"Damn it all," said Mansell, "the man's here to coach us, not to sit in his study swating up dates!"
The result of it was that Mansell and his friends got filled with an enormous sense of their own importance; they considered themselves the only people in the House who were keen. And they let the rest of the House know it. They groused about "the great days of Lovelace," and gave people like Rudd a most godless time. There is no more thoroughly self-satisfied person than the second-class athlete; and when he also imagines himself an Isaiah preaching repentance, he wants kicking badly. Unfortunately no one kicked Gordon or Lovelace; and they went on their way contented with themselves, though with no one else.
* * * * *
One of the easiest ways of discovering a person's social status at school is by watching his behaviour in the tuck-shop. The tuck-shop or "Toe," as it is generally called, is a long wooden building with corrugated iron roof, situated just opposite Buller's house, not far from the new buildings. It is divided by a wooden partition into two shops; at each end of the outer shop run two counters. On the right-hand counter, which is connected with a small kitchen, cakes, muffins and sausages are sold; on the left-hand side there are sweets and fruit. The inner and larger room is filled with tables, and round the room are photographs of all the school teams. At the far end, in huge green frames, are hung photographs of the two great Fernhurst Fifteens who went through the season without losing a match. The "Toe" is the noisiest place in the whole school. It is superintended by five waitresses, and they have a very poor time of it.
The real blood is easily recognised. He strolls in as if he had taken a mortgage on the place, swaggers into the inner room, puts down his books on the top table in the right-hand corner—only the bloods sit here—and demands a cup of tea and a macaroon. A special counter has been made by the bloods' table, so that the great men can order what they want without going back into the outer shop. No real blood ever makes a noise in the outer shop. When he is once inside the inner shop, however, he immediately lets everyone know it. If he sees anyone he knows, he bawls out:
"I say, have you prepared this stuff for Christy?"
The person asked never has.
"Nor have I. Rot, I call it."
No blood is ever known to have prepared anything.
The big man then sits down. If a friend of his is anywhere about, he flings a lump of sugar at him. When he gets up he knocks over at least one chair. He then strolls out, observing the same magnificent dignity in the outer shop. No one can mistake him.
But the only other person who makes no row in the outer shop is the small boy, who creeps in, and creeps out, unnoticed. Everyone with any claim to greatness asserts his presence loudly. The chief figures at this time were the junior members of Buller's, and especially the two Hazlitts. Their elder brother was the school winger, and an important person; but they had done nothing but make a noise during their two years at Fernhurst. Athleticism had had a disastrous effect on them. Because their house had won the Thirds, Two Cock and Three Cock, they thought themselves gods. In the tuck-shop they acted as avenging angels sent to punish a wicked world. Their chief amusement was to see a person leaning over a counter, kick his backside when he was not looking, and then run away. It was their class that were the real nuisance in the "Toe." They persecuted the girls in charge most damnably. Very often only one girl was in charge. The younger Hazlitt would at once seat himself on the other counter and shriek out:
"Nellie, when are you coming over here? I shall bag these sweets if you don't buck up." He would then seize a huge glass jar of peppermints, and roll it along the zinc counter.
"Oh, Mr Hazlitt, do leave that alone," the wretched Nellie would implore. But it was no use. When there was a big crowd waiting to be served, the Hazlitt brethren would take knives and beat on the zinc counter, shouting out: "Nellie, come here!" They were a thoroughly objectionable pair. Whenever Mansell saw them, he kicked them hard, and they got rather frightened of the School House after a bit.
It is not to be thought, however, that the behaviour of the School House was exemplary. Mansell usually kicked up an almighty row, but he left "Nellie" alone. He was not going to lower himself to the Hazlitt level.
It is an amazing thing that the half-blood very rarely gets into a row; and yet he always talks as if expulsion hung over his head. Probably he thinks it draws attention to himself. Mansell would always enter the shop in exactly the same way; he banged his books on the counter and, sighting Hunter, fired off at once.
"I say, look here, give me a con. I am in the hell of a hole. I prepared the wrong stuff for old Claremont, and the man's getting awfully sick with me; he may report me to the Chief. Do help me out!"
"Sorry, old cock," said Hunter, "but I specialise in stinks!"
"Oh, do you! Well, I suppose I shall have to chance it; that's all. He may not shove me on."
The small boys thought Mansell's daring very fine. But strangely enough, although he was always in a state of fearful agitation, he had so far singularly managed to avoid getting reported. But still it kept up appearances to talk a lot.
Gordon, of course, had to be fairly quiet in the tuck-shop. He was not yet known among the school in general; and it was only in Buller's that small boys gave tongue in the tuck-shop. But then Buller's were, in their own opinion, to the rest of the School as Rome was to Italy. Fernhurst was merely a province of Buller's. They kept this view to themselves, however. "The Bull" would have dealt very summarily with such assumptions.
And so, when Lovelace and Tester and Mansell were there Gordon was generally to be found contributing his share to the general disorder, but when alone, he sat quite quietly with Collins and Foster. He rather longed for the day when he could start a row all on his own. A strange ambition for any candidate for immortality!
* * * * *
About the middle of the term was the field day at Salisbury Plain. Most of the Public Schools were present; it was a noble affair from the general's point of view. The school, however, considered it a putrid sweat. For hours they pounded over ploughed fields and the day dragged slowly on to its weary close and two hundred very tired privates at last fell into a six-fifty train.
Two days later a notice was brought round by the school custos: "Roll for all those who went to Salisbury Plain on Wednesday in the big schoolroom at six P.M." There is nothing quite so enjoyable as the sensation that a big row is on, in which you yourself have no part. Gordon trembled with excitement. He whispered excitedly to the man on his left, Lidderdale, a man in Rogers': "What's up?"
"Oh, nothing much. Some silly ass put his bayonet through a carriage window. Rogers was gassing about it in the dormitories last night."
"Oh!" said Gordon. Very disappointedly he returned to his academic activities. He had had hopes of some splendid row, and after all, it was only about a silly ass and a bayonet. Rotten! Fancy being made late for tea because of that. But, as it turned out, his hopes were satisfied. When he reached the big schoolroom, everything certainly looked most formal. In front of the big dais where the choir stood during the concerts sat all the masters in a half-circle. The Chief sat in the centre.
"Are they all here, Udal?" the Chief asked the senior sergeant.
The Chief rose.
"I have to address you to-night on a very serious subject. During the field day last Wednesday, someone in this room disgraced not only his school, but the King's uniform. An officer from another school has written to tell me that he overheard two of you talking outside the canteen in language that would disgrace a costermonger. I sincerely wish he had taken their names at once. As it is, I do not know their names. The officer in question said that both boys were over seventeen, and that the shorter of the two said nothing at all, as far as he could hear. Now I want the names of both those boys. If they own up to me to-night, I shall most certainly deal very severely with one at least of them. If they do not come to me of their own free will, I may be forced to ask the officer to come down and identify the boys, in which case both will from that instant cease to be members of Fernhurst School."
In a state of high excitement the school poured down to tea.
"I bet it's someone in Christy's," said Bradford.
Christy believed in leaving his house entirely to his prefects. It was a good way of avoiding responsibility; but his choice of prefects was not altogether wise.
"Do you think the men will own up?" said Gordon.
"Not unless they're most abandoned fools," replied Lovelace.
There was only one topic of conversation at tea, and afterwards Lovelace, Hobson and Gordon discussed the affair keenly in No. 1. They all agreed that the men would not own up, and the general opinion was that someone in Christy's was responsible. Discussion raged fiercely as to who it was. Gordon was all for it being Isaacs, Lovelace for Everington, Hunter for Mead. The point was being debated, when Tester and Bradford came in.
"Hullo, come in," shouted Gordon, "we are having a great fight about this. I say Isaacs is the most likely man. What do you think?"
Tester looked round carefully, and then began anxiously:
"Look here, you men; swear you won't tell a soul if we tell you something."
The oath was taken.
"Well, it's us!"
There was a hush. "Good Gawd!" said Hunter. Silence ensued; but curiosity soon overcame surprise.
"What did you say, by the by?" asked Gordon.
Tester repeated as far as he could remember the exact words.
"Yes, you know; it was a bit hot, wasn't it? I expect you opened the blighter's eyes a bit. He wasn't used to that sort of literature."
In spite of themselves Tester and Bradford laughed. They had been vaguely aware of a tired-looking figure in a Sam Browne as they left the canteen. He had looked "some ass." But Gordon soon became serious again.
"What are you men going to do? Of course you won't own up."
