“But what fellows in the school would have anything to do with a creature like that?”
“I don’t know,” said Jan. “We’re not all nobility and gentry; there’s some might get him to do some dirty work or other for them. It might be a bet, or it might be a bit of poaching, for all you know.”
“That doesn’t sound like a pr?postor,” said Chips, speaking up for the Upper Sixth like a man after old Thrale’s heart.
“You never know,” said Jan.
The discussion was not prolonged. It was interrupted, first by a rising duet of invisible steps, and then by the apparition of Evan Devereux and his friend Sandham hurrying up the hill with glistening faces.
“Talk of the nobility and gentry!” said Chips, when the pair had passed with a greeting too curt to invite a stoppage. But Jan’s chance phrase was not the only coincidence. The encounter had occurred at the very corner where the same four fellows had met by similar accident on the last Sunday of last term. Moreover Evan, like Chips, was wearing the pr?postor’s Sunday hat, while Sandham and Jan were in their ordinary school caps.
Founder’s Day was mercifully fine. A hot sun lit the usual scene outside the colonnade, where the Old Boys assembled before the special service with which the day began, and greeted each other to the merry measure of the chapel bells. Most of the hardy annual faces were early on the spot, with here and there a bronzed one not to be seen every year, but a good sprinkling as smooth as the other day when they left the school. These were the men of fashion, coming down at last in any clothes they liked; among them Bruce, last year’s captain, and Stratten his wicket-keeper, who was also a friend of Jan’s.
Under the straw hats with the famous ribbons were Swallow and Wilman, who never looked a day older, and the great Charles Cave who did. It was his first appearance as an Old Boy, and perhaps only due to the fact that his young brother was playing for the school. Charles Cave wore a Zingari ribbon and a Quidnunc tie, but there was every hope of seeing the Cambridge sash round his lithe waist later. His tawny hair seemed to have lost a little of its lustre, and he looked down his aristocratic nose at oral reports of the Eleven and of the captain’s bowling. But fancy that young Rutter being in at all, let alone captain! Fine bowler his first year? So were lots of them, but how many lasted? It was the old story, and Charles Cave looked the Methusaleh of Cricket as he shook that handsome head of his.
But the captain’s bowling was not the worst; they did say his actual captaincy was just as bad, and that he was frightfully “barred” by the team. Of course he never had been quite the man for the job, whatever young Stratten chose to say. Stratten would stick up for anybody, especially of his own house; he would soon see for himself. And what about these measles? A regular outbreak, apparently, within the last week; fresh cases every day; among others, the best bat in the school! That young Sandham, no less.
Evan Devereux, always a musical member of a very musical school, sat in the choir in full view of the young men of all ages. But he did not look twice at them; he might not have known that they were there. Yet it was not the obviously assumed indifference of one only too conscious that they were there, and who they all were, and which of them were going to play in the match. Evan might have felt that he ought to have been playing against them, that only a brute with a spite against him would have left him out; but he did not look as though he were thinking of that now. He did not look bitter or contemptuous; he did look worried and distrait. Any one, sufficiently interested in his flushed face and sharp yet sensitive features, might have observed that he seldom turned over a leaf, or remembered to open his compressed mouth; from it alone they might have seen that he was miserable, but they could not possibly have guessed why.
Neither did Jan when he chased Evan to his study immediately after chapel.
“It’s all right, Evan! You’ve got to play, if you don’t mind!”
“Who says so?” cried Evan, swinging round.
Of course it was not his old study, but it was just as dark inside, like all the Lodge studies leading straight out into the quad; and Jan very naturally misconstrued the angry tone, missing altogether its note of alarm.
“I do, of course. I was awfully sorry ever to leave you out, but what else was I to do? Thank goodness you’ve got your chance again, and I only hope you’ll make a century!”
Jan was keen to the point of fervour; no ill-will of any sort or kind, not even the reflex resentment of an unpopular character, seemed to survive in his mind. His delight on his friend’s behalf seemed almost to have restored his confidence in himself.
“Then I’ll see if I can’t bowl a bit,” he added, “and between us we’ll make Charles Cave & Co. sit up!”
“I – I don’t think I’m awfully keen on playing, thank you,” said Evan, in a wavering voice of would-be stiffness.
“I’m not, really, thanks all the same.”
“But you can’t refuse to play for the school, just because I simply was obliged – ”
“It isn’t that!” snapped Evan from his heart. It was too late to recall it. He did not try. He stood for some time without adding a syllable, and then – “I thought I wasn’t even twelfth man?” he sneered.
