Fathers of Men
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Heriot, moreover, was delighted to see a colleague obtain precisely that hold over Jan which a rare delicacy had rendered difficult in his own case. There was no flaw of jealousy or narrowness in Robert Heriot. He was a staunch champion of the much younger man, whose methods and temperament scarcely commended themselves to such hardened schoolmasters as Mr. Haigh and the notorious but insensible Spook. But then Heriot himself was having a very good term. His house was indeed in order under the incomparable Crabtree, nor was Rutter the only fellow in it playing for the Eleven. Stratten had got in for wicket-keeping, and Jellicoe was almost certain of his colours. The trio provided a bit of the best of everything for the house eleven; it was already carrying all before it in the All Ages competition; and Haigh had not spoken to Heriot for two whole days after the hill house went down before “the most obstinate blockhead that ever cumbered my hall.”
Jan enjoyed that match; but it must be confessed that he showed far less enjoyment of all his triumphs than did Chips Carpenter on his behalf. Chips Carpenter, not content with singing his praises in print, was now prepared to talk about his friend by the hour together, and became so vociferous during the match in question as to have it straight from Mr. Haigh that he was “behaving like a private-school cad.” His own house-master, on the other hand, had never thought so much of him; he knew what the mere enthusiast would have given to be a practical exponent of the game he had to talk and write about instead.
And Heriot liked Jan no less for sticking to his first friend as he did, and would have given something to have overheard one of the Sunday evening chats which the pair still had by weekly permission in Chips’s study, because it was the only one of the two fit to sit in. Jan had not grown less indifferent to his immediate surroundings; he had still no soul for plush or Oxford frames; not only had the grease-spots multiplied on the green table-cloth foisted upon him by Shockley, but the papers on the floor were transparent with blots of oil from his bat. Carpenter, on the contrary, had made a miniature museum of his tiny den, and his lucubrations were promoted by the wise glass eyes of a moulting owl, purchased as a relic at Charles Cave’s auction.
“I hope you’re keeping the scores of all your matches,” said he one night. “You ought to stick ’em in a book; if you won’t I’ll do it for you.”
“What’s the good?” inquired Jan, with the genial indolence of an athlete on his day off.
“Good? Well, for one thing, it’ll be jolly interesting for your kids some day.”
Chips had not smiled, but Jan grinned from ear to ear.
“Steady on! It’s like you to look a hundred years ahead.”
“Well, but surely your people would take an interest in them?”
Chips knew it was a sore subject. He knew more about it than he ever intended to betray; but he had committed his blunder, and it would have made bad worse to try to retrieve it by a suspicious silence or an incontinent change of topic.Besides, a part of his knowledge came from Jan’s own deliverances on the sort of time he had in Norfolk.
“But surely they’re jolly proud of your being in the Eleven?”
“My uncle might be. But he’s in India.”
“And I suppose the old people don’t know what it means?”
“They might. I haven’t told them, if you want to know.”
Chips looked as though he could hardly believe his ears. Comment was impossible now; he shifted his ground to the sporting personal interest of such records as he would have treasured in Jan’s place.
“You’ll bowl for the Gentlemen before you’ve done,” said Chips, “and then you’ll be sorry you haven’t got the first chapter in black and white. You should see the book A. G. Swallow keeps! I saw it once, when he came to stay at my private school. He’s even got his Leave to be in the Eleven, signed by Jerry; but upon my Sam if I were you I’d have that in a frame!”
It was a characteristic enactment that nobody could obtain his Eleven or Fifteen colours without a permit signed and countersigned by House Master and Form Master, and finally endorsed by Mr. Thrale himself, whose autograph was seldom added without a cordial word of congratulation.
“I believe I have got that,” said Jan, “somewhere or other.”
And Chips eventually discovered it among the Greek and Latin litter on the floor.
“What a chap you are!” he cried. “I’m going to keep this for you until one or other of us leaves, Tiger. You’re – I won’t say you’re not fit to be in the Eleven – nobody was ever more so – but I’m blowed if you deserve to own a precious document like this!”
