The Captain, July 1907
an expert examination.
IKE’S Uncle John was a wanderer on the face of the earth. He had been an army surgeon in the days of his youth, and, after an adventurous career, mainly in Afghanistan, had inherited enough money to keep him in comfort for the rest of his life. He had thereupon left the service, and now spent most of his time flitting from one spot of Europe to another. He had been dashing up to Scotland on the day when Mike first became a Wrykinian, but a few weeks in an uncomfortable hotel in Skye and a few days in a comfortable one in Edinburgh had left him with the impression that he had now seen all that there was to be seen in North Britain and might reasonably shift his camp again.
Coming south, he had looked in on Mike’s people for a brief space, and, at the request of Mike’s mother, took the early express to Wrykyn in order to pay a visit of inspection.
His telegram arrived during morning school. Mike went down to the station to meet him after lunch.
Uncle John took command of the situation at once.
“School playing anybody to-day, Mike? I want to see a match.”
“They’re playing Geddington. Only it’s away. There’s a second match on.”
“Why aren’t you—Hullo, I didn’t see. What have you been doing to yourself?”
“Crocked my wrist a bit. It’s nothing much.”
“How did you do that?”
“Slipped while I was changing after cricket.”
“Not much, thanks.”
“Doctor seen it?”
“No. But it’s really nothing. Be all right by Monday.”
“H’m. Somebody ought to look at it. I’ll have a look later on.”
Mike did not appear to relish this prospect.
“It isn’t anything, Uncle John, really. It doesn’t matter a bit.”
“Never mind. It won’t do any harm having somebody examine it who knows a bit about these things. Now, what shall we do. Go on the river?”
“I shouldn’t be able to steer.”
“I could manage about that. Still, I think I should like to see the place first. Your mother’s sure to ask me if you showed me round. It’s like going over the stables when you’re stopping at a country-house. Got to be done, and better do it as soon as possible.”
It is never very interesting playing the part of showman at school. Both Mike and his uncle were inclined to scamp the business. Mike pointed out the various landmarks without much enthusiasm—it is only after one has left a few years that the school buildings take to themselves romance—and Uncle John said, “Ah yes, I see. Very nice,” two or three times in an absent voice; and they passed on to the cricket field, where the second eleven were playing a neighbouring engineering school. It was a glorious day. The sun had never seemed to Mike so bright or the grass so green. It was one of those days when the ball looks like a large vermilion-coloured football as it leaves the bowler’s hand. If ever there was a day when it seemed to Mike that a century would have been a certainty, it was this Saturday. A sudden, bitter realisation of all he had given up swept over him, but he choked the feeling down. The thing was done, and it was no good brooding over the might-have-beens now. Still— And the Geddington ground was supposed to be one of the easiest scoring grounds of all the public schools!
“Well hit, by George!” remarked Uncle John, as Trevor, who had gone in first wicket for the second eleven, swept a half-volley to leg round to the bank where they were sitting.
“That’s Trevor,” said Mike. “Chap in Donaldson’s. The fellow at the other end is Wilkins. He’s in the School House. They look as if they were getting set. By Jove,” he said enviously, “pretty good fun batting on a day like this.”
Uncle John detected the envious note.
“I suppose you would have been playing here but for your wrist?”
“No, I was playing for the first.”
“For the first? For the school! My word, Mike, I didn’t know that. No wonder you’re feeling badly treated. Of course, I remember your father saying you had played once for the school, and done well; but I thought that was only as a substitute. I didn’t know you were a regular member of the team. What bad luck. Will you get another chance?”
“Depends on Bob.”
“Has Bob got your place?”
“If he does well to-day, they’ll probably keep him in.”
“Isn’t there room for both of you?”
“Such a lot of old colours. There are only three vacancies, and Henfrey got one of those a week ago. I expect they’ll give one of the other two to a bowler, Neville-Smith, I should think, if he does well against Geddington. Then there’ll be only the last place left.”
“Rather awkward, that.”
“Still, it’s Bob’s last year. I’ve got plenty of time. But I wish I could get in this year.”
After they had watched the match for an hour, Uncle John’s restless nature asserted itself.
“Suppose we go for a pull on the river now?” he suggested.
They got up.
“Let’s just call at the shop,” said Mike. “There ought to be a telegram from Geddington by this time. I wonder how Bob’s got on.”
Apparently Bob had not had a chance yet of distinguishing himself. The telegram read, “Geddington 151 for four. Lunch.”
“Not bad that,” said Mike. “But I believe they’re weak in bowling.”
They walked down the road towards the school landing-stage.
“The worst of a school,” said Uncle John, as he pulled up-stream with a strong, unskilful stroke, “is that one isn’t allowed to smoke on the grounds. I badly want a pipe. The next piece of shade that you see, sing out, and we’ll put in there.”
“Pull your left,” said Mike. “That willow’s what you want.”
Uncle John looked over his shoulder, caught a crab, recovered himself, and steered the boat in under the shade of the branches.
“Put the rope over that stump. Can you manage with one hand? Here, let me—Done it? Good. A—ah!”
He blew a great cloud of smoke into the air, and sighed contentedly.
“I hope you don’t smoke, Mike?”