“Well, as a matter of fact – ”
Jan had not the heart to state the fact outright.
“I thought Norgate had got Sandham’s place?”
“Well, so he had. I couldn’t help it, Evan! I really couldn’t. But now Norgate has got measles, too, and you’ve simply got to come in instead. You will, Evan! Of course you will; and I’ll bowl twice as well for having you on the side. I simply hated leaving you out. But there’s life in the old dog yet, and I’ll let ’em know it, and so will you!”
He penetrated deeper into the dusky den; his hand flew out spasmodically. There was not another living being to whom he would have made so demonstrative an advance; but he had just described himself more aptly than he knew. Evan always awakened the faithful old hound in Jan, as Jerry Thrale had stirred the lion in him, Haigh the mule, and sane Bob Heriot the mere man. So we all hit each other in different places. But it was only Evan who had found Jan’s softest spot, and therefore only Evan who could hurt him as he did without delay.
“Oh, all right. I’ll play. Anything to oblige, I’m sure! But there’s nothing to shake hands about, is there?”
So history repeated and exaggerated itself. But it was a long time before Jan thought of that. And then he was not angry with himself, as he had been four years before; he was far too hurt to be angry with anybody at all. And in that old dog, for one, there was very little life that day.
He went through the preliminary forms of office, which generally caused him visible embarrassment, with a casual unconcern even less to be admired; but it was almost the fact that Jan only realised he had lost the toss when he found himself as mechanically leading his men into the field. He had been thinking of Evan all that time, but now he took himself in hand, set his field and opened the bowling himself in a fit of desperation. It was no good; he had lost the art. That fatal new ball of his was an expensive present to such batsmen as Cave and Wilman; and the soft green wicket was still too slow for the one that came with his arm; they could step back to it, and place it for a single every time. After three overs Jan took himself off, and watched the rest of the innings from various positions in the field.
It lasted well into the afternoon, when the pitch became difficult and one of the change bowlers took advantage of it, subsequently receiving his colours for a very creditable performance. It was the younger Cave, and he had secured the last five wickets for under thirty runs, apart from a couple in the morning. His gifted brother had taken just enough trouble to contribute an elegant 29 out of 47 for the first wicket; the celebrated Swallow had batted up to his great reputation for three-quarters of an hour; and Swiller Wilman, who played serious cricket with a misleading chuckle, would certainly have achieved his usual century but for the collapse of the Old Boys’ rearguard. He carried his bat through the innings for 83 out of 212, but was good enough to express indebtedness to Jan, to whom he had been delightful all day.
“If you’d gone on again after lunch,” said Wilman, “I believe you’d have made much shorter work of us. I know I was jolly glad you didn’t – but you shouldn’t take a bad streak too seriously, Rutter. It’ll all come back before you know where you are.”
Jan shook a hopeless head, but he was grateful for the other’s friendliness. It had made three or four hours in the field pass quicker than in previous matches; it had even affected the manner of the rest of the Eleven towards him – or Jan thought it had – because the Swiller was undoubtedly the most popular personality, man or boy, upon the ground. Jan was none the less thankful to write out the order of going in and then to retire into a corner of the pavilion for the rest of the afternoon.
That, however, was not ordained by the Fates who had turned a slow wicket into a sticky one, after robbing the school of its best batsman. Two wickets were down before double figures appeared on the board, and four for under 50. Then came something of a stand, in which the younger Cave, who had his share of the family insolence, seized the opportunity of treating his big brother’s bowling with ostentatious disrespect. It was not, however, Charles Cave who had been taking the wickets, though his graceful action and his excellent length had been admired as much as ever. It was A. G. Swallow, the finest bowler the school etc. – until he became her most brilliant bat. The wicket was just adapted for a taste of his earlier quality; for over an hour he had the boys at his mercy, and perhaps might have done even greater execution than he did in that time. Then, however, a passing shower made matters easier; and when Jan went in, seventh wicket down, there was just a chance of saving the follow-on, with 91 on the board and half-an-hour to go. Somehow he managed to survive that half-hour, and was not out 20 at close of play, when the score was 128 with one more wicket to fall.
