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The Hill - A Romance of Friendship
by Horace Annesley Vachell
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"You fellows have put me to some inconvenience," he said. "I make it a rule not to run things fine, but after all thirty quid is no great sum. Here you are."

"We don't want to drive you into the workhouse," said Scaife. "Thanks. Give you your revenge any time. I dare say between now and the end of the term you'll have most of it back."

Warde asked Beaumont-Greene to sit down in a particular chair, which faced the light from a large lamp. Then he took up an envelope. Suddenly cold chills trickled down Beaumont-Greene's spine. He recognized the envelope. That scoundrel had betrayed him. Not for a moment, however, did he suppose that the forgery had been detected.

"On the strength of this letter," said Warde, gravely, "you borrowed thirty pounds from a tradesman?"

Denial being fatuous, Beaumont-Greene said—

"Yes, sir."

"You know, I suppose, that Harrow tradesmen are expressly forbidden to lend boys money?"

"I am hardly a boy, sir. And—er—under the circumstances——"

Warde smiled very grimly.

"Ah—under the circumstances. Have you any objection to telling me the exact circumstances?"

"Not at all, sir. I wished to make some presents to my friends. I am going to give a large leaving-breakfast."

"Oh! Still, thirty pounds is a large sum——"

"Not to my father, sir. I—er—thought of coming to you, sir, with that letter."

"Did you?"

Warde took the letter from the envelope, and glanced at it with faint interest, so Beaumont-Greene thought. Then he picked up a magnifying glass and played with it. It was a trick of his to pick up objects on his desk, and turn them in his thin, nervous fingers. Beaumont-Greene was not seriously alarmed. He had great faith in a weapon which had served him faithfully, his lying tongue.

"Yes, sir. I thought you would be willing to advance the money for a few days, and then——"

"And then?"

"And then I thought I wouldn't bother you. It never occurred to me that I was getting a tradesman into trouble. I hope you won't be hard on him, sir."

"I shall not be hard on him," said Warde, "because"—for a moment his eyes flashed—"because he came to me and confessed his fault; but I won't deny that I gave him a very uncomfortable quarter of an hour. He sat in your chair."

Beaumont-Greene shuffled uneasily.

"Have you this thirty pounds in your pocket?" asked Warde, casually.

Beaumont-Greene began to regret his haste in settling.

"No, sir."

"Some of it?"

"None of it."

"You sent it to London? To buy these handsome presents?"

"Ye-es, sir."

"You hadn't much time. Lock-up's early, and you received the money in gold. Did you buy Orders?"

Beaumont-Greene's head began to buzz. He found himself wondering why Warde was speaking in this smooth, quiet voice, so different from his usual curt, incisive tones.

"Yes, sir."

"At the Harrow post-office?"

"Yes, sir."

"Ah."

Again the house-master picked up the letter, but this time he didn't lay down the lens. Instead he used it, very deliberately. Beaumont-Greene shivered; with difficulty he clenched his teeth, so as to prevent them clicking like castanets. Then Warde held up the sheet of paper to the light of the lamp. Obviously he wished to examine the watermark. The paper was thin notepaper, the kind that is sold everywhere for foreign correspondence. Beaumont-Greene, economical in such matters, had bought a couple of quires when his people went abroad. The paper he had bought did not quite match the Roman envelope. Warde opened a drawer, from which he took some thin paper. This also he held up to the light.

"It's an odd coincidence," he said, tranquilly; "your father in Rome uses the same notepaper that I buy here. But the envelope is Italian?"

He spoke interrogatively, but the wretch opposite had lost the power of speech. He collapsed. Warde rose, throwing aside his quiet manner as if it were a drab-coloured cloak. Now he was himself, alert, on edge, sanguine.

"You fool!" he exclaimed; "you clumsy fool! Why, a child could find you out. And you—you have dared to play with such an edged tool as forgery. Now, do the one thing which is left to you: make a clean breast of it to me—at once."

In imposing this command, a command which he knew would be obeyed, inasmuch as he perceived that he dominated the weak, grovelling creature in front of him, Warde overlooked the possibility that this boy's confession might implicate other boys. Already he had formed in his mind a working hypothesis to account for this forged letter. The fellow, no doubt, was in debt to some Harrow townsman.

"For whom did you steal this money? To whom did you pay it to-day? Answer!"

And he was answered.

"I owed the money to Scaife and Lovell."

Then he told the story of the card-playing. At the last word he fell on his knees, blubbering.

"Get up," said Warde, sharply. "Pull yourself together if you can."

The master began to walk up and down the room, frowning and biting his lips. From time to time he glanced at Beaumont-Greene. Seeing his utter collapse, he rang the bell, answered by the ever-discreet Dumbleton.

"Dumbleton, take Mr. Beaumont-Greene to the sick-room. There is no one in it, I believe?"

"No, sir."

"You will fetch what he may require for the night; quietly, you understand."

"Very good, sir."

"Follow Dumbleton," Warde addressed Beaumont-Greene. "You will consider yourself under arrest. Your meals will be brought to you. You will hold no communication with anybody except Dumbleton and me; you will send no messages; you will write no notes. Do you hear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then go."

Dumbleton opened the door. Young man and servant passed out and into the passage beyond. Warde waited one moment, then he followed them into the passage; but instead of going upstairs, he paused for an instant with his fingers upon the handle of the door which led from the private side to the boys' quarters. He sighed as he passed through.

At this moment Lovell was sitting in his room alone with Scaife. They had no suspicion of what had taken place in the study. In the afternoon there had been a match with an Old Harrovian team, and both Scaife and Lovell had played for the School. But as yet neither had got his Flannels. As Warde passed through the private side door, Scaife was saying angrily—

"I believe Challoner" (Challoner was captain of the football Eleven and a monitor) "has a grudge against us. If we had a chance—and we had—of getting our Flannels last year, why isn't it a cert. this, eh?"

Lovell shrugged his shoulders.

"It is a cert.," he answered; "and you're right. Challoner doesn't like us, and it amuses him to keep us out of our just rights. The monitors know I detest 'em, and they don't think you're called the Demon for nothing. Challoner is more of a monitor than a footer-player. How about a rubber? There's just time."

"I don't mind."

Lovell went to the door and opened it.

"Bo-o-o-o-o-o-y!"

The familiar cry—that imperious call which makes an Harrovian feel himself master of more or less willing slaves—echoed through the house. Immediately the night-fag came running; it was not considered healthy to keep Lovell waiting.

"Ask Beaumont-Greene to come up here and——" He paused. Warde had just turned the corner, and was approaching. Lovell hesitated. Then he repeated what he had just said, with a slight variation for Warde's benefit. "Tell him I want to ask him a question about the house-subscriptions."

"Right," said the fag, bustling off.

Lovell waited to receive his house-master. He had very good manners.

"Can I do anything for you, sir?" he asked.

"Yes," said Warde, deliberately. He entered Lovell's room and looked at Scaife, who rose at once.

"I wish to speak with you alone, Lovell."

"Certainly, sir. Won't you sit down?"

Warde waited till Scaife had closed the door; then he said quietly—

"Lovell, does Beaumont-Greene owe you money?"

FOOTNOTES:

[28] The Anglo-Saxon form of Harrow.

[29] The terminal examination.

[30] "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."



CHAPTER X

Decapitation

"Ferdinand Mendez Pinto was but a type of thee, thou liar of the first magnitude!"

Lovell betrayed his astonishment by a slight start; however, he faced Warde with a smile. Warde, clean-shaven, alert, with youthful figure, looked but little older than his pupil. For a moment the two stared steadily at each other; then, very politely, Lovell said—

"No, sir, he does not."

Warde continued curtly, "Then he has paid you what he did owe you?"

Lovell nodded, shrugging his shoulders. Plainly, Warde had discovered the fact of the debt. Probably that fool Beaumont-Greene had applied to his father, and the father had written to Warde. It was unthinkable that Warde knew more than this. Having reached this conclusion, Lovell turned over in his mind two or three specious lies that might meet the exigency.

"Yes," he replied, with apparent frankness, "Beaumont-Greene did owe me money, and he has paid me."

After a slight pause, Warde said quietly, "It is my duty, as your tutor, to ask you how Beaumont-Greene became indebted to you?"

"I lent him the money," said Lovell.

"Ah! Please call 'Boy.'"

Lovell went into the passage. Had he an intuition that he was about to call "Boy" for the last time, or did the pent-up excitement find an outlet in sound? He had never called "Boy" so loudly or clearly. The night-fag scurried up again.

"Tell him to send Scaife here," said Warde.

Lovell's florid face paled. Scaife would introduce complications. And yet, if it had come to Warde's ears that Beaumont-Greene was in debt to two of his schoolfellows, and if he had found out the name of one, it was not surprising that he knew the name of the other also. As he gave the fag the message, he regretted that Scaife and he could not have a minute's private conversation together.

"You lent Beaumont-Greene ten pounds, Lovell?"

"Yes, sir."

Scaife came in, cool, handsomer than usual because of the sparkle in his eyes.

"Shut the door, Scaife. Look at me, please. Beaumont-Greene owed you money?"

Scaife glanced at Lovell, whose left eyelid quivered.

"Kindly stand behind Scaife, Lovell. Thank you. Answer my question, Scaife."

"Yes, sir; he owed me money."

"Have you lent him money, too?" said Lovell.