"We can't very well. I am in the Sixth and Bradford's had one row this term, and of course, I was the criminal. I am supposed to be a responsible personage."
"Of course, owning up's out of the question."
"But do you think anything will happen?" Bradford was a little frightened. "I mean will there be a sort of general inspection?"
"You bet there won't. When a master begs men to own up, it means that he's up the spout. It's much more fun catching a fellow red-handed. And, after all, you two are the last people anyone would think of."
"Of course, it's all right," said Lovelace; "there's only one thing to do. You talk of nothing else but this rotten affair; talk about it in the Toe, in the changing-room, in form, in chapel, if you like. Ask people you meet if they've owned up. Treat the whole thing as a glorious rag."
"Yes," shouted Gordon, "let's go down to Rudd and tell him if he doesn't own up we'll give him hell."
And in truth the next half-hour was for Rudd very hell of very hell. His existence just now was not very pleasant. If he had been good at footer all his domestic failings would have been forgiven him. But he was not; he loathed the game, though at times he would have given anything to be of some use. Strangely enough, at Oxford he found people respected his brains, and no one hated him because he could not drop goals from the twenty-five. Life is full of compensations.
Lovelace and Tester were both supreme actors. That night in the dormitory they were full of the subject. After lights out, they kept the whole place in a roar of laughter. Bradford joined in a bit, but he was still nervous; visions rose up before him of an officer passing down the ranks, suddenly seizing him, and saying: "This is the man." It was hardly a ravishing thought; but it was useless to go back on a lie. Tester realised this. As Ferguson came through he called out:
"I say, Ferguson, you know you'd better go up to the Chief and tell him you did it."
Ferguson was, like the Boy Scout, always prepared.
"My good man, you don't surely imagine I am so devoid of good feeling and have such a hazy conception of the higher life as not to inform the Headmaster. I have just returned from breaking the news to him. He took it quite well on the whole. It was a touching scene. I nearly wept."
Betteridge then arose, and gave an imitation of a Rogers' sermon.
"Well, Ferguson, I must own that I am sorry to lose you. I would give much to retain you here. But dis aliter visum: you must go. You are expelled. Between the Scylla of over-elation and the Charybdis of despair you have a long time steered the bark of the School House. But one failing wipes away many virtues. And we must not discriminate between the doer and the deed, the actor and the action, the sinner and the sin. The same punishment for all. But in that paradisal state where suns sink not nor flowers fade, there will be a sweet reunion."
It was pure Rogers. The dormitory rocked with laughter. Tester began to give his impressions of what the officer must have looked like. There was a heated argument as to whether he was a parson. Mansell thought not.
"A fellow who knows his Bible well would not be shocked with a little swearing. I bet some of the bits in Genesis and Samuel are hotter than anything the blighter said. It was probably some dotard who reads Keats."
This seemed a sound piece of reasoning.
Next day the rumour spread round the school that a half-holiday was going to be stopped, as no one had owned up.
"Safety," said Tester. "That means the chase is given up."
But the school, which, up to now, had treated the affair as a joke, began to get annoyed. Tolerance and broadmindedness were all right as long as their own interests were secure; but when it came to a half-holiday being stopped because some blighter had not the decency to own up——
"It's a scandal," said Fletcher, in front of the House studies. "First this blighter does the school a lot of harm by swearing; and then he is in too much of a funk to own up, and we get in a row for it. Man must be a colossal swine."
He forgot that last night he had been treating the whole thing as a joke. Rogers was passing by up the Headmaster's drive on the way to his class-room, and overheard this outburst of righteous indignation. His heart was rejoiced to see such a good moral tone in the school. As he said in the common room: "It makes one proud to see what a sane, unprejudiced view the school takes of this unsavoury incident."
Lovelace now hit on a great plan. "Let's organise a strike. Why should we go into school to-morrow? If we can get enough to cut, we can't be punished. Let's canvass."
The fiery cross of rebellion was flung down the study passages. With lists of paper in their hands, Hunter, Mansell, Lovelace and Gordon (Tester thought himself too big a blood for such a proceeding) dashed into study after study urging their inhabitants to sign on for the great strike.
"Come on, you men," Hunter said. "It is the idea of a lifetime. If enough don't turn up, nothing can happen. You can't sack the whole school."
A few bright rebels like Archie Fletcher signed on at once. Rudd, too, thought it safer to put his name down. But the average person was more cautious.
"How many have you got down?"
"Oh, about fifteen."
"Well, look here, if you get over fifty I'll join in."
As nearly everyone said this, the hopes of successful operations seemed unlikely.
But still it all helped to disarm any trace of suspicion.
"I say, Ferguson, what do you think of all this?" said Mansell.
"I think a great creed has gone down. I shall no longer believe that conscience and cowardice are synonymous; only conscience is the trade name of the firm."
Mansell laughed. It was probably meant to be funny. He never quite understood Ferguson. On the next afternoon everyone sat down to two hours' extra school. There was much swearing at tea. But in a day or two it was all forgotten.
To this day no one at Fernhurst knows who the two boys were. The secret was well kept.
* * * * *
As the term drew to its close, with the Fifteen filled up and all the big matches over, interest was centred mainly in House football and House affairs. Mansell, it is true, was still worrying whether he would get his Seconds. But Lovelace and Gordon talked of nothing but the Thirds. The Colts' matches were over, and on House games one of the two House sides was always a trial Thirds. Edwards, a heavy, clumsy scrum-half, was captain of the side; Gordon led the scrum.
"If only we had Armour back as House captain," Hunter used to complain, "that side couldn't lose."
"And we sha'n't lose either," said Gordon; "we are going to sweep the field next term, and we are going to drive the ball over the line somehow, and God save anyone who gets in the light."
No House side ever imagines it is going to be beaten. Three Cocks have been lost by over fifty points; yet on the morning of the match half the "grovel" would be quite ready to lay heavy odds on their chance of winning, and whenever there is a good chance of victory, the House is absolutely cocksure. The result of this is that the House is magnificent in an uphill fight, but is rather liable to fling away a victory by carelessness.
But this side was certainly "pretty hot stuff." It took a lot to stop Stewart when once he got the ball, and Lovelace was brilliant in attack. The grovel was light, and was a little inclined to wing, but in the loose it was a big scoring combination. In the last week of the term there was a House game on, the Lower v. Buller's. Simonds turned out the Thirds side. It was a terrific fight. Buller's had two Seconds playing and a House cap; but the House had had the advantage of having played together. There was, at this time, a good deal of bad blood between the House and Buller's, and the play was not always quite clean. There was a good deal of fisting in the scrum. Gordon was in great form; he scored the first try with a long dribble, and led the pack well. Lovelace dropped a goal from a mark nearly midway between the twenty-five and the half-way line. Collins scrambled over the corner from a line out. Buller's only scored once, when Aspinall, their wing three, who had his Seconds, got a decent pass, and ran practically the whole length of the field. Towards the end, however, the light House grovel got tired and was penned in its own half. "Come on, House," Gordon yelled. "One more rush; let the swine have it!" The House was exhausted, it managed to keep Buller's out; but no more. This was an ominous sign. It had not been a long game.
"The Bull" had been watching the game. As the players trooped off the field, he called back Gordon. "Caruthers, here a second. You know, I don't want to interfere where it's not my business, but I don't think you should call another house 'swine.' To begin with, it's not the English idea of sport, and if there's any ill feeling between two houses in a school, especially the two biggest, it's not good for the school. Do you see what I mean?"
"Oh yes, sir. I didn't mean——"
"Of course you didn't, my dear chap.... By the way; will you be young enough for the Colts' next year? You will. Good. Then it won't be at all a bad side. Collins and Foster were quite good; and you played a really good game."
"What did 'the Bull' want, Caruthers?" Lovelace asked as Gordon walked into the changing-room.
"Oh, nothing much. He didn't like me calling his fellows 'swine.'"
"But why the devil not? They are swine, aren't they?"
"Of course they are; but you can hardly expect 'the Bull' to realise it."
"No, perhaps not; but, my God, they are the last thing in swine, those Hazlitts and their crowd."
The House supper this year was not much, compared with the one of the year before. Simonds was not an R.D. Lovelace, and Ferguson again spoke miles above his audience. However, he was a sport, and let them do as they liked; so they drank his health and sang: He's a Jolly Good Fellow! Several old boys came down, FitzMorris with an eyeglass and a wonderful tie; Sandham, as usual, quite insignificant; Armour wearing the blue waistcoat of a Wadham drinking club. Meredith had been expected, but at the last moment he had found his debts so much in excess of a very generous allowance that he would have to retrench a little. It was a pity; but in the Bullingdon living is not cheap and Meredith was a great blood.
