The Head of Kay's
by P. G. Wodehouse
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


by P. G. Wodehouse






























"When we get licked tomorrow by half-a-dozen wickets," said Jimmy Silver, tilting his chair until the back touched the wall, "don't say I didn't warn you. If you fellows take down what I say from time to time in note-books, as you ought to do, you'll remember that I offered to give anyone odds that Kay's would out us in the final. I always said that a really hot man like Fenn was more good to a side than half-a-dozen ordinary men. He can do all the bowling and all the batting. All the fielding, too, in the slips."

Tea was just over at Blackburn's, and the bulk of the house had gone across to preparation in the school buildings. The prefects, as was their custom, lingered on to finish the meal at their leisure. These after-tea conversations were quite an institution at Blackburn's. The labours of the day were over, and the time for preparation for the morrow had not yet come. It would be time to be thinking of that in another hour. Meanwhile, a little relaxation might be enjoyed. Especially so as this was the last day but two of the summer term, and all necessity for working after tea had ceased with the arrival of the last lap of the examinations.

Silver was head of the house, and captain of its cricket team, which was nearing the end of its last match, the final for the inter-house cup, and—on paper—getting decidedly the worst of it. After riding in triumph over the School House, Bedell's, and Mulholland's, Blackburn's had met its next door neighbour, Kay's, in the final, and, to the surprise of the great majority of the school, was showing up badly. The match was affording one more example of how a team of average merit all through may sometimes fall before a one-man side. Blackburn's had the three last men on the list of the first eleven, Silver, Kennedy, and Challis, and at least nine of its representatives had the reputation of being able to knock up a useful twenty or thirty at any time. Kay's, on the other hand, had one man, Fenn. After him the tail started. But Fenn was such an exceptional all-round man that, as Silver had said, he was as good as half-a-dozen of the Blackburn's team, equally formidable whether batting or bowling—he headed the school averages at both. He was one of those batsmen who seem to know exactly what sort of ball you are going to bowl before it leaves your hand, and he could hit like another Jessop. As for his bowling, he bowled left hand—always a puzzling eccentricity to an undeveloped batsman—and could send them down very fast or very slow, as he thought best, and it was hard to see which particular brand he was going to serve up before it was actually in mid-air.

But it is not necessary to enlarge on his abilities. The figures against his name in Wisden prove a good deal. The fact that he had steered Kay's through into the last round of the house-matches proves still more. It was perfectly obvious to everyone that, if only you could get Fenn out for under ten, Kay's total for that innings would be nearer twenty than forty. They were an appalling side. But then no house bowler had as yet succeeded in getting Fenn out for under ten. In the six innings he had played in the competition up to date, he had made four centuries, an eighty, and a seventy.

Kennedy, the second prefect at Blackburn's, paused in the act of grappling with the remnant of a pot of jam belonging to some person unknown, to reply to Silver's remarks.

"We aren't beaten yet," he said, in his solid way. Kennedy's chief characteristics were solidity, and an infinite capacity for taking pains. Nothing seemed to tire or discourage him. He kept pegging away till he arrived. The ordinary person, for instance, would have considered the jam-pot, on which he was then engaged, an empty jam-pot. Kennedy saw that there was still a strawberry (or it may have been a section of a strawberry) at the extreme end, and he meant to have that coy vegetable if he had to squeeze the pot to get at it. To take another instance, all the afternoon of the previous day he had bowled patiently at Fenn while the latter lifted every other ball into space. He had been taken off three times, and at every fresh attack he had plodded on doggedly, until at last, as he had expected, the batsman had misjudged a straight one, and he had bowled him all over his wicket. Kennedy generally managed to get there sooner or later.

"It's no good chucking the game up simply because we're in a tight place," he said, bringing the spoon to the surface at last with the section of strawberry adhering to the end of it. "That sort of thing's awfully feeble."

"He calls me feeble!" shouted Jimmy Silver. "By James, I've put a man to sleep for less."

It was one of his amusements to express himself from time to time in a melodramatic fashion, sometimes accompanying his words with suitable gestures. It was on one of these occasions—when he had assumed at a moment's notice the role of the "Baffled Despot", in an argument with Kennedy in his study on the subject of the house football team—that he broke what Mr Blackburn considered a valuable door with a poker. Since then he had moderated his transports.

"They've got to make seventy-nine," said Kennedy.

Challis, the other first eleven man, was reading a green scoring-book.

"I don't think Kay's ought to have the face to stick the cup up in their dining-room," he said, "considering the little they've done to win it. If they do win it, that is. Still, as they made two hundred first innings, they ought to be able to knock off seventy-nine. But I was saying that the pot ought to go to Fenn. Lot the rest of the team had to do with it. Blackburn's, first innings, hundred and fifty-one; Fenn, eight for forty-nine. Kay's, two hundred and one; Fenn, a hundred and sixty-four not out. Second innings, Blackburn's hundred and twenty-eight; Fenn ten for eighty. Bit thick, isn't it? I suppose that's what you'd call a one-man team."

Williams, one of the other prefects, who had just sat down at the piano for the purpose of playing his one tune—a cake-walk, of which, through constant practice, he had mastered the rudiments—spoke over his shoulder to Silver.

"I tell you what, Jimmy," he said, "you've probably lost us the pot by getting your people to send brother Billy to Kay's. If he hadn't kept up his wicket yesterday, Fenn wouldn't have made half as many."

When his young brother had been sent to Eckleton two terms before, Jimmy Silver had strongly urged upon his father the necessity of placing him in some house other than Blackburn's. He felt that a head of a house, even of so orderly and perfect a house as Blackburn's, has enough worries without being saddled with a small brother. And on the previous afternoon young Billy Silver, going in eighth wicket for Kay's, had put a solid bat in front of everything for the space of one hour, in the course of which he made ten runs and Fenn sixty. By scoring odd numbers off the last ball of each over, Fenn had managed to secure the majority of the bowling in the most masterly way.

"These things will happen," said Silver, resignedly. "We Silvers, you know, can't help making runs. Come on, Williams, let's have that tune, and get it over."

Williams obliged. It was a classic piece called "The Coon Band Contest", remarkable partly for a taking melody, partly for the vast possibilities of noise which it afforded. Williams made up for his failure to do justice to the former by a keen appreciation of the latter. He played the piece through again, in order to correct the mistakes he had made at his first rendering of it. Then he played it for the third time to correct a new batch of errors.

"I should like to hear Fenn play that," said Challis. "You're awfully good, you know, Williams, but he might do it better still."

"Get him to play it as an encore at the concert," said Williams, starting for the fourth time.

The talented Fenn was also a musician,—not a genius at the piano, as he was at cricket, but a sufficiently sound performer for his age, considering that he had not made a special study of it. He was to play at the school concert on the following day.

"I believe Fenn has an awful time at Kay's," said Jimmy Silver. "It must be a fair sort of hole, judging from the specimens you see crawling about in Kay caps. I wish I'd known my people were sending young Billy there. I'd have warned them. I only told them not to sling him in here. I had no idea they'd have picked Kay's."

"Fenn was telling me the other day," said Kennedy, "that being in Kay's had spoiled his whole time at the school. He always wanted to come to Blackburn's, only there wasn't room that particular term. Bad luck, wasn't it? I don't think he found it so bad before he became head of the house. He didn't come into contact with Kay so much. But now he finds that he can't do a thing without Kay buzzing round and interfering."

"I wonder," said Jimmy Silver, thoughtfully, "if that's why he bowls so fast. To work it off, you know."

In the course of a beautiful innings of fifty-three that afternoon, the captain of Blackburn's had received two of Fenn's speediest on the same spot just above the pad in rapid succession, and he now hobbled painfully when he moved about.

The conversation that evening had dealt so largely with Fenn—the whole school, indeed, was talking of nothing but his great attempt to win the cricket cup single-handed—that Kennedy, going out into the road for a breather before the rest of the boarders returned from preparation, made his way to Kay's to see if Fenn was imitating his example, and taking the air too.

He found him at Kay's gate, and they strolled towards the school buildings together. Fenn was unusually silent.

"Well?" said Kennedy, after a minute had passed without a remark.

"Well, what?"

"What's up?"

Fenn laughed what novelists are fond of calling a mirthless laugh.

"Oh, I don't know," he said; "I'm sick of this place."

Kennedy inspected his friend's face anxiously by the light of the lamp over the school gate. There was no mistake about it. Fenn certainly did look bad. His face always looked lean and craggy, but tonight there was a difference. He looked used up.

"Fagged?" asked Kennedy.

"No. Sick."

"What about?"

