Jan asked a few questions, and extracted answers which left him nodding to himself with rare self-satisfaction. On Evan they had an opposite effect. Unless he went with the money to the wood, before three o’clock, the villainous Mulberry was “coming in to blab the whole thing out to Jerry.” And he would do it, too, a low wretch like that, with nothing to lose by it! And what would that mean but being bunked in one’s last term – but breaking one’s people’s hearts – Jan knew them – as well as one’s own?
Evan’s voice broke as it was. He laid his forehead on his hand, thus hiding and yet trying to save his face; and Jan could not help a thrill of joy at the sight of Evan, of all people, come to him, of all others, for aid in such a pass. He was ashamed of feeling as he did; and yet it was no ignoble sense of power, much less of poetic justice or revenge, that touched and fired this still very simple heart. It was only the final conviction that here at last was his chance of doing something for Evan, something to win a new place in his regard, and to efface for ever the subtly tenacious memory of the old ignominous footing between them. That was all Jan felt, as he sat and looked, with renewed compassion, yet with just that thrilling human perception of his own great ultimate gain, at the bowed head and abject figure of him whom he had loved and envied all his days.
“He doesn’t happen to have put his threat into black and white, I suppose?”
Jan felt that he was asking a stupid question. Of course he would have heard of anything of the kind before this. He did not realise the break that Evan’s vanity was still putting on Evan’s tongue. But when a dirty little document was produced, even now reluctantly, and found to contain that very word “blab,” with the time, place, and exact amount stipulated, Jan soon saw why it had not been put in before. It referred to a broken appointment on the day of writing. That was another thing Evan had not mentioned. It accounted for his strange unreadiness to play in the match, as well as for the threats accompanying the impudently definite demand.
“This is what he asks, eh? So this would settle him?”
“There’s no saying,” replied Evan, doubtfully. “I thought we had settled, more or less.”
“More or less is no good. Have you nothing to show by way of a receipt?”
“Sandham may have. I know he stumped up a lot that very Sunday you saw us.”
“Then what did you think of doing, if you did get out to see him after dinner?”
“Stave him off till the holidays, I suppose.”
“You didn’t mean to stump up any more?”
“No, I’m hard up, that’s the point.”
“And you’d have stayed him off by promising him a good bit more if he’d wait?”
“By hook or crook!” cried Evan, desperately. “But unless I can get away from the match, I’m done.”
Jan put on an air of sombre mystery, lightened only by the crafty twinkle in his eyes. Chips would have read it as Jan’s first step to the rescue. But Evan missed the twinkle, and everything else except the explicit statement:
“You can’t get away, Evan.”
“Then it’s all up with me!”
“Not yet a bit.”
“But the fellow means it!”
“Let him mean it.”
“If I’m not there – ”
“Somebody else may take your place.”
“In the field? My dear fellow – ”
“No, not in the field, Evan, nor yet at the crease. In Yardley Wood!”
Jan allowed himself a smile at last. And Chips could not have been quicker than Evan to see his meaning now.
“Who will you get to go, Jan,” he was asking eagerly without more ado.
“You must leave that to me, Evan.”
“One of the Old Boys?”
“If I’m to help you, Evan, you must leave it all to me.”
“Of course you know so many more of them than I do. It’s your third year…”
Evan was unconsciously accounting for an enviable influence among the young men with the famous colours. To be sure, Jan was now a Pilgrim himself; he was already one of them. Jan Rutter! But it was certainly decent of him, very decent indeed, especially when they had seen so little of each other all the year. Evan was not unaware that he had treated Jan rather badly, that Jan was therefore treating him really very well. It enabled him to overlook the rather triumphant air of secrecy which it pleased Jan to adopt. After all, it was perhaps better that he should not know beforehand who was actually going to step into the breach. The chances were that almost any Old Boy, remembering that blackguard Mulberry, would be only too glad to give him a fright, if not to lend the money to pay him off.
But even Evan was not blinded, by these lightening considerations, to his immediate obligations to Jan.
“I never expected you to help me like this,” he said frankly. “I only came to ask you about this afternoon. I – I was thinking of shamming seedy!”
Jan seemed struck with the idea; he said, more than once, that it was a jolly good idea; but there would have been a great risk of his being seen, and now thank goodness all that was unnecessary. If only they could first save the follow, and then get those Old Boys out quickly before lunch! That would be worth doing still, Jan hastened to add, as though aware of some inconsistency in his remarks. His eyes were alight. He looked capable of all his old feats, as he stood up in the litter from which a fag could not cleanse the Augean study.
