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.
“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: —
“The Lodge,”June 1st.
“Dear old Jan,
“I can never tell you how I rejoice at your tremendous success. Heaps of congratulations! I’m proud of you, so will they all be at home.
“School is awful for dividing old friends unless you’re in the same house or form. You know that’s all it is or ever was! Will you forgive me and come for a walk after second chapel on Sunday? Always your old friend,“Evan.”
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.
Thenceforward the career of Jan was that of the public-school cricketer who is less readily remembered as anything else. One forgets that he had to rush out to early school like other people, and even work harder than most to keep afloat in form. It takes a dip into bound volumes of the Mag. to assure one that “solid work in the bullies” (of the old hybrid game) eventually landed him into the Fifteen, and that he was placed more than once in the Mile and the Steeplechase without ever winning either. Those were not Jan’s strong points, though he took them no less seriously at the time. They kept him fit during the winter, but not through them would his name be alive to-day. Some of his bowling analyses, on the other hand, are as unforgettable as the date of the Conquest; and it is with his Eleven cap pulled down over his eyes, and a grim twinkle under the peak, that the mind’s eye sees him first and almost last.
His second year in the Eleven was nearly – not quite – as successful as his first. He took even more Haileyburian and Reptonian wickets, but experienced batsmen who came down with other teams made sometimes almost light of that clockwork break from the off. The cheery Swiller (who of course owed his nickname to a notorious teetotalism) did not again fail to compile his habitual century for the Old Boys. It was a hotter summer, and the wickets just a trifle faster than those after Jan’s own heart.
Still he had a fine season, and a marvellously happy one. He was now somebody on the side; not a mere upstart bowler of no previous status, rather out of it with the Eleven off the field. The new captain was a very nice fellow in one of the hill houses; he not only gave Jan his choice of ends on all occasions, and an absolute say in the placing of his field, but took his best bowler’s opinion on the others and consulted him on all sorts of points. Jan found himself in a position of high authority without the cares of office, and the day came when he appreciated the distinction.
Stratten and Jellicoe were in the team for their second and last year, and the All Ages cup remained undisturbed on the baize shelf in Heriot’s hall. Crabtree, moreover, was still the captain of a house in which his word was martial law. But he also was leaving; all the bigwigs were, except Jan himself. And after the holidays Heriot had to face a younger house than for some years past, with a certain colourless pr?postor in command till Christmas, and only old Chips Carpenter to succeed him.
Chips was now a pr?postor himself, being actually in the Upper Sixth, thanks to the deliberately modest standard of learning throughout the school. He could write Latin verses against the best of them, however, and he now edited the precious periodical to which he had so long contributed. This gave him his own standing in the school, while a really genial temperament was no longer discounted by the somewhat assertive piety of his earlier youth. And yet it was not only a touch of priggishness that Chips had outgrown; the old enthusiasm was often missing; it was his bad patch of boyhood, and he had struck it rather later than most, and was taking himself to heart under all the jokes and writings of this period.
Chips was still in no eleven at all; he thought he ought to have been in one on the Middle, at any rate, and perhaps he was right. He was a very ardent wicket-keeper, who had incurred a certain flogging in his saintliest days by cutting a detention when engaged to keep wicket on the Lower. In the winter months, with his new Lillywhite usually concealed about his person, he used still to dream of runs from his own unhandy bat; but in his heart he must have known his only place in the game, as student and trumpeter of glories beyond his grasp. Was he not frank about it in his lament for the holiday task he had failed to learn “in the holidays, while there was time?”
“But 'tis no use lamenting. What is done
You couldn’t undo if you tried…
O, if only they’d set us some Wisden,
Or Lillywhite’s Guide!”
Many fellows liked old Chips nowadays, and more took a charitable view of his writings; but few would have picked him out as a born leader of men, and he certainly had no practice in the little dormitory at the top of the house. It was rather by way of being a cripples’ ward, for Carpenter was still debarred from football by his bronchitis, and the small boy Eaton, who was not so young as he looked, but an amusing rogue, had trumped up a heart of the type imputed to Jan Rutter when he fainted in the Spook’s mathematical. Eaton was a shameless “sloper,” but he had heaps of character, and he saved the prospective captain of the house some embarrassment by leaving at Christmas.
Chips had taken to photography as a winter pursuit; and so rare was the hobby in those days that for some time he was the only photographer in the school. Eaton accompanied him on many a foray, and swung the tripod while Chips changed the case containing the camera from hand to hand. They obtained excellent negatives of some of the delightful old churches in the neighbourhood, including the belfry tower at Burston, seen through its leafless beeches, and the alabaster monument in the chancel at Stoke Overton. But by far the most popular success was the speaking picture of Mr. and Mrs. Maltby, on the doorstep of their famous resort in the market-place; to satisfy the vast demand for that masterpiece, the pr?postor was placed in a bit of a quandary, but young Eaton borrowed the negative and did a roaring trade at sixpence a print.
In the meantime Evan Devereux had been elected Captain of Games: a most important officer in the Easter term, the games in question being nothing of the kind, except in an Olympic sense, but just the ordinary athletic sports. The Captain of Games arranged the heats, fixed the times, acted as starter, superintended everything and exercised over all concerned a control that just suited Evan. He proved himself a born master of ceremonies, with a jealous eye for detail, but a little apt to fuss and strut at the last moment on a course cleared of the common herd. He dressed well, and had a pointed way of taking off his hat to the master’s ladies. There were those, of course, who crudely described his mannerisms as mere “roll”; but on the whole it would have been hard to find a keener or more capable Captain of Games.