“Rotten trick for a boy. When you get to my age you need it. Boys ought to be thinking about keeping themselves fit and being good at games. Which reminds me. Let’s have a look at the wrist.”
A hunted expression came into Mike’s eyes.
“It’s really nothing,” he began, but his uncle had already removed the sling, and was examining the arm with the neat rapidity of one who has been brought up to such things.
To Mike it seemed as if everything in the world was standing still and waiting. He could hear nothing but his own breathing.
His uncle pressed the wrist gingerly once or twice, then gave it a little twist.
“That hurt?” he asked.
“Ye—no,” stammered Mike.
Uncle John looked up sharply. Mike was crimson.
“What’s the game?” inquired Uncle John.
Mike said nothing.
There was a twinkle in his uncle’s eyes.
“May as well tell me. I won’t give you away. Why this wounded warrior business when you’ve no more the matter with you than I have?”
“I only wanted to get out of having to write this morning. There was an exam. on.”
The idea had occurred to him just before he spoke. It had struck him as neat and plausible.
To Uncle John it did not appear in the same light.
“Do you always write with your left hand? And if you had gone with the first eleven to Geddington, wouldn’t that have got you out of your exam.? Try again.”
When in doubt, one may as well tell the truth. Mike told it.
“I know. It wasn’t that, really. Only——”
“Oh, well, dash it all then. Old Bob got me out of an awful row the day before yesterday, and he seemed a bit sick at not playing for the first, so I thought I might as well let him. That’s how it was. Look here, swear you won’t tell him.”
Uncle John was silent. Inwardly he was deciding that the five shillings which he had intended to bestow on Mike on his departure should become a sovereign. (This, it may be mentioned as an interesting biographical fact, was the only occasion in his life on which Mike earned money at the rate of fifteen shillings a half-minute.)
“Swear you won’t tell him. He’d be most frightfully sick if he knew.”
“I won’t tell him.”
Conversation dwindled to vanishing point. Uncle John smoked on in weighty silence, while Mike, staring up at the blue sky through the branches of the willow, let his mind wander to Geddington, where his fate was even now being sealed. How had the school got on? What had Bob done? If he made about twenty, would they give him his cap? Supposing. . . .
A faint snore from Uncle John broke in on his meditations. Then there was a clatter as a briar pipe dropped on to the floor of the boat, and his uncle sat up, gaping.
“Jove, I was nearly asleep. What’s the time? Just on six? Didn’t know it was so late.”
“I ought to be getting back soon, I think. Lock-up’s at half-past.”
“Up with the anchor, then. You can tackle that rope with two hands now, eh? We are not observed. Don’t fall overboard. I’m going to shove her off.”
“There’ll be another telegram, I should think,” said Mike, as they reached the school gates.
“Shall we go and look?”
They walked to the shop.
A second piece of grey paper had been pinned up under the first. Mike pushed his way through the crowd. It was a longer message this time.
It ran as follows:
“Geddington 247 (Burgess six wickets, Neville-Smith four). Wrykyn 270 for nine. (Berridge 86, Marsh 58, Jackson 48).”
Mike worked his way back through the throng, and rejoined his uncle.
“Well?” said Uncle John.
He paused for a moment.
“Bob made forty-eight,” he added carelessly.
Uncle John felt in his pocket, and silently slid a sovereign into Mike’s hand.
It was the only possible reply.
YATT got back late that night, arriving at the dormitory as Mike was going to bed.
“By Jove, I’m done,” he said. “It was simply baking at Geddington. And I came back in a carriage with Neville-Smith and Ellerby, and they ragged the whole time. I wanted to go to sleep, only they wouldn’t let me. Old Smith was awfully bucked because he’d taken four wickets. I should think he’d go off his nut if he took eight ever. He was singing comic songs when he wasn’t trying to put Ellerby under the seat. How’s your wrist?”
“Oh, better, thanks.”
Wyatt began to undress.
“Any colours?” asked Mike after a pause. First eleven colours were generally given in the pavilion after a match or on the journey home.
“No. Only one or two thirds. Jenkins and Clephane, and another chap, can’t remember who. No first, though.”
“What was Bob’s innings like?”
“Not bad. A bit lucky. He ought to have been out before he’d scored, and he was out when he’d made about sixteen, only the umpire didn’t seem to know that it’s l-b-w when you get your leg right in front of the wicket and the ball hits it. Never saw a clearer case in my life. I was in at the other end. Bit rotten for the Geddington chaps. Just lost them the match. Their umpire, too. Bit of luck for Bob. He didn’t give the ghost of a chance after that.”
“I should have thought they’d have given him his colours.”
“Most captains would have done, only Burgess is so keen on fielding that he rather keeps off it.”
“Why, did he field badly?”
“Rottenly. And the man always will choose Billy’s bowling to drop catches off. And Billy would cut his rich uncle from Australia if he kept on dropping them off him. Bob’s fielding’s perfectly sinful. He was pretty bad at the beginning of the season, but now he’s got so nervous that he’s a dozen times worse. He turns a delicate green when he sees a catch coming. He let their best man off twice in one over, off Billy, to-day; and the chap went on and made a hundred odd. Ripping innings bar those two chances. I hear he’s got an average of eighty in school matches this season. Beastly man to bowl to. Knocked me off in half a dozen overs. And, when he does give a couple of easy chances, Bob puts them both on the floor. Billy wouldn’t have given him his cap after the match if he’d made a hundred. Bob’s the sort of man who wouldn’t catch a ball if you handed it to him on a plate, with watercress round it.”