The prize-giving this term afforded little comfort to Gordon; he was easily bottom of V.A. Rather a collapse, but still one has to keep up with things. It does not do to lose sight of the really important issues of life, and Gordon had certainly been a social success. He travelled up to London with Ferguson and Tester, and felt no small part of a giant when Collins entered their carriage, suddenly saw Ferguson, and with inaudible apologies vanished quickly down the corridor. Olympus was not so very far off.
CHAPTER II: HEALTHY PHILISTINISM
During the Christmas holidays there appeared in a certain periodical one of the usual attacks on the Public School system. It repeated all the old arguments about keeping abreast of the times, and doing more modern languages and less classics. The writer had nothing new to say, and, like most other such attacks, his jeremiad was in an hour or two forgotten. But at Fernhurst it did have some effect, for it gave Henry Trundle the idea of forming a special class for French enthusiasts. Henry Trundle was one of the French masters. He was entirely English, had won his Blue for golf at Oxford, and had got a Double First. He also was quite incapable of teaching anything. His form made no pretence of keeping order; the noise that proceeded from his class-room could be heard anywhere within a radius of a hundred yards. And yet he was not a bad fellow; he was a good husband, and his children were very fond of him. His domestic virtues, however, were sadly lost on Fernhurst, who looked on him as a general buffoon, a hopeless ass. His class-room was considered a sort of Y.M.C.A. entertainment hall, where there was singing and dancing, and a mild check on excessive rioting.
At the beginning of the new term the Chief announced that in the upper school one hour every day would be devoted to the study of either French, maths or Latin. Each boy would choose his subject. Mr Reddon would superintend the maths, Mr Trundle the French; for Latin each boy would go to his own form master. To the hard-working, who had prizes before their eyes, this scheme presented few attractions; as scholars it would not be to their advantage to miss any classical hours, and French was useless in scholarships. Macdonald, when he took down the names of those who were to do Latin, found all those in front staying with him, and all those behind going elsewhere. Macdonald laughed up his sleeve.
Indeed Trundle's class-room was filled with the most arrant collection of frauds that have ever sat together this side of the Inferno. It was largely a School House gathering. Lovelace was there; Hunter, Mansell, Gordon, Archie and Collins. Christy's house supplied Dyke, a fine footballer and a splendid ragger; Claremont's sent two typical dormice in Forbes and Scobie; Buller's provided no one. Briault hailed from Rogers. It was his boast that he could imitate any kind of animal from a dog to a hyena. Benson, the only member of Abercrombie's, was entirely insignificant, and actually did some work for the first two lessons. But it was impossible to work long in such surroundings; and tales of the extra French set are still told in whispers, after lights out, in the upper dormitories.
The opening was sensational. No sooner had Trundle taken his seat than Dyke leapt to his feet, jumped on the desk, jumped off it into the vast paper basket, upset that, charged up to Trundle, shook him by the hand, and began to pour out words: "My dear sir, how are you? How is Mrs Trundle, and the little Trundles? Have you had a pleasant Christmas? I have, sir. This, sir, is your extra French set. The French set—Mr Trundle; Mr Trundle—the French set." Amid a beating of desks Dyke returned to his seat. Trundle was used to this. But he had rather hoped his new set would be composed for the most part of honest young scholars. It was a disappointment; still, he had grown used to it. Life had not been too kind to him.
"Now, let me see," he began, "who's the senior man here?"
Immediately everyone except Benson stood up. "I am, sir."
"But you can't all be the senior."
"Yes, sir; we are," was the unanimous answer.
"You see, sir," Gordon explained, "I am the cleverest and should be the senior, but Mansell there, that dolt with the tie-pin, has been longer in the school, and he's got his Seconds, and rather fancies himself. Dyke has taken longer to reach IV. A than anyone else in the school's history, and thinks that a sufficient claim to be senior. Lovelace, oh, well, he's—well, I don't know what he is. Lovelace, you swine, what are you?"
"Confound you, man!" shouted the enraged three-quarter. "Who the hell——"
"Lovelace," broke in Trundle, "I think you may keep your reflections on the future life till afterwards. We will sit in alphabetical order."
It is incredible how long it takes for ten boys to change their places. It was a long process. Books fell to the right and to the left. There were murmurs of "Damn you, man, that's my grammar!" or "Confound you, Benson!" "Where the hell is my dictionary?" Twice Benson had been sent flying into the waste-paper basket; three times had Dyke driven a compass into the backside of Forbes, who looked like going to sleep. To crown everything, Briault gave his celebrated imitation of a dog-fight. Consternation reigned. Lovelace tried to hide under Trundle's desk; Gordon endeavoured to get through a window that was hardly a foot square. Macdonald's class-room was just the other side of the V. A green; he chuckled to himself. "I hoped Caruthers would enjoy himself. I think we shall have to put him on to construe when he returns. If he goes to music-hall shows in school time he must pay for it, you know."
There was an immense scuffling of feet, but much louder rang the noise of the French students. A question had arisen as to what book they should read that term. Everyone was shouting the name of his favourite author. "Let's do The Little Thing," yelled Dyke. "No; de Maupassant," shouted Mansell, adding, in an undertone: "I saw one of his books in a shop in Villiers Street, looked pretty hot stuff." Then louder again: "Let's have de Maupassant." "No; The Black Tulip," Lovelace implored, and went on in a stage whisper: "Now don't be silly fools, I have got a crib of this. Have some sense." "You don't imagine we're going to prepare the stuff, do you?" was Hunter's retort. Above the uproar Forbes' voice drawled: "I say, if there's a French translation of Five Nights, let's read that. I know the book pretty well by heart."
It was ultimately decided to read six contes by Francois Coppee; but by the time the decision had been reached, the hour had been exhausted. Rather sadly Trundle watched the set pour out into the cloister, shouting and laughing. Even masters have souls. Boys don't realise this.
Every day till the end of the term that farce continued. Sometimes Trundle lost his temper. One day, Archie was singing: Meet me under the Roses, while Gordon was giving a lively if inaccurate translation.
"Fletcher, stop that singing!"
"Mayn't I sing, sir?"
"Of course not. This is a class-room."
"Is it, sir? I thought it was a place of amusement."
"Fifty lines, Fletcher."
"But, sir, it is, you know——"
"One hundred lines, Fletcher."
"One hundred and fifty lines, Fletcher."
Fletcher collapsed. Next morning a magnificent blue envelope, sealed at every corner, arrived at Mr Trundle's house. It contained a vast quantity of blank paper.
"But, sir, I really thought I put in the lines. Hunter, you swine, that is your fault. Sir, I believe Hunter stole them. He had a big imposition for the Chief. You dirty dog, Hunter. May I kick him, sir?"
"No; sit down, Fletcher."
The lines were never done.
One day Collins was put on to construe. Of course he had made no attempt to prepare it. This was at once evident.
"Collins, have you prepared this?"
"But why not?"
Collins had seen Charley's Aunt in the holidays. "Ah, why?" was his laconic answer.
Trundle foamed with wrath. He snatched a cane from under his desk and advanced on Collins. The prospective victim leapt back and pointed at him with theatrical calm: "Look, he is coming at me with cane in hand. Ha! he comes! he comes! see how he comes."
Trundle launched a fierce blow at Collins, and only narrowly missed Benson's eyes. Collins delivered a short lecture on the danger of losing one's temper. Trundle returned to his desk.
As the term went on the ragging became more elaborate. At first the set was content with giving a sort of low comedian, knockabout performance. But they soon wearied of such things. After all, they were real artistes. And Archie Fletcher could not bear being ordinary. But still there was a good deal of sport to be got out of quite common place manoeuvres. The introduction of electric snuff, for instance, may not be very original; but it was remarkably successful.
Trundle had a habit of leaving his mark-book in his desk, and Lovelace had a key that fitted it. The rest was simple. During evening hall Hunter and Lovelace got leave to fetch a book from their class-room. There was no one about. In five minutes Trundle's mark-book was filled with snuff. Next morning the set assembled. Forbes was asleep, Benson was furtively looking up a word in his dictionary, the School House contingent was uncommonly quiet.
"Well," said Trundle, "who shall we start off with this morning? Let me see, ah!" he opened his mark-book.
The roar of laughter was heard the other side of the court. For a full three minutes Trundle was utterly, gorgeously prostrate with coughing and sneezing.
Mansell was very sympathetic.