Yet there was another missive, and souvenir of his success, which Jan had already under lock and key, except when he took it out to read once more. Chips never saw or heard of this one; but he would have recognised the fluent writing at a glance, and Jan knew what sort of glance it would have been.
This was the little note, word for word: —
Chips knew nothing until the Sunday, when he said he supposed Jan was coming out after second chapel as usual, and Jan answered very off-hand that he was awfully sorry he was engaged. “One of the Eleven, I suppose?” says Chips, not in the least disposed to grudge him to them. Then Jan told the truth aggressively, and Chips made a tactless comment, whereupon Jan told him he could get somebody else to sit in his study that night. It was the first break in an arrangement which had lasted since their first term. Jan was sorry, and not only because it was so open to misconstruction; he was man enough to go in after all as though nothing had happened. And silly old Chips nearly wept with delight. But nothing was said about the afternoon walk and talk, which Jan had enjoyed more than any since the affair of the haunted house.
It was just as well that Carpenter had been left out of it this time. Two is not only company, but to drag in a third is to invite the critics, and Chips would not have found Evan Devereux improved. Indeed he saw quite enough of Devereux in school to have a strong opinion as to that already; but they never fraternised in the least, and it is in his intimate moments that a boy is at his best or worst.
Evan was at once as intimate with Jan as though they had been at different schools for the last year and here was another reunion of which they must make the most. He took Jan’s arm outside the chapel, and off they went together like old inseparables. Evan seemed a good deal more than a year older; his voice had settled in a fine rich key; his reddish hair was something crisper and perhaps less red. But he was still short for his age, and by way of acquiring the cock-sparrow strut of some short men. His conversation strutted deliciously. It would have made Carpenter roar – afterwards – but grind his teeth at the time. Of course it was cricket conversation, but Evan soon turned it from Jan’s department of the game. Jan followed him in all humility. Evan had been a bit of a batsman all his life. True, in old days the stable lad had usually been able to bowl him out at will, but he had always wished that he could bat as well himself. He said so now, and Evan, who was going to get into the third eleven with luck, was full of sympathy with the best bowler in the school.
“It must be beastly always going in last,” said Evan. “I expect you’re jolly glad when you don’t get a ball. But you don’t have to walk back alone – that’s one thing!”
“I’m always afraid I may have to go in when a few are wanted to win the match, and some good bat well set at the other end. That’s the only thing I should mind,” said Jan.
“You remember the Pinchington ground?” said Evan abruptly, as though he had not been listening.
“I do that!” cried Jan, and Evan looked round at him. As small boys they had played at least one match together on the ground in question; and Jan still wondered what he would not have given to be in flannels then like Master Evan, instead of in his Sunday shirt and trousers; but Evan was thinking that the school bowler had spoken exactly like the stable lad.
“I got up a match there,” he continued, “at the end of last holidays, and I’m going to get up two or three this August. It’s an awful hustle! We play the Pinchington Juniors – awful chaps – but so are some of mine. My best bowler’s learning to drive a hearse. We’ve a new under-gardener who can hit like smoke. I’d have got a lot myself if it had been a decent wicket, but I mean to have one next holiday.”
“Does old Crutchy still bowl?” asked Jan, grinning allusively.
“Rather! Hobbles up to the wicket, clumps down his crutch and slings ’em in like a demon. He would be jam on a decent pitch! I was going to say, I got 48 one day last summer holidays. It wasn’t against the Juniors – it was a boys’ match at Woodyatt Hall – but I did give 'm stick!”
“Well done!” said Jan, quite impressed. “I never made anything like that in my life. You’re playing for your house, aren’t you?”
“Rather! I should hope so. I got 19 not out the other day against the United – including two fours to leg off Whitfield major.”
And so forth with copious details. Whitfield major was the hard hitter of the Eleven, and as bad a fast bowler as ever took an occasional wicket. Jan, who always preferred doing a thing to talking about it, and who wanted to know a lot of things that he did not like to ask, made sundry attempts to change the conversation. He asked after the horses, and was both sorry and embarrassed to gather that the stable had been reduced. He tried Evan’s friends, the Miss Christies, as a safer topic; he had always admired them himself, at the tremendous distance of old days; but this time he called them “the Christies,” and it was Evan who perhaps inadvertently supplied the “Miss” in answering.