Burgess, reviewing the match that night, as he lay awake in his cubicle, had come to much the same conclusion. He was very fond of Bob, but two missed catches in one over was straining the bonds of human affection too far. There would have been serious trouble between David and Jonathan if either had persisted in dropping catches off the other’s bowling. He writhed in bed as he remembered the second of the two chances which the wretched Bob had refused. The scene was indelibly printed on his mind. Chap had got a late cut which he fancied rather. With great guile he had fed this late cut. Sent down a couple which he put to the boundary. Then fired a third much faster and a bit shorter. Chap had a go at it, just as he had expected: and he felt that life was a good thing after all when the ball just touched the corner of the bat and flew into Bob’s hands. And Bob dropped it!
The memory was too bitter. If he dwelt on it, he felt, he would get insomnia. So he turned to pleasanter reflections: the yorker which had shattered the second-wicket man, and the slow head-ball which had led to a big hitter being caught on the boundary. Soothed by these memories, he fell asleep.
Next morning he found himself in a softened frame of mind. He thought of Bob’s iniquities with sorrow rather than wrath. He felt towards him much as a father feels towards a prodigal son whom there is still a chance of reforming. He overtook Bob on his way to chapel.
Directness was always one of Burgess’s leading qualities.
“Look here, Bob. About your fielding. It’s simply awful.”
Bob was all remorse.
“It’s those beastly slip catches. I can’t time them.”
“That one yesterday was right into your hands. Both of them were.”
“I know. I’m frightfully sorry.”
“Well, but I mean, why can’t you hold them? It’s no good being a good bat—you’re that all right—if you’re going to give away runs in the field.”
“Do you know, I believe I should do better in the deep. I could get time to watch them there. I wish you’d give me a shot in the deep—for the second.”
“Second be blowed! I want your batting in the first. Do you think you’d really do better in the deep?”
“I’m almost certain I should. I’ll practise like mad. Trevor’ll hit me up catches. I hate the slips. I get in the dickens of a funk directly the bowler starts his run now. I know that if a catch does come, I shall miss it. I’m certain the deep would be much better.”
“All right then. Try it.”
The conversation turned to less pressing topics.
In the next two matches, accordingly, Bob figured on the boundary, where he had not much to do except throw the ball back to the bowler, and stop an occasional drive along the carpet. The beauty of fielding in the deep is that no unpleasant surprises can be sprung upon one. There is just that moment or two for collecting one’s thoughts which makes the whole difference. Bob, as he stood regarding the game from afar, found his self-confidence returning slowly, drop by drop.
As for Mike, he played for the second, and hoped for the day.
His opportunity came at last. It will be remembered that on the morning after the Great Picnic the headmaster made an announcement in Hall to the effect that, owing to an outbreak of chicken-pox in the town, all streets except the High Street would be out of bounds. This did not affect the bulk of the school, for most of the shops to which any one ever thought of going were in the High Street. But there were certain inquiring minds who liked to ferret about in odd corners.
Among these was one Leather-Twigg, of Seymour’s, better known in criminal circles as Shoeblossom.
Shoeblossom was a curious mixture of the Energetic Ragger and the Quiet Student. On a Monday evening you would hear a hideous uproar proceeding from Seymour’s junior day-room; and, going down with a swagger-stick to investigate, you would find a tangled heap of squealing humanity on the floor, and at the bottom of the heap, squealing louder than any two others, would be Shoeblossom, his collar burst and blackened and his face apoplectically crimson. On the Tuesday afternoon, strolling in some shady corner of the grounds, you would come upon him lying on his chest, deep in some work of fiction and resentful of interruption. On the Wednesday morning he would be in receipt of four hundred lines from his housemaster for breaking three windows and a gas-globe. Essentially a man of moods, Shoeblossom.
It happened about the date of the Geddington match that he took out from the school library a copy of “The Iron Pirate,” and for the next day or two he wandered about like a lost spirit trying to find a sequestered spot in which to read it. His inability to hit on such a spot was rendered more irritating by the fact that, to judge from the first few chapters (which he had managed to get through during prep. one night under the eye of a short-sighted master), the book was obviously the last word in hot stuff. He tried the junior day-room, but people threw cushions at him. He tried out of doors, and a ball hit from a neighbouring net nearly scalped him. Anything in the nature of concentration became impossible in these circumstances.
Then he recollected that in a quiet backwater off the High Street there was a little confectioner’s shop, where tea might be had at a reasonable sum, and also, what was more important, peace.
He made his way there, and in the dingy back shop, all amongst the dust and bluebottles, settled down to a thoughtful perusal of chapter six.
Upstairs, at the same moment, the doctor was recommending that Master John George, the son of the house, be kept warm and out of draughts and not permitted to scratch himself, however necessary such an action might seem to him. In brief, he was attending J. G. for chicken-pox.