"Have you a cold, sir? I hope it's nothing serious, sir. I find the east wind a little trying myself. Do you ever use Fletcher's cough lozenges? Very efficacious, sir," he babbled on.
At last Trundle recovered his wind if not his temper. He glowered at the form.
"Fletcher, translate, please."
Fletcher began. But he did not get very far. Hunter let loose another wave of snuff. The whole form was now coughing and sneezing certainly considerably more than was necessary.
"Next boy who sneezes I shall give a hundred lines to, and report him to the Headmaster."
Temporary peace ensued. It is not pleasant to be sent up to the Chief; and weak masters have not the slightest scruple in doing so. The strong men need not report. But a man like Archie could not be kept in order long. He gave vent to a most unpleasant snort.
"Fletcher, if you do that again I shall have to beat you."
A slight pause.
"Please, sir, may I blow my nose if I mayn't sniff?"
"Yes, Fletcher; don't be stupid."
Immediately there rose a chorus of "Mayn't we blow our noses, too, sir? Why should Fletcher be the only one allowed to. It isn't fair."
Trundle gave way, and the rest of the hour was spent entirely in coughing, shouting and sneezing. No work was done. But that was no unusual occurrence in the extra French set.
This was, of course, the sort of amusement that could be only indulged in once. It would grow stale a second time. But Briault's idea of fancy dress was one that presented infinite opportunities and gave full scope for originality. At first nothing very startling occurred. On a freezing cold day the whole set would assemble without waistcoats and with their coats wide open would complain bitterly of the heat; on a warm day they would go in arrayed as for an Antarctic expedition in wonderful scarves and huge gloves.
"It's disgraceful, sir, how cold this room is," Gordon complained. "I am very sensitive to cold, and there are two windows open. They must be shut."
"Well, Caruthers, if you find this room too cold," replied Trundle sarcastically, "you may return to the warmth of your own study and write me out the lesson ten times. Do you prefer that?"
Trundle thought that rather smart, but Gordon was never beaten.
"Sir, I do prefer an unfairly long imposition to an attack of pneumonia," and with that he sailed out of the room; the "impot" was, of course, never done. Only Benson did things for Trundle.
From this day on to discover a new kind of dress was the aim of Archie's life. What he advised the form always copied. One day the Chief gave out an order that, owing to the extreme cold, woollen waistcoats would be allowed, provided they were of a quiet colour. That night Archie searched the studies. For sixpence he purchased from a new boy a threadbare carpet that had not been brushed or cleaned for generations. This he cut up into six parts, and each School House member of the set somehow or other made for himself a waistcoat out of them. Next day, garbed in these, they rolled sedately to Trundle's, their coats flung open, their hands in their trouser pockets.
Trundle sat speechless. At last he found words.
"What is the meaning of this confounded impertinence? Collins, Mansell, Caruthers, Hunter, Lovelace, and you Fletcher, take off that filthy stuff."
"That stuff, sir," drawled out Forbes. "What stuff?"
"Don't interfere, Forbes," rapped out Trundle. "Take them off, I say."
"Oh, do you mean our waistcoats, sir?" asked Hunter, in superbly feigned surprise. "We couldn't take them off; we should catch a cold. The Headmaster has just given out a notice about them. He said we could wear them."
"He never gave you permission to garb yourselves in the refuse of the neighbourhood."
"Refuse?" said Forbes. "Those waistcoats are of a most fashionable cut. It's extremely hard to get that particular brand of cloth; my brother, who is a member of the Bullingdon, told me——"
"I don't want to know anything about your brother, Forbes. Take off those things. The Headmaster would never allow them."
"But, sir," insisted Archie. "He only said that they must be of a quiet colour, and they are of a quiet colour, aren't they, sir?"
In truth they were. There was not a trace of colour visible anywhere. Trundle gave in. He murmured something about asking the Headmaster, and then put on Archie to con. He never asked the Chief; and there was no need for him to do so. It is not pleasant wearing dust-laden carpets for an hour. Such jests can only be undertaken at rare intervals.
But the culminating point was not reached till the last Thursday of the term. It was boat-race day, and the set unanimously backed Oxford. At ten o'clock the set was due to appear. But when Trundle arrived all he found was Benson, who was in nervous apprehension lest he should have come to the wrong room. If he had, he might lose some marks; and marks were more to him than many boundaries. He smiled happily at Trundle.
"Ah, where are the rest, Benson?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Oh, well, I suppose we must wait, but it is a great nuisance. I wanted to finish the book to-day, it's our last lesson, you know."
The next day was Good Friday.
For ten minutes they sat in silence. It takes a long time to prepare a big rag; the curtain very seldom goes up punctually on the first night; and there had been no dress rehearsal. There was a sound of scuffling from the door in the cloister which led into the School House studies. Then came the tread of measured feet. The door opened, and the great procession entered.
At the head was Gordon in Ferguson's dressing-gown (a great white confection with pale pink frogs) with a white Colts' cap on his head; he beat time with a small swagger cane. Then came the trumpeters, Crosbie and Forbes, who were producing strange harmonies on two pipes that they had bagged from the armoury. Behind them Mansell walked in corps clothes and a Second Fifteen cap. He was chanting a low dirge. On each side of him marched the choristers, Lovelace and Hunter, in white sheets and enormous psalters that they had borrowed from the chapel. They also sang in a strange outlandish tongue. But the piece de resistance was the banner. It consisted of a long piece of white calico on which was inscribed in red ink: "Up, Up, Oxford. Down with the Cantabs." (Trundle hailed from Emmanuel.) It was fastened at each end to a hockey stick, and Fletcher and Collins bore it in solemnly. In the rear, Briault gave his impressions of a cow being ill. Dyke was the showman.
"I will now present, gentlemen," he began, "my circus of touring artistes, who are raising a fund for the endowment of the Oxford boating club. I must beg you all——"
But Trundle cut short the oration. Seizing a cane, he rushed into the cavalcade of Isis, and smote out full lustily. Pandemonium broke forth. No battle-field was more rich in groans; no revue chorus produced so much noise. It took a quarter of an hour to obtain quiet. But at last a motley crowd sat down to study Francois Coppee.
And then came the denouement. It was entirely unexpected and entirely unrehearsed. There was a knock outside. The door opened and an amazing apparition appeared on the threshold. Betteridge was in the Sixth. Very enviously the night before he had listened to the preparations and plans of the extra French set; cursing inwardly, he had sat down at ten o'clock to do prose with the Chief. Faintly across the court were borne the sounds of strife. He groaned within him. Suddenly the Chief stood up.
"I find I shall have to leave you for a little. Some parents are coming to interview me. I want you all to return quietly to your studies, and continue the prose there."
Joyfully the Sixth trooped out. Betteridge rushed across the courts to Trundle's class-room. For a second he listened outside, then a great idea struck him. There was still half-an-hour left. Madly he tore up to the dormitories. Luckily they were not locked. Five minutes later he appeared before Mr Henry Trundle entirely changed. He had on a very light brown suit, a pair of check spats, a rainbow-coloured waistcoat, a heliotrope bow tie; a bowler was balanced on his head at an angle of forty-five degrees, a camera was slung round his neck, in his hand he had a notebook and pencil.
"Mr Trundle, I believe," he said. "I am the reporter of The Fernhurst Gazette. We have received a wire that there has been a great pro-Oxford demonstration in here, and we want to get an account of it in the stop press news before our sister journal, The Western Evening Transcript. Can you give me some notes?"
As he stopped, the set, that had remained spellbound, burst into a hilarious shriek of joy. Everyone heard it; even Claremont woke up and asked what it was. Arthur, the school custos, talks of it to this day.
And at this point the Chief comes into the story. He was showing the parents in question round the studies when he heard an uproar proceeding from somewhere near the cloisters. He excused himself from the parents, ran downstairs, and tracked the noise to Trundle's class-room. He entered. Never before had he seen disorder on such a generous scale. He looked round.
"Mr Trundle—er—what er—set is this?"
"The extra French set, Headmaster."
The Chief half smiled. He walked out without another word.
Next term there was no extra French set.
The ragging of Trundle, however, was merely regarded relaxation from the serious business of life. In an Easter term football is the only thing that any respectable man will really worry about. And Gordon, judged on these grounds, and his friends with him, would most certainly pass into the most select society circle. The Thirds this year was a terribly perplexing problem. Simonds had not taken enough trouble with his juniors the term before. This term he was working hard enough, but it was a bit late in the day to begin. On the first Saturday of the term a scratch side took sixty-five points off the prospective Thirds side.