At the Conversazione in the evening, he found that he still had a certain number of friends, who not only made far too much of his little innings, but still more of his election to the Pilgrims during the day. The Pilgrims C.C. was the famous and exclusive Old Boys’ club for which few indeed were chosen out of each year’s Eleven; this year the honour was reserved for Jan and the absent Sandham; and with his new colours, worn as all good Pilgrims wear them on these occasions, in a transverse band between the evening shirt and waistcoat, the fine awkward fellow was a salient object of congratulations. Wilman was as pointedly nice as he had been to Jan in the field, after hearing in the morning of his unpopularity. Stratten had never been anything else to anybody in his life, but he could not have been nicer about this if he had been a Pilgrim himself instead of feeling rather sore that he was not one. A. G. Swallow affected to see another good bowler degenerating into a batsman in accordance with his own bad example. And the other old choices of the present team very properly disguised their disaffection for the nonce.
Only Evan Devereux, who again had failed to get into double figures, said nothing at all; but he seemed so lost without Sandham, and looked so wretched when he was not laughing rather loud, that Jan was not at first altogether surprised at what the next morning brought forth.
It was in Jan’s study, now of course one of the large ones up the steps at the end of the passage. Chips was in there, jawing away about the match, and the prospect of a wicket after Jan’s own heart at last. Jan sat under him with the tolerant twinkle which was quite enough to encourage Chips to go on and on. It was tolerance tinged with real affection, especially of late months; and never had captain of a house a more invaluable ally. If Chips raised the voice of command, it was the thews and sinews in the next study that presented themselves to the insubordinate mind as an argument against revolt. And old Chips was man enough not to trade on this, and yet to recognise in his heart the true source of nearly all the power that he contrived to wield. And the house as a whole was in satisfactory case, because the two big fellows were such friends.
Yet Jan seldom dropped into Chips’s study, and never dragged him out for walks, but preferred to go alone unless Chips took the initiative. And this was his delicacy, not a cricketer’s superiority; he was really afraid of seeming to fall back on old Chips as the second string to Evan that he really was; for, of course, it was just in these days that Evan had taken up with Sandham, after having honoured Jan off and on since his first year in the Eleven. And yet Sandham had only to vanish to the Sanatorium, for Evan to come round to Jan’s study directly after breakfast, this second morning of the Old Boys’ Match!
Chips retired with speaking spectacles. They flashed out plainly that Evan had no shame; but the funny thing was that Evan did for once look very much ashamed of himself, as he shut the door with a mumbled apology, and so turned awkwardly to Jan. He had reddened characteristically, and his words ran together in a laboured undertone that betrayed both effort and precaution.
“I say, Jan, do you think there’s any chance of our getting them out again this morning?”
“This morning!” Jan grinned. “Why, they’ve got to get us out first, Evan. And they may make us follow on.”
“You’ll save that, won’t you?”
“I hope so, but you never know. We want other five runs. Suppose we get them, it’d be a job to run through a side like that by tea-time, let alone lunch.”
“You did it two years ago.”
“Well, that’s not now. But what’s the hurry, Evan, if we can save the match?”
“Oh, nothing much; only I’m afraid I shan’t be able to field after lunch.”
Evan had floundered to his point over some stiff impediment. He was not even looking at Jan, who jumped out of his chair with one glance at Evan.
“I knew it!”
“What did you know?”
“You’re not fit. You weren’t yesterday, but now it’s as plain as a pikestaff. You’re in for these infernal measles!”
It was a fair deduction from a face so flushed and such heavy eyes: again Evan dropped them, and shook a head that looked heavier still.
“Oh, no, I’m not. I rather wish I was!” he muttered bitterly.
“Why? What’s happened? What’s wrong?”
Evan flung up his hangdog head in sudden desperation.
“I’m in a frightful scrape!”
“Not you, Evan!”
“I am, though.”
“What sort of scrape?”
“I don’t know how to tell you. I don’t know what you’ll think.”
Jan got him into the arm-chair, and took the other one himself. It was something to feel that Evan cared what he thought.
“Come! I don’t suppose it’s anything so very bad,” said he, encouragingly.
“Bad enough to prevent me from playing to-day, I’m afraid.”
“You surely don’t mean – that anybody’s dead?”
“I know I wish I was!”
“It isn’t that, then?”
“No; but I’ve got to meet somebody at two o’clock. I simply must,” declared Evan, with an air of dull determination.
“Some of your people?” asked Jan, and supplied the negative himself before Evan could shake his head. “I thought not. Then do you mind telling me who it is?”
No answer from Evan but averted looks.
“Well, where is it that you’ve got to meet them?”