Shoeblossom came away, entering the High Street furtively, lest Authority should see him out of bounds, and returned to the school, where he went about his lawful occasions as if there were no such thing as chicken-pox in the world.
But all the while the microbe was getting in some unostentatious but clever work. A week later Shoeblossom began to feel queer. He had occasional headaches, and found himself oppressed by a queer distaste for food. The professional advice of Dr. Oakes, the school doctor, was called for, and Shoeblossom took up his abode in the Infirmary, where he read Punch, sucked oranges, and thought of Life.
Two days later Barry felt queer. He, too, disappeared from Society.
Chicken-pox is no respecter of persons. The next victim was Marsh, of the first eleven. Marsh, who was top of the school averages. Where were his drives now, his late cuts that were wont to set the pavilion in a roar! Wrapped in a blanket, and looking like the spotted marvel of a travelling circus, he was driven across to the Infirmary in a four-wheeler, and it became incumbent upon Burgess to select a substitute for him.
And so it came about that Mike soared once again into the ranks of the elect, and found his name down in the team to play against the Incogniti.
bob has news to impart.
RYKYN went down badly before the Incogs. It generally happens at least once in a school cricket season that the team collapses hopelessly, for no apparent reason. Some schools do it in nearly every match, but Wrykyn so far had been particularly fortunate this year. They had only been beaten once, and that by a mere twenty odd runs in a hard-fought game. But on this particular day, against a not overwhelmingly strong side, they failed miserably. The weather may have had something to do with it, for rain fell early in the morning, and the school, batting first on the drying wicket, found themselves considerably puzzled by a slow left-hander. Morris and Berridge left with the score still short of ten, and after that the rout began. Bob, going in fourth wicket, made a dozen, and Mike kept his end up, and was not out eleven; but nobody except Wyatt, who hit out at everything and knocked up thirty before he was stumped, did anything to distinguish himself. The total was a hundred and seven, and the Incogniti, batting when the wicket was easier, doubled this.
The general opinion of the school after this match was that either Mike or Bob would have to stand down from the team when it was definitely filled up, for Neville-Smith, by showing up well with the ball against the Incogniti when the others failed with the bat, made it practically certain that he would get one of the two vacancies.
“If I do,” he said to Wyatt, “there will be the biggest bust of modern times at my place. My pater is away for a holiday in Norway, and I’m alone, bar the servants. And I can square them. Will you come?”
“Tea!” said Neville-Smith scornfully.
“Well, what then?”
“Don’t you ever have feeds in the dorms. after lights-out in the houses?”
“Used to when I was a kid. Too old now. Have to look after my digestion. I remember, three years ago, when Wain’s won the footer cup, we got up and fed at about two in the morning. All sorts of luxuries. Sardines on sugar-biscuits. I’ve got the taste in my mouth still. Do you remember Macpherson? Left a couple of years ago. His food ran out, so he spread brown-boot polish on bread, and ate that. Got through a slice, too. Wonderful chap! But what about this thing of yours? What time’s it going to be?”
“Eleven suit you?”
“How about getting out?”
“I’ll do it as quickly as the team did to-day. I can’t say more than that.”
“You were all right.”
“I’m an exceptional sort of chap.”
“What about the Jacksons?”
“It’s going to be a close thing. If Bob’s fielding were to improve suddenly, he would just do it. But young Mike’s all over him as a bat. In a year or two that kid’ll be a marvel. He’s bound to get in next year, of course, so perhaps it would be better if Bob got the place as it’s his last season. Still, one wants the best man, of course.”
Mike avoided Bob as much as possible during this anxious period; and he privately thought it rather tactless of the latter when, meeting him one day outside Donaldson’s, he insisted on his coming in and having some tea.
Mike shuffled uncomfortably as his brother filled the kettle and lit the etna. It required more tact than he had at his disposal to carry off a situation like this.
Bob, being older, was more at his ease. He got tea ready, making desultory conversation the while, as if there were no particular reason why either of them should feel uncomfortable in the other’s presence. When he had finished, he poured Mike out a cup, passed him the bread, and sat down.
“Not seen much of each other lately, Mike, what?”
Mike murmured unintelligibly through a mouthful of bread-and-jam.
“It’s no good pretending it isn’t an awkward situation,” continued Bob, “because it is. Beastly awkward.”
“Awful rot the pater sending us to the same school.”
“Oh, I don’t know. We’ve all been at Wrykyn. Pity to spoil the record. It’s your fault for being such a young Infant Prodigy, and mine for not being able to field like an ordinary human being.”
“You get on much better in the deep.”
“Bit better, yes. Liable at any moment to miss a sitter, though. Not that it matters much really whether I do now.”
“That’s what I wanted to see you about. Has Burgess said anything to you yet?”
“No. Why? What about?”
“Well, I’ve a sort of idea our little race is over. I fancy you’ve won.”