"If you play as badly as that on the day you'll lose by forty points," growled Simonds, "and you'll damned well deserve a beating, too."
"Curse the man," muttered Lovelace. "Whose bloody fault is it but his, I should like to know? He is a disgrace to the House, working for some rotten scholarship when he ought to be training on our juniors. Rotten swine."
"Well, he's pretty well all right this term, at any rate," said Gordon. "For the Lord's sake don't go grousing about; or we sha'n't keep the score under eighty, let alone ninety. If we lose, we lose; and, my God, we'll make 'em play for it."
The side certainly tried hard, and Simonds did his best, but all the same, on the day of the match, Buller's were backing their chances of running up a score of over thirty points at three to one.
"The swine!" said Gordon. "Swanking it about how they are going to lick us to bits. My word, I would give something to smash them to smithereens. I have taken on a bet with every man in Buller's whom I found offering long odds. I stand to win quite a lot. And I shall win it."
"God's truth," said Mansell, "do they think there's no guts left in the House at all? They may go gassing about the number of Colts' badges they have got, but they are not used to our way of playing. We go for the ball, and if a man's in the light we knock him out of it. School House footer is not pretty to look at; but it's the real thing, not a sort of nursery affair. We go in to win."
Just before lunch a typical telegram from Meredith was pinned up on the House board:
"Go it House. And give them ——"
The blank was left to the imagination. The House remembered Meredith and filled it in accordingly.
Nothing is more horrible than the morning before a first House match. Gordon woke happy and expectant, but by break he had begun to feel a little shivery, and at lunch-time he was done to the world. He ate nothing, answered questions in vague monosyllables, and smiled half nervously at everyone in general. He was suffering from the worst kind of stage fright. And after all, to play in an important match before the whole school is a fairly terrifying experience. As he sat trembling in the pavilion, waiting for the whistle to blow, Gordon would have welcomed any form of death, anything to save him from the ordeal before him. The whistle blew at last. As he walked out from the pavilion in his magenta-and-black jersey, an unspeakable terror gripped him; his knees became very weak; his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and then something seemed to snap in his brain. He walked on quite cheerfully. He was as a spectator. It seemed that it was not really he, but his ghost that was walking on to the field. Subconsciously he lined up with the rest. The School side in their white jerseys, the Colts with their red dragons, seemed miles away. Collins kicked off. Gordon did not know he was playing. A roar of "House" rose from the touch-line. Involuntarily he joined it, thinking himself a looker-on, then suddenly Livingstone, the Buller's inside three-quarter, caught the ball and ran towards him. At once Gordon was himself. He forgot the crowd on the touch-line, forgot his nervousness, forgot everything except that he was playing for the House, and somehow or other had to drive the ball over that line. He crashed into Livingstone, and the pair rolled into touch. A cheer rippled down the line. Gordon did not hear it.
The Fernhurstian described this match as "perhaps the finest ever witnessed on the School ground," and the reporter was not far wrong. Certainly that first mad rush of the House forwards was the most glorious moment in Gordon's football career. It was all so unexpected, so essentially wonderful. On the touch-line Mansell shouted himself hoarse. The cries of "House" completely drowned those of "School." For the first quarter of an hour the School pack never got the ball out of their half. It seemed that the House must score. Time after time, the School were forced to touch down. Stewart was brought down just the wrong side of the line. Lovelace performed prodigies of valour. A gloom descended over Buller's. On the Masters' side of the line "the Bull" fumed and ground his teeth: "Go low, Reice, you stinking little funk. Get round, forwards, and shove; you are slacking, the lot of you. Buck up, Philson." Up and down he stamped, cursing at his men. Lovelace could hardly refrain from laughing.
"Now, lads," shouted Stewart, "fair or foul; shove the ball over the line!" Like a sledge-hammer Gordon crashed into the scrum. Wilkinson was in his light, but Gordon was seeing red, his feet stamped on Wilkinson, and found the ball. His elbows swung viciously, as he cut his way through the scrum. Then someone caught him by the ankle. He went down hard. A boot caught him on the side of the head. He got up blind with wrath. "Fight! Fight!" he yelled. The House grovel swarmed in; the outhouse pack shivered for a moment, then gave way. Collins and Gordon burst through, the ball at their toes; Wilkinson dashed across and dived for the ball; he clawed it for a second, Gordon's feet smashed it from his hands, and Collins steered it past the back, and kicked it just over the line and fell on top of it.
From the touch-line there burst a roar that must have been heard five miles away. "Well done, laddie!" bawled Mansell. Even Ferguson waved his stick in the air. It was a great moment.
As the School lined up behind their line, "the Bull" strode behind them. "What are you doing? Put some life into your game. Buck up, all of you; it is a filthy show. Guts!"
Lovelace took the kick. It was far out: the ball hardly rose from the ground. In a state of feverish panic Livingstone dropped out. For a second or two the School pressed. But it was impossible to withstand the wild attack of the House for long. Collins, elated by his success, brought off a magnificent dribble, and was forced into touch only a few yards from the line. Half-time was not far off. And the House struggled fiercely to get over the line once more. Up and down between the goal line and the twenty-five the two scrums fought. It seemed only a matter of time for another try to send the House across with a lead of six points; but there is as much luck in rugger as in any game. The House had heeled perfectly, Foster cut past one man, and passed out to Richards. A roar of "House!" went up. A try was imminent, Richards passed to Lovelace. But Livingstone was one of those three-quarters who will miss an easy kick one minute and bring off a superb collar the next. As Richards passed, he dashed between him and Lovelace, intercepted the pass, and raced up the field. Collins caught him only a foot away from the line, and from the line out Grienburg, a heavy Buller forward, caught the ball and fell over the line by the flag, just as the whistle was about to blow for half-time. It was very far out, and the kick failed. The sides crossed over 3-3.
Simonds came on during the interval almost incoherent with excitement. "Splendid, you fellows! Magnificent! Never saw anything like it. Stick to it and you're bound to win. Simply putrid luck that last try ... keep it up!"
On the touch-line there was no doubt as to the final result. "We shall walk away with the Cup," said Mansell, and in a far corner Jones-Evans was laying ten to one on the House in muffins. But a bit of good luck is capable of making a side play in a totally different spirit, and the combined Buller's and Claremont's side started off like a whirlwind. Livingstone kicked off, and the outhouse scrum was on the ball in a minute. For a second the House pack was swept off its feet, and during that second Fitzgerald had dribbled to within ten yards of the line. Foster made a splendid effort to stay the rush, and flung himself on the very feet of the opposing forwards. But the check was only momentary; the forwards rolled on, and it was only on the very line that Lovelace rushed across, and falling on the ball, held it to him, till the House forwards had time to come round. But the rules lay down that a player, as soon as he has fallen on the ball, must get off it at once. Lovelace realised that if he did so, a try would be inevitable. He hung on like grim death, praying that the referee would not see. Before half the House forwards had formed round, the whistle blew.
"Free kick to the School. You musn't lie on the ball like that, Lovelace." The referee was not blind.
Anxiously the House lined up and waited for the kick. Livingstone had converted nearly every goal on the Colts' games the term before. It was a trying moment. He seemed to take hours placing the ball correctly. There was an absolute hush as he ran up; then a great sigh, half of relief, half of disappointment, burst from the touch-line. The ball rose hardly six feet from the ground, and sailed harmlessly towards the School House line. And then Turner made a mistake that he cursed himself for ever afterwards. All that was necessary to do was to let the ball bounce, and then touch down. But as the ball sailed towards him, Turner was suddenly possessed with the longing to do something brilliant. He was last man on the list, and had only been put into the side at the last moment, owing to another forward stopping out. It was not unnatural. He caught the ball.
"You blasted fool," yelled out Richards, "for God's sake find touch."
Turner lost his head. He gave a mild punt down field, and before the House had realised what was happening, Wilkinson had caught the ball, and dashed over the line between the posts. This time Livingstone made no mistake. 8-3.
For the next five minutes the House side was entirely demoralised. Nothing went right. The forwards did not keep together. Gordon cursed foully, and only made matters worse. Lovelace's kicks only found touch a few feet down the line. Richards rushed up and down fuming, and upset everyone. It was due only to a miracle and some fine work by Foster that the School did not score at least three times. Foster did everything during those awful minutes. Rush after rush he stopped, just as Fitzgerald was looking dangerous, and he brought down his fly-half every time. Gordon was amazed at his performance; he had always rather looked down on him before. He had never imagined he was so plucky.