"Everything. I wish you could come into Kay's for a bit just to see what it's like. Then you'd understand. At present I don't suppose you've an idea of it. I'd like to write a book on 'Kay Day by Day'. I'd have plenty to put in it."

"What's he been doing?"

"Oh, nothing out of the ordinary run. It's the fact that he's always at it that does me. You get a houseful of—well, you know the sort of chap the average Kayite is. They'd keep me busy even if I were allowed a free hand. But I'm not. Whenever I try and keep order and stop things a bit, out springs the man Kay from nowhere, and takes the job out of my hands, makes a ghastly mess of everything, and retires purring. Once in every three times, or thereabouts, he slangs me in front of the kids for not keeping order. I'm glad this is the end of the term. I couldn't stand it much longer. Hullo, here come the chaps from prep. We'd better be getting back."



They turned, and began to walk towards the houses. Kennedy felt miserable. He never allowed himself to be put out, to any great extent, by his own worries, which, indeed, had not been very numerous up to the present, but the misfortunes of his friends always troubled him exceedingly. When anything happened to him personally, he found the discomfort of being in a tight place largely counterbalanced by the excitement of trying to find a way out. But the impossibility of helping Fenn in any way depressed him.

"It must be awful," he said, breaking the silence.

"It is," said Fenn, briefly.

"But haven't the house-matches made any difference? Blackburn's always frightfully bucked when the house does anything. You can do anything you like with him if you lift a cup. I should have thought Kay would have been all right when he saw you knocking up centuries, and getting into the final, and all that sort of thing."

Fenn laughed.

"Kay!" he said. "My dear man, he doesn't know. I don't suppose he's got the remotest idea that we are in the final at all, or, if he has, he doesn't understand what being in the final means."

"But surely he'll be glad if you lick us tomorrow?" asked Kennedy. Such indifference on the part of a house-master respecting the fortunes of his house seemed to him, having before him the bright example of Mr Blackburn almost incredible.

"I don't suppose so," said Fenn. "Or, if he is, I'll bet he doesn't show it. He's not like Blackburn. I wish he was. Here he comes, so perhaps we'd better talk about something else."

The vanguard of the boys returning from preparation had passed them, and they were now standing at the gate of the house. As Fenn spoke, a little, restless-looking man in cap and gown came up. His clean-shaven face wore an expression of extreme alertness—the sort of look a ferret wears as he slips in at the mouth of a rabbit-hole. A doctor, called upon to sum up Mr Kay at a glance, would probably have said that he suffered from nerves, which would have been a perfectly correct diagnosis, though none of the members of his house put his manners and customs down to that cause. They considered that the methods he pursued in the management of the house were the outcome of a naturally malignant disposition. This was, however, not the case. There is no reason to suppose that Mr Kay did not mean well. But there is no doubt that he was extremely fussy. And fussiness—with the possible exceptions of homicidal mania and a taste for arson—is quite the worst characteristic it is possible for a house-master to possess.

He caught sight of Fenn and Kennedy at the gate, and stopped in his stride.

"What are you doing here, Fenn?" he asked, with an abruptness which brought a flush to the latter's face. "Why are you outside the house?"

Kennedy began to understand why it was that his friend felt so strongly on the subject of his house-master. If this was the sort of thing that happened every day, no wonder that there was dissension in the house of Kay. He tried to imagine Blackburn speaking in that way to Jimmy Silver or himself, but his imagination was unequal to the task. Between Mr Blackburn and his prefects there existed a perfect understanding. He relied on them to see that order was kept, and they acted accordingly. Fenn, by the exercise of considerable self-control, had always been scrupulously polite to Mr Kay.

"I came out to get some fresh air before lock-up, sir," he replied.

"Well, go in. Go in at once. I cannot allow you to be outside the house at this hour. Go indoors directly."

Kennedy expected a scene, but Fenn took it quite quietly.

"Good night, Kennedy," he said.

"So long," said Kennedy.

Fenn caught his eye, and smiled painfully. Then he turned and went into the house.

Mr Kay's zeal for reform was apparently still unsatisfied. He directed his batteries towards Kennedy.

"Go to your house at once, Kennedy. You have no business out here at this time."

This, thought Kennedy, was getting a bit too warm. Mr Kay might do as he pleased with his own house, but he was hanged if he was going to trample on him.

"Mr Blackburn is my house-master, sir," he said with great respect.

Mr Kay stared.

"My house-master," continued Kennedy with gusto, slightly emphasising the first word, "knows that I always go out just before lock-up, and he has no objection."

And, to emphasise this point, he walked towards the school buildings again. For a moment it seemed as if Mr Kay intended to call him back, but he thought better of it. Mr Blackburn, in normal circumstances a pacific man, had one touchy point—his house. He resented any interference with its management, and was in the habit of saying so. Mr Kay remembered one painful scene in the Masters' Common Room, when he had ventured to let fall a few well-meant hints as to how a house should be ruled. Really, he had thought Blackburn would have choked. Better, perhaps, to leave him to look after his own affairs.

So Mr Kay followed Fenn indoors, and Kennedy, having watched him vanish, made his way to Blackburn's.

Quietly as Fenn had taken the incident at the gate, it nevertheless rankled. He read prayers that night in a distinctly unprayerful mood. It seemed to him that it would be lucky if he could get through to the end of the term before Mr Kay applied that last straw which does not break the backs of camels only. Eight weeks' holiday, with plenty of cricket, would brace him up for another term. And he had been invited to play for the county against Middlesex four days after the holidays began. That should have been a soothing thought. But it really seemed to make matters worse. It was hard that a man who on Monday would be bowling against Warner and Beldam, or standing up to Trott and Hearne, should on the preceding Tuesday be sent indoors like a naughty child by a man who stood five-feet-one in his boots, and was devoid of any sort of merit whatever.

It seemed to him that it would help him to sleep peacefully that night if he worked off a little of his just indignation upon somebody. There was a noise going on in the fags' room. There always was at Kay's. It was not a particularly noisy noise—considering; but it had better be stopped. Badly as Kay had treated him, he remembered that he was head of the house, and as such it behoved him to keep order in the house.

He went downstairs, and, on arriving on the scene of action, found that the fags were engaged upon spirited festivities, partly in honour of the near approach of the summer holidays, partly because—miracles barred—the house was going on the morrow to lift the cricket-cup. There were a good many books flying about, and not a few slippers. There was a confused mass rolling in combat on the floor, and the table was occupied by a scarlet-faced individual, who passed the time by kicking violently at certain hands, which were endeavouring to drag him from his post, and shrieking frenzied abuse at the owners of the said hands. It was an animated scene, and to a deaf man might have been most enjoyable.

Fenn's appearance was the signal for a temporary suspension of hostilities.

"What the dickens is all this row about?" he inquired.

No one seemed ready at the moment with a concise explanation. There was an awkward silence. One or two of the weaker spirits even went so far as to sit down and begin to read. All would have been well but for a bright idea which struck some undiscovered youth at the back of the room.

"Three cheers for Fenn!" observed this genial spirit, in no uncertain voice.

The idea caught on. It was just what was wanted to give a finish to the evening's festivities. Fenn had done well by the house. He had scored four centuries and an eighty, and was going to knock off the runs against Blackburn's tomorrow off his own bat. Also, he had taken eighteen wickets in the final house-match. Obviously Fenn was a person deserving of all encouragement. It would be a pity to let him think that his effort had passed unnoticed by the fags' room. Happy thought! Three cheers and one more, and then "He's a jolly good fellow", to wind up with.

It was while those familiar words, "It's a way we have in the public scho-o-o-o-l-s", were echoing through the room in various keys, that a small and energetic form brushed past Fenn as he stood in the doorway, vainly trying to stop the fags' choral efforts.

It was Mr Kay.

The singing ceased gradually, very gradually. It was some time before Mr Kay could make himself heard. But after a couple of minutes there was a lull, and the house-master's address began to be audible.

"... unendurable noise. What is the meaning of it? I will not have it. Do you hear? It is disgraceful. Every boy in this room will write me two hundred lines by tomorrow evening. It is abominable, Fenn." He wheeled round towards the head of the house. "Fenn, I am surprised at you standing here and allowing such a disgraceful disturbance to go on. Really, if you cannot keep order better—It is disgraceful, disgraceful."

Mr Kay shot out of the room. Fenn followed in his wake, and the procession made its way to the house-masters' study. It had been a near thing, but the last straw had arrived before the holidays.

Mr Kay wheeled round as he reached his study door.

"Well, Fenn?"

Fenn said nothing.

"Have you anything you wish to say, Fenn?"

"I thought you might have something to say to me, sir."

"I do not understand you, Fenn."