“I’ve not heard a word——”
“I have. I’ll tell you what makes me think the thing’s settled. I was in the pav. just now, in the First room, trying to find a batting-glove I’d mislaid. There was a copy of the Wrykinian lying on the mantelpiece, and I picked it up and started reading it. So there wasn’t any noise to show anybody outside that there was some one in the room. And then I heard Burgess and Spence jawing on the steps. They thought the place was empty, of course. I couldn’t help hearing what they said. The pav.’s like a sounding-board. I heard every word. Spence said, ‘Well, it’s about as difficult a problem as any captain of cricket at Wrykyn has ever had to tackle.’ I had a sort of idea that old Billy liked to boss things all on his own, but apparently he does consult Spence sometimes. After all, he’s cricket master, and that’s what he’s there for. Well, Billy said, ‘I don’t know what to do. What do you think, sir?’ Spence said, ‘Well, I’ll give you my opinion, Burgess, but don’t feel bound to act on it. I’m simply saying what I think.’ ‘Yes, sir?’ said old Bill, doing a big Young Disciple with Wise Master act. ‘I think M.,’ said Spence. ’Decidedly M. He’s a shade better than R. now, and in a year or two, of course, there’ll be no comparison.’ ”
“Oh, rot,” muttered Mike, wiping the sweat off his forehead. This was one of the most harrowing interviews he had ever been through.
“Not at all. Billy agreed with him. ‘That’s just what I think, sir,’ he said. ‘It’s rough on Bob, but still——’ And then they walked down the steps. I waited a bit to give them a good start, and then sheered off myself. And so home.”
Mike looked at the floor, and said nothing.
There was nothing much to be said.
“Well, what I wanted to see you about was this,” resumed Bob. “I don’t propose to kiss you or anything; but, on the other hand, don’t let’s go to the other extreme. I’m not saying that it isn’t a bit of a brick just missing my cap like this, but it would have been just as bad for you if you’d been the one dropped. It’s the fortune of war. I don’t want you to go about feeling that you’ve blighted my life, and so on, and dashing up side-streets to avoid me because you think the sight of you will be painful. As it isn’t me, I’m jolly glad it’s you; and I shall cadge a seat in the pavilion from you when you’re playing for England at the Oval. Congratulate you.”
It was the custom at Wrykyn, when you congratulated a man on getting colours, to shake his hand. They shook hands.
“Thanks, awfully, Bob,” said Mike. And after that there seemed to be nothing much to talk about. So Mike edged out of the room, and tore across to Wain’s.
He was sorry for Bob, but he would not have been human (which he certainly was) if the triumph of having won through at last into the first eleven had not dwarfed commiseration. It had been his one ambition, and now he had achieved it.
The annoying part of the thing was that he had nobody to talk to about it. Until the news was official he could not mention it to the common herd. It wouldn’t do. The only possible confidant was Wyatt. And Wyatt was at Bisley, shooting with the School Eight for the Ashburton. For bull’s-eyes as well as cats came within Wyatt’s range as a marksman. Cricket took up too much of his time for him to be captain of the Eight and the man chosen to shoot for the Spencer, as he would otherwise almost certainly have been; but even though short of practice he was well up in the team.
Until he returned, Mike could tell nobody. And by the time he returned the notice would probably be up in the Senior Block with the other cricket notices.
In this fermenting state Mike went into the house.
The list of the team to play for Wain’s v. Seymour’s on the following Monday was on the board. As he passed it, a few words scrawled in pencil at the bottom caught his eye.
“All the above will turn out for house-fielding at 6.30 to-morrow morning.—W. F.-S.”
“Oh, dash it,” said Mike, “what rot! Why on earth can’t he leave us alone!”
For getting up an hour before his customary time for rising was not among Mike’s favourite pastimes. Still, orders were orders, he felt. It would have to be done.
mike goes to sleep again.
IKE was a stout supporter of the view that sleep in large quantities is good for one. He belonged to the school of thought which holds that a man becomes plain and pasty if deprived of his full spell in bed. He aimed at the peach-bloom complexion.
To be routed out of bed a clear hour before the proper time, even on a summer morning, was not, therefore, a prospect that appealed to him.
When he woke it seemed even less attractive than it had done when he went to sleep. He had banged his head on the pillow six times over-night, and this silent alarm proved effective, as it always does. Reaching out a hand for his watch, he found that it was five minutes past six.
This was to the good. He could manage another quarter of an hour between the sheets. It would only take him ten minutes to wash and get into his flannels.
He took his quarter of an hour, and a little more. He woke from a sort of doze to find that it was twenty-five past.
Man’s inability to get out of bed in the morning is a curious thing. One may reason with oneself clearly and forcibly without the slightest effect. One knows that delay means inconvenience. Perhaps it may spoil one’s whole day. And one also knows that a single resolute heave will do the trick. But logic is of no use. One simply lies there.
Mike thought he would take another minute.
And during that minute there floated into his mind the question, Who was Firby-Smith? That was the point. Who was he, after all?
This started quite a new train of thought. Previously Mike had firmly intended to get up—some time. Now he began to waver.
The more he considered the Gazeka’s insignificance and futility and his own magnificence, the more outrageous did it seem that he should be dragged out of bed to please Firby-Smith’s vapid mind. Here was he, about to receive his first eleven colours on this very day probably, being ordered about, inconvenienced—in short, put upon by a worm who had only just scraped into the third.
Was this right, he asked himself. Was this proper?
And the hands of the watch moved round to twenty to.
What was the matter with his fielding? It was all right. Make the rest of the team fag about, yes. But not a chap who, dash it all, had got his first for fielding!