It was admirably done—the hint cleverly conveyed, the mild amazement. Warde smiled grimly. Scaife understood, and took his cue.

"Yes; I have lent him money," said he, after a slight pause.

"Twenty pounds?"

"I believe, sir, that is the amount."

"And can you offer me any explanation why Beaumont-Greene, whose father, to my knowledge, has always given him a very large allowance, should borrow thirty pounds of you two?"

"I haven't the smallest idea, have you, Lovell?"

"No," said Lovell. "Unless his younger brother, who is at Eton, has got into trouble. He's very fond of his brothers."

"Um! You speak up for your—friend."

Lovell frowned. "A friend, sir—no."

"Of course," said Warde, reflectively, "if it is true that Beaumont-Greene borrowed this money to help a brother——"

He paused, staring at Lovell. From the bottom of a big heart he was praying that Lovell would not lie.

"Beaumont-Greene certainly gave me to understand that the affair was pressing. Having the money, I hadn't the heart to refuse."

"But you pressed for repayment?" said Warde, sharply.

"That is true, sir. I'm on an allowance; and I shall have many expenses this holidays."

"You, Scaife, asked for your money?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, between you, you have driven this unhappy wretch into crime."

"Crime, sir?"

At last their self-possession abandoned them. Crime is a word which looms large in the imaginations of youth. What had Beaumont-Greene done?

"What crime, sir?"

Scaife, the more self-possessed, although fully two years the younger, asked the question.

"Forgery."

"Forgery?" Lovell repeated. He was plainly shocked.

"The idiot!" exclaimed Scaife.

"Yes—forgery. Have you anything to say? It is a time when the truth, all the truth, might be accepted as an extenuating circumstance. I speak to you first, Lovell. You're a Sixth Form boy—remember, I have been one myself—and it is your duty to help me."

"I beg pardon, sir," Lovell replied. "I have never considered it my duty as a Sixth Form boy to play the usher."

"Nor did I; but you ought to work on parallel lines with us. You accepted the privileges of the Sixth."

Lovell's flush deepened.

"More," continued Warde, "you know that we, the masters, have implicit trust in the Sixth Form, a trust but seldom betrayed. For instance, I should not think of entering your room without tapping on the door; under ordinary circumstances I should accept your bare word unhesitatingly. I say emphatically that if you, knowing these things, have accepted the privileges of your order with the deliberate intention of ignoring its duties, you have not acted like a man of honour."

"Sir!"

"Don't bluff! Now, for the last time, will you give me what I have given you—trust?"

"I have nothing more to say," Lovell answered stiffly.

"And you, Scaife?"

"I am sorry, sir, that Beaumont-Greene has been such a fool. We lent him this money, because he wanted it badly; and he said he would pay us back before the end of the term."

"You stick to that story?"

"Why, yes, sir. Why should we tell you a lie?"

"Ah, why, indeed?" sighed Warde. Then his voice grew hard and sharp. The persuasiveness, the carefully-framed sentences, gave place to his curtest manner. "This matter," said he, "is out of my hands. The Head Master will deal with it. I must ask you for your keys, Lovell."

"And if I refuse to give them up?"

"Then we must break into your boxes. Thanks." He took the keys. "Follow me, please."

The pair followed him into the private side, upstairs, and into the sick-room. There were three beds in it; upon one sat Beaumont-Greene. His complexion turned a sickly drab when he saw Lovell and Scaife. He even glanced at the window with a hunted expression. The window was three stories from the ground, and heavily barred ever since a boy in delirium had tried to jump from it.

"Your night-things will be brought to you," said Warde.

He went out slowly. The boys heard the key turn in the massive lock. They were prisoners. Scaife walked up to Beaumont-Greene.

"You told Warde about the bridge?"

"Ye-es; I had to. Scaife, don't look at me like that. Lovell"—his voice broke into a terrified scream—"don't let him hit me. I couldn't help it—I swear I——"

"You cur!" said Scaife. "I wouldn't touch you with a forty-foot pole."

Just what passed between Warde and the Head Master must be surmised. Carefully hidden in Lovell's boxes were found cards and markers. Upon the latter remained the results of the last game played, and under the winning column a rough calculation in pounds, shillings, and pence. There were no names.

Next day, during first school, a notice came round to each Form to be in the Speech-room at 8.30. Not a boy knew or guessed the reason of this summons. The Manorites, aware that three of their House were in the sick-room, believed that an infectious disease had broken out. Only Desmond, John, and the Caterpillar experienced heart-breaking fears that a catastrophe had taken place.

When the School assembled at half-past eight, the monitors came in, followed by the Head Master in cap and gown. Then, a moment later, the School Custos entered with Scaife. They sat down upon a small bench near the door. Immediately the whispers, the shuffling of feet, the occasional cough, died down into a thrilling silence. The Head Master stood up.

He was a man of singularly impressive face and figure. And his voice had what may be described as an edge to it—the cutting quality so invaluable to any speaker who desires to make a deep impression upon his audience. He began his address in the clear, cold accents of one who sets forth facts which can neither be controverted nor ignored. Slowly, inexorably, without wasting a word or a second, he told the School what had happened. Then he paused.

As his voice melted away, the boys moved restlessly. Upon their faces shone a curious excitement and relief. Gambling in its many-headed forms is too deeply rooted in human hearts to awaken any great antipathy. So far, then, the sympathy of the audience lay with the culprits; this the Head Master knew.

When he spoke again, his voice had changed, subtly, but unmistakably.

"You were afraid," he said, "that I had something worse—ah, yes, unspeakably worse—to tell you. Thank God, this is not one of those cases from which every clean, manly boy must recoil in disgust. But, on that account, don't blind yourselves to the issues involved. This playing of bridge—a game you have seen your own people playing night after night, perhaps—is harmless enough in itself. I can say more—it is a game, and hence its fascination, which calls into use some of the finest qualities of the brain: judgment, memory, the faculty of making correct deductions, foresight, and patience. It teaches restraint; it makes for pleasant fellowship. It does all this and more, provided that it never degenerates into gambling. The very moment that the game becomes a gamble, if any one of the players is likely to lose a sum greater than he can reasonably afford to pay, greater than he would cheerfully spend upon any other form of entertainment, then bridge becomes cursed. And because you boys have not the experience to determine the difference between a mere game and a gamble, card-playing is forbidden you, and rightly so. Now, let us consider what has happened. A stupid, foolish fellow, playing with boys infinitely cleverer than himself, has lost a sum of money which he could not pay. To obtain the means of paying it, he deliberately forged a letter and a signature. And then followed the inevitable lying—lie upon lie. That is always the price of lies—'to lie on still.'

"I would mitigate the punishment, if I could, but I must think of the majority. This sort of malignant disease must be cut out. Two of the three offenders are young men; they were leaving at the end of this term. They will leave, instead—to-day. The third boy is much younger. Because of his youth, I have been persuaded by his house-master to give him a further chance."

Again he paused. Then he exclaimed loudly, "Scaife!"

Scaife stood up, very pale. "Here, sir!"

"Scaife, you will go into the Fourth Form Room,[31] and prepare to receive the punishment which no member of the Eleven should ever deserve."

* * * * *

John sat with his Form while the Head Master was addressing the School. Not far off was the Caterpillar, less cool than usual, so John remarked. His collar, for instance, seemed to be too tight; and he moved restlessly upon his chair. Many very brave men become nervous when a great danger has passed them by. Egerton said afterwards, "I felt like getting down a hole, and pulling the hole after me. Not my own. Some Yankee's, you know." Still, he displayed remarkable self-possession under trying circumstances. Two of Lovell's particular friends were seen to turn the colour of Cheddar cheese. But Desmond, so John noticed, grew red rather than yellow. Nor did he tremble, but his fists were clenched, and his eyes kindled.

As Scaife left the Speech-room, followed by Titchener (the provider of birches, whose duty it is to see that boys about to be swished are properly prepared to receive punishment), the boys began to shuffle in their places. But the Head Master held up his hand. It was then that Lovell's two particular friends, who had partially recovered, felt that the earth was once more slipping from under them.

"It takes four to play bridge." The Caterpillar's fingers went to his collar again. "In this case there must have been a fourth, possibly a fifth and a sixth. Not more, I think, because the secret was too well kept. We are confronted with the disagreeable fact that three boys are going to receive the most severe punishments I can inflict, and that another escapes scot-free. For I do not know the—name—of—the—fourth."

The Head Master waited to let each deliberate word soak in. Perhaps he had calculated the effect of his voice upon a boy of sensibility and imagination. That Scaife, his friend, should suffer the indignity of a swishing, and that he should escape scot-free, seemed to Caesar Desmond not a bit of rare good fortune—as it appeared to the others—but an incredible miscarriage of justice. To submit tamely to such a burden was unthinkable. He sprang to his feet, ardent, impetuous, afire with the spirit which makes men accept death rather than dishonour; and then, in a voice that rang through the room, thrilling the coldest and most callous heart, he exclaimed—

"I was the fourth."

A curious sound escaped from the audience—a gasp of surprise, of admiration, and of dismay; at least, so the Head Master interpreted it. And looking at the faces about him, he read approval or disapproval, according as each boy betrayed the feeling in his heart.

"You, Desmond?"

"Yes, sir."

The Caterpillar rose slowly. He was cool enough now.

"I was the fifth."

But Lovell's two particular friends sat tight, as they put it. Let us not blame them.

"You, Egerton?"

"Yes, sir."