"I thought you might wish to apologise for slanging me in front of the fags."

It is wonderful what a difference the last straw will make in one's demeanour to a person.

"Apologise! I think you forget whom it is you are speaking to."

When a master makes this well-worn remark, the wise youth realises that the time has come to close the conversation. All Fenn's prudence, however, had gone to the four winds.

"If you wanted to tell me I was not fit to be head of the house, you needn't have done it before a roomful of fags. How do you think I can keep order in the house if you do that sort of thing?"

Mr Kay overcame his impulse to end the interview abruptly in order to put in a thrust.

"You do not keep order in the house, Fenn," he said, acidly.

"I do when I am not interfered with."

"You will be good enough to say 'sir' when you speak to me, Fenn," said Mr Kay, thereby scoring another point. In the stress of the moment, Fenn had not noticed the omission.

He was silenced. And before he could recover himself, Mr Kay was in his study, and there was a closed, forbidding door between them.

And as he stared at it, it began slowly to dawn upon Fenn that he had not shown up to advantage in the recent interview. In a word, he had made a fool of himself.



Blackburn's took the field at three punctually on the following afternoon, to play out the last act of the final house-match. They were not without some small hope of victory, for curious things happen at cricket, especially in the fourth innings of a match. And runs are admitted to be easier saved than made. Yet seventy-nine seemed an absurdly small score to try and dismiss a team for, and in view of the fact that that team contained a batsman like Fenn, it seemed smaller still. But Jimmy Silver, resolutely as he had declared victory impossible to his intimate friends, was not the man to depress his team by letting it become generally known that he considered Blackburn's chances small.

"You must work like niggers in the field," he said; "don't give away a run. Seventy-nine isn't much to make, but if we get Fenn out for a few, they won't come near it."

He did not add that in his opinion Fenn would take very good care that he did not get out for a few. It was far more likely that he would make that seventy-nine off his own bat in a dozen overs.

"You'd better begin, Kennedy," he continued, "from the top end. Place your men where you want 'em. I should have an extra man in the deep, if I were you. That's where Fenn kept putting them last innings. And you'll want a short leg, only for goodness sake keep them off the leg-side if you can. It's a safe four to Fenn every time if you don't. Look out, you chaps. Man in."

Kay's first pair were coming down the pavilion steps.

Challis, going to his place at short slip, called Silver's attention to a remarkable fact.

"Hullo," he said, "why isn't Fenn coming in first?"

"What! By Jove, nor he is. That's queer. All the better for us. You might get a bit finer, Challis, in case they snick 'em."

Wayburn, who had accompanied Fenn to the wicket at the beginning of Kay's first innings, had now for his partner one Walton, a large, unpleasant-looking youth, said to be a bit of a bruiser, and known to be a black sheep. He was one of those who made life at Kay's so close an imitation of an Inferno. His cricket was of a rustic order. He hit hard and high. When allowed to do so, he hit often. But, as a rule, he left early, a prey to the slips or deep fields. Today was no exception to that rule.

Kennedy's first ball was straight and medium-paced. It was a little too short, however, and Walton, letting go at it with a semi-circular sweep like the drive of a golfer, sent it soaring over mid-on's head and over the boundary. Cheers from the pavilion.

Kennedy bowled his second ball with the same purposeful air, and Walton swept at it as before. There was a click, and Jimmy Silver, who was keeping wicket, took the ball comfortably on a level with his chin.

"How's that?"

The umpire's hand went up, and Walton went out—reluctantly, murmuring legends of how he had not gone within a yard of the thing.

It was only when the next batsman who emerged from the pavilion turned out to be his young brother and not Fenn, that Silver began to see that something was wrong. It was conceivable that Fenn might have chosen to go in first wicket down instead of opening the batting, but not that he should go in second wicket. If Kay's were to win it was essential that he should begin to bat as soon as possible. Otherwise there might be no time for him to knock off the runs. However good a batsman is, he can do little if no one can stay with him.

There was no time to question the newcomer. He must control his curiosity until the fall of the next wicket.

"Man in," he said.

Billy Silver was in many ways a miniature edition of his brother, and he carried the resemblance into his batting. The head of Blackburn's was stylish, and took no risks. His brother had not yet developed a style, but he was very settled in his mind on the subject of risks. There was no tempting him with half-volleys and long-hops. His motto was defence, not defiance. He placed a straight bat in the path of every ball, and seemed to consider his duty done if he stopped it.

The remainder of the over was, therefore, quiet. Billy played Kennedy's fastest like a book, and left the more tempting ones alone.

Challis's first over realised a single, Wayburn snicking him to leg. The first ball of Kennedy's second over saw him caught at the wicket, as Walton had been.

"Every time a coconut," said Jimmy Silver complacently, as he walked to the other end. "We're a powerful combination, Kennedy. Where's Fenn? Does anybody know? Why doesn't he come in?"

Billy Silver, seated on the grass by the side of the crease, fastening the top strap of one of his pads, gave tongue with the eagerness of the well-informed man.

"What, don't you know?" he said. "Why, there's been an awful row. Fenn won't be able to play till four o'clock. I believe he and Kay had a row last night, and he cheeked Kay, and the old man's given him a sort of extra. I saw him going over to the School House, and I heard him tell Wayburn that he wouldn't be able to play till four."

The effect produced by this communication would be most fittingly expressed by the word "sensation" in brackets. It came as a complete surprise to everyone. It seemed to knock the bottom out of the whole match. Without Fenn the thing would be a farce. Kay's would have no chance.

"What a worm that man is," said Kennedy. "Do you know, I had a sort of idea Fenn wouldn't last out much longer. Kay's been ragging him all the term. I went round to see him last night, and Kay behaved like a bounder then. I expect Fenn had it out with him when they got indoors. What a beastly shame, though."

"Beastly," agreed Jimmy Silver. "Still, it can't be helped. The sins of the house-master are visited on the house. I'm afraid it will be our painful duty to wipe the floor with Kay's this day. Speaking at a venture, I should say that we have got them where the hair's short. Yea. Even on toast, if I may be allowed to use the expression. Who is this coming forth now? Curtis, or me old eyes deceive me. And is not Curtis's record score three, marred by ten chances? Indeed yes. A fastish yorker should settle Curtis's young hash. Try one."

Kennedy followed the recipe. A ball later the middle and leg stumps were lying in picturesque attitudes some yards behind the crease, and Curtis was beginning that "sad, unending walk to the pavilion", thinking, with the poet,

"Thou wast not made to play, infernal ball!"

Blackburn's non-combatants, dotted round the boundary, shrieked their applause. Three wickets had fallen for five runs, and life was worth living. Kay's were silent and gloomy.

Billy Silver continued to occupy one end in an immovable manner, but at the other there was no monotony. Man after man came in, padded and gloved, and looking capable of mighty things. They took guard, patted the ground lustily, as if to make it plain that they were going to stand no nonsense, settled their caps over their eyes, and prepared to receive the ball. When it came it usually took a stump or two with it before it stopped. It was a procession such as the school grounds had not often seen. As the tenth man walked from the pavilion, four sounded from the clock over the Great Hall, and five minutes later the weary eyes of the supporters of Kay's were refreshed by the sight of Fenn making his way to the arena from the direction of the School House.

Just as he arrived on the scene, Billy Silver's defence broke down. One of Challis's slows, which he had left alone with the idea that it was going to break away to the off, came in quickly instead, and removed a bail. Billy Silver had only made eight; but, as the full score, including one bye, was only eighteen, this was above the average, and deserved the applause it received.

Fenn came in in the unusual position of eleventh man, with an expression on his face that seemed to suggest that he meant business. He was curiously garbed. Owing to the shortness of the interval allowed him for changing, he had only managed to extend his cricket costume as far as white buckskin boots. He wore no pads or gloves. But even in the face of these sartorial deficiencies, he looked like a cricketer. The field spread out respectfully, and Jimmy Silver moved a man from the slips into the country.

There were three more balls of Challis's over, for Billy Silver's collapse had occurred at the third delivery. Fenn mistimed the first. Two hours' writing indoors does not improve the eye. The ball missed the leg stump by an inch.

About the fifth ball he made no mistake. He got the full face of the bat to it, and it hummed past coverpoint to the boundary. The last of the over he put to leg for three.

A remarkable last-wicket partnership now took place, remarkable not so much for tall scoring as for the fact that one of the partners did not receive a single ball from beginning to end of it, with the exception of the one that bowled him. Fenn seemed to be able to do what he pleased with the bowling. Kennedy he played with a shade more respect than the others, but he never failed to score a three or a single off the last ball of each of his overs. The figures on the telegraph-board rose from twenty to thirty, from thirty to forty, from forty to fifty. Williams went on at the lower end instead of Challis, and Fenn made twelve off his first over. The pavilion was filled with howling enthusiasts, who cheered every hit in a frenzy.