It was with almost a feeling of self-righteousness that Mike turned over on his side and went to sleep again.
And outside in the cricket-field, the massive mind of the Gazeka was filled with rage, as it was gradually borne in upon him that this was not a question of mere lateness—which, he felt, would be bad enough, for when he said six-thirty he meant six-thirty—but of actual desertion. It was time, he said to himself, that the foot of Authority was set firmly down, and the strong right hand of Justice allowed to put in some energetic work. His comments on the team’s fielding that morning were bitter and sarcastic. His eyes gleamed behind their pince-nez.
The painful interview took place after breakfast. The head of the house despatched his fag in search of Mike, and waited. He paced up and down the room like a hungry lion, adjusting his pince-nez (a thing, by the way, which lions seldom do) and behaving in other respects like a monarch of the desert. One would have felt, looking at him, that Mike, in coming to his den, was doing a deed which would make the achievement of Daniel seem in comparison like the tentative effort of some timid novice.
And certainly Mike was not without qualms as he knocked at the door, and went in in response to the hoarse roar from the other side of it.
Firby-Smith straightened his tie, and glared.
“Young Jackson,” he said, “look here, I want to know what it all means, and jolly quick. You weren’t at house-fielding this morning. Didn’t you see the notice?”
Mike admitted that he had seen the notice.
“Then you frightful kid, what do you mean by it? What?”
Mike hesitated. Awfully embarrassing, this. His real reason for not turning up to house-fielding was that he considered himself above such things and Firby-Smith a toothy weed. Could he give this excuse? He had not his Book of Etiquette by him at the moment, but he rather fancied not. There was no arguing against the fact that the head of the house was a toothy weed: but he felt a firm conviction that it would not be politic to say so.
Happy thought: over-slept himself.
He mentioned this.
“Over-slept yourself! You must jolly well not over-sleep yourself. What do you mean by over-sleeping yourself?”
Very trying this sort of thing.
“What time did you wake up?”
“Six,” said Mike.
It was not according to his complicated, yet intelligible, code of morality to tell lies to save himself. When others were concerned he could suppress the true and suggest the false with a face of brass.
“Why didn’t you get up, then?”
“I went to sleep again.”
“Oh, you went to sleep again, did you? Well, just listen to me. I’ve had my eye on you for some time, and I’ve seen it coming on. You’ve got swelled head, young man. That’s what you’ve got. Frightful swelled head. You think the place belongs to you.”
“I don’t,” said Mike indignantly.
“Yes, you do,” said the Gazeka shrilly. “You think the whole frightful place belongs to you. You go siding about as if you’d bought it. Just because you’ve got your second, you think you can do what you like; turn up or not, as you please. It doesn’t matter whether I’m only in the third and you’re in the first. That’s got nothing to do with it. The point is that you’re one of the house team, and I’m captain of it, so you’ve jolly well got to turn out for fielding with the others when I think it necessary. See?”
Mike said nothing.
“Do—you—see, you frightful kid?”
Mike remained stonily silent. The rather large grain of truth in what Firby-Smith had said had gone home, as the unpleasant truth about ourselves is apt to do; and his feelings were hurt. He was determined not to give in and say that he saw even if the head of the house invoked all the majesty of the prefects’ room to help him, as he had nearly done once before. He set his teeth, and stared at a photograph on the wall.
Firby-Smith’s manner became ominously calm. He produced a swagger-stick from a corner.
“Do you see?” he asked again.
Mike’s jaw set more tightly.
What one really wants here is a row of stars.
Mike was still full of his injuries when Wyatt came back. Wyatt was worn out, but cheerful. The school had finished sixth for the Ashburton, which was an improvement of eight places on their last year’s form, and he himself had scored thirty at the two hundred and twenty-seven at the five hundred totals, which had put him in a very good humour with the world.
“Me ancient skill has not deserted me,” he said, “That’s the cats. The man who can wing a cat by moonlight can put a bullet where he likes on a target. I didn’t hit the bull every time, but that was to give the other fellows a chance. My fatal modesty has always been a hindrance to me in life, and I suppose it always will be. Well, well! And what of the old homestead? Anything happened since I went away? Me old father, is he well? Has the lost will been discovered, or is there a mortgage on the family estates? By Jove, I could do with a stoup of malvoisie. I wonder if the moke’s gone to bed yet. I’ll go down and look. A jug of water drawn from the well in the old courtyard where my ancestors have played as children for centuries back would just about save my life.”
He left the dormitory, and Mike began to brood over his wrongs once more.
Wyatt came back, brandishing a jug of water and a glass.
“Oh, for a beaker full of the warm south, full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene! Have you ever tasted Hippocrene, young Jackson? Rather like ginger-beer, with a dash of raspberry-vinegar. Very heady. Failing that, water will do. A-ah!”
He put down the glass, and surveyed Mike, who had maintained a moody silence throughout this speech.
“What’s your trouble?” he asked. “For pains in the back try Ju-jar. If it’s a broken heart, Zam-buk’s what you want. Who’s been quarrelling with you?”
“It’s only that ass Firby-Smith.”