For a moment the Head Master hesitated. Into his mind there flashed the image of two notable figures—the fathers whom he had entreated to send sons to the Manor. If—if by so doing he had compassed the boys' ruin, could he ever have forgiven himself? But now, the boys themselves had justified his action; they had proved worthy of their breeding and the traditions of the Hill.

"Come here," he said.

When they stood opposite to him, he continued—

"You give yourselves up to receive the punishment I am about to inflict upon Scaife?"

The boys did not answer, save with their eyes. The silence in the great room was so profound that John made sure that the beating of his heart must be heard by everybody.

"I shall not punish you. This voluntary confession has done much to redeem your fault. Meet me in my study at nine this evening, and I will talk to you. When I came here I hardly hoped to find saints, but I did expect to find—gentlemen. And I have not been disappointed." He addressed the others. "You will return to your boarding-houses, and quietly, if you please."

* * * * *

The immediate and most noticeable effect of Lovell's expulsion was the loss of the next House match. Damer's defeated the Manor easily. Some of the fags whispered to each other that the injuries inflicted by the Head Master on Scaife had been so severe as to incapacitate the star-player of the House. Two boys had concealed themselves in the Armoury (which is just below the Fourth Form Room) upon the morning when Scaife was flogged. But they reported—nothing. However severe the punishment might have been, Scaife received it without a whimper.

In truth, Scaife received but one cut, and that a light one. The Head Master wished to lay stripes upon the boy's heart, not his body. When he saw him prepared to receive punishment, he said gravely—

"I have never flogged a member of the Eleven. And now, at the last moment, I offer you the choice between a flogging and expulsion."

"I prefer to be flogged."

And then—one cut.

But Scaife never forgot the walk from the Yard to the Manor, after execution. He was too proud to run, too proud not to face the boys he happened to meet. They turned aside their eyes from his furious glare. But he met no members of his own House. They had the delicacy to leave the coast clear. When he reached his room, he found Desmond alone. Desmond said nervously—

"I asked Warde if we could have breakfast here this morning, instead of going into Hall. I've got some ripping salmon."

Scaife had faced everything with a brazen indifference, but the sympathy in his friend's voice overpowered him. He flung himself upon the sofa by the window and wept, not as a boy weeps, but with the cruel, grinding sobs of a man. He wept for his stained pride, for his vain-glory, not because he had sinned and caused others to sin. The boy watching him, seeing the hero self-abased, hearing his heartbreaking sobs, interpreted very differently those sounds. Infinitely distressed, turning over and over in his mind some soothing phrases, some word of comfort and encouragement, Desmond waited till the first paroxysm had passed. What he said then shall not be set down in cold print. You may be sure he proved that friendship between two strong, vigorous boys is no frail thread, but a golden chain which adversity strengthens and refines. Scaife rose up with his heart softened, not by his own tears, but by the tears he saw in Desmond's eyes.

"I'm all right now," he said. Then, with frowning brows, he added thoughtfully, "I deserve what I got for being a fool. I ought to have foreseen that such a swine as Beaumont-Greene would be sure to betray us sooner or later. I shall be wiser next time."

"Next—time?" The dismay in Desmond's voice made Scaife smile.

"Don't worry, Caesar. No more bridge for me; but," he laughed harshly, "the leopard can't change his spots, and he won't give up hunting because he has fallen into a trap, and got out of it. Come, let's tackle the salmon."

The winter term came to an end, and the School broke up. Upon the evening of the last Sunday, Warde said a few words to John.

"I propose to make some changes in the house," he said abruptly. "Would you like to share No. 7 with Desmond?"

No. 7 was the jolliest two-room at the Manor. It overlooked the gardens, and was larger than some three-rooms. Then John remembered Scaife and the Duffer.

"Desmond has been with Scaife ever since he came to the house, sir."

"True. But I'm going to give Scaife a room to himself. He's entitled to it as the future Captain of the Eleven. That is—settled. You and Duff must part. He's two forms below you in the school, and never likely to soar much higher than the Second Fifth. Next term you will be in the Sixth, and by the summer I hope Desmond will have joined you. You will find[32] together. Of course Scaife can find with you, if you wish. I've spoken to him and Desmond."

And so, John's fondest hope was realized. When he came back to the Manor, Desmond and he spent much time and rather more money than they could afford in making No. 7 the cosiest room in the house. Consciences were salved thus:—John bought for Desmond some picture or other decorative object which cost more money than he felt justified in spending on himself; then Desmond made John a similar present. It was whipping the devil round the stump, John said, but oh! the delight of giving his friend something he coveted, and receiving presents from him in return.

During this term, Scaife became one of the school racquet-players. In many ways he was admittedly the most remarkable boy at Harrow, the Admirable Crichton who appears now and again in every decade. He won the high jump and the hurdle-race. These triumphs kept him out of mischief, and occupied every minute of his time. He associated with the "Bloods," and one day Desmond told John that he considered himself to have been "dropped" by this tremendous swell. John discreetly held his tongue; but in his own mind, as before, he was convinced that Scaife and Desmond would come together again. The inexorable circumstance of Scaife's superiority at games had separated the boys, but only for a brief season. Desmond would become a "Blood" soon, and then it would be John's turn to be "dropped." Being a philosopher, our hero did not worry too much over the future, but made the most of the present, with a grateful and joyous heart. In his humility, he was unable to measure his influence on Desmond. In athletic pursuits an inferior, in all intellectual attainments he was pulling far ahead of his friend. The artful Warde had a word to say, which gave John food for thought.

"You can never equal your friend at cricket or footer, Verney. If you wish to score, it is time to play your own game."

Shortly after this, John realized that Warde had read Caesar aright. Charles Desmond's son, as has been said, acclaimed quality wherever he met it. John's intellectual advance amazed and then fascinated him. When John discovered this, he worked harder. Warde smiled. John ran second for the Prize Poem. He had genuine feeling for Nature, but he lacked as yet the technical ability to display it. A more practised versifier won the prize; but John's taste for history and literature secured him the Bourchier, not without a struggle which whetted to keenness every faculty he possessed. More, to his delight, he realized that his enthusiasm was contagious. Caesar entered eagerly into his friend's competitions; struggle and strife appealed to the Irishman. He talked over John's themes, read his verses, and predicted triumphs. Warde told John that Caesar Desmond might have stuck in the First Fifth, had it not been for this quickening of the clay. The days succeeded each other swiftly and smoothly. Warde was seen to smile more than ever during this term. Certain big fellows who opposed him were leaving or had already left. Bohun, now Head of the House, was a sturdy, straightforward monitor, not a famous athlete, but able to hold his own in any field of endeavour. Just before the Christmas holidays, Warde discovered, to his horror, that the drainage at the Manor was out of order. At great expense a new and perfect system was laid down. At last Warde told himself his house might be pronounced sanitary within and without.

When the summer term came, Desmond joined John in the Sixth Form. They were entitled to single rooms, but they asked and obtained permission to remain in No. 7. Desmond was invested with the right to fag, and the right to "find." How blessed a privilege the right to find is, boys who have enjoyed it will attest. The cosy meals in one's own room, the pleasant talk, the sense of intimacy, the freedom from restraint. Custom stales all good things, but how delicious they taste at first!

The privilege of fagging is not, however, unadulterated bliss. When Warde said to Caesar, "Well, Desmond, how do you like ordering about your slave?" Desmond replied, ruefully, "Well, sir, little Duff has broken my inkstand, spilt the ink on our new carpet, and let Verney's bullfinch escape. I think, on the whole, I'd as lief wait on myself."

Early in June it became plain that unless the unforeseen occurred, Harrow would have a strong Eleven, and that Desmond would be a member of it. John and Fluff were playing in the Sixth Form game; but John had no chance of his Flannels, although he had improved in batting and bowling, thanks to Warde's indefatigable coaching. Scaife hardly ever spoke to John now, but occasionally he came into No. 7 to talk to Desmond. Upon these rare occasions John would generally find an excuse for leaving the room. Always, when he returned, Desmond seemed to be restless and perplexed. His admiration for Scaife had waxed rather than waned. Indeed, John himself, detesting Scaife—for it had come to that—fearing him on Desmond's account, admired him notwithstanding: captivated by his amazing grace, good looks, and audacity. His recklessness held even the "Bloods" spellbound. A coach ran through Harrow in the afternoons of that season. Scaife made a bet that he would drive this coach from one end of the High Street to the other, under the very nose of Authority. The rules of the school set forth rigorously that no boy is to drive in or on any vehicle whatever. Only the Cycle Corps are allowed to use bicycles. Scaife's bet, you may be sure, excited extraordinary interest. He won it easily, disguised as the coachman—a make-up clever enough to deceive even those who were in the secret. His friends knew that he kept two polo-ponies at Wembley. One afternoon he dared to play in a match against the Nondescripts. Warde's daughter, just out of the schoolroom, happened to be present, and she rubbed her lovely eyes when she saw Scaife careering over the field. Scaife laughed when he saw her; but before she left the ground a note had reached her.

"DEAR MISS WARDE,

"I am sure that you have too much sporting blood in your veins to tell your father that you have seen me playing polo.

"Yours very sincerely, "REGINALD SCAIFE."

To run such risks seemed to John madness; to Desmond it indicated genius.

"There never was such a fellow," said Caesar to John.