Jimmy Silver began to look worried. He held a hasty consultation with Kennedy. The telegraph-board now showed the figures 60—9—8.

"This won't do," said Silver. "It would be too foul to get licked after having nine of them out for eighteen. Can't you manage to keep Fenn from scoring odd figures off the last ball of your over? If only that kid at the other end would get some of the bowling, we should do it."

"I'll try," said Kennedy, and walked back to begin his over.

Fenn reached his fifty off the third ball. Seventy went up on the board. Ten more and Kay's would have the cup. The fourth ball was too good to hit. Fenn let it pass. The fifth he drove to the on. It was a big hit, but there was a fieldsman in the neighbourhood. Still, it was an easy two. But to Kennedy's surprise Fenn sent his partner back after they had run a single. Even the umpire was surprised. Fenn's policy was so obvious that it was strange to see him thus deliberately allow his partner to take a ball.

"That's not over, you know, Fenn," said the umpire—Lang, of the School House, a member of the first eleven.

Fenn looked annoyed. He had miscounted the balls, and now his partner, who had no pretensions to be considered a bat, would have to face Kennedy.

That mistake lost Kay's the match.

Impossible as he had found it to defeat Fenn, Kennedy had never lost his head or his length. He was bowling fully as well as he had done at the beginning of the innings.

The last ball of the over beat the batsman all the way. He scooped blindly forward, missed it by a foot, and the next moment the off stump lay flat. Blackburn's had won by seven runs.



What might be described as a mixed reception awaited the players as they left the field. The pavilion and the parts about the pavilion rails were always packed on the last day of a final house-match, and even in normal circumstances there was apt to be a little sparring between the juniors of the two houses which had been playing for the cup. In the present case, therefore, it was not surprising that Kay's fags took the defeat badly. The thought that Fenn's presence at the beginning of the innings, instead of at the end, would have made all the difference between a loss and a victory, maddened them. The crowd that seethed in front of the pavilion was a turbulent one.

For a time the operation of chairing Fenn up the steps occupied the active minds of the Kayites. When he had disappeared into the first eleven room, they turned their attention in other directions. Caustic and uncomplimentary remarks began to fly to and fro between the representatives of Kay's and Blackburn's. It is not known who actually administered the first blow. But, when Fenn came out of the pavilion with Kennedy and Silver, he found a stirring battle in progress. The members of the other houses who had come to look on at the match stood in knots, and gazed with approval at the efforts of Kay's and Blackburn's juniors to wipe each other off the face of the earth. The air was full of shrill battle-cries, varied now and then by a smack or a thud, as some young but strenuous fist found a billet. The fortune of war seemed to be distributed equally so far, and the combatants were just warming to their work.

"Look here," said Kennedy, "we ought to stop this."

"What's the good," said Fenn, without interest. "It pleases them, and doesn't hurt anybody else."

"All the same," observed Jimmy Silver, moving towards the nearest group of combatants, "free fights aren't quite the thing, somehow. For, children, you should never let your angry passions rise; your little hands were never made to tear each other's eyes. Dr Watts' Advice to Young Pugilists. Drop it, you little beasts."

He separated two heated youths who were just beginning a fourth round. The rest of the warriors, seeing Silver and the others, called a truce, and Silver, having read a sort of Riot Act, moved on. The juniors of the beaten house, deciding that it would be better not to resume hostilities, consoled themselves by giving three groans for Mr Kay.

"What happened after I left you last night, Fenn?" asked Kennedy.

"Oh, I had one of my usual rows with Kay, only rather worse than usual. I said one or two things he didn't like, and today the old man sent for me and told me to come to his room from two till four. Kay had run me in for being 'grossly rude'. Listen to those kids. What a row they're making!"

"It's a beastly shame," said Kennedy despondently.

At the school shop Morrell, of Mulholland's, met them. He had been spending the afternoon with a rug and a novel on the hills at the back of the school, and he wanted to know how the final house-match had gone. Blackburn's had beaten Mulholland's in one of the early rounds. Kennedy explained what had happened.

"We should have lost if Fenn had turned up earlier," he said. "He had a row with Kay, and Kay gave him a sort of extra between two and four."

Fenn, busily occupied with an ice, added no comment of his own to this plain tale.

"Rough luck," said Morrell. "What's all that row out in the field?"

"That's Kay's kids giving three groans for Kay," explained Silver. "At least, they started with the idea of giving three groans. They've got up to about three hundred by this time. It seems to have fascinated them. They won't leave off. There's no school rule against groaning in the grounds, and they mean to groan till the end of the term. Personally, I like the sound. But then, I'm fond of music."

Morrell's face beamed with sudden pleasure. "I knew there was something I wanted to tell you," he said, "only I couldn't remember what. Your saying you're fond of music reminds me. Mulholland's crocked himself, and won't be able to turn out for the concert."

"What!" cried Kennedy. "How did it happen? What's he done?"

Mr Mulholland was the master who looked after the music of the school, a fine cricketer and keen sportsman. Had nothing gone wrong, he would have conducted at the concert that night.

"I heard it from the matron at our place," said Morrell. "She's full of it. Mulholland was batting at the middle net, and somebody else—I forget who—was at the one next to it on the right. The bowler sent down a long-hop to leg, and this Johnny had a smack at it, and sent it slap through the net, and it got Mulholland on the side of the head. He was stunned for a bit, but he's getting all right again now. But he won't be able to conduct tonight. Rather bad luck on the man, especially as he's so keen on the concert."

"Who's going to sub for him?" asked Silver. "Perhaps they'll scratch the show," suggested Kennedy.

"Oh, no," said Morrell, "it's all right. Kay is going to conduct. He's often done it at choir practices when Mulholland couldn't turn up."

Fenn put down his empty saucer with an emphatic crack on the counter.

"If Kay's going to run the show, I'm hanged if I turn up," he said.

"My dear chap, you can't get out of it now," said Kennedy anxiously. He did not want to see Fenn plunging into any more strife with the authorities this term.

"Think of the crowned heads who are coming to hear you," pleaded Jimmy Silver. "Think of the nobility and gentry. Think of me. You must play."

"Ah, there you are, Fenn."

Mr Kay had bustled in in his energetic way.

Fenn said nothing. He was there. It was idle to deny it.

"I thought I should find you here. Yes, I wanted to see you about the concert tonight. Mr Mulholland has met with an unfortunate accident, and I am looking after the entertainment in his place. Come with me and play over your piece. I should like to see that you are perfect in it. Dear me, dear me, what a noise those boys are making. Why are they behaving in that extraordinary way, I wonder!"

Kay's juniors had left the pavilion, and were trooping back to their house. At the present moment they were passing the school shop, and their tuneful voices floated in through the open window.

"This is very unusual. Why, they seem to be boys in my house. They are groaning."

"I think they are a little upset at the result of the match, sir," said Jimmy Silver suavely. "Fenn did not arrive, for some reason, till the end of the innings, so Mr Blackburn's won. The wicket was good, but a little fiery."

"Thank you, Silver," replied Mr Kay with asperity. "When I require explanations I will ask for them."

He darted out of the shop, and a moment later they heard him pouring out a flood of recriminations on the groaning fags.

"There was once a man who snubbed me," said Jimmy Silver. "They buried him at Brookwood. Well, what are you going to do, Fenn? Going to play tonight? Harkee, boy. Say but the word, and I will beard this tyrant to his face."

Fenn rose.

"Yes," he said briefly, "I shall play. You'd better turn up. I think you'll enjoy it."

Silver said that no human power should keep him away.

* * * * *

The School concert was always one of the events of the summer term. There was a concert at the end of the winter term, too, but it was not so important. To a great many of those present the summer concert marked, as it were, the last flutter of their school life. On the morrow they would be Old Boys, and it behoved them to extract as much enjoyment from the function as they could. Under Mr Mullholland's rule the concert had become a very flourishing institution. He aimed at a high standard, and reached it. There was more than a touch of the austere about the music. A glance at the programme was enough to show the lover of airs of the trashy, clashy order that this was no place for him. Most of the items were serious. When it was thought necessary to introduce a lighter touch, some staidly rollicking number was inserted, some song that was saved—in spite of a catchy tune—by a halo of antiquity. Anything modern was taboo, unless it were the work of Gotsuchakoff, Thingummyowsky, or some other eminent foreigner. Foreign origin made it just possible.