“Again! I never saw such chaps as you two. Always at it. What was the trouble this time? Call him a grinning ape again? Your passion for the truth’ll be getting you into trouble one of these days.”
“He said I stuck on side.”
“I don’t know.”
“I mean, did he buttonhole you on your way to school, and say, ‘Jackson, a word in your ear. You stick on side.’ Or did he lead up to it in any way? Did he say, ‘Talking of side, you stick it on.’ What had you been doing to him?”
“It was the house-fielding.”
“But you can’t stick on side at house-fielding. I defy any one to. It’s too early in the morning.”
“I didn’t turn up.”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“No, but, look here, really. Did you simply bunk it?”
Wyatt leaned on the end of Mike’s bed, and, having observed its occupant thoughtfully for a moment, proceeded to speak wisdom for the good of his soul.
“I say, I don’t want to jaw—I’m one of those quiet chaps with strong, silent natures; you may have noticed it—but I must put in a well-chosen word at this juncture. Don’t pretend to be dropping off to sleep. Sit up and listen to what your kind old uncle’s got to say to you about manners and deportment. Otherwise, blood as you are at cricket, you’ll have a rotten time here. There are some things you simply can’t do; and one of them is bunking a thing when you’re put down for it. It doesn’t matter who it is puts you down. If he’s captain, you’ve got to obey him. That’s discipline, that ’ere is. The speaker then paused, and took a sip of water from the carafe which stood at his elbow. Cheers from the audience, and a voice ‘Hear! Hear!’ ”
Mike rolled over in bed and glared up at the orator. Most of his face was covered by the water-jug, but his eyes stared fixedly from above it. He winked in a friendly way, and, putting down the jug, drew a deep breath.
“Nothing like this old ’87 water,” he said. “Such body.”
“I like you jawing about discipline,” said Mike morosely.
“And why, my gentle che-ild, should I not talk about discipline?”
“Considering you break out of the house nearly every night.”
“In passing, rather rum when you think that a burglar would get it hot for breaking in, while I get dropped on if I break out. Why should there be one law for the burglar and one for me? But you were saying—just so. I thank you. About my breaking out. When you’re a white-haired old man like me, young Jackson, you’ll see that there are two sorts of discipline at school. One you can break if you feel like taking the risks; the other you mustn’t ever break. I don’t know why, but it isn’t done. Until you learn that, you can never hope to become the Perfect Wrykynian like,” he concluded modestly, “me.”
Mike made no reply. He would have perished rather than admit it, but Wyatt’s words had sunk in. That moment marked a distinct epoch in his career. His feelings were curiously mixed. He was still furious with Firby-Smith, yet at the same time he could not help acknowledging to himself that the latter had had the right on his side. He saw and approved of Wyatt’s point of view, which was the more impressive to him from his knowledge of his friend’s contempt for, or, rather, cheerful disregard of, most forms of law and order. If Wyatt, reckless though he was as regarded written school rules, held so rigid a respect for those that were unwritten, these last must be things which could not be treated lightly. That night, for the first time in his life, Mike went to sleep with a clear idea of what the public school spirit, of which so much is talked and written, really meant.
the team is filled up.
HEN Burgess, at the end of the conversation in the pavilion with Mr. Spence which Bob Jackson had overheard, accompanied the cricket-master across the field to the boarding-houses, he had distinctly made up his mind to give Mike his first eleven colours next day. There was only one more match to be played before the school fixture-list was finished. That was the match with Ripton. Both at cricket and football Ripton was the school that mattered most. Wrykyn did not always win its other school matches; but it generally did. The public schools of England divide themselves naturally into little groups, as far as games are concerned. Harrow, Eton, and Winchester are one group: Westminster and Charterhouse another: Bedford, Tonbridge, Dulwich, Haileybury, and St. Paul’s are a third. In this way, Wrykyn, Ripton, Geddington, and Wilborough formed a group. There was no actual championship competition, but each played each, and by the end of the season it was easy to see which was entitled to first place. This nearly always lay between Ripton and Wrykyn. Sometimes an exceptional Geddington team would sweep the board, or Wrykyn, having beaten Ripton, would go down before Wilborough. But this did not happen often. Usually Wilborough and Geddington were left to scramble for the wooden spoon.
Secretaries of cricket at Ripton and Wrykyn always liked to arrange the date of the match towards the end of the term, so that they might take the field with representative and not experimental teams. By July the weeding-out process had generally finished. Besides which the members of the teams had had time to get into form.
At Wrykyn it was the custom to fill up the team, if possible, before the Ripton match. A player is likely to show better form if he has got his colours than if his fate depends on what he does in that particular match.
Burgess, accordingly, had resolved to fill up the first eleven just a week before Ripton visited Wrykyn. There were two vacancies. One gave him no trouble. Neville-Smith was not a great bowler, but he was steady, and he had done well in the earlier matches. He had fairly earned his place. But the choice between Bob and Mike had kept him awake into the small hours two nights in succession. Finally he had consulted Mr. Spence, and Mr. Spence had voted for Mike.
