Next day, however, in his new form, which happened to be taken by the master who had the Lodge, there was no more absent mind than Carpenter’s as second school drew to an end. It was after second school that the day’s delinquents were flogged by the Head Master before the eyes of all and sundry who liked to peer through the diamond panes of his class-room windows. Chips had to pass close by on his way out of school; but there were no spectators looking on outside, no old gentleman playing judge or executioner within. In response to an anxious question Chips was informed, by a youth who addressed him as “my good man,” that even old Thrale didn’t start flogging on the second day of a term. Instead of being relieved by the information, he only felt more depressed, having heard that really serious cases were not taken in this public way at all, but privately in the Head Master’s sanctum. Chips went back to his house full of dire forebodings, and shut himself in his study after looking vainly into Jan’s; and there he was still sitting when Jan’s unmistakable slipshod step brought him to his open door.
“Tiger!” he called under his breath; and there was a world of interrogation and anxiety in his voice.
“What’s up now?” inquired Jan, coming in with a sort of rough swagger foreign to his habit, though Chips had observed it once or twice in the course of their confidential relations.
“That’s what I want to know,” said he. “What has happened? What’s going to happen? When have you got to say it by?”
“I’ve said it.”
Chips might have been knocked down with a fledgling’s feather.
“You’ve said your Aytoun’s Lay to Haigh?”
“Without a mistake,” said Jan. “I’ve just finished saying it.”
“But when on earth did you learn it, man?”
“In the holidays.”
And Jan grinned uncouth superiority to the other’s stupefaction.
“Then why the blazes couldn’t you say it yesterday?”
“Because I wasn’t going to! He’d no right to set us a holiday task of his own like that; he’d a right to do what he liked to us here, but not in the holidays, and he knew it jolly well. I wanted to see if he’d go to Jerry. I thought he durs’n’t, but he did, and you bet the old man sent him away with a flea in his ear! He never got on to me all second school, and he looked another chap when he told me that Mr. Thrale said I was to be kept in till I’d learnt what I’d got to learn. It was the least he could say, if you ask me,” remarked Jan, with a complacent grin, “and Haigh didn’t seem any too pleased about it. So then I said I thought I could say it without being kept in, just to make him sit up a bit, and by gum it did!”
“But he heard you, Tiger?”
“He couldn’t refuse, and I got through without a blooming error.”
“But didn’t he ask you what it all meant?”
“No fear! He’d too much sense; but he knows right enough. Instead of him sending me up to the old man, it was me that sent him, and got him the wigging he deserved, you bet!”
By this time Chips was in a fever of enthusiastic excitement, and the conclusion of the matter reduced him to a mood too demonstrative for Jan’s outward liking, however much it might cheer his secret heart.
“Tiger!” was all Chips could cry, as he wrung the Tiger’s paw perforce.
“Don’t be daft,” replied Jan in his own vernacular – under no restraint in Chips’s company. “It’s nobody’s business but yours and mine. It won’t do me any good if it gets all over the place.”
“It won’t do you any harm!” said Chips eagerly.
“It won’t do me any good,” persisted Jan. “Haigh knows; that’s good enough for me, and you bet it’s good enough for Haigh!”
And Chips respected his friend the more because there was no bid for his respect in Jan’s attitude, and he seemed so unconscious of the opportunity for notoriety, or rather of its advantages as they presented themselves to the more sophisticated boy.
“But who put you up to it?” inquired Chips, already vexed with his own docility in the whole matter of the Aytoun’s Lay; it would be some comfort to find that the Tiger had not thought of such a counterstroke himself. And the Tiger was perfectly candid on the point, setting forth his military uncle’s views with much simplicity, and thereafter singing the captain’s praises in a fashion worthy of the enthusiastic Chips himself.
“What’s his initials?” exclaimed that inquirer when the surname had slipped out.
“R. N., I believe,” replied the Tiger. “I know they call him Dick.”
“R. N. it is!” cried Chips, and stood up before a little row of green and red volumes in his shelves. “He’s the cricketer – must be – did he never tell you so?”
“We never talked about cricket,” said Jan, with unfeigned indifference. “But he used to wear cricketing ties, now you remind me. One was green and black, and another was half the colours of the rainbow.”
“That’s the I. Z.,” cried Chips, “and here we have the very man as large as life!” And he read out from the green Lillywhite of a bygone day: “'Capt. R. N. Ambrose (Eton), M.C.C. and I. Zingari. With a little more first-class cricket would have been one of the best bats in England; a rapid scorer with great hitting powers.’ I should think he was! Why, he made a century in the Eton and Harrow; it’s still mentioned when the match comes round. And I’ve got to tell you about your own uncle!”