The school prefects lurked during the performance at the doors and at the foot of the broad stone steps that led to the Great Hall. It was their duty to supply visitors with programmes.

Jimmy Silver had foregathered with Kennedy, Challis, and Williams at the junior door. The hall was full now, and their labours consequently at an end.

"Pretty good 'gate'," said Silver, looking in through the open door. "It must be warm up in the gallery."

Across the further end of the hall a dais had been erected. On this the bulk of the school sat, leaving the body of the hall to the crowned heads, nobility, and gentry to whom Silver had referred in his conversation with Fenn.

"It always is warm in the gallery," said Challis. "I lost about two stone there every concert when I was a kid. We simply used to sit and melt."

"And I tell you what," broke in Silver, "it's going to get warmer before the end of the show. Do you notice that all Kay's house are sitting in a lump at the back. I bet they're simply spoiling for a row. Especially now Kay's running the concert. There's going to be a hot time in the old town tonight—you see if there isn't. Hark at 'em."

The choir had just come to the end of a little thing of Handel's. There was no reason to suppose that the gallery appreciated Handel. Nevertheless, they were making a deafening noise. Clouds of dust rose from the rhythmical stamping of many feet. The noise was loudest and the dust thickest by the big window, beneath which sat the men from Kay's. Things were warming up.

The gallery, with one last stamp which nearly caused the dais to collapse, quieted down. The masters in the audience looked serious. One or two of the visitors glanced over their shoulders with a smile. How excited the dear boys were at the prospect of holidays! Young blood! Young blood! Boys would be boys.

The concert continued. Half-way through the programme there was a ten minutes' interval. Fenn's pianoforte solo was the second item of the second half.

He mounted the platform amidst howls of delight from the gallery. Applause at the Eckleton concerts was granted more for services in the playing-fields than merit as a musician. Kubelik or Paderewski would have been welcomed with a few polite handclaps. A man in the eleven or fifteen was certain of two minutes' unceasing cheers.

"Evidently one of their heroes, my dear," said Paterfamilias to Materfamilias. "I suppose he has won a scholarship at the University."

Paterfamilias' mind was accustomed to run somewhat upon scholarships at the University. What the school wanted was a batting average of forty odd or a bowling analysis in single figures.

Fenn played the "Moonlight Sonata". A trained musical critic would probably have found much to cavil at in his rendering of the piece, but it was undoubtedly good for a public school player. Of course he was encored. The gallery would have encored him if he had played with one finger, three mistakes to every bar.

"I told Fenn," said Jimmy Silver, "if he got an encore, that he ought to play the—My aunt! He is!"

Three runs and half-a-dozen crashes, and there was no further room for doubt. Fenn was playing the "Coon Band Contest".

"He's gone mad," gasped Kennedy.

Whether he had or not, it is certain that the gallery had. All the evening they had been stewing in an atmosphere like that of the inner room of a Turkish bath, and they were ready for anything. It needed but a trifle to set them off. The lilt of that unspeakable Yankee melody supplied that trifle. Kay's malcontents, huddled in their seats by the window, were the first to break out. Feet began to stamp in time to the music—softly at first, then more loudly. The wooden dais gave out the sound like a drum.

Other rioters joined in from the right. The noise spread through the gallery as a fire spreads through gorse. Soon three hundred pairs of well-shod feet were rising and falling. Somebody began to whistle. Everybody whistled. Mr Kay was on his feet, gesticulating wildly. His words were lost in the uproar.

For five minutes the din prevailed. Then, with a final crash, Fenn finished. He got up from the music-stool, bowed, and walked back to his place by the senior door. The musical efforts of the gallery changed to a storm of cheering and clapping.

The choir rose to begin the next piece.

Still the noise continued.

People began to leave the Hall—in ones and twos first, then in a steady stream which blocked the doorways. It was plain to the dullest intelligence that if there was going to be any more concert, it would have to be performed in dumb show. Mr Kay flung down his baton.

The visitors had left by now, and the gallery was beginning to follow their example, howling as it went.

"Well," said Jimmy Silver cheerfully, as he went with Kennedy down the steps, "I think we may call that a record. By my halidom, there'll be a row about this later on."



With the best intentions in the world, however, a headmaster cannot make a row about a thing unless he is given a reasonable amount of time to make it in. The concert being on the last evening of term, there was only a single morning before the summer holidays, and that morning was occupied with the prize-giving. The school assembled at ten o'clock with a shadowy hope that this prize-day would be more exciting than the general run of prize-days, but they were disappointed. The function passed off without sensation. The headmaster did not denounce the school in an impassioned speech from the dais. He did not refer to the events of the previous evening. At the same time, his demeanour was far from jovial. It lacked that rollicking bonhomie which we like to see in headmasters on prize-day. It was evident to the most casual observer that the affair was not closed. The school would have to pay the bill sooner or later. But eight weeks would elapse before the day of reckoning, which was a comforting thought.

The last prize was handed over to its rightful owner. The last and dullest vote of thanks had been proposed by the last and dullest member of the board of governors. The Bishop of Rumtifoo (who had been selected this year to distribute the prizes) had worked off his seventy minutes' speech (inaudible, of course, as usual), and was feeling much easier. The term had been formally declared at an end, and those members of the school corps who were going to camp were beginning to assemble in front of the buildings.

"I wonder why it always takes about three hours to get us off to the station," said Jimmy Silver. "I've been to camp two years now, and there's always been this rotting about in the grounds before we start. Nobody's likely to turn up to inspect us for the next hour or so. If any gent cares to put in a modest ginger-beer at the shop, I'm with him."

"I don't see why we shouldn't," said Kennedy. He had seen Fenn go into the shop, and wished to talk to him. He had not seen him after the concert, and he thought it would be interesting to know how Kay had taken it, and what his comments had been on meeting Fenn in the house that night.

Fenn had not much to say.

"He was rather worried," he said, grinning as if the recollection of the interview amused him. "But he couldn't do anything. Of course, there'll be a row next term, but it can't be helped."

"If I were you," said Silver, "I should point out to them that you'd a perfect right to play what you liked for an encore. How were you to know the gallery would go off like that? You aren't responsible for them. Hullo, there's that bugle. Things seem to be on the move. We must go."

"So long," said Fenn.

"Goodbye. Mind you come off against Middlesex."

Kennedy stayed for a moment.

"Has the Old Man said anything to you yet?" he asked.

"Not yet. He'll do that next term. It'll be something to look forward to."

Kennedy hurried off to take his place in the ranks.

Getting to camp at the end of the summer term is always a nuisance. Aldershot seems a long way from everywhere, and the trains take their time over the journey. Then, again, the heat always happens to be particularly oppressive on that day. Snow may have fallen on the day before, but directly one sets out for camp, the thermometer goes up into three figures. The Eckleton contingent marched into the lines damp and very thirsty.

Most of the other schools were already on the spot, and looked as if they had been spending the last few years there. There was nothing particular going on when the Eckleton warriors arrived, and everybody was lounging about in khaki and shirt-sleeves, looking exasperatingly cool. The only consolation which buoyed up the spirits of Eckleton was the reflection that in a short space of time, when the important-looking gentleman in uniform who had come to meet them had said all he wanted to say on the subject of rules and regulations, they would be like that too. Happy thought! If the man bucked up and cut short the peroration, there would be time for a bathe in Cove Reservoir. Those of the corps who had been to camp in previous years felt quite limp with the joy of the thought. Why couldn't he get through with it, and give a fellow a chance of getting cool again?

The gist of the oration was apparently that the Eckleton cadets were to consider themselves not only as soldiers—and as such subject to military discipline, and the rules for the conduct of troops quartered in the Aldershot district—but also as members of a public school. In short, that if they misbehaved themselves they would get cells, and a hundred lines in the same breath, as it were.

The corps knew all this ages ago. The man seemed to think he was telling them something fresh. They began positively to dislike him after a while.

He finished at last. Eckleton marched off wearily, but in style, to its lines.


They did.

"And about time, too," said Jimmy Silver. "I wish they would tie that man up, or something. He's one of the worst bores I know. He may be full of bright conversation in private life, but in public he will talk about his beastly military regulations. You can't stop him. It's a perfect mania with him. Now, I believe—that's to say, I have a sort of dim idea—that there's a place round about here called a canteen. I seem to remember such a thing vaguely. We might go and look for it."

Kennedy made no objection.

This was his first appearance at camp. Jimmy Silver, on the other hand, was a veteran. He had been there twice before, and meant to go again. He had a peculiar and extensive knowledge of the ins and outs of the place. Kennedy was quite willing to take him as his guide. He was full of information. Kennedy was surprised to see what a number of men from the other schools he seemed to know. In the canteen there were, amongst others, a Carthusian, two Tonbridge men, and a Haileyburian. They all greeted Silver with the warmth of old friends.