When Caesar spoke in that tone John knew that Scaife had but to hold up a finger, and that Caesar would come to him even as a bird drops into the jaws of a snake. Caesar was strong, but the Demon was stronger.

After the Zingari Match, Desmond got his Flannels. He was cheered at six Bill. Everybody liked him; everybody was proud of him, proud of his father, proud of the long line of Desmonds, all distinguished, good-looking, and with charming manners. The School roared its satisfaction. John stood a little back, by the cloisters. Caesar ran past him, down the steps and into the street, hat in hand, blushing like a girl. John felt a lump in his throat. He thrilled because glory shone about his friend; but the poignant reflection came, that Caesar was running swiftly, out of the Yard and out of his own life. And before lock-up he saw, what he had seen in fancy a thousand times, Caesar arm-in-arm with Scaife and the Captain of the Eleven, Caesar in his new straw,[33] looking happier than John had ever seen him, Caesar, the "Blood," rolling triumphantly down the High Street, the envied of all beholders, the hero of the hour.

John called himself a selfish beast, because he had wished for one terrible moment, wished with heart and soul, that Caesar was unpopular and obscure.

FOOTNOTES:

[31] The place of execution.

[32] "Finding" is the privilege, accorded to the Sixth Form, of having breakfast and tea served in their own rooms instead of in Hall.

[33] The black-and-white straw hat only worn by members of the School Cricket Eleven.



CHAPTER XI

Self-questioning

"Friend, of my infinite dreams Little enough endures; Little howe'er it seems, It is yours, all yours. Fame hath a fleeting breath, Hope may be frail or fond; But Love shall be Love till death, And perhaps beyond."

Until the Metropolitan Railway joined Harrow to Baker Street, the Hill stood in the midst of genuine and unspoilt country, separated by five miles of grass from the nearest point of the metropolis, and encompassed by isolated dwellings, ranging in rank and scale from villas to country houses.[34] Most of the latter have fallen victims to the speculative builder, and have been cut up into alleys of brick and stucco. But one or two still remain among their hayfields and rhododendrons.

John Verney had an eager curiosity, not common in schoolboys, to know something about the countryside in which he dwelt. As a Lower Boy, whenever released from "Compulsory" and House-games, he used to wander with alert eyes and ears up and down the green lanes of Roxeth and Harrow Weald, enjoying fresh glimpses of the far-seen Spire, making friends with cottagers, picking up traditions of an older and more lawless[35] epoch, and, with these, an ever-increasing love and loyalty to Harrow. So Byron had wandered a hundred years before.

These solitary rambles, however, were regarded with disfavour by schoolfellows who lacked John's imaginative temperament. The Caterpillar, for instance, protested, "Did I see you hobnobbing with a chaw the other day? I thought so; and you looked like a confounded bughunter." The Duffer's notions of topography were bounded by the cricket-ground on the one side of the Hill, and the footer-fields on the other; and his traditions held nothing much more romantic than A. J. Webbe's scores at Lord's. Fluff, as has been said, was too far removed from John to make him more than an occasional companion. And so, for several terms, John, for the most part, walked alone. By the time Desmond joined him, he had gleaned a knowledge which fascinated a friend of like sensibility and imagination. Together they revisited the old and explored the new. One never-to-be-forgotten day the boys discovered a deserted house of some pretensions about a mile from the Hill. Its grounds, covering several acres, were enclosed by a high oak paling, within which stood a thick belt of trees, effectually concealing what lay beyond. Grim iron gates, always locked, frowned upon the wayfarer; but John, flattening an inquisitive nose against the ironwork, could discern a carriage-drive overgrown with grass and weeds, and at the end of it a white stone portico. After this the place became to both boys a sort of Enchanted Castle. A dozen times they peered through the gates. No one went in or out of the grass-grown drive. The gatekeeper's lodge was uninhabited; there were no adjacent cottages where information might be sought. The boys called it "The Haunted House," and peopled it with ghosts; gorgeous bucks of the Regency, languishing beauties such as Lawrence painted, fiery politicians, duellists, mysterious black-a-vised foreigners. John connected it in fancy with the days when the gorgeous Duke of Chandos (who had Handel for his chapel-organist and was a Governor of Harrow and guardian of Lord Rodney) kept court at Cannons. He told Caesar anecdotes of Dr. Parr, with his preposterous wig, his clouds of tobacco, his sesquipedalian quotations, coming down from Stanmore; and also of the great Lord Abercorn, another Governor of the school, who used to go out shooting in the blue riband of the Garter, and who entertained Pitt and Sir Walter Scott at Bentley Priory.

"What a lot you know!" said Caesar. "And you have a memory like my father's. I'm beginning to think, Jonathan, that you'll be a swell like him some day—in the Cabinet, perhaps."

"Ah," said John, with shining eyes.

"I hope I shall live to see it," Desmond added, with feeling.

"Thanks, old chap. A crust or a triumph shared with a pal tastes twice as good."

One soft afternoon in spring, after four Bill, Desmond and John were approaching the iron gates of the Haunted House. They had not taken this particular walk since the day when Desmond got his Flannels. During the winter term, Scaife and Desmond became members of the Football Eleven. During this term Scaife won the hundred yards and quarter-mile; Desmond won the half-mile and mile. In a word, they had done, from the athletic point of view, nearly all that could be done. A glorious victory at Lord's seemed assured. Scaife, Captain and epitome of the brains and muscles of the Eleven, had grown into a powerful man, with the mind, the tastes, the passions of manhood. Desmond, on the other hand, while nearly as tall (and much handsomer in John's eyes), still retained the look of youth. Indeed, he looked younger than John, although a year his senior; and John knew himself to be the elder and wiser, knew that Desmond leaned upon him whenever a crutch was wanted.

The chief difficulty which besets a school friendship between two boys is that of being alone together. In Form, in the playing-fields, in the boarding-house, life is public. Even in the most secluded lane, a Harrow boy is not secure against the unwelcome salutations of heated athletes who have been taking a cross-country run, or leaping over, or into, the Pinner brook. To John the need of sanctuary had become pressing.

Upon this blessed spring afternoon—ever afterwards recalled with special affection—a retreat was suddenly provided. As the boys jumped over the last stile into the lane which led to the Haunted House, Desmond exclaimed—

"By Jove, the gates are open!"

Then they saw that a man, a sort of caretaker, was in the act of shutting them.

"May we go in?" John asked civilly.

The man hesitated, eyeing the boys. Desmond's smile melted him, as it would have melted a mummy.

"There's nothing to see," he said.

Then, in answer to a few eager questions, he told the story of the Haunted House; haunted, indeed, by the ghosts of what might have been. A city magnate owned the place. He had bought it because he wished to educate his only son at Harrow as a "Home-Boarder," or day-boy. A few weeks before the boy should have joined the school, he fell ill with diphtheria, and died. The mother, who nursed him, caught the disease and died also. The father, left alone, turned his back upon a place he loathed, resolving to hold it till building-values increased, but never to set eyes on it again. The caretaker and his wife occupied a couple of rooms in the house.

The boys glanced at the house, a common-place mansion, and began to explore the gardens. To their delight they found in the shrubberies, now a wilderness of laurel and rhododendron, a tower—what our forefathers called a "Gazebo," and their neighbours a "Folly." The top of it commanded a wide, unbroken view—

"Of all the lowland western lea, The Uxbridge flats and meadows, To where the Ruislip waters see The Oxhey lights and shadows."

"There's the Spire," said John.

The man, who had joined them, nodded. "Yes," said he, "and my mistress and her boy are buried underneath it. She wanted him to be there—at the school, I mean—and there he is."

"We're very much obliged to you," said Desmond. He slipped a shilling into the man's hand, and added, "May we stay here for a bit? and perhaps we might come again—eh?"

"Thank you, sir," the man replied, touching his hat. "Come whenever you like, sir. The gates ain't really locked. I'll show you the trick of opening 'em when you come down."

He descended the steep flight of steps after the boys had thanked him.

"Sad story," said John, staring at the distant Spire.

Desmond hesitated. At times he revealed (to John alone) a curious melancholy.

"Sad," he repeated. "I don't know about that. Sad for the father, of course, but perhaps the son is well out of it. Don't look so amazed, Jonathan. Most fellows seem to make awful muddles of their lives. You won't, of course. I see you on pinnacles, but I——" He broke off with a mirthless laugh.

John waited. The air about them was soft and moist after a recent shower. The south-west wind stirred the pulses. Earth was once more tumid, about to bring forth. Already the hedges were green under the brown; bulbs were pushing delicate spears through the sweet-smelling soil; the buds upon a clump of fine beeches had begun to open. In this solitude, alone with teeming nature, John tried to interpret his friend's mood; but the spirit of melancholy eluded him, as if it were a will-o'-the-wisp dancing over an impassable marsh. Suddenly, there came to him, as there had come to the quicker imagination of his friend, the overpowering mystery of Spring, the sense of inevitable change, the impossibility of arresting it. At the moment all things seemed unsubstantial. Even the familiar Spire, powdered with gold by the slanting rays of the sun, appeared thinly transparent against the rosy mists behind it. The Hill, the solid Hill, rose out of the valley, a lavender-coloured shade upon the horizon.

"He came here," continued Desmond, dreamily—John guessed that he was speaking of the father—"a rich, prosperous man. I dare say he worked like a slave in the city. And he wanted peace and quiet after the Stock Exchange. Who wouldn't? And he planted out these gardens, thinking that every plant would grow up and thrive, and his son with them. And then the boy died; and the wife followed; and the enchanted castle became a place of horror; and now it is a wilderness. Haunted? I should think it was—haunted! I wish we'd never set foot in it. There's a curse on it."