“It only shows what he is, not to have told me himself,” said Jan, for once infected with the other’s enthusiasm. “I knew he was a captain in the Rifle Brigade, and a jolly fine chap, but that was all.”
“Well, now you should write and tell him how you took his advice.”
“I’ll wait and see how it comes off first,” returned Jan, with native shrewdness. “I’ve had my bit of fun, but old Haigh has the term before him to get on to me more than ever.”
Yet on the whole Jan had a far better term in school than he expected. If, as he felt, he was deservedly deeper than ever in the master’s disesteem, at least the fact was less patent and its expression less blatant than heretofore. Haigh betrayed his old animosity from time to time, but he no longer gave it free rein. He gave up loading Jan with the elaborate abuse of a trenchant tongue, and unnecessarily exposing his ignorance to the form. He started systematically ignoring him instead, treating him as a person who seldom existed, and was not to be taken seriously when he did, all of which suited the boy very well without hurting him in the least. He would have been genuinely unmoved by a more convincing display of contempt on the part of Mr. Haigh; on the other hand, he often caught that gentleman’s eye upon him, and there was something in its wary glance that gave the Tiger quite a tigerish satisfaction. He did not flatter himself that the man was frightened of him, though such was in a sense the case; but he did chuckle over the thought that Haigh would be as glad to be shot of him as he of Haigh.
He had a double chuckle when, by using the brains which God had given him, and thinking for himself against all the canons of schoolboy research, he would occasionally go to the top of the class at a bound, as in the scarcely typical case of possunt quia posse videntur. On these occasions it was not only Haigh’s face that was worth watching as he gave the devil his due; the flushed cheeks of Master Evan, who was quick to acquire but slower to apply, who nevertheless was nearly always top, and hated being displaced, were another sight for sore eyes. And Jan was sore to the soul about Evan Devereux, now that they worked together but seldom spoke, nor ever once went up or down the hill in each other’s company, though that was just when Evan was at his best and noisiest with a gang of his own cronies.
Jan was in fact unreasonably jealous and bitter at heart about Evan, and yet grateful to him too for holding his tongue as he evidently was doing; better never speak to a chap than speak about him, and one day at least the silence was more golden than speech. Haigh was late, and Buggins, who was rather too friendly with Jan now that they were the only two of their house in the form, had described the old Tiger as his “stable companion.” Evan happened to be listening. He saw Rutter look at him. His eyes dropped at once, and Rutter in turn saw the ready flush come to his cheeks. That was enough for simple Jan; everything was forgiven in the heart that so many things conspired to harden. Evan was as sensitive about his secret as he was himself!
One thing, however, was doing Jan a lot of good about this time; that was his own running in the Mile. It was very trying for him to find himself accounted a bit of a runner, and yet just too old for the Under Fifteen events; but he never dreamt of entering for any of the open ones until Sprawson gave out in the quad that he had put that young Tiger down for the Mile and Steeplechase. Jan happened to be crossing the quad at the time; he could not but stop and stare, whereupon Sprawson promised him a tremendous licking if he dared to scratch or run below the form he had shown in last term’s paper-chase.
“Little boys who can run, and don’t want to run, must be made to run,” said Sprawson, with the ferocious geniality for which he was famed and feared.
“But it’s All Ages,” protested Jan aghast. “I shan’t have the ghost of a chance, Sprawson.”
“We’ll see about that, my pippin! It’s a poor entry, and some who’ve entered won’t start, with all this eye-rot about.” The pretty reference was to a mild ophthalmic affection always prevalent in the school this term. “Don’t you get it yourself unless you want something worse, and don’t let me catch you making a beast of yourself with cake and jam every day of your life. Both are forbidden till further orders, and ever after if you don’t get through a heat! You’ve got to go into training, Tiger, and come out for runs with me.”