"You get to know a lot of fellows in camp," explained Jimmy, as they strolled back to the Eckleton lines. "That's the best of the place. Camp's the best place on earth, if only you have decent weather. See that chap over there? He came here last year. He'd never been before, and one of the things he didn't know was that Cove Reservoir's only about three feet deep round the sides. He took a running dive, and almost buried himself in the mud. It's about two feet deep. He told me afterwards he swallowed pounds of it. Rather bad luck. Somebody ought to have told him. You can't do much diving here."

"Glad you mentioned it," said Kennedy. "I should have dived myself if you hadn't."

Many other curious and diverting facts did the expert drag from the bonded warehouse of his knowledge. Nothing changes at camp. Once get to know the ropes, and you know them for all time.

"The one thing I bar," he said, "is having to get up at half-past five. And one day in the week, when there's a divisional field-day, it's half-past four. It's hardly worth while going to sleep at all. Still, it isn't so bad as it used to be. The first year I came to camp we used to have to do a three hours' field-day before brekker. We used to have coffee before it, and nothing else till it was over. By Jove, you felt you'd had enough of it before you got back. This is Laffan's Plain. The worst of Laffan's Plain is that you get to know it too well. You get jolly sick of always starting on field-days from the same place, and marching across the same bit of ground. Still, I suppose they can't alter the scenery for our benefit. See that man there? He won the sabres at Aldershot last year. That chap with him is in the Clifton footer team."

When a school corps goes to camp, it lives in a number of tents, and, as a rule, each house collects in a tent of its own. Blackburn's had a tent, and further down the line Kay's had assembled. The Kay contingent were under Wayburn, a good sort, as far as he himself was concerned, but too weak to handle a mob like Kay's. Wayburn was not coming back after the holidays, a fact which perhaps still further weakened his hold on the Kayites. They had nothing to fear from him next term.

Kay's was represented at camp by a dozen or so of its members, of whom young Billy Silver alone had any pretensions to the esteem of his fellow man. Kay's was the rowdiest house in the school, and the cream of its rowdy members had come to camp. There was Walton, for one, a perfect specimen of the public school man at his worst. There was Mortimer, another of Kay's gems. Perry, again, and Callingham, and the rest. A pleasant gang, fit for anything, if it could be done in safety.

Kennedy observed them, and—the spectacle starting a train of thought—asked Jimmy Silver, as they went into their tent just before lights-out, if there was much ragging in camp.

"Not very much," said the expert. "Chaps are generally too done up at the end of the day to want to do anything except sleep. Still, I've known cases. You sometimes get one tent mobbing another. They loose the ropes, you know. Low trick, I think. It isn't often done, and it gets dropped on like bricks when it's found out. But why? Do you feel as if you wanted to do it?"

"It only occurred to me that we've got a lively gang from Kay's here. I was wondering if they'd get any chances of ragging, or if they'd have to lie low."

"I'd forgotten Kay's for the moment. Now you mention it, they are rather a crew. But I shouldn't think they'd find it worth while to rot about here. It isn't as if they were on their native heath. People have a prejudice against having their tent-ropes loosed, and they'd get beans if they did anything in that line. I remember once there was a tent which made itself objectionable, and it got raided in the night by a sort of vigilance committee from the other schools, and the chaps in it got the dickens of a time. None of them ever came to camp again. I hope Kay's'll try and behave decently. It'll be an effort for them; but I hope they'll make it. It would be an awful nuisance if young Billy made an ass of himself in any way. He loves making an ass of himself. It's a sort of hobby of his."

As if to support the statement, a sudden volley of subdued shouts came from the other end of the Eckleton lines.

"Go it, Wren!"

"Stick to it, Silver!"




Silence, followed almost immediately by a gruff voice inquiring with simple directness what the dickens all this noise was about.

"Hullo!" said Kennedy. "Did you hear that? I wonder what's been up? Your brother was in it, whatever it was."

"Of course," said Jimmy Silver, "he would be. We can't find out about it now, though. I'll ask him tomorrow, if I remember. I shan't remember, of course. Good night."

"Good night."

Half an hour later, Kennedy, who had been ruminating over the incident in his usual painstaking way, reopened the debate.

"Who's Wren?" he asked.

"Wha'?" murmured Silver, sleepily.

"Who's Wren?" repeated Kennedy.

"I d'know.... Oh.... Li'l' beast.... Kay's.... Red hair.... G'-ni'."

And sleep reigned in Blackburn's tent.



Wren and Billy Silver had fallen out over a question of space. It was Silver's opinion that Wren's nest ought to have been built a foot or two further to the left. He stated baldly that he had not room to breathe, and requested the red-headed one to ease off a point or so in the direction of his next-door neighbour. Wren had refused, and, after a few moments' chatty conversation, smote William earnestly in the wind. Trouble had begun upon the instant. It had ceased almost as rapidly owing to interruptions from without, but the truce had been merely temporary. They continued the argument outside the tent at five-thirty the next morning, after the reveille had sounded, amidst shouts of approval from various shivering mortals who were tubbing preparatory to embarking on the labours of the day.

A brisk first round had just come to a conclusion when Walton lounged out of the tent, yawning.

Walton proceeded to separate the combatants. After which he rebuked Billy Silver with a swagger-stick. Wren's share in the business he overlooked. He was by way of being a patron of Wren's, and he disliked Billy Silver, partly for his own sake and partly because he hated his brother, with whom he had come into contact once or twice during his career at Eckleton, always with unsatisfactory results.

So Walton dropped on to Billy Silver, and Wren continued his toilet rejoicing.

Camp was beginning the strenuous life now. Tent after tent emptied itself of its occupants, who stretched themselves vigorously, and proceeded towards the tubbing-ground, where there were tin baths for those who cared to wait until the same were vacant, and a good, honest pump for those who did not. Then there was that unpopular job, the piling of one's bedding outside the tent, and the rolling up of the tent curtains. But these unpleasant duties came to an end at last, and signs of breakfast began to appear.

Breakfast gave Kennedy his first insight into life in camp. He happened to be tent-orderly that day, and it therefore fell to his lot to join the orderlies from the other tents in their search for the Eckleton rations. He returned with a cargo of bread (obtained from the quartermaster), and, later, with a great tin of meat, which the cook-house had supplied, and felt that this was life. Hitherto breakfast had been to him a thing of white cloths, tables, and food that appeared from nowhere. This was the first time he had ever tracked his food to its source, so to speak, and brought it back with him. After breakfast, when he was informed that, as tent-orderly for the day, it was his business to wash up, he began to feel as if he were on a desert island. He had never quite realised before what washing-up implied, and he was conscious of a feeling of respect for the servants at Blackburn's, who did it every day as a matter of course, without complaint. He had had no idea before this of the intense stickiness of a jammy plate.

One day at camp is much like another. The schools opened the day with parade drill at about eight o'clock, and, after an instruction series of "changing direction half-left in column of double companies", and other pleasant movements of a similar nature, adjourned for lunch. Lunch was much like breakfast, except that the supply of jam was cut off. The people who arrange these things—probably the War Office, or Mr Brodrick, or someone—have come to the conclusion that two pots of jam per tent are sufficient for breakfast and lunch. The unwary devour theirs recklessly at the earlier meal, and have to go jamless until tea at six o'clock, when another pot is served out.

The afternoon at camp is perfect or otherwise, according to whether there is a four o'clock field-day or not. If there is, there are more manoeuvrings until tea-time, and the time is spent profitably, but not so pleasantly as it might be. If there is no field-day, you can take your time about your bathe in Cove Reservoir. And a really satisfactory bathe on a hot day should last at least three hours. Kennedy and Jimmy Silver strolled off in the direction of the Reservoir as soon as they felt that they had got over the effects of the beef, potatoes, and ginger-beer which a generous commissariat had doled out to them for lunch. It was a glorious day, and bathing was the only thing to do for the next hour or so. Stump-cricket, that fascinating sport much indulged in in camp, would not be at its best until the sun had cooled off a little.

After a pleasant half hour in the mud and water of the Reservoir, they lay on the bank and watched the rest of the schools take their afternoon dip. Kennedy had laid in a supply of provisions from the stall which stood at the camp end of the water. Neither of them felt inclined to move.

"This is decent," said Kennedy, wriggling into a more comfortable position in the long grass. "Hullo!"

"What's up?" inquired Jimmy Silver, lazily.

He was almost asleep.

"Look at those idiots. They're certain to get spotted."

Jimmy Silver tilted his hat off his face, and sat up.