But it takes more than two unexpected tries to throw a School House side off its balance for long. Soon the forwards began to reassert themselves. Burgess the wing three-quarter, a self-satisfied member of Buller's, who was in VI. B, and whose conceit far excelled his performances, got away and began to look dangerous. But Gordon came up behind him. He loathed Burgess, and flinging aside all the Fernhurst traditions about collaring low, he leapt in the air, and crashed on top of him. Burgess collapsed like paper. A great howl went up from the School House. New life seemed to enter into the side. The grovel flocked round, and Collins, heaving Burgess off the ball with a flying kick, dribbled the ball to the half-way line. A scrum formed up and from the heel Richards got the ball to Lovelace, who broke through the defence and with a clear field ahead made for the line.
"Run like hell!" shouted Simonds from the touch-line. He was standing on the masters' side of the ground, just in front of the Chief's wife. But he was past caring about social etiquette. All he wanted was to see the House ahead once more. "Faster, man, run—oh, damn!"
Just on the line the ubiquitous Livingstone caught him up, and the pair rolled into touch. If, as some say, there is nothing much finer to watch in football than an uphill fight, then the Thirds of 1913 was most certainly the greatest game ever played on the Lower. Lighter and slower than their opponents, the House kept them on the defensive for the rest of the afternoon. Collins was a splendid sight, his hair fell in a cascade over his eyes, his nose was bleeding, his jersey was torn half off his back, but he did not care. His feet were everywhere, and anyone who got in his light was sorry for it. Turner, with the thought that he was the cause of Wilkinson's try, fought heroically. Once when Williamson, a Claremont's forward, began to dribble, he rushed into him sideways and with a "soccerbarge" knocked him flying into touch, and took the ball back inside the twenty-five. It was a great fight. But no one can strive successfully against the will of the gods, and certainly the stars in their courses fought against the House. Ten minutes before time Livingstone, who had been systematically starved the whole game, got a pass about the half-way line. He was the fastest man in the field. No one could touch him; he made straight for the corner flag, and scored amid the tumultuous applause of Buller's. There could be no doubt about the result now. Before the eyes of Jones-Evans there rose a prospect of eternally treating outhouse men to muffins. Mansell swore violently. "The Bull" walked up and down the touch-line beaming with delight. Simonds was silent.
"Well, you men," said Richards, "we've been beaten, but by heaven we'll shove them the last few minutes. Go for them, tooth and nail."
The House did so. In hall that night Burgess announced that there was not a single gentleman in the School House, a remark which resulted in a rather unpleasant half-hour with "the Bull" two days later. For these last minutes produced one of the most glorious charges of the day. From the twenty-five right in to the School half, the ball was carried. Nothing could stop that wild rush. Livingstone and Wilkinson went down before it, but they were passed by. Burgess made a half-hearted attempt to fall on the ball, but did not get up for several seconds, and the House was well in the School half when Gordon kicked a little too hard and the School back, fielding the ball, managed to find touch. But the House was still undaunted. From the line out, the ball was flung to Richards, who, putting his head down, literally fought his way through the scrum and tottered out the other side. He handed off Wilkinson, dodged the fly-half, and made for the centre of the ground. Livingstone came across at him. "With you, Richards," yelled Lovelace.
As Livingstone brought Richards crashing to the ground, the ball was safely in Lovelace's hands. Lovelace was about half-way between mid-field and the twenty-five. He ran a few yards, steadied himself, and took a drop.
In deadly silence the School watched the flight of the ball. It sailed high and straight towards the goal. "It's over," murmured the Chief excitedly. But as the ball neared the posts it travelled slower, a slight breeze caught it, blew it over to the right. It hit the right post and fell back into play. As the full-back returned it to mid-field the whistle blew for no-side.
"School, three cheers for the House!" shouted Livingstone.
"House, three cheers for the School!" responded Richards.
And then everyone poured over the ropes on to the field.
"Never mind, you men," said Simonds; "it was a damned fine show and better than fifty wins."
The House was proud of its side. As the Fifteen trooped across the courts on the way to the changing-room the House lined up by the chains of the Sixth Form green, and cheered them.
"Well played, Caruthers!" shouted someone.
It was Gordon's first taste of real success.
That night there was a big feed in No. 19. They were all out of training for three days; and they made the most of it. During the last fortnight they had been allowed only fruit between meals.
"It's the finest performance since I've been in the House," Mansell declared. "Meredith's Two Cock wasn't in it. Their side was twice as strong on paper, and my Lord, we gave it them."
"Yes," said Lovelace, "and you wait till this side is the Three Cock; there'll be a bit of a change then."
"You're right there," shouted Mansell. "We sha'n't pull it off this year, nor the year after that; but you wait and see what'll happen in 1915. That's the year when the House will revive the great days of Ross. My lads, we sha'n't regret the lean years when the years of plenty come; and the Three Cock Cup is back on the old oak sideboard. Our day will come."
That night Gordon dreamt of the great future that was opening out for the House; and he was thankful that he would see it. Like the runners in the torch race many would have prepared the way for victory; but it was to him and his friends that the glory of the final triumph would belong. For he would win the race: he would carry home the torch.
CHAPTER III: TIN GODS
After this match a new phase in Gordon's life may be said to have begun. He had for the first time felt what it was to be really successful. When he had got his Colts' cap the world had seemed at his feet; but it was nothing to what he experienced now. For he had borne the brunt of the House's battle. He had played a principal part in a wonderful achievement. The House looked on him as one of its chosen defenders. He was in the limelight, and he had no intention of ever drifting out of it. When we have experienced the really great, the things that pleased once charm no more. After basking in the blaze of a summer afternoon there is something poignantly pathetic in watching the amber beams of a December sun filter through the trees. Gordon had his fingers on the pedestal of fame, and he intended never to loose his grasp. His position had been obtained by brilliant football, and if he had been able to retain it in the same way all would have been well. But the gods willed it otherwise.
It was generally admitted that the House stood no chance of winning the Two Cock, and when the House agreed on its own defeat, prospects were certainly very gloomy. So Gordon only interested himself in his own performances. He began to wonder if there was any chance of his getting a place in the Three Cock. Simonds was undoubtedly pleased with him, and Henry, the only forward senior to him, had been doing rather badly lately. In the trial games he played with a mad enthusiasm. On the Friday evening the Two Cock side was posted. He was above Lovelace and Richards. Henry was only one above him.
Just before lunch on the day of the match Mansell came up to him.
"I say, I have got some good news for you."
"What is it?" Gordon was feverish with impatience.
"Well, I don't think I had better tell you."
"Oh, I say, do; don't be a swine."
"No, I don't think I shall; it would make you too bucked with life." Mansell smiled at him kindly. Gordon was rather annoyed.
But on the way down to hall, he overheard Mansell talking to Tester in the door of the changing-room.
"Simonds is going to play Caruthers in the Three Cock instead of Henry, if he plays at all decently to-day," Mansell was saying.
"Oh, I am glad of that," Tester answered. "He's a good kid."
The earth swayed dizzily as Gordon made his way down to hall. He did not feel at all nervous. He was quite certain of himself. The day was bound to end with him a member of the House Fifteen. All he had to do was to play his average game. Mansell had said so.
As he stepped on to the field, he was perfectly aware of his own personality. He did not feel a sort of spectator, as he had done in the Thirds. It was all so clear. He even smiled at Tester as he lined up.
But a Two Cock is very different from a Thirds. Men from Christy's were playing who were shining lights on Senior Leagues, and who would easily have got their Seconds if they had tried, but who, because they were in Christy's, did not take the trouble. Christy's should have beaten Buller's, but they were too slack to go into proper training, and in spite of the brilliance of Dyke and Pemberton, Buller's won by six points after being ten points behind at half-time. As individuals, however, Christy's were a formidable lot, and when combined with Buller's formed a much heavier and larger side than any Gordon had played against before. He was not very large, and was used to Junior Leagues. For an hour he was swept off his feet. He could not keep pace with the game. He was flung from one position into another; he followed after the scrum; he felt like a new boy playing for the first time. At half-time Simonds came up thoroughly fed up with life. The score was fifteen-nothing.
"For heaven's sake, Caruthers, get in and shove, if you can't do anything better. You haven't done a thing the whole game."
The game was a nightmare. Mansell looked at him curiously that evening at tea.
Gordon muttered something about a kick on the head, and being unable to see anything.
On Sunday evening a list of those in training for the Three Cock was put up. There were ten forwards down. Gordon was bottom on the list; both Henry and Collins were above him. In the football world his claim to fame for the moment faded away. If he was to remain in the public gaze, he would have to attract attention some other way.