"Let's go," said John.

"Too late. We'll stay now, and we'll come again, every Sunday. Wild and desolate as things look, they will be lovely when we get back in summer. Don't talk. I'm going to light a pipe."

Through the circling cloud of tobacco-smoke John stared at the face which had illumined nearly every hour of his school-life. Its peculiar vividness always amazed John, the vitality of it, and yet the perfect delicacy. Scaife's handsome features were full of vitality also, but coarseness underlay their bold lines and peered out of the keen, flashing eyes. When the Caterpillar left Harrow he had said to John—

"Good-bye, Jonathan. Awful rot your going to such a hole as Oxford! One has had quite enough schooling after five years here. It's settled I'm going into the Guards. My father tells me that old Scaife tried to get the Demon down on the Duke's list. But we don't fancy the Scaife brand."

Often and often John wondered whether Desmond saw the brand as plainly as the Caterpillar and he did. Sometimes he felt almost sure that a word, a look, a gesture betraying the bounder, had revolted Desmond; but a few hours later the bounder bounded into favour again, captivating eye and heart by some brilliant feat. And then his brains! He was so diabolically clever. John could always recall his face as he lay back in the chair in No. 15, sick, bruised, befuddled, and yet even in that moment of extreme prostration able to "play the game," as he put it, to defeat house-master and doctor by sheer strength of will and intellect. It was Scaife who had persuaded Desmond to smoke.... Caesar's voice broke in upon these meditations.

"I say—what are you frowning about?"

John, very red, replied nervously, "Now that you're in the Sixth, you ought to chuck smoking."

"What rot!" said Caesar. "And here, in this tower, where one couldn't possibly be nailed——"

"That's it," said John. "It's just because you can't possibly be nailed that it seems to me not quite square."

Caesar burst out laughing. "Jonathan, you are a rum 'un. Anyway—here goes!"

As he spoke he flung the pipe into the bushes below.

"Thanks," said John, quietly.

"We'll come here again. I like this old tower."

"You won't come here without me?"

"Oh, ho! I'm not to let the Demon into our paradise—eh? What a jealous old bird you are! Well, I like you to be jealous." And he laughed again.

"I am jealous," said John, slowly.

* * * * *

The School broke up on the following Tuesday, and Desmond went home with John.

This happened to be the first time that the friends had spent Easter together. John wondered whether Caesar would take the Sacrament with his mother and him. He and Caesar had been confirmed side by side in the Chapel at Harrow. He felt sure that Desmond would not refuse if he were asked. On Easter Eve, Mrs. Verney said, in her quiet, persuasive voice—

"You will join us to-morrow morning, Harry?"

Desmond flushed, and said, "Yes."

Not remembering his own mother, who had died when he was a child, he often told John that he felt like a son to Mrs. Verney. Upon Easter morning, the three met in the hall, and Desmond asked for a Prayer-book.

"I've lost mine," he murmured.

That afternoon, when they were alone upon the splendid moor above Stoneycross, Desmond said suddenly—

"Religion means a lot to you, Jonathan, doesn't it?"

"Yes."

"But you never talk about it."

"No."

"Why not?"

"I don't know how to begin."

"There's such sickening hypocrisy in this world."

John nodded.

"But your religion is a help to you, eh? Keeps you straight?"

John nodded again. Then Desmond said with an air of finality—

"I wish I'd some of your faith. I want it badly."

"If you want it badly, you will get it."

A long silence succeeded. Then Desmond exclaimed—

"Hullo! By Jove, there's a fox, a splendid fellow! He's come up here amongst the rabbits for a Sunday dinner. Gone awa-a-a-ay!"

He put his hand to his mouth and halloaed. A minute later he was talking of hunting. Religion was not mentioned till they were approaching the house for tea. On the threshold, Desmond said with a nervous laugh—

"I'd like your mother to give me a Prayer-book—a small one, nothing expensive."

During the following week they hunted with foxhounds or staghounds every day, except Wednesday. In the New Forest the Easter hunting is unique. Tremendous fellows come down from the shires—masters of famous packs, thrusters, keen to see May foxes killed. And the Forest entertains them handsomely, you may be sure. Big hampers are unpacked under the oaks which may have been saplings when William Rufus ruled in England; there are dinners, and, of course, a hunt-ball in the ancient village of Lyndhurst. But as each pleasant day passed, John told himself that the end was drawing near. This was almost the last holidays Caesar and he would spend together; and, afterwards, would this friendship, so romantic a passion with one at least of them—would it wither away, or would it endure to the end?

At the end of a fortnight, Desmond returned to Eaton Square. Upon the eve of departure, Mrs. Verney gave him a small Prayer-book.

"I have written something in it," she said; "but don't open it now."

He looked at the fly-leaf as the train rolled out of Lyndhurst Station. Upon it, in Mrs. Verney's delicate handwriting, were a few lines. First his name and the date. Below, a text—"Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." And, below that again, a verse—

"Not thankful when it pleaseth me, As if Thy blessings had spare days: But such a heart whose pulse may be— Thy praise."

Desmond stared at the graceful writing long after the train had passed Totton. "Am I ungrateful?" he asked himself. "Not to them," he muttered; "surely not to them." He recalled what Warde had said about ingratitude being the unpardonable sin. Ah! it was loathsome, ingratitude! And much had been given to him. How much? For the first time he made, so to speak, an inventory of what he had received—his innumerable blessings. What had he given in return? And now the fine handwriting seemed blurred; he saw it through tears which he ought to have shed. "Oh, my God," he murmured, "am I ungrateful?" The question bit deeper into his mind, sinking from there into his soul.

* * * * *

When the School reassembled, a curious incident occurred. John happened to be going up the fine flight of steps that leads to the Old Schools. He was carrying some books and papers. Scaife, running down the steps, charged into him. By great good fortune, no damage was done except to a nicely-bound Sophocles. John, however, felt assured that Scaife had deliberately intended to knock him down, seized, possibly, by an ecstasy of blind rage not uncommon with him. Scaife smiled derisively, and said—

"A thousand apologies, Verney."

"One is enough," John replied, "if it is sincere."

They eyed each other steadily. John read a furious challenge in Scaife's bold eyes—more, a menace, the threatening frown of power thwarted. Scaife seemed to expand, to fill the horizon, to blot out the glad sunshine. Once again the curious certainty gripped the younger that Scaife was indeed the personification of evil, the more malefic because it stalked abroad masked. For Scaife had outlived his reputation as a breaker of the law. Since that terrible experience in the Fourth Form Room, he had paid tithe of mint and cummin. As a Sixth Form boy he upheld authority, laughing the while in his sleeve. He knew, of course, that one mistake, one slip, would be fatal. And he prided himself on not making mistakes. He gambled, but not with boys; he drank, not with boys; he denied his body nothing it craved; but he never forgot that expulsion from Harrow meant the loss of a commission in a smart cavalry regiment. When it was intimated to him that the Guards did not want his father's son, he laughed bitterly, and swore to himself that he would show the stuck-up snobs what a soldier they had turned away. A soldier he fully intended to be—a dashing cavalry leader, if the Fates were kind. His luck would stand by him; if not—why—what was life without luck? He had never been a reader, but he read now the lives of soldiers. Murat, Uxbridge, Cardigan, Hodson, were his heroes. Talking of their achievements, he inflamed his own mind and Desmond's.

The pleasant summer days passed. May melted into June. And each Sunday John and Desmond walked to the Haunted House, ascended the tower, and talked. Scaife was leaving at the end of the summer. Desmond was staying on for the winter term; then John would have him entirely to himself. This thought illumined dark hours, when he saw his friend whirled away by Scaife, transported, as it were, by the irresistible power of the man of action. That nothing should be wanting to that trebly-fortunate youth, he had helped to win the Public Schools' Racquets Championship. The Manor was now the crack house—cock-house at racquets and football, certain to be cock-house at cricket. And Scaife got most of the credit, not Warde, who smiled more than ever, and talked continually of Balliol Scholarships. He never bragged of victories past.

Meantime, John was devoting all energies to the competition for the Prize Essay. The Head Master had propounded as theme: "The History and Influence of Parliamentary Oratory." Bit by bit, John read or declaimed it to Desmond. Then, according to custom, Desmond copied it out for his friend. Signed "Spero Infestis," with a sealed envelope containing John's name inside and the motto outside, the MS. was placed in the Head Master's letter-box. John, cooling rapidly after the fever of composition, condemned his stuff as hopelessly bad; Caesar went about telling everybody that Jonathan would win easily, "with a bit to spare." John did win, but that proved to be the least part of his triumph. The Essay had to be declaimed upon Speech Day. Once more John experienced the pangs that had twisted him at the concert, long ago, when he had sung to the Nation's hero. And as before, he began weakly. Then, the fire seizing him, self-consciousness was exorcised by feeling, and forgetful of the hundreds of faces about him, he burst into genuine oratory. Thrilled himself, he thrilled others. His voice faltered again, but with an emotion that found an echo in the hearts of his audience; his hand shook, feeling the pulse of old and young in front of him. Dominated, swept away by his theme, he dominated others. When he finished, in the silence that preceded the roar of applause, he knew that he had triumphed, for he saw Desmond's glowing countenance, radiant with pleasure, transfigured by amazement and admiration. Next day a great newspaper hailed the Harrow boy as one destined to delight and to lead, perhaps, an all-conquering party in the House of Commons. And yet, warmed to the core by this praise, John counted it as nothing compared with his mother's smile and Desmond's fervent grip.