"What's the matter? Which idiot?"

Kennedy pointed to a bush on their right. Walton and Perry were seated beside it. Both were smoking.

"Oh, that's all right," said Silver. "Masters never come to Cove Reservoir. It's a sort of unwritten law. They're rotters to smoke, all the same. Certain to get spotted some day.... Not worth it.... Spoils lungs.... Beastly bad ... training."

He dozed off. The sun was warm, and the grass very soft and comfortable. Kennedy turned his gaze to the Reservoir again. It was no business of his what Walton and Perry did.

Walton and Perry were discussing ways and means. The conversation changed as they saw Kennedy glance at them. They were the sort of persons who feel a vague sense of injury when anybody looks at them, perhaps because they feel that those whose attention is attracted to them must say something to their discredit when they begin to talk about them.

"There's that beast Kennedy," said Walton. "I can't stick that man. He's always hanging round the house. What he comes for, I can't make out."

"Pal of Fenn's," suggested Perry.

"He hangs on to Fenn. I bet Fenn bars him really."

Perry doubted this in his innermost thoughts, but it was not worth while to say so.

"Those Blackburn chaps," continued Walton, reverting to another grievance, "will stick on no end of side next term about that cup. They wouldn't have had a look in if Kay hadn't given Fenn that extra. Kay ought to be kicked. I'm hanged if I'm going to care what I do next term. Somebody ought to do something to take it out of Kay for getting his own house licked like that."

Walton spoke as if the line of conduct he had mapped out for himself would be a complete reversal of his customary mode of life. As a matter of fact, he had never been in the habit of caring very much what he did.

Walton's last remarks brought the conversation back to where it had been before the mention of Kennedy switched it off on to new lines. Perry had been complaining that he thought camp a fraud, that it was all drilling and getting up at unearthly hours. He reminded Walton that he had only come on the strength of the latter's statement that it would be a rag. Where did the rag come in? That was what Perry wanted to know.

"When it's not a ghastly sweat," he concluded, "it's slow. Like it is now. Can't we do something for a change?"

"As a matter of fact," said Walton, "nearly all the best rags are played out. A chap at a crammer's told me last holidays that when he was at camp he and some other fellows loosed the ropes of the guard-tent. He said it was grand sport."

Perry sat up.

"That's the thing," he said, excitedly. "Let's do that. Why not?"

"It's beastly risky," objected Walton.

"What's that matter? They can't do anything, even if they spot us."

"That's all you know. We should get beans."

"Still, it's worth risking. It would be the biggest rag going. Did the chap tell you how they did it?"

"Yes," said Walton, becoming animated as he recalled the stirring tale, "they bagged the sentry. Chucked a cloth or something over his head, you know. Then they shoved him into the ditch, and one of them sat on him while the others loosed the ropes. It took the chaps inside no end of a time getting out."

"That's the thing. We'll do it. We only need one other chap. Leveson would come if we asked him. Let's get back to the lines. It's almost tea-time. Tell him after tea."

Leveson proved agreeable. Indeed, he jumped at it. His life, his attitude suggested, had been a hollow mockery until he heard the plan, but now he could begin to enjoy himself once more.

The lights-out bugle sounded at ten o'clock; the last post at ten-thirty. At a quarter to twelve the three adventurers, who had been keeping themselves awake by the exercise of great pains, satisfied themselves that the other occupants of the tent were asleep, and stole out.

It was an excellent night for their purpose. There was no moon, and the stars were hidden by clouds.

They crept silently towards the guard-tent. A dim figure loomed out of the blackness. They noted with satisfaction, as it approached, that it was small. Sentries at the public-school camp vary in physique. They felt that it was lucky that the task of sentry-go had not fallen that night to some muscular forward from one of the school fifteens, or worse still, to a boxing expert who had figured in the Aldershot competition at Easter. The present sentry would be an easy victim.

They waited for him to arrive.

A moment later Private Jones, of St Asterisk's—for it was he—turning to resume his beat, found himself tackled from behind. Two moments later he was reclining in the ditch. He would have challenged his adversary, but, unfortunately, that individual happened to be seated on his face.

He struggled, but to no purpose.

He was still struggling when a muffled roar of indignation from the direction of the guard-tent broke the stillness of the summer night. The roar swelled into a crescendo. What seemed like echoes came from other quarters out of the darkness. The camp was waking.

The noise from the guard-tent waxed louder.

The unknown marauder rose from his seat on Private Jones, and vanished.

Private Jones also rose. He climbed out of the ditch, shook himself, looked round for his assailant, and, not finding him, hurried to the guard-tent to see what was happening.



The guard-tent had disappeared.

Private Jones' bewildered eye, rolling in a fine frenzy from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven, in search of the missing edifice, found it at last in a tangled heap upon the ground. It was too dark to see anything distinctly, but he perceived that the canvas was rising and falling spasmodically like a stage sea, and for a similar reason—because there were human beings imprisoned beneath it.

By this time the whole camp was up and doing. Figures in deshabille, dashing the last vestiges of sleep away with their knuckles, trooped on to the scene in twos and threes, full of inquiry and trenchant sarcasm.

"What are you men playing at? What's all the row about? Can't you finish that game of footer some other time, when we aren't trying to get to sleep? What on earth's up?"

Then the voice of one having authority.

"What's the matter? What are you doing?"

It was perfectly obvious what the guard was doing. It was trying to get out from underneath the fallen tent. Private Jones explained this with some warmth.

"Somebody jumped at me and sat on my head in the ditch. I couldn't get up. And then some blackguard cut the ropes of the guard-tent. I couldn't see who it was. He cut off directly the tent went down."

Private Jones further expressed a wish that he could find the chap. When he did, there would, he hinted, be trouble in the old homestead.

The tent was beginning to disgorge its prisoners.

"Guard, turn out!" said a facetious voice from the darkness.

The camp was divided into two schools of thought. Those who were watching the guard struggle out thought the episode funny. The guard did not. It was pathetic to hear them on the subject of their mysterious assailants. Matters quieted down rapidly after the tent had been set up again. The spectators were driven back to their lines by their officers. The guard turned in again to try and restore their shattered nerves with sleep until their time for sentry-go came round. Private Jones picked up his rifle and resumed his beat. The affair was at an end as far as that night was concerned.

Next morning, as might be expected, nothing else was talked about. Conversation at breakfast was confined to the topic. No halfpenny paper, however many times its circulation might exceed that of any penny morning paper, ever propounded so fascinating and puzzling a breakfast-table problem. It was the utter impossibility of detecting the culprits that appealed to the schools. They had swooped down like hawks out of the night, and disappeared like eels into mud, leaving no traces.

Jimmy Silver, of course, had no doubts.

"It was those Kay's men," he said. "What does it matter about evidence? You've only got to look at 'em. That's all the evidence you want. The only thing that makes it at all puzzling is that they did nothing worse. You'd naturally expect them to slay the sentry, at any rate."

But the rest of the camp, lacking that intimate knowledge of the Kayite which he possessed, did not turn the eye of suspicion towards the Eckleton lines. The affair remained a mystery. Kennedy, who never gave up a problem when everybody else did, continued to revolve the mystery in his mind.

"I shouldn't wonder," he said to Silver, two days later, "if you were right."

Silver, who had not made any remark for the last five minutes, with the exception of abusive comments on the toughness of the meat which he was trying to carve with a blunt knife for the tent, asked for an explanation. "I mean about that row the other night."

"What row?"

"That guard-tent business."

"Oh, that! I'd forgotten. Why don't you move with the times? You're always thinking of something that's been dead and buried for years."

"You remember you said you thought it was those Kay's chaps who did it. I've been thinking it over, and I believe you're right. You see, it was probably somebody who'd been to camp before, or he wouldn't have known that dodge of loosing the ropes."

"I don't see why. Seems to me it's the sort of idea that might have occurred to anybody. You don't want to study the thing particularly deeply to know that the best way of making a tent collapse is to loose the ropes. Of course it was Kay's lot who did it. But I don't see how you're going to have them simply because one or two of them have been here before."

"No, I suppose not," said Kennedy.

After tea the other occupants of the tent went out of the lines to play stump-cricket. Silver was in the middle of a story in one of the magazines, so did not accompany them. Kennedy cried off on the plea of slackness.

"I say," he said, when they were alone.

"Hullo," said Silver, finishing his story, and putting down the magazine. "What do you say to going after those chaps? I thought that story was going to be a long one that would take half an hour to get through. But it collapsed. Like that guard-tent."

"About that tent business," said Kennedy. "Of course that was all rot what I was saying just now. I suddenly remembered that I didn't particularly want anybody but you to hear what I was going to say, so I had to invent any rot that I could think of."