And Jan said he didn’t mind doing that, and Sprawson said that he didn’t care whether he minded or not, but said it so merrily that Jan didn’t mind that either. And away the two of them would trot in flannels down the Burston road, and then across country over much the same ground as Chips and Jan had covered on their first Sunday walk, and would get back glowing in time for a shower before school or dinner as the case might be. But Jan had to endure a good deal of “hustle” about it when Sprawson was not there, and offers of jam from everybody within reach (except Chips) at breakfast and tea, until Sprawson came over from the Sixth Form table and genially undertook to crucify the next man who tried to nobble his young colt. Sprawson would boast of the good example he himself had set by pawning his precious flask until the Finals. He was certainly first favourite for both the Mile and the Steeplechase, in one or other of which he seemed to have run second or third for years. As these two events for obscure reasons obtained more marks than any others, and as the great Charles Cave was expected to render a characteristic account of himself in the Hundred and the Hurdles, there was a strong chance of adding the Athletic Cup to the others on the green baize shelf in Heriot’s hall. It might have been a certainty if only Jan had been a few weeks younger than he was. As it was he felt a fool when he turned out to run off his first heat in the Mile; his only comfort was that it would be his first and last; but he finished third in spite of his forebodings, and won some applause for the pluck that triumphed over tender years and an ungainly style.
Chips was jubilant, and Joyce vied with Buggins in impious congratulations. The Shocker volunteered venomous advice about not putting on a “roll” which only existed in his own nice mind. Heriot said a good word for the performance in front of the fire after prayers. And Sprawson took the credit with unctuous humour, but had allowed his man jam that night at tea. “Now, you fellows who were so keen on giving him some before; now’s your chance!” said Sprawson. And Chips’s greengage proved the winning brand, though Jane Eyre’s fleshpot was undoubtedly a better offer which it went hard to decline with embarrassed acknowledgments. Neither Sprawson nor anybody else, however, expected his young colt to get a place in the second round. But by this time the field was fairly decimated by “eye-rot,” and again Jan ran third; and third for the third time in the Semi-final; so that Sprawson’s young 'un of fifteen and a bit actually found himself in for the Final with that worthy and four other young men with bass voices and budding moustachios.
Not that Jan looked so much younger than the rest when they stripped and toed the line together. He was beginning to shoot up, and his muscles were prematurely developed by his old life in the stable-yard; indeed, his arms had still a faintly weather-beaten hue, from long years of rolled-up sleeves, in comparison with the others. Again his was the only jersey without the trimming or the star of one or other of the football fifteens. And his ears looked rather more prominent than usual, and much redder in a strong west wind.
The quartette from other houses were Dodds (who fell on Diamond Hill), Greenhill (already running an exalted career in black gaiters), Sproule and Imeson (on whom a milder light has shone less fitfully). Poor Dodds (as you may read in that year’s volume of the Magazine) “directly after the start began to make the pace, showing good promise if he had been able to keep it up. By the end of the first round he had got a good long way ahead. Imeson, however, stuck pretty near him, and the rest followed with an interval of some yards. Dodds, Imeson, and Sproule was the order maintained for the first three rounds. Towards the end of the second round, however, Dodds began to show signs of distress, and he was observed to begin to limp, owing to an old strain in his leg getting worse again with the exertion. Then Imeson, and Sproule, closely followed by Sprawson, began to gain fast on him.” (Observe how long before the born miler creeps into prominence and print!) “At this point the race began to get very exciting, intense interest being manifested when, about the middle of the fourth round, Sproule and Imeson, who had gradually been lessening the distance between themselves and Dodds, now passed him; Sprawson too was coming up by degrees, and had evidently been reserving his pace for the end, having passed Dodds, he made up the ground between himself and Sproule, and passing him before the last corner, got abreast of Imeson. Both of them had a splendid spurt left, especially Sprawson, who had gained a great deal in the last half round, and now passed Imeson, breaking the tape four or five yards ahead of him. Sproule was a good third, closely followed by Rutter, who had run very pluckily and had a gallant wind.”
Italics are surely excused by the extreme youth of him whom they would celebrate after all these years. They do not appear in the original account; let us requite the past writer where we can. He is not known to have followed the literary calling, but his early fondness for a “round,” in preference to the usual “lap,” suggests a quartogenarian whom the mere scribe would not willingly offend.
There are some things that he leaves out perforce. There is no mention of Jan’s unlovely, dogged, flat-footed style, of which Sprawson himself could not cure his young 'un, while the extreme brilliance of his ears at the finish was naturally immune from comment. Posterity has not been vouchsafed a picture of the yelling, chaffing horde of schoolboys; but posterity can see the same light-hearted crowd to-morrow, only in collars not invented in those days, and straw hats in place of the little black caps with the red creased badges. The very lists are twice their ancient size, and the young knights no longer enter them in cricket-trousers tucked into their socks as in simpler times. It may be that preliminary heats do not spread over as many weeks as they did, that it was necessary to make the most of them in the days before boxing and hockey. But it is good to think that one custom is still kept up, at all events in the house that once was Heriot’s. When a boy has got his colours for cricket or football, or gained marks for his house in athletics, that night at tea the captain of the house says “Well played,” or “Well run, So-and-So!” And over sixty sounding palms clap that hero loud and long.