Fortune, however, comes to no man—or boy—with both hands full. Immediately after Speech Day, John's bubble of pride and happiness was pricked by Scaife. Midsummer madness seized the Demon. One may conceive that the innate recklessness of his nature, suppressed by an iron will, and smouldering throughout many months, burst at last into flame. Desmond told John that the Demon had spent a riotous night in town. He had slipped out of the Manor after prayers, had driven up to a certain club in Regent Street, returned in time for first school, fresh as paint—so Desmond said—and then, not content with such an achievement, must needs brag of it to Desmond.

"And if he's nailed, Eton wins," concluded Desmond. "I've told you, because together we must put a stop to such larks."

John slightly raised his thick eyebrows. It was curious that Caesar always chose to ignore the hatred which he must have known to exist between his two friends. Or did he fatuously believe that, because John exercised an influence over himself, the same influence would or could be exercised over Scaife?

"We?" said John.

"I've tried and failed. But together, I say——"

"I shan't interfere, Caesar."

"Jonathan, you must."

"It would be a fool's errand."

"We three have gone up the School together. You have never been fair to Scaife. I tell you he's sound at core. Why, after he was swished——"

Desmond told John what had passed; John shook his head. He could understand better than any one else why Scaife had broken down.

"He has splendid ambitions," pursued Desmond. "He's going to be a great soldier, you see. He thinks of nothing else. You never have liked him, but because of that I thought you would do what you could."

The disappointment and chagrin in his voice shook John's resolution.

"To please you, I'll try."

And accordingly the absurd experiment was made. Afterwards, John asked himself a thousand times why he had not foreseen the inevitable result. But the explanation is almost too simple to be recorded: he wished to convince a friend that he would attempt anything to prove his friendship.

That night they went together to Scaife's room. The second-best room in the Manor, situated upon the first floor, it overlooked the back of the garden, where there was a tangled thicket of laurustinus and rhododendron. Scaife had spent much money in making this room as comfortable as possible. It had the appearance of a man's room, and presented all the characteristics of the man who lived in it. Everything connected with Scaife's triumphal march through the School was preserved. On the walls were his caps, fezes, and cups. You could hardly see the paper for the framed photographs of Scaife and his fellow "bloods." Scaife as cricketer, Scaife as football-player, Scaife as racquet-player and athlete, stared boldly and triumphantly at you. He had a fine desk covered with massive silver ornaments. Upon this, as upon everything else in the room, was the hall-mark of the successful man of business. The papers, the pens and pencils, the filed bills and letters, the books of reference, spoke eloquently of a mind that used order as a means to a definite end. All his books were well bound. His boots were on trees. His racquets were in their press. Had you opened his chest of drawers, you would have found his clothes in perfect condition. Obviously, to an observant eye, the owner of this room gave his mind to details, because he realized that on details hang great and successful enterprises.

Scaife stared at John, but welcomed him civilly enough. Cricket, of course, explained this unexpected visit. As Desmond blurted out what was in his mind, Scaife frowned; then he laughed unpleasantly.

"And so I told Jonathan," concluded Desmond.

"So you told Jonathan," repeated Scaife. "Are you in the habit of telling Jonathan,"—the derisive inflection as he pronounced the name warned John at least that he had much better have stayed away—"things which concern others and which don't concern him?"

"If you're going to take it like that——"

"Keep cool, Caesar. I'll admit that you mean well. I should like to hear what Verney has to say."

At that John spoke—haltingly. Fluent speech upon any subject very dear to him had always been difficult. He could talk glibly enough about ordinary topics; his sense of humour, his retentive memory, made him welcome even in the critical society of Eaton Square, but you know him as a creature of unplumbed reserves. The matter in hand was so vital that he could not touch it with firm hands or voice. He spoke at his worst, and he knew it; concluding an incoherent and slightly inarticulate recital of the reasons which ought to keep Scaife in his house at night with a lame "Two heads ought to prevail against one."

Scaife showed his fine teeth. "You think that? Your head and Caesar's against mine?"

The challenge revealed itself in the derisive, sneering tone.

John shrugged his shoulders and rose. "I have blundered; I am sorry."

"Hold hard," said Scaife. He read censure upon Desmond's ingenuous countenance. Then his temper whipped him to a furious resentment against John, as an enemy who had turned the tables with good breeding; who had gained, indeed, a victory against odds. Scaife drew in his breath; his brows met in a frown. "You have not blundered; and you are not sorry," he said deliberately. "I'm not a fool, Verney; but perhaps I have underrated your ability. You're as clever as they make 'em. You knew well enough that you were the last person in the world to lead me in a string; you knew that, I say, and yet you come here to pose as the righteous youth, doing his duty—eh?—against odds, and accepting credit for the same from Caesar. Why, it's plain to me as the nose upon your face that in your heart you would like me to be sacked."

Desmond interrupted. "You are mad, Demon. Take that back; take it back!"

"Ask him," said Scaife. "He hates me, and common decency ought to have kept him out of this room. But he's not a liar. Ask him. Put it your own way. Soften it, make pap of it, if you like, but get an answer."

"Jonathan, it is not true, is it? You don't like Scaife; but you would be sorry, very sorry, to see him—sacked."

"I'm glad you've not funked it," said Scaife. "You've put it squarely. Let him answer it as squarely."

John was white to the lips, white and trembling; despicable in his own eyes, how much more despicable, therefore, in the eyes of his friend, whose passionate faith in him was about to be scorched and shrivelled.

Scaife began to laugh.

"For God's sake, don't laugh!" said Desmond. "Jonathan, I know you are too proud to defend yourself against such an abominable charge."

"He's not a liar," said Scaife.

"It's true," said John, in a strangled voice.

"You have wished that he might be sacked?"

"Yes."

John met Desmond's indignant eyes with an expression which the other was too impetuous, too inexperienced to interpret. Into that look of passionate reproach he flung all that must be left unsaid, all that Scaife could read as easily as if it were scored in letters of flame. Because, in his modesty and humility, he had ever reckoned that Scaife would prevail against himself—because, with unerring instinct, he had apprehended, as few boys could apprehend, the issues involved, he had desired, fervently desired, that Scaife should be swept from Caesar's path. But this he could not plead as an excuse to his friend; and Scaife had known that, and had used his knowledge with fiendish success. John lowered his eyes and walked from the room.

When he met Desmond again, nothing was said on either side. John told himself that he would speak, if Desmond spoke first. But evidently Desmond had determined already the nature of their future relations. They no longer shared No. 7, John being in the Upper Sixth with a room to himself, but they still "found" together. To separate would mean a public scandal from which each shrank in horror. No; let them meet at meals as before till the end of the term. Indeed, so little change was made in their previous intercourse, that John began to hope that Caesar would walk with him as usual upon the following Sunday. And if he did—if he did, John felt that he would speak. On the top of the tower, looking towards the Spire, alone with his friend, exalted above the thorns and brambles of the wilderness, words would come to him.

But on the following Sunday Desmond walked with Scaife.

FOOTNOTES:

[34] Of these, the Park, now a boarding-house, was a characteristic specimen. It belonged to Lord Northwick, Lord of the Manor of Harrow.

[35] In the thirties Harrow boys played "Jack o' Lantern," or nocturnal Hare and Hounds. They used to attend Kingsbury Races and Pinner Fair. Lord Alexander Russell, when he was a boy at the Grove, kept a pack of beagles at the foot of the Hill.



CHAPTER XII

"Lord's"

"There we sat in the circle vast, Hard by the tents, from noon, And looked as the day went slowly past And the runs came all too soon; And never, I think, in the years gone by, Since cricketer first went in, Did the dying so refuse to die, Or the winning so hardly win."

"My dear Jonathan, I'm delighted to see you. You know my father, I think?" It was the Caterpillar that spoke.

John shook hands with Colonel Egerton.

The three were standing in the Members' Enclosure at Lord's. The Caterpillar, gorgeous in frock-coat, with three corn-flowers[36] in the lapel of it, was about as great a buck as his sire, quite as conspicuous, and, seemingly, as cool. It happened to be a blazing hot day, but heat seldom affected Colonel Egerton.

"By Jove," he said to John, "I'm told it's a certainty this year, and I've come early, too early for me, to see a glorious victory. There's civil war raging on the top of the Trent coach, I give you my word."

"We've won the toss," said John.

"Ah, there's Charles Desmond, an early bird, too."

He bustled away, leaving John and the Caterpillar together. The great ground in front of them was being cleared. One could see, through the few people scattered here and there, the wickets pitched in the middle of that vast expanse of lawn, and the umpires in their long white coats. Upon the top of the steps, in the middle of the pavilion, the Eton captain was collecting his Eleven. The Duffer, who had got his Flannels at the last moment, came up and joined John and the Caterpillar.

"The Manor's well to the front," said the Caterpillar. "By Jove! I never thought to see Fluff in the Eleven."

"Fluff came on tremendously this term," the Duffer replied.

"Of course the Kinlochs are a cricketing family."

"Good joke the brothers playing against each other," said John.