And so, at the most critical point in the development of his character, Gordon began all unconsciously to seek for new ways of making himself conspicuous. He did not know what he was doing. If someone had told him that he was doing absurd things merely to get talked about, he would have laughed. But all the same, it would have been true. His preparatory schoolmaster said of him once: "There is some danger of his becoming the school buffoon." At his prep, the boys were too closely looked after and kept down for any one person to become pre-eminent at anything. And so a subconscious love of notoriety drove Gordon on to play the fool for a whole term most damnably.
It was during the end of the Easter and the whole of the summer term that Gordon earned a reputation for reckless bravado and disregard of all authority that stuck to him through his whole career. Up till now he had done things merely because he had wanted to. He followed the inclination of the moment, but now it was different. It is pleasant to be talked of as a mixture between Don Juan and Puck; and Gordon was sufficiently good at games to make himself an attractive and not a repulsive figure. The Public School boy admires the Meredith type; he despises the man who is no good at games, and who plays fast and loose in his house. Gordon was not unpopular, and indeed some of his escapades were really funny, as, for instance, when he cut through the string of the chapel organ on which a weight is attached to show whether the organ is full of air or not. The next morning in chapel the choir began but the organ was mute. The hymn broke off into a miserable wail. The whole service was one silent ripple of merriment. Rogers was taking the service, and was quite at sea without the help of music. Gordon earned a considerable measure of notoriety for the performance. On his way to the tuck shop, Ben, the captain of the Fifteen, came up and spoke to him.
"Caruthers, I say, are you the man who made the organ mute?"
"By Jove, you are a sportsman."
Gordon was thus encouraged to continue on his road to buffoonery, and when the summer term came, he found no reason to pursue any other course. On the cricket field he could not get a run; first he hit wildly, then he began to poke; but all without the least success. After a few weeks he almost ceased to try, except in House matches. "The Bull" got furious.
"Look here, Caruthers," he said, "I don't know if you are slack, or merely incompetent. But when I see you make fifty against my house in a Junior House match, and then play inside half-volleys on the upper, I begin to think all you care about is your house. Don't you care for Fernhurst, boy?"
Gordon was genuinely worried about this. He admired "the Bull" immensely: indeed, "the Bull" was about the only person at Fernhurst whose opinion he valued at all. He made strenuous efforts to get runs, but it was no use. He was clean out of form. His fifty v. Buller's was his only score during the season, but "the Bull" did not know this. He thought Caruthers tried for his house and slacked with the Colts. The climax was reached during the Milton Match. Gordon went in first with Foster. In five minutes he and Lovelace and a man from Claremont's were out for four runs. "The Bull" chewed grass in a far corner of the field.
And then, to crown everything, Gordon missed the easiest of catches. He caught Lovelace's eye. It was really rather funny. The two of them burst into sudden laughter. Lovelace was nearly doubled up. "The Bull" thought they were laughing at him.
"I can't think what's gone wrong with Caruthers this term," he said to Fry, the captain of the School House. "He was so promising once; he doesn't seem to be trying this term."
Next day Gordon was left out of the Colts' side. The day after the chair in Trundle's class-room suddenly collapsed. The leg had been sawn half through, and Trundle fell over on the floor.
Gordon was riding for a fall, and two days before Commemoration, to use his own phrase, he "fairly put his foot in it." This term he had a double dormitory with one Davenport, a scholar who was a year junior to Gordon; but was in the same form. The Chief had thought Gordon a bit big for the Nursery, but there was no room for him down below; so he and Davenport lived at the end of the passage in glorious isolation. It was a great luxury; they were allowed several privileges; they could keep their light on till ten; they could go to bed when they liked, and it was here that they usually did their preparation. Davenport, however, suddenly contracted measles; and Gordon, who had grown too slack to do his work alone, used to get leave for Sydenham, a rather insignificant, self-righteous member of V. A, who had come a term before him, to come and prepare his work in the double room. Leave was always granted, and when Davenport returned, the scheme was still continued. On this particular night, Davenport had got a headache. He said he was going to stop out next day, and refused to prepare Thucydides. It also happened that the House tutor was away that night, and so the Chief went round the dormitories, putting out the lights. He did not know of the custom by which Sydenham came up to do the con. He was not very pleased, but after a little hesitation gave leave. The door was shut. Sydenham perched himself on the chest of drawers, Gordon produced an aid to quick translation, Davenport turned over the pages of Nash's. The Abbey bells also happened to be ringing that night. It was quite impossible to hear any normal sound down the passage; and so Gordon was quite unaware of the Chief's intention to revisit them and see if they were really working, till the door opened and the Chief walked in. Gordon lost his head; he sat up in bed and gaped. Thucydides lay on one side of the bed, the crib on the other.
The Chief picked up the book.
"Ah, does Mr Macdonald allow you to use this?"
In the really dramatic moments of our lives it is always the inane that first suggests itself. It was so likely that Macdonald would have given them permission.
"Er, Davenport, are you preparing—er yes, Thucydides with Caruthers, too?"
"No, sir." Davenport thanked heaven that he had a headache. He had helped in the work of deceit every night the whole term. The Chief thought he must be a boy of strong moral courage; and in many ways he was, but cribbing, after all, was part of the daily routine.
The Chief took up the book.
"Sydenham, go back to your study."
He turned down the light and went out. His footsteps died out down the passage.
"Damn!" said Gordon.
"In excelsis gloria," said Davenport.
"And it was a rotten crib, too," said Gordon.
By next morning the story was all round the school.
"You will be birched for certain," was Tester's cheerful comment, "and serve you right for getting caught."
"I sha'n't be such a fool again," growled Caruthers.
And certainly he profited by his experience. A year later the House Tutor came into his study when he was preparing Vergil with the aid of Dr Giles' text. He put a piece of blotting-paper over the crib, and chatted for a few minutes quite easily about the chances of the Eleven v. Tonford.
But when we are in trouble, there are few of us who can see so far ahead as to feel thankful at the thought that we have learnt something that will be a help to us in the future. Gordon was thoroughly fed up. But it was not his game to show his feelings. He went about laughing as though nothing had happened at all; he treated the whole thing as a colossal joke. Sydenham was, however, very nervous, and showed it. Gordon ragged him mercilessly.
"My good man, what the hell does it matter? Chief's not much of a bircher, and don't gas about disgrace, and such muck. This isn't a St Winifred's sort of school. It will only mean a bad report."
In School that day Gordon was in great form. By the end of the morning he had accumulated in all three hundred lines from various sources for ragging.
"That man, Caruthers, is some fellow," said Ferguson to Simonds at lunch. "He looks as if he enjoyed being in rows."
"Perhaps he does," was the answer. "He is certainly always doing his best to get into them. But he is in for a birching this time."
But Simonds was wrong. The Chief was too utterly fed up to do anything; moreover, he saw that a birching would do Gordon no good. He would only boast about it.
It was not until a week later that Gordon was called up before the Chief.
"Caruthers, I want to know where you got hold of that crib."
As a matter of fact he had obtained it by means of Rudd, who had a large stock of such articles, and let them out on loan for the term. It was a paying business. Gordon, of course, could not divulge this.
"I got it in the holidays, sir."
The Chief was surprised and shocked at this. He could quite easily understood that a boy should buy a crib at some second-hand bookshop in the town, during term time, when surrounded with the general atmosphere of Public School dishonesty; but it did seem unnatural that a boy, while living in the clean surroundings of his home, should be scheming to cheat his fellows and masters. The Chief said as much; Gordon did not quite follow him. Besides everyone cribbed.
"What I can't understand, Caruthers," the Chief went on, "is that you always assume a tremendous keenness on the School and House, of which you give absolutely no proof in your actions except on the field. This is the second time I have had to speak to you on this subject. Do you imagine that the good reputation of the House depends solely on its performance in the Thirds, or that of the School on its number of victories in School matches?"
Gordon thought it did. But he knew that "Yes" was hardly the answer the Chief expected. He held his peace. It was no use arguing the subject.
When he came out of the study, he met Rudd palpitating with funk.
"You didn't say anything about my lending you that crib, did you?" Rudd was very frightened of the Chief.
"Of course not, you bloody-looking fool. The best thing you can do is to go and get me a better crib with all possible speed, my friend. And mind it's a decent one. The last one was rotten; and I can't do without one. I was bottled yesterday."
In three days Rudd's agent from town had procured him a fine edition of the Sicilian expedition. Davenport and Gordon did some superb construe during the remainder of the term.