No; cricket was the only talk. And as they wandered back towards the thin church spire with the golden cock atop, looking rather like an inverted note of exclamation on a sheet of pale blue paper, it was made more and more plain to Jan that he was not to regard himself as the only cricketer. But he had no desire to do so, and nothing could have been heartier than his attitude on the point implied.
“You’ll get your colours next year, Evan, and then we’ll be in the same game every day of our lives!”
“I have my hopes, I must say; but it’s not so easy to get in as a bat.”
“No; you may get a trial and not come off, but a bowler’s bound to if he’s any good. Anyhow you’re in a jolly strong house, and that’s always a help.”
“We ought to be in the final this year,” said Evan, thoughtfully.
“And so ought we,” said Jan.
They were both right; and the last match of the term on the Upper was the decisive tussle between their two houses. It was also Evan’s first appearance in the very middle of that august stage, and a few days before the event he told Jan that his people were coming down to see it. Jan could not conceal his nervousness at the prospect. But it left him more than ever determined that Heriot’s should have the cup. He had some flannels specially done up at the last moment, and his hair cut the day before the match.
But he pulled his cap down further than ever when he took the ball, and it gashed his back hair the more conspicuously to the scalp. In one word, and in spite of his spotless flannels, he looked dreadfully like the rather palpable “pro.” of those days, and his bowling only fostered the suggestion. There was a regularity about the short quick run, an amount of character in the twiddling fore-arm action, a precision of length and a flick off the pitch that set a professional stamp upon his least deadly delivery. Above all there was that naturally unnatural break which Jan only lost when he began to think about it, or when the ground was a great deal harder than he was fortunate enough to find it in the final house-match.
It was just the least bit dead that day – a heart-breaking wicket for most bowlers – but one that might have been specially prepared for Jan. He had the mysterious power of making his own pace off such a pitch, and the fact that the ball only rose stump-high simply enabled him to bowl bailer after bailer, one and all with that uncanny turn from the off. Variety was lacking; a first-class batsman would have taken the measure of the attack in about an over; but there was scarcely the makings of one such in the Lodge team, and great was the fall of that strong house. Statistics would be a shame. Suffice it that Heriot’s lost the toss, but won a low-scoring match by an innings in the course of the afternoon. Jan had fifteen wickets in all, including Evan’s twice over. The first time he was assisted by a snap-catch in the slips, and Evan’s nought might fairly be accounted hard lines. But in the second innings it was a complex moment for Jan when Evan strutted in with all the air of a saviour of situations. Jan did not want him to fail again, and yet he did because Evan’s people were looking on! He felt mean and yet exalted as he led off with a trimmer, and the leg-bail hit Stratten in the face.
Then Jan showed want of tact.
“I’m awfully sorry!” he stammered out, but Evan passed him in a flame, without look or sign of having heard.
Mr. Devereux, however, could afford to treat the whole affair differently. And he did.
He was a fine-looking man of the florid type, with a light grey bowler, a flower in his coat, and a boisterous self-confidence, which made him almost too conspicuous on the unequal field. Mr. Devereux was far from grudging Jan his great success; on the contrary, he seemed only too inclined to transfer his paternal pride to his old coachman’s son, and in reality was sorely tempted to boast of him in that relationship. Some saving sense of fitness, abetted by an early hint (but nothing more) from Heriot, sealed his itching lips; but in talking to the lad himself, Mr. Devereux naturally saw no necessity for restraint.
“I remember when you used to bowl to my son in front of your father’s – ah – in front of those cottages of mine – with a solid india-rubber ball! We never thought of all this then, did we? But I congratulate you, my lad, and very glad I am to have the opportunity.”
“Thank you very much, sir,” said Jan, in a grateful glow from head to heel.
“I’ll tell them all about you down there; and some day you must come and stay with us, as a guest, you know, and play a match of two for Evan and his friends at Pinchington. You’ll be one too many for the village lads. Quite a hero, you’ll find yourself.”
Jan was not so sure what to say to that; and he could only be as fervid as before when Mr. Devereux slipped a sovereign into his hand, though it was the first that he had received all at once in all his schooldays.