"Warde," the Duffer nodded in the direction of Warde, who was talking with Charles Desmond and Colonel Egerton, "has worked like a slave. He made a cricketer out of Fluff and a scholar out of Jonathan. He's so mad keen to see us win, that he's given me the jumps."

"You must keep cool," the Caterpillar murmured. "I've just come from the Trent coach. Fluff has it from the brother who is playing that the Eton bowling is weak. But Strathpeffer, the eldest son, tells me the batsmen are stronger than last year. He seemed anxious to bet; so we have a fiver about it. They're taking the field."

The Eton Eleven walked towards the wicket, loudly cheered. Caesar came up in his pads, carrying his bat and gloves. He shook hands with the Caterpillar, and said, with a groan, that he had to take the first ball.

"Keep cool," said the Caterpillar. "The bowling's weak; I have it from Cosmo Kinloch. They're in a precious funk."

"So am I," said the Duffer.

"But you're a bowler," said Desmond. "If I get out first ball, I shall cut my throat."

But Caesar looked alert, cool, and neither under- nor over-confident.

"You'll cut the ball, not your throat," said the Duffer. Cutting was Caesar's strong point.

The Caterpillar nodded, and spoke oracularly—

"My governor says he never shoots at a snipe without muttering to himself, 'Snipe on toast.' It steadies his nerves. When you see the ball leave the bowler's hand, you say to yourself, 'Eton on toast.'"

"Your own, Caterpillar?"

"My own," said the Caterpillar, modestly. "I don't often make a joke, but that's mine. Pass it on."

The other Harrovian about to go in beckoned to Desmond.

"Caesar won't be bowled first ball," said the Caterpillar. "He's the sort that rises to an emergency. Can't we find a seat?"

They sat down and watched the Eton captain placing his field. Desmond and his companion were walking slowly towards the wickets amid Harrow cheers. The cheering was lukewarm as yet. It would have fire enough in it presently. The Caterpillar pointed out some of the swells.

"That's old Lyburn. Hasn't missed a match since '64. Was brought here once with a broken leg! Carried in a litter, by Jove! That fellow with the long, white beard is Lord Fawley. He made 78 not out in the days of Charlemagne."

"It was in '53," said the Duffer, who never joked on really serious subjects; "and he made 68, not 78. He's pulling his beard. I believe he's as nervous as I am."

Presently the innumerable voices about them were hushed; all eyes turned in one direction. Desmond was about to take the first ball. It was delivered moderately fast, with a slight break. Desmond played forward.

"Well played, sir! Well pla-a-ayed!"

The shout rumbled round the huge circle. The beginning and the end of a great match are always thrilling. The second and third balls were played like the first. John could hear Mr. Desmond saying to Warde, "He has Hugo's style and way of standing—eh?" And Warde replied, "Yes; but he's a finer batsman. Ah-h-h!"

The first real cheer burst like a bomb. Desmond had cut the sixth ball to the boundary.

Over! The new bowler was a tall, thin boy with flaxen hair.

"That's Cosmo Kinloch, Fluff's brother," said John. "I wonder they can't do better than that. Even I knocked him all over the shop at White Ladies last summer."

"He's come on, they tell me," said the Caterpillar. "Good Lord, he nearly had him first ball."

Fluff's brother bowled slows of a good length, with an awkward break from the off to the leg.

"Teasers," said the Caterpillar, critically. "Hullo! No, my young friend, that may do well enough in Shropshire, not here."

A ball breaking sharply from the off had struck the batsman's pad; he had stepped in front of his wicket to cut it. Country umpires are often beguiled by bowlers into giving wrong decisions in such cases; not so your London expert. Cosmo Kinloch appealed—in vain.

"He'll send a short one down now," said John. "You see."

And, sure enough, a long hop came to the off, curling inwards after it pitched. The Eton captain had nearly all his men on the off side. The Harrovian pulled the ball right round to the boundary.

"Well hit!"

"Well pulled!"

"Two 4's; that's a good beginning," said the Duffer.

A couple of singles followed, and then the first "10" went up amid cheers.

"Here's my governor," said the Duffer. "He was three years in the Eleven and Captain his last term."

"You've told us that a thousand times," said the Caterpillar.

The Rev. Septimus Duff greeted the boys warmly. His eyes sparkled out of a cheery, bearded face. Look at him well. An Harrovian of the Harrovians this. His grandfathers on the maternal and paternal side had been friends at Harrow in Byron's time. The Rev. Septimus wore rather a shabby coat and a terrible hat, but the consummate Caterpillar, who respected pedigrees, regarded him with pride and veneration. He came up from his obscure West Country vicarage to town just once a year—to see the match. If you asked him, he would tell you quite simply that he would sooner see the match and his old friends than go to Palestine; and the Rev. Septimus had yearned to visit Palestine ever since he left Cambridge; and it is not likely that this great wish will ever be gratified. He is the father of three sons, but the Duffer is the first to get into the Eleven. Charles Desmond joins them. At the moment, Charles Desmond is supposed to be one of the most harried men in the Empire. Times are troublous. A war-cloud, as large as Kruger's hand, has just risen in the South, and is spreading itself over the whole world. But to-day the great Minister has left the cares of office in Downing Street. He hails the Rev. Septimus with a genial laugh and a hearty grasp of the hand.

"Ah, Sep, upon your word of honour, now—would you sooner be here to see the Duffer take half a dozen wickets, or be down in Somerset, Bishop of Bath and Wells?"

"When you offer me the bishopric," replied the Rev. Septimus, with a twinkle, "I'll answer that question, my dear Charles, and not before."

"You old humbug! You're so puffed up with sinful pride that you've stuck your topper on to your head the wrong way about."

"Bless my soul," said the Duffer's father, "so I have."

"That topper of the governor's," the Duffer remarked solemnly, "has seen twenty-five matches at least."

John looked at no hats; his eyes were on the pitch. Another round of cheers proclaimed that "20" had gone up. Both boys are batting steadily; no more boundary hits; a snick here, a snack there—and then—merciful Heavens!—Caesar has cut a curling ball "bang" into short slip's hands.

Short slip—wretched youth—muffs it! Derisive remarks from Rev. Septimus.

"Well caught! Well held! Tha-a-nks!"

The Caterpillar would pronounce this sort of chaff bad form in a contemporary. He removes his hat.

"By Jove!" says he. "It's very warm."

Caesar times the next ball beautifully. It glides past point and under the ropes.

Early as it is, the ground seems to be packed with people. Glorious weather has allured everybody. Stand after stand is filled up. The colour becomes kaleidoscopic. The Rev. Septimus, during the brief interval of an over, allows his eyes to stray round the huge circle. Upon the ground are the youth, the beauty, the rank and fashion of the kingdom, and, best of all, his old friends. The Rev. Septimus has a weakness, being, of course, human to the finger-tips. He calls himself a laudator temporis acti. In his day, the match was less of a function. The boys sat round upon the grass; behind them were the carriages and coaches—you could drive on to the ground then!—and here and there, only here and there, a tent or a small stand. Consule Planco—the parson loves a Latin tag—the match was an immense picnic for Harrovians and Etonians. And, my word, you ought to have heard the chaff when an unlucky fielder put the ball on the floor. Or, when a batsman interposed a pad where a bat ought to have been. Or, if a player was bowled first ball. Or, if he swaggered as he walked, the cynosure of all eyes, from the pavilion to the pitch. Upon this subject the Rev. Septimus will preach a longer (and a more interesting) sermon than any you will hear from his pulpit in Blackford-Orcas Church.

Loud cheers put an end to the parson's reminiscences. Desmond's companion has been clean bowled for a useful fifteen runs. He walks towards the pavilion slowly. Then, as he hears the Harrow cheers, he blushes like a nymph of sixteen, for he counts himself a failure. Last year he made a "duck" in his first innings, and five in the second. No cheers then. This is his first taste of the honey mortals call success. He has faced the great world, and captured its applause.

"When does Scaife go in?" the Rev. Septimus asks.

"Second wicket down."

More cheers as the second man in strolls down the steps. A careful cove, so the Duffer tells his father—one who will try to break the back of the bowling.

"They're taking off Fluff's brother," the Caterpillar observes.

A thick-set young man holds the ball. He makes some slight alteration in the field. The wicket-keeper stands back; the slips and point retreat a few yards. The ball that took the first wicket was the last of an over. Desmond has to receive the attack of the new bowler.

The thick-set Etonian, having arranged the off side to his satisfaction, prepares to take a long run. He holds the ball in the left hand, runs sideways at great speed, changes the ball from the left hand to the right at the last moment, and seems to hurl both it and himself at the batsman.

"Greased lightning!" says John.

A dry summer had made the pitch rather fiery. The ball, short-pitched, whizzes just over Caesar's head. A second and a third seem to graze his cap. Murmurs are heard. Is the Eton bowler trying to kill or maim his antagonist? Is he deliberately endeavouring to establish a paralysing "funk"?

But the fourth ball is a "fizzer"—the right length, a bailer, terrifically fast, but just off the wicket. Desmond snicks it between short slip and third man; it goes to the boundary.

"That's what Caesar likes," says the Duffer. "He can cut behind the wicket till the cows come home."

"Cut—and come again," says the Caterpillar.

The fifth ball is played forward for a risky single. The Rev. Septimus forgets that times have changed. And if they have, what of it? He hasn't. His deep, vibrant voice rolls across the lawn right up to the batsman—

"Steady there! Steady!"