It is, of course, very easy to run down any existing system; and the Public School system has come in for its fair share of abuse. Yet it must be remembered that no one has yet been able to devise a better. And after all, for the average man it is not such a bad training. It is inclined to destroy individuality, to turn out a fixed pattern; it wishes to take everyone, no matter what his tastes or ideas may be, and make him conform to its own ideals. In the process, much good is destroyed, for the Public School man is slack, easy-going, tolerant, is not easily upset by scruples, laughs at good things, smiles at bad, yet he is a fine follower. He has learnt to do what he is told; he takes life as he sees it and is content. So far so good. With the average individual the system is not so very unsatisfactory.
But take the case of the boy who has it in him to be a leader, who is not merely content to follow, but wishes to be at the head, in the forefront of the battle. What of him? Gordon went to Fernhurst with the determination to excel, and at once was brought face to face with the fact that success lay in a blind worship at the shrine of the god of Athleticism. Honesty, virtue, moral determination—these mattered not at all. The author of Eric and such others who have never faced, really faced, life and seen what it is, talk of the incalculable good one boy can do, who refuses to be led astray by temptations, and remains true to the ideals he learnt in the nursery. If there does come into any school such a boy, he is merely labelled as "pi," and taken no notice of. He who wishes to get to the front has to strive after success on the field, and success on the field alone. This is the way that the future leaders of England are being trained to take their proper place in the national struggle for a right and far-sighted civilisation. On this alone the system stands condemned. For the history of a nation is the history of its great men, and the one object of the Public School is to produce not great men, but a satisfactory type.
Gordon found that, as soon as he was recognised as a coming athlete, popularity was his, and that on the strength of his physical abilities he could do pretty well what he liked. For there is no strong feeling in schools on the subject of honesty and morality. And it is not unnatural that a boy, finding that no one will object if he follows the call of pleasure, drifts with the stream. And then Gordon went off suddenly at games, as the best athlete must at some time or other. Like many others, he loved popularity and fame. So, in order to keep in the limelight, he flung aside all pretences of conscience, and got the reputation of being "the devil of a sport"—a reputation that is a passport to Public School society, but is damning to any man's character. Only a few realise this. Betteridge was one. He was not an athlete, but was clever and in the Sixth. He enjoyed a rag, but saw the difference between liberty and licence. He was a freethinker, and saw life with a wide vision that embraced the whole horizon.
"Look here, Caruthers," he said one evening, during hall, in the last half of the summer term, "I don't want to say anything; but you know you are making a most awful ass of yourself."
"What do you mean?"
"You know quite well what I mean. I don't think it's your fault; it is the fault of this rotten system under which we live. You are not what you were when you first came. Of course, it is natural to crib and fool about, but you are going a bit far. One day you will be captain of this House. You'll be sorry then."
"Oh, don't be a damned ass, Betteridge, preaching to me. I know what I am doing. It's not long that I shall have to enjoy myself. I shall be in the Sixth soon, and shall have to slow down then. But at present I shall do damned well what I like. After all, what does it matter if I do rot all day and muck about generally? It makes no difference to you or the House. It's my own damned business, and besides, everyone else does it!"
It was useless to reason with him. The argument that "others do it" is impossible to combat. And, after all, environment is what counts, and it is a fairly dangerous environment with which to surround any but the average sensual being who eats, drinks, laughs and is merry, and never thinks at all. And yet masters are surprised when they find the big man whom they thought impregnable following the accepted customs. They say: "What a pity! A fine fellow gone to the dogs, and after all we've done for him, too!" and yet whose fault is it?
But this is by the wayside. For better or for worse the character of Gordon Caruthers was developing on its own lines. Criticism should be withheld till the last threads are woven, and we can judge of the complex whole.
* * * * *
The summer term was drawing to a close. It had not been very successful as far as Gordon was concerned. His cricket had frankly been a failure, and the prominence he had gained in his House hardly compensated for the misgivings with which the Chief and Buller regarded his future. It seemed as if he could not help running up against "the Bull."
A-K was knocked out of the Senior House competition at once. They drew Christy's and were beaten by an innings. Gordon made eleven and fifteen, and was missed three times while making them. Foster, however, got a very sturdy thirty-three not out, and took three wickets. He got his House cap. Gordon was furious, and swore that he was jolly well not going to try any more that term.
During the final senior he was strolling round the field with Tester, both of them in cloth suits, unchanged for games. "The Bull" came up behind them.
"Caruthers, why aren't you changed this afternoon?"
"Well sir, we only had a House game this afternoon, so Tester and I got leave off to watch the match."
"But your House is not playing in it."
"Well, then, what on earth do you mean by slacking about the field like this? It's your duty to be training yourself too, so that some day you may be of some use to Fernhurst, and here are you slacking about, instead of asking the pro. to give you a net. Slackness! filthy slackness! I don't know what's wrong with you this term; you were quite keen once."
He strolled off, scratching the back of his head. "The Bull" always did this when in a bad temper.
"Poor old chap," murmured Tester, "he takes these little things so much to heart. He loathes me because I don't sweat myself to death all day at the nets. He never said anything to me; he has given me up as a bad job. Poor old chap!"
"Well, I suppose we ought to have been at the nets," said Gordon.
"If we did everything that we ought to do in this world, we should never have a moment's time to do the things we liked."
"I suppose so," said Gordon, "but still, you know—oh, well, what the hell does it matter? By Jove, well hit, Dyke!"
The conversation turned again to the match.
Next term Gordon had arranged to have a study with Lovelace. Tester was going to be a prefect, and wanted to himself the big upstairs study that Clarke had had. Gordon was staying in No. 1.
He was not sorry. He did not quite understand Tester; he was too clever, and Gordon never knew exactly what he was driving at. Lovelace, on the other hand, was his best friend; they had played together in several sides, and next term Lovelace would captain the footer Colts. The future seemed very roseate. Moreover, he was certain to get into the Sixth, and that meant many privileges. He did not have to attend rolls, he could be late for tea, there was no need for him to get leave to speak to anyone in hall. It meant many study hours, and it would also bring him into contact with the Olympians. There was Garter, who had been in the Sixth four terms, and was in the Second Fifteen. He would meet Betteridge. There was Rudd to rag. Prothero had reduced his time-table to one hour in school a day, and was an authority to consult on any subject regarding avoiding work. Davenport would be promoted, too. Gordon's day of power was beginning to dawn. Next term he would be distinctly a House blood. It was a ravishing thought.
One evening in exam. week Hunter announced casually after tea: "I say, do you remember Betteridge talking once about a man called Ferrers? Well, he is coming here as a master next term."
"Oh, Lord, is he really?" said Fletcher. "I suppose he will be full of rotten new theories, and he will probably want to make us work."
"Well, I always give a master a good fortnight's trial before I do any work for him," said Tester; "at the end of that, I usually find his keenness has worn off. I bet he will be the same as all the rest."
"I doubt it," said Betteridge; "he is a man."
"Well, whatever he is, he is going to have no effect on me," said Gordon, with a finality that quite closed the question.
CHAPTER IV: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
As often as not, it is mere chance that provides the most essentially important moments in our lives. It is easy to talk of the inevitable march of Fate, but more usually a chance word or look alters our entire outlook on life. And so it was that the course of Gordon's whole career was suddenly changed into a different channel, at a moment when he was drifting placidly on the stream of a lax conventionality, and was frittering away all his opportunities for sheer lack of anything that would spur him on to a clearer conception of what life means.
During the whole of the term, Tester and Gordon had done their early morning preparation on the V. A green. As they had answered their names at roll, they would take out deck-chairs and cushions and luxuriously pass the three quarters of an hour before breakfast reclining back, putting the finishing touches to the evening's work. It is a very beautiful spot, the V. A green. On three sides it is flanked with buildings; on the fourth is a low wall, which is used as an exit for nocturnal expeditions. It was under the V. A class-room that Gordon and Tester put their chairs. Opposite them was the grey library; beyond rose the Abbey, solemn and austere; on the left was the chapel and the long cloister leading to big school. In the early morning a great hush pervaded the place. The only sound was the faint tolling of the Almshouse bell. Between the Abbey and the library the sun rose in a blaze of glory.
On the last morning of the term Gordon and Tester lolled back in their comfortable chairs. Gordon was trying to learn his rep. for the exam. that morning. Tester was reading The Oxford Book of English Verse; the exams for the Sixth were over.
"Oh, damn this," said Gordon. "I can't learn the stuff."
He flung the book down, and lay back watching the first rays of the sun flicker on the cold bronze of the Abbey.