On the night of the Mile it was old Mother Sprawson, who looked round to the long table in the middle of the uproar in his honour, and himself shouted something that very few could hear. But Chips always swore that it was “Well run, Tiger!” And although there were no marks for fourth place, it is certain that for the moment the row redoubled.
Next day was a Saint’s Day, which you had to yourself in the good old times from chapel in the early forenoon till private work after tea. Jan had just come out of chapel, and was blinking in the bright spring sunlight, when of a sudden his blood throbbed more than the Mile had made it. Evan Devereux had broken away from some boon companions, and was gaily smiling in Jan’s path.
“I say, I do congratulate you on yesterday! Everybody’s talking about it. I meant to speak to you before. That’s the worst of being in different houses; we never see anything of each other, even now we’re in the same form.”
The boy is an artless animal; here were two, and the second simpleton outshining the first in beams of pure good-will.
“That can’t be helped,” said Jan, with intentionally reassuring cordiality, so that Master Evan should not think he was, or possibly could have been, offended for a single instant.
“Still, I don’t see why we shouldn’t help it for once,” responded Evan, looking the other rather frankly up and down. “There’s nothing on this morning, except the final of the School Fives, is there? Why shouldn’t we go for a stroll together?”
Darkness descended upon beaming Jan like funeral pall on festal board. “I – I – I’d promised another chap,” he almost groaned, with equal loyalty and reluctance.
“What other chap?”
Was it contempt in Evan’s tone, or merely disappointment?
“Carpenter in our house.”
“Chips Carpenter! I know him well; we were at the same old school before this. I never see enough of him either. Let’s all go together.”
But Jan was not through his difficulty yet. “We were going to the haunted house,” he explained in a lower key. “It’s an old arrangement.”
“The haunted house!” exclaimed Evan in a half-tone between approval and disapproval. “I never heard of one here.”
“It’s a couple of miles away. They only say it’s haunted. We thought we’d have a look and see.”
“But is it in bounds?” inquired Evan, with some anxiety.
“I should hope so,” replied Jan, unscrupulously. “But here’s Chips; you ask him.”
Devereux, however, despite his law-abiding instincts, was not the one to draw back when two were for going on. He was an excitable boy with a fund of high spirits, but not an infinity; they ran out sometimes when least expected. This morning, however, he was at his best, and incomparably better company than either of his companions. Jan was shy and awkward, though his soul sang with pride and pleasure. But Chips the articulate, Chips the loquacious, Chips the irrepressible in congenial company, had least of all to say, except in the bitterness of his own heart against the boy who had usurped his place.
“He’s hardly spoken to either of us,” Chips was saying to himself, “since the very beginning of our first term; and I should like to have seen him now, if the Tiger hadn’t finished fourth in the Mile!”
The worst of the enthusiastic temperament is that it lends itself to cynicism almost as readily, and vice versa as in Jan’s case now. Jan also had felt often very bitter about Evan, if not exactly against him, yet here he was basking in the boy’s first tardy and almost mercenary smile. But Jan’s case was peculiar, as we know; and everything nice had come together, filling his empty cup to overflowing. He might despise public-school traditions as much as he pretended for Chips’s benefit, but he was too honest to affect indifference to his little succ?s d’estime of the day before. He knew it was not little for his age. He would have confessed it some consolation for being at school against his will – but it was not against his will that he was walking with Master Evan on equal terms this fine spring morning. He had always seen that the making or the marring of his school life lay in Evan’s power. It had not been marred as it might have been by a cruel or a thoughtless tongue; it might still be made by kind words and even an occasional show of equality by one whom Jan never treated as an equal in his thoughts. He was nervous as they trod the hilly roads, but he was intensely happy. Spring was in the bold blue sky, and in the hedgerows faintly sprayed with green – less faintly if you looked at them aslant – and in Jan’s heart too. Spring birds were singing, and Evan bubbling like a brook with laughter and talk of home and the holidays that Jan knew all about; yet never a word to let poor Chips into the secret of their old relations, or even to set him wondering. Any indiscretion of that sort was by way of falling from Jan himself.