And now the new-comer has to take the last ball of the over—his first. Alas and alack! The sixth ball is dead on to the middle stump. The Harrovian plays forward. Man alive, you ought to have played back to that! The ball grazes the top edge of the bat's blade and flies straight into the welcoming hands of the wicket-keeper.

Two wickets for 33.

Breathless suspense, broken by tumultuous cheers as Scaife strides on to the ground. His bat is under his arm; he is drawing on his gloves. Thousands of men and as many women are staring at his splendid face and figure.

"What a mover!" murmurs the Rev. Septimus.

Scaife strides on. Upon his face is the expression John knows so well and fears so much—the consciousness of power, the stern determination to be first, to shatter previous records. John can predict—and does so with absolute certainty—what will happen. For six overs the Demon will treat every ball—good, bad, and indifferent—with the most distinguished consideration. And then, when his "eye" is in, he will give the Etonians such leather-hunting as they never had before.

After a long stand made by Scaife and Desmond, Caesar is caught at cover-point, but Scaife remains. It is a Colossus batting, not a Harrow boy. The balls come down the pitch; the Demon's shoulders and chest widen; the great knotted arms go up—crash! First singles; then twos; then threes; and then boundary after boundary. To John—and to how many others?—Scaife has been transformed into a tremendous human machine, inexorably cutting and slicing, pulling and driving—the embodied symbol of force, ruthlessly applied, indefatigable, omnipotent.

The Eton captain, hopeful against odds, puts on a cunning and cool dealer in "lobs." Fluff is in, playing steadily, holding up his wicket, letting the giant make the runs. The Etonian delivers his first ball. Scaife leaves the crease. Fluff sees the ball slowly spinning—harmless enough till it pitches, and then deadly as a writhing serpent. Scaife will not let it pitch. The ball curves slightly from the leg to the off. Scaife is facing the pavilion——

A stupendous roar bursts from the crowd. The ball, hit with terrific force, sails away over the green sward, over the ropes, over the heads of the spectators, and slap on to the top of the pavilion.

Only four; but one of the finest swipes ever seen at Lord's. Shade of Mynn, come forth from the tomb to applaud that mighty stroke!

But the dealer in lobs knows that the man who leaves his citadel, leaves it, sooner or later, not to return. In the hope that Scaife, intoxicated with triumph, will run out again, he pitches the next lob too much up—a half-volley. Scaife smiles.

John's prediction has been fulfilled. A record has been established. Never before in an Eton and Harrow match have two balls been hit over the ropes in succession. The crowds have lost their self-possession. Men, women, and children are becoming delirious. The Rev. Septimus throws his ancient topper into the air; the Caterpillar splits a brand-new pair of delicate grey gloves. Upon the tops of the coaches, mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins are cheering like Fourth-Form boys.

* * * * *

The Harrow first innings closed with 289 runs, Scaife carrying out his bat for an almost flawless 126. Desmond made 72; Fluff was in for twenty-seven minutes—a great performance for him—and was caught in the slips after compiling a useful 17.

But the remarkable feature of the innings was the short time in which so many runs were made—exactly three hours. The elevens went in to lunch, as the crowd poured over the ground, laughing and chattering. This is a delightful hour to the Rev. Septimus. He will walk to the wickets, and wait there for his innumerable friends. It will be, "Hullo, Sep!" "By Jove, here's dear old Sep!" "Sep, you unfriendly beast, why do you never come to see us?" "Sep, when are you going to send that awful tile of yours to the British Museum?" And so on.

Twenty men, at least—some of them with names known wherever the Union Jack waves—will ask the Rev. Sep to lunch with them; but the Rev. Sep will say, as he has said these thirty years, that he doesn't come to Lord's to "gorge." A sandwich presently, and a glass of "fizz," if you please; but time is precious. A tall bishop strolls up—one of the pillars of the Church, an eloquent preacher, and an autocrat in his diocese. Most people regard him with awe. The Rev. Sep greets him with a scandalous slap on the back, and addresses him, the apostolic one, as—Lamper.[37] And the Lord Bishop of Dudley says, like the others—

"Hullo, Sep! We used to think you a slogger, but you never came anywhere near that smite of Scaife's."

"I thought his smite was coming too near me," says the Rev. Sep, with a shrewd glance at the pavilion. "Lamper, old chap, I am glad to see your 'phiz' again."

And so they stroll off together, mighty prelate and humble country parson, once again happy Harrow boys.

And now, before Eton goes in, we must climb on to the Trent coach. Fluff and his brother Cosmo, the Eton bowler, are lunching in other company, but we shall find Colonel Egerton and the Caterpillar and Warde; so the Hill slightly outnumbers the Plain, as the duke puts it. Next to the duchess sits Mrs. Verney. The duke is torn nearly in two between his desire that Fluff should make runs and that Cosmo, the Etonian, should take wickets. His Eton sons regard him as a traitor, a "rat," and Colonel Egerton gravely offers him the corn-flowers out of his coat.

"You can laugh," the duke says seriously, "but when I see what Harrow has done for Esme, I'm almost sorry"—he looks at his youngest son (nearly, but not quite, as delicate-looking as Fluff used to be)—"I'm almost sorry that I didn't send Alastair there also."

Alastair smiles contemptuously. "If you had," he says, "I should have never spoken to you again. Esme is a forgiving chap, but you've wrecked his life. At least, that's my opinion."

After luncheon, the crowd on the lawn thickens. The ladies want to see the pitch, and, shall we add, to display their wonderful frocks. The enclosure at Ascot on Cup Day is not so gay and pretty a scene as this. The Caterpillar, sly dog, has secured Iris Warde, and looks uncommonly pleased with himself and his companion; a smart pair, but smart pairs are common as gooseberries. It is the year of picture hats and Gainsborough dresses.

"England at its best," says Miss Iris.

"And in its best," the Caterpillar replies solemnly.

Iris Warde is as keen as her father's daughter ought to be. She tells the Caterpillar that when she was a small girl with only threepence a week pocket-money, she used to save a penny a week for twelve weeks preceding the match, so as to be able to put a shilling into the plate on Sunday if Harrow won.

"And I dare say you'll marry an Etonian and wear light blue after all," growls the Caterpillar.

"Never!" says Miss Iris.

Now, amongst the black coats in the pavilion you see a white figure or two. The Elevens have finished lunch, and are mixing with the crowd. Scaife is talking with a famous Old Carthusian, one of the finest living exponents of cricket, sometime an "International" at football, and a D.S.O. The great man is very cordial, for he sees in Scaife an All-England player. Scaife listens, smiling. Obviously, he is impatient to begin again. As soon as possible he collects his men, and leads them into the field. One can hear the policemen saying in loud, firm voices, "Pass along, please; pass along!" As if by magic the crowds on the lawn melt away. In a few minutes the Etonians come out of the pavilion. The sun shines upon their pale-blue caps and sashes, and upon faces slightly pale also, but not yet blue. For Eton has a strong batting team, and Scaife and Desmond have proved that it is a batsman's wicket.

And now the connoisseurs, the really great players, settle themselves down comfortably to watch Scaife field. That, to them, is the great attraction, apart from the contest between the rival schools. Some of these Olympians have been heard to say that Scaife's innings against weak bowling was no very meritorious performance, although the two "swipes," they admit, were parlous knocks. Still, Public School cricket is kindergarten cricket, and if you've not been at Eton or Harrow, and if you loathe a fashionable crowd, and if you think first-class fielding is worth coming to Lord's to see, why, then, my dear fellow, look at Scaife!

Scaife stands at cover-point. If you put up your binoculars, you will see that he is almost on his toes. His heels are not touching the ground. And he bends slightly, not quite as low as a sprinter, but so low that he can start with amazing speed. For two overs not a ball worth fielding rolls his way. Ah! that will be punished. A long hop comes down the pitch. The Etonian squares his shoulders. His eye, to be sure, is on the ball, but in his mind's eye is the boundary; in his ear the first burst of applause. Bat meets ball with a smack which echoes from the Tennis Court to the stands across the ground. Now watch Scaife! He dashes at top speed for the only point where his hands may intercept that hard-hit ball. And, by Heaven! he stops it, and flicks it up to the wicket-keeper, who whips off the bails.

"How's that?"

"Not out!"

"Well fielded; well fielded, sir!"

"A very close squeak," says the Caterpillar. "They won't steal many runs from the Demon."

"Sometimes," says Iris Warde, "I really think that he is a demon."

The Caterpillar nods. "You're more than half right, Miss Warde."

Presently, the first wicket falls; then the second soon after. And the score is under twenty. The Rev. Septimus is beaming; the Bishop seated beside him looks as if he were about to pronounce a benediction; Charles Desmond is scintillating with wit and good humour. Visions of a single innings victory engross the minds of these three. They are in the front row of the pavilion, and they mean to see every ball of the game.

But soon it becomes evident that a determined stand is being made. Runs come slowly, but they come; the score creeps up—thirty, forty, fifty. Fluff goes on to bowl. On his day Fluff is tricky, but this, apparently, is not his day. The runs come more quickly. The Rev. Septimus removes his hat, wipes his forehead, and replaces his hat. It is on the back of his head, but he is unaware of that. The Bishop appears now as if he were reading a new commination—to wit, "Cursed is he that smiteth his neighbour; cursed is he that bowleth half volleys." The Minister is frowning; things may look black in South Africa, but they're looking blacker in St. John's Wood.

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