Burgess was glad the thing was settled. The temptation to allow sentiment to interfere with business might have become too strong if he had waited much longer. He knew that it would be a wrench definitely excluding Bob from the team, and he hated to have to do it. The more he thought of it, the sorrier he was for him. If he could have pleased himself, he would have kept Bob in. But, as the poet has it, “Pleasure is pleasure, and biz is biz, and kep’ in a sepyrit jug.” The first duty of a captain is to have no friends.
From small causes great events do spring. If Burgess had not picked up a particularly interesting novel after breakfast on the morning of Mike’s interview with Firby-Smith in the study, the list would have gone up on the notice-board after prayers. As it was, engrossed in his book, he let the moments go by till the sound of the bell startled him into movement. And then there was only time to gather up his cap, and sprint. The paper on which he had intended to write the list and the pen he had laid out to write it with lay untouched on the table.
And, as it was not his habit to put up notices except during the morning, he postponed the thing. He could write it after tea. After all, there was a week before the match.
When school was over, he went across to the Infirmary to inquire about Marsh. The report was more than favourable. Marsh had better not see any one just yet, in case of accident, but he was certain to be out in time to play against Ripton.
“Doctor Oakes thinks he will be back in school on Tuesday.”
“Banzai!” said Burgess, feeling that life was good. To take the field against Ripton without Marsh would have been to court disaster. Marsh’s fielding alone was worth the money. With him at short slip, Burgess felt safe when he bowled.
The uncomfortable burden of the knowledge that he was about temporarily to sour Bob Jackson’s life ceased for the moment to trouble him. He crooned extracts from musical comedy as he walked towards the nets.
Recollection of Bob’s hard case was brought to him by the sight of that about-to-be-soured sportsman tearing across the ground in the middle distance in an effort to get to a high catch which Trevor had hit up to him. It was a difficult catch, and Burgess waited to see if he would bring it off.
Bob got to it with one hand, and held it. His impetus carried him on almost to where Burgess was standing.
“Well held,” said Burgess.
“Hullo,” said Bob awkwardly. A gruesome thought had flashed across his mind that the captain might think that this gallery-work was an organised advertisement.
“I couldn’t get both hands to it,” he explained.
“You’re hot stuff in the deep.”
“Easy when you’re only practising.”
“I’ve just been to the Infirmary.”
“Oh. How’s Marsh?”
“They wouldn’t let me see him, but it’s all right. He’ll be able to play on Saturday.”
“Good,” said Bob, hoping he had said it as if he meant it. It was decidedly a blow. He was glad for the sake of the school, of course, but one has one’s personal ambitions. To the fact that Mike and not himself was the eleventh cap he had become partially resigned: but he had wanted rather badly to play against Ripton.
Burgess passed on, his mind full of Bob once more. What hard luck it was! There was he, dashing about in the sun to improve his fielding, and all the time the team was filled up. He felt as if he were playing some low trick on a pal.
Then the Jekyll and Hyde business completed itself. He suppressed his personal feelings, and became the cricket captain again.
It was the cricket captain who, towards the end of the evening, came upon Firby-Smith and Mike parting at the conclusion of a conversation. That it had not been a friendly conversation would have been evident to the most casual observer from the manner in which Mike stumped off, swinging his cricket-bag as if it were a weapon of offence. There are many kinds of walk. Mike’s was the walk of the Overwrought Soul.
“What’s up?” inquired Burgess.
“Young Jackson, do you mean? Oh, nothing. I was only telling him that there was going to be house-fielding to-morrow before breakfast.”
“Didn’t he like the idea?”
“He’s jolly well got to like it,” said the Gazeka, as who should say, “This way for Iron Wills.” “The frightful kid cut it this morning. There’ll be worse trouble if he does it again.”
There was, it may be mentioned, not an ounce of malice in the head of Wain’s house. That by telling the captain of cricket that Mike had shirked fielding-practice he might injure the latter’s prospects of a first eleven cap simply did not occur to him. That Burgess would feel, on being told of Mike’s slackness, much as a bishop might feel if he heard that a favourite curate had become a Mahometan or a Mumbo-Jumboist, did not enter his mind. All he considered was that the story of his dealings with Mike showed him, Firby-Smith, in the favourable and dashing character of the fellow-who-will-stand-no-nonsense, a sort of Captain Kettle on dry land, in fact; and so he proceeded to tell it in detail.
Burgess parted with him with the firm conviction that Mike was a young slacker. Keenness in fielding was a fetish with him; and to cut practice struck him as a crime.
He felt that he had been deceived in Mike.
When, therefore, one takes into consideration his private bias in favour of Bob, and adds to it the reaction caused by this sudden unmasking of Mike, it is not surprising that the list Burgess made out that night before he went to bed differed in an important respect from the one he had intended to write before school.
Mike happened to be near the notice-board when he pinned it up. It was only the pleasure of seeing his name down in black-and-white that made him trouble to look at the list. Bob’s news of the day before yesterday had made it clear how that list would run.
The crowd that collected the moment Burgess had walked off carried him right up to the board.
He looked at the paper.
“Hard luck!” said somebody.
Mike scarcely heard him.
He felt physically sick with the shock of the disappointment. For the initial before the name Jackson was R.
There was no possibility of mistake. Since writing was invented, there had never been an R. that looked less like an M. than the one on that list.
Bob had beaten him on the tape.
(To be continued.)