"But now," said Jimmy Silver, sinking his voice to a melodramatic whisper, "the villagers have left us to continue their revels on the green, our wicked uncle has gone to London, his sinister retainer, Jasper Murgleshaw, is washing his hands in the scullery sink, and—we are alone!"

"Don't be an ass," pleaded Kennedy.

"Tell me your dreadful tale. Conceal nothing. Spare me not. In fact, say on."

"I've had a talk with the chap who was sentry that night," began Kennedy.

"Astounding revelations by our special correspondent," murmured Silver.

"You might listen."

"I am listening. Why don't you begin? All this hesitation strikes me as suspicious. Get on with your shady story."

"You remember the sentry was upset—"

"Very upset."

"Somebody collared him from behind, and upset him into the ditch. They went in together, and the other man sat on his head."

"A touching picture. Proceed, friend."

"They rolled about a bit, and this sentry chap swears he scratched the man. It was just after that that the man sat on his head. Jones says he was a big chap, strong and heavy."

"He was in a position to judge, anyhow."

"Of course, he didn't mean to scratch him. He was rather keen on having that understood. But his fingers came up against the fellow's cheek as he was falling. So you see we've only got to look for a man with a scratch on his cheek. It was the right cheek, Jones was almost certain. I don't see what you're laughing at."

"I wish you wouldn't spring these good things of yours on me suddenly," gurgled Jimmy Silver, rolling about the wooden floor of the tent. "You ought to give a chap some warning. Look here," he added, imperatively, "swear you'll take me with you when you go on your tour through camp examining everybody's right cheek to see if it's got a scratch on it."

Kennedy began to feel the glow and pride of the successful sleuth-hound leaking out of him. This aspect of the case had not occurred to him. The fact that the sentry had scratched his assailant's right cheek, added to the other indubitable fact that Walton, of Kay's, was even now walking abroad with a scratch on his right cheek, had seemed to him conclusive. He had forgotten that there might be others. Still, it was worth while just to question him. He questioned him at Cove Reservoir next day.

"Hullo, Walton," he said, with a friendly carelessness which would not have deceived a prattling infant, "nasty scratch you've got on your cheek. How did you get it?"

"Perry did it when we were ragging a few days ago," replied Walton, eyeing him distrustfully.

"Oh," said Kennedy.

"Silly fool," said Walton.

"Talking about me?" inquired Kennedy politely.

"No," replied Walton, with the suavity of a Chesterfield, "Perry."

They parted, Kennedy with the idea that Walton was his man still more deeply rooted, Walton with an uncomfortable feeling that Kennedy knew too much, and that, though he had undoubtedly scored off him for the moment, a time (as Jimmy Silver was fond of observing with a satanic laugh) would come, and then—!

He felt that it behoved him to be wary.



One of the things which make life on this planet more or less agreeable is the speed with which alarums, excursions, excitement, and rows generally, blow over. A nine-days' wonder has to be a big business to last out its full time nowadays. As a rule the third day sees the end of it, and the public rushes whooping after some other hare that has been started for its benefit. The guard-tent row, as far as the bulk of camp was concerned, lasted exactly two days; at the end of which period it was generally agreed that all that could be said on the subject had been said, and that it was now a back number. Nobody, except possibly the authorities, wanted to find out the authors of the raid, and even Private Jones had ceased to talk about it—this owing to the unsympathetic attitude of his tent.

"Jones," the corporal had observed, as the ex-sentry's narrative of his misfortunes reached a finish for the third time since reveille that morning, "if you can't manage to switch off that infernal chestnut of yours, I'll make you wash up all day and sit on your head all night."

So Jones had withdrawn his yarn from circulation. Kennedy's interest in detective work waned after his interview with Walton. He was quite sure that Walton had been one of the band, but it was not his business to find out; even had he found out, he would have done nothing. It was more for his own private satisfaction than for the furtherance of justice that he wished to track the offenders down. But he did not look on the affair, as Jimmy Silver did, as rather sporting; he had a tender feeling for the good name of the school, and he felt that it was not likely to make Eckleton popular with the other schools that went to camp if they got the reputation of practical jokers. Practical jokers are seldom popular until they have been dead a hundred years or so.

As for Walton and his colleagues, to complete the list of those who were interested in this matter of the midnight raid, they lay remarkably low after their successful foray. They imagined that Kennedy was spying on their every movement. In which they were quite wrong, for Kennedy was doing nothing of the kind. Camp does not allow a great deal of leisure for the minding of other people's businesses. But this reflection did not occur to Walton, and he regarded Kennedy, whenever chance or his duties brought him into the neighbourhood of that worthy's tent, with a suspicion which increased whenever the latter looked at him.

On the night before camp broke up, a second incident of a sensational kind occurred, which, but for the fact that they never heard of it, would have given the schools a good deal to talk about. It happened that Kennedy was on sentry-go that night. The manner of sentry-go is thus. At seven in the evening the guard falls in, and patrols the fringe of the camp in relays till seven in the morning. A guard consists of a sergeant, a corporal, and ten men. They are on duty for two hours at a time, with intervals of four hours between each spell, in which intervals they sleep the sleep of tired men in the guard-tent, unless, as happened on the occasion previously described, some miscreant takes it upon himself to loose the ropes. The ground to be patrolled by the sentries is divided into three parts, each of which is entrusted to one man.

Kennedy was one of the ten privates, and his first spell of sentry-go began at eleven o'clock.

On this night there was no moon. It was as black as pitch. It is always unpleasant to be on sentry-go on such a night. The mind wanders, in spite of all effort to check it, through a long series of all the ghastly stories one has ever read. There is one in particular of Conan Doyle's about a mummy that came to life and chased people on lonely roads—but enough! However courageous one may be, it is difficult not to speculate on the possible horrors which may spring out on one from the darkness. That feeling that there is somebody—or something—just behind one can only be experienced in all its force by a sentry on an inky night at camp. And the thought that, of all the hundreds there, he and two others are the only ones awake, puts a sort of finishing touch to the unpleasantness of the situation.

Kennedy was not a particularly imaginative youth, but he looked forward with no little eagerness to the time when he should be relieved. It would be a relief in two senses of the word. His beat included that side of the camp which faces the road to Aldershot. Between camp and this road is a ditch and a wood. After he had been on duty for an hour this wood began to suggest a variety of possibilities, all grim. The ditch, too, was not without associations. It was into this that Private Jones had been hurled on a certain memorable occasion. Such a thing was not likely to happen again in the same week, and, even if it did, Kennedy flattered himself that he would have more to say in the matter than Private Jones had had; but nevertheless he kept a careful eye in that direction whenever his beat took him along the ditch.

It was about half-past twelve, and he had entered upon the last section of his two hours, when Kennedy distinctly heard footsteps in the wood. He had heard so many mysterious sounds since his patrol began at eleven o'clock that at first he was inclined to attribute this to imagination. But a crackle of dead branches and the sound of soft breathing convinced him that this was the real thing for once, and that, as a sentry of the Public Schools' Camp on duty, it behoved him to challenge the unknown.

He stopped and waited, peering into the darkness in a futile endeavour to catch a glimpse of his man. But the night was too black for the keenest eye to penetrate it. A slight thud put him on the right track. It showed him two things; first, that the unknown had dropped into the ditch, and, secondly, that he was a camp man returning to his tent after an illegal prowl about the town at lights-out. Nobody save one belonging to the camp would have cause to cross the ditch.

Besides, the man walked warily, as one not ignorant of the danger of sentries. The unknown had crawled out of the ditch now. As luck would have it he had chosen a spot immediately opposite to where Kennedy stood. Now that he was nearer Kennedy could see the vague outline of him.

"Who goes there?" he said.

From an instinctive regard for the other's feelings he did not shout the question in the regulation manner. He knew how he would feel himself if he were out of camp at half-past twelve, and the voice of the sentry were to rip suddenly through the silence fortissimo.

As it was, his question was quite loud enough to electrify the person to whom it was addressed. The unknown started so violently that he nearly leapt into the air. Kennedy was barely two yards from him when he spoke.

The next moment this fact was brought home to him in a very practical manner. The unknown, sighting the sentry, perhaps more clearly against the dim whiteness of the tents than Kennedy could sight him against the dark wood, dashed in with a rapidity which showed that he knew something of the art of boxing. Kennedy dropped his rifle and flung up his arm. He was altogether too late. A sudden blaze of light, and he was on the ground, sick and dizzy, a feeling he had often experienced before in a slighter degree, when sparring in the Eckleton gymnasium with the boxing instructor.

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse