance."

"He has just been offered the Head Mastership of Wellborough. It's worth about four thousand a year."

"Pooh! who told you that?"

"Caesar's father."

"It's true," said Caesar.

"And he refused it," said John, triumphantly.

"Then he's a fool," said Scaife, angrily. He marched out of the room, slamming the door. But the Manor, as a corporate body, when it heard of Warde's refusal to accept promotion, was profoundly impressed. Thus the term began with good resolutions upon the part of the better sort.

Very soon, however, with the shortening days, bridge began again. John made no protest, afraid of losing his pal. He called himself coward, and considered the expediency of learning bridge, so as to be in the same boat with Caesar. Caesar told him that he had not asked his brother Hugo for the thirteen pounds. Hugo, it seemed, had come back from Teheran with a decoration and the air of an ambassador. He spoke of his "services."

"I knew that Hugo would make me swear not to play again," said Caesar to John, "and naturally I want to get some of the plunder back. I am getting it back. I raked thirty bob out of Beaumont-Greene last night."

John said nothing.

Presently it came to his ears that Caesar was getting more plunder back. The Caterpillar, an agreeable gossip, because he condemned nothing except dirt and low breeding, told John that Beaumont-Greene was losing many shekels. And about the middle of October Caesar said to John—

"What do you think, old Jonathan? I've jolly nearly paid off the Demon. And you wanted me to chuck the thing. Nice sort of counsellor."

"Beaumont-Greene must have lost a pot?"

"You bet," said Caesar; "but that doesn't keep me awake at night. He has got the Imperishable Seamless Whaleskin Boot behind him."

Next time John met Beaumont-Greene he eyed him sharply. The big fellow was pulpier than ever; his complexion the colour of skilly. Yes; he looked much worried. Perhaps the "Imperishable Boot" lasted too long. And, nowadays, so many fellows wore shoes. Thus John to himself.

Beaumont-Greene, indeed, not only looked worried, he was worried, hideously worried, and with excellent reason. He had an absurdly, wickedly, large allowance, but not more than a sovereign of it was left. More, he owed Scaife twenty pounds, and Lovell another ten. Both these young gentlemen had hinted plainly that they wanted to see their money.

"I must have the stuff now," said Lovell, when Beaumont-Greene asked for time. "I'm going to shoot a lot this Christmas, and the governor makes me pay for my cartridges."

"So does mine," said Scaife, grinning. He was quite indifferent to the money, but he liked to see Beaumont-Greene squirm. He continued suavely, "You ought to settle before you leave. Ain't your people in Rome? Yes. And you're going to join 'em. Why, hang it, some Dago may stick a knife into you, and where should we be then—hey? Your governor wouldn't settle a gambling debt, would he?"

This was too true. Scaife grinned diabolically. He knew that Beaumont-Greene's father was endeavouring to establish a credit-account with the Recording Angel. Originally a Nonconformist, he had joined the Church of England after he had made his fortune (cf. Shavings from the Workshops of our Merchant Princes, which appeared in the pages of "Prattle"). Then, the famous inventor of the Imperishable Boot had taken to endowing churches; and he published pamphlets denouncing drink and gambling, pamphlets sent to his son at Harrow, who (with an eye to backsheesh) had praised his sire's prose somewhat indiscreetly.

"You shall have your confounded money," said Beaumont-Greene, violently.

"Thanks," said Scaife, sweetly. "When we asked you to join us" (slight emphasis on the "us"), "we knew that we could rely on you to settle promptly."

The Demon grinned for the third time, knowing that he had touched a weak spot; not a difficult thing to do, if you touched the big fellow at all. A young man of spirit would have told his creditors to go to Jericho. Beaumont-Greene might have said, "You have skinned me a bit. I don't whine about that; I mean to pay up; but you'll have to wait till I have the money. I'm stoney now." Scaife and Lovell must have accepted this as an ultimatum. But Beaumont-Greene's wretched pride interfered. He had posed as a sort of Golden Youth. To confess himself pinchbeck seemed an unspeakable humiliation.

Men have been known to take to drink under the impending sword of dishonour. Beaumont-Greene swallowed instead large quantities of food at the Creameries; and then wrote to his father, saying that he would like to have a cheque for thirty pounds by return of post. He was leaving Harrow, he pointed out, and he wished to give his friends some handsome presents. Young Desmond, for instance, the great Minister's son, had been kind to him (Beaumont-Greene prided himself upon this touch), and Scaife, too, he was under obligations to Scaife, who would be a power by-and-by, and so forth.... To confess frankly that he owed thirty pounds gambled away at cards required more cheek than our stout youth possessed. His father refused to play bridge on principle, because he could never remember how many trumps were out.

The father answered by return of post, but enclosed no cheque. He pointed out to his dear Thomas that giving handsome presents with another's money was an objectionable habit. Thomas received a large, possibly too large an allowance. He must exercise self-denial, if he wished to make presents. His quarterly allowance would be paid as usual next Christmas, and not a minute before. There would be time then to reconsider the propriety of giving young Desmond a suitable gift....

Common sense told Beaumont-Greene to show this letter to Scaife and Lovell. But he saw the Demon's derisive grin, and recoiled from it.

At this moment temptation seized him relentlessly. Beaumont-Greene never resisted temptation. For fun, so he put it, he would write the sort of letter which his father ought to have written, and which would have put him at his ease. It ran thus—

"MY DEAR THOMAS,

"No doubt you will want to give some leaving presents, and a spread or two. I should like my son to do the thing handsomely. You know better than I how much this will cost, but I am prepared to send you, say, twenty-five or thirty pounds for such a purpose. Or, you can have the bills sent to me.

"With love, "Your affectionate father, "GEORGE BEAUMONT-GREENE."

Beaumont-Greene, like the immortal Mr. Toots, rather fancied himself as a letter-writer. The longer he looked at his effusion, the more he liked it. His handwriting was not unlike his father's—modelled, indeed, upon it. With a little careful manipulation of a few letters——!

The day was cold, but Beaumont-Greene suddenly found himself in a perspiration. None the less, it seemed easier to forge a letter than to avow himself penniless. Detection? Impossible! Two or three tradesmen in Harrow would advance the money if he showed them this letter. Next Christmas they would be paid. Within a quarter of an hour he made up his mind to cross the Rubicon, and crossed it with undue haste. He forged the letter, placed it in an envelope which had come from Rome, and went to his tailor's.

Under pretext of looking at patterns, he led the man aside.

"You can do me a favour," he began, in his usual, heavy, hesitating manner.

"With pleasure," said the tradesman, smiling. Then, seeing an opportunity, he added, "You are leaving Harrow, Mr. Beaumont-Greene, but I trust, sir, you will not take your custom with you. We have always tried to please you."

Beaumont-Greene, in his turn, saw opportunity.

"Yes, yes," he answered. Then he produced the letter, envelope and all. "I have here a letter from my father, who is in Rome. I'll read it to you. No; you can read it yourself."

The tailor read the letter.

"Very handsome," he replied; "very handsome indeed, sir. Your father is a true gentleman."

"It happens," said Beaumont-Greene, more easily, for the thing seemed to be simpler than he had anticipated—"it happens that I do want to make some presents, but I'm not going to buy them here. I shall send to the Stores, you know. I have their catalogue."

"Just so, sir. Excellent place the Stores for nearly everything; except, perhaps, my line."

"I should not think of buying clothes there. But at the Stores one must pay cash. I've not got the cash, and my father is in Rome. I should like to have the money to-day, if possible. Will you oblige me?"

The tradesman hesitated. In the past there have been grave scandals connected with lending money to boys. And Harrow tradesmen are at the mercy of the Head Master. If a school-tailor be put out of bounds, he can put up his shutters at once. Still——

"I'll let you have the money," said the man, eyeing Beaumont-Greene keenly.

"Thanks."

The tailor observed a slight flush and a sudden intake of breath—signs which stirred suspicion.

"Will you take it in notes, sir?"

Here Beaumont-Greene made his first blunder. He had an ill-defined idea that paper was dangerous stuff.

"In gold, please."

He forgot that gold is not easily sent in a letter. The tailor hesitated, but he had gone too far to back out.

"Very well, sir. I have not twenty-five pounds——"

"Thirty, if you please. I shall want thirty."

"I have not quite that amount here, but I can get it."

When the man came back with a small canvas bag in his hand, Beaumont-Greene had pocketed the letter. He received the money, counted it, thanked the tailor, and turned to go.

"If you please, sir——"

"Yes?"

"I should like to keep your father's letter, sir. As a form of receipt, sir. When you settle I'll return it. If—if anything should happen to—to you, sir, where would I be?"

Beaumont-Greene's temper showed itself.

"You all talk as if I was on my death-bed," he said.

The tailor stared. Others, then, had suggested to this large, unwholesome youth the possibility of premature decease.

"Not at all, sir, but we do live in the valley of shadders. My wife's step-father, as fine and hearty a specimen as you'd wish to see, sir, was taken only last month; at breakfast, too, as he was chipping his third egg."

Beaumont-Greene said loftily, "Blow your wife's step-father and his third egg. Here's the letter."

He flung down the letter and marched out of the shop. The tradesman looked at him, shaking his head. "He'll never come back," he muttered. "I know his sort too well." Then, business happening to be slack, he re-read the letter before putting it away. Then he whistled softly and read it for the third time, frowning and biting his lips. The "Beaumont-Greene" in the signature and on the envelope did not look to be written by the same hand.

"There's something fishy here," muttered the tradesman. "I must show this to Amelia."

It was his habit to consult his wife in emergencies. The chief cutter and two assistants said that Amelia was the power behind the throne. Amelia read the letter, listened to what her husband had to say, stared hard at the envelope, and delivered herself—

"The hand that wrote the envelope never wrote the letter, that's plain—to me. Now, William, you've got me and the children to think of. This may mean the loss of our business, and worse, too. You put on your hat and go straight to the Manor. Mr. Warde's a gentleman, and I don't think he'll let me and the children suffer for your foolishness. Don't you wait another minute."

Nor did he.

* * * * *

After prayers that night, Warde asked Beaumont-Greene to come to his study. Beaumont-Greene obeyed, smiling blandly. Within three weeks he was leaving; doubtless Warde wanted to say something civil. The big fellow was feeling quite himself. He had paid Scaife and Lovell, not without a little pardonable braggadocio.

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