Jan was there in a flash; he was looking over the posts and rails at the besotted figure waving and beckoning in the lower meadow; he was meeting Sandham and Evan, hurrying up the lane, not five minutes afterwards.
“Is it old Mulberry?” asked Jan, with absolute certainty that it was.
“What do you know about him?” cried Evan suspiciously.
Jan forced a conciliatory grin. “I thought everybody knew something about Mulberry,” he said.
“But what makes you think of him the moment I mention Yardley Wood?”
“I saw him come out the other Sunday.”
“I daresay. He hides there half the summer. But what’s that got to do with me?”
“He waved to us by mistake, and the next thing was that we met you and Sandham coming up as we went down.”
“So you put two and two together on the spot?”
“Well, more or less between us.”
“Oh, Carpenter, of course! He was with you, wasn’t he?”
“Yes. But Chips wouldn’t let out a word, any more than I would, Evan. Not,” added Jan, “that there’s anything to let out in what you’ve told me as yet… Is there, Evan?” The opportunity afforded by a pointed pause had not been taken. “You may as well tell me now you’ve got so far – but don’t you if you’ve thought better of it.” There again was the studious delicacy that was growing on Jan, that had always been in his blood.
Evan flung up his head once more.
“I’ll tell you, of course. I came to tell you. It’s nothing awful after all. There’s no harm in it, really; only you can do things at home, quite openly, with your people, that become a crime if you do them here.”
“That’s true enough,” said Jan who still smoked his pipe in Norfolk. He felt relieved. Evidently it was some such trifle that law-abiding Evan was magnifying in his constitutional horror of a row.
Jan asked outright if it was smoking, if Mulberry had been getting them cigars, and was at once informed eagerly that he had. But that was not all; the old tell-tale face was scarlet with the rest. And out it all came at last.
“The fact is, Sandham and I have had a bit of a spree now and again in Yardley Wood. Champagne. Not a drop too much, of course, or you’d have heard of it, and so should we. No more harm in it than if you had it in the holidays. I know at one time we used to have champagne every night at home. Heaps of people do; they certainly did at Lord Allenborough’s. And yet it’s such a frightful crime to touch it here!”
“I suppose Mulberry found out?”
“No – he got it for us.”
“I see. And I suppose you paid him through the nose?” continued Jan at length. He would have been the first to take Evan’s lenient view of such a peccadillo, if Evan himself had said less in extenuation. But just as Chips Carpenter would dry Jan’s genial currents by the overflow of his own, so even Evan had taken the excuses out of his mouth, and left it shut awhile.
“That’s just it,” replied Evan. “We have paid a wicked price, but we haven’t quite squared up, and now it’s all falling on me.”
“How much do you still owe him?”
“Between four and five pounds.”
Jan looked grave; any such sum seemed a great deal to him.
“Can’t you raise it from your people?” he suggested.
“No, I can’t. They’re all abroad, for one thing.”
“What about Sandham and his lot?”
“I can’t write to him, you see. Anybody might get hold of it; besides, there’s no time.”
“He’s pressing you, is he?”
“I’ve got to pay up this afternoon.”
“The moment Sandham’s out of the way!”
Jan’s eyes had brightened; but Evan was too miserable to meet them any more; he could speak more freely without facing his confessor. His tone was frankly injured, ingenuously superior, as though the worst of all was having to come with his troubles to the likes of Jan, if he would kindly bear that in mind.
Details came out piecemeal, each with its covering excuse. As some debaters fight every inch in controversy, so Evan went over the humiliating ground planting flags of defiant self-justification. The business had begun last term; and still Sandham had been easy Champion; that showed how harmless the whole thing had been. But when Jan asked how much Mulberry had been paid already, the amount amazed him. Evan had given it without thinking; but when asked whether he and Sandham had got through all that alone, he refused to answer, saying that was their business, and turning again very red. At any rate he was not going to drag in anybody else, he declared as though he were standing up to old Thrale himself, and by way of suffering the extreme penalty for his silence.
Jan saw exactly what had happened. It was Sandham who had led Evan into mischief; but that was the last thing of all that Evan could be expected to admit. Between them these two might have led others; but all that mattered to Jan was the old story of the strong villain and the weak-kneed accomplice. Of course it was the villain who escaped the consequences; and very hard it seemed even to Jan. Sandham was reported to have his own banking account; he could have written a cheque for four or five pounds without feeling it; probably he had refused to do so, probably the whole thing was a dexterous attempt to blackmail Evan while his masterful friend was out of reach.