But Evan fell into a shamefaced mood; he was getting a sad insight into himself as compared with Jan; his self-conceit was suffering even on the surface. Jan would never have fallen into Mulberry’s clutches; he would have kept him in his place, as indeed Sandham had done; either of those two were capable of coping with fifty Mulberrys, whereas Evan had to own to himself that he was no match for one. He may even have realised, even at that early stage of his career, that in all the desperate passes of life he was a natural follower and a ready leaner on others. If he was not so very ready to lean on Jan, there were reasons for his reluctance… And at least one reason did him credit.
“I don’t know why you should want to do all this for me,” he murmured on their way down to the ground. “It isn’t as if I’d ever done anything for you!”
“Haven’t you!” said Jan. They were arm-in-arm once more, to his huge inward joy.
“I’ll do anything in the world after this. I’ll never forget it in all my days.”
“You’ve done quite enough as it is.”
“I wish I knew what!” sighed Evan, honestly.
And he seemed quite startled when Jan reminded him.
“By Jove!” exclaimed Carpenter in the scoring tent. “I haven’t seen Jan do that for years. It used to mean that he was on the spot.”
“He did it when he went in just now,” replied the pr?postor who was scoring. “It only meant five more runs to him then.”
“But those five saved the follow! I don’t believe he meant to get any more.”
“You don’t suggest that he got out on purpose, Chips?”
“I shouldn’t wonder. I know he told me the wicket would be just right for him when the heavy roller had been over it. By Jove, he’s doing it again!”
What Jan had done, and was doing again, was something which had been chaffed out of him his first year in the Eleven. He was pulling the white cap, with the honourably faded blue ribbon, tight down over his head, so that his ears became unduly prominent, and his back hair gaped transversely to the scalp.
The scorer remarked that he had better sharpen his pencil, and Jan retorted that he had better watch the over first. It was the first over of the Old Boys’ second innings, and the redoubtable Swiller had already taken guard. Jan ran up to the wicket, with all his old clumsy precision, but more buoyancy and verve than he put into his run now as a rule. And the Swiller’s shaven face broke into a good-humoured grin as the ball went thud into the wicket-keeper’s gloves; it had beaten him completely; the next one he played; off the third he scored a brisk single; and this brought Charles Cave to the striker’s crease, with the air of the player who need never have got out in the first innings, and had half a mind not to do it again.
Curious to find that even in those comparatively recent days there were only four balls to the over in an ordinary two-day match; but such was the case, according to the bound volume consulted on the point; and the fourth and last ball of Jan’s first over in a memorable innings has a long line to itself in the report. It appears to have been his own old patent, irreproachable in length, but pitching well outside the off-stump, and whipping in like lightning. It sent Charles Cave’s leg-bail flying over thirty yards, if we are to believe contemporary measurements. But the reporter refrains from stating that Jan had given the peak of his cap a special tweak, though the fact was not lost upon him at the time.
“Bowled, sir, bowled indeed!” roared Chips from the tent. “I knew it’d be a trimmer; didn’t you fellows see how he pulled down his cap?”
And the now really great Charles Cave stalked back to the pavilion with the nonchalant dignity of a Greek statue put into flannels and animated with the best old English blood. But at the pavilion chains he had a word to say to the next batsman, already emerging with indecent haste.
The next batsman was one of the bronzed brigade who could not grace the old ground every season. This one had been in the Eleven two years in his time, and had since made prodigious scores in regimental cricket in India. In the first innings, nevertheless, he had shown want of practice and failed to score; hence this bustle to avoid the dreaded pair. He was rewarded by watching Swiller Wilman play an over from young Cave with ease, scoring three off the last ball, and then playing a maiden from Jan with more pains than confidence. The gallant soldier did indeed draw blood, with a sweeping swipe in the following over from the younger Cave. But the first ball he had from Jan was also his last; and the very next one was too much for ex-captain Bruce.
“I told you it’d all come back, Rutter,” said Wilman with wry laughter at the bowler’s end. “I’m sorry I commenced prophet quite so soon.”
“It’s the wicket,” Jan explained, genuinely enough. “I always liked a wicket like this – the least bit less than fast – but you’ve got its pace to a nicety.”
“I wish I had yours. You’re making them come as quick off the pitch as you did two years ago. I wish old Boots Ommaney was here again.”
“I’d rather have him to bowl to than the next man in. Ommaney always plays like a book, but Swallow’s the man to knock you off your length in the first over!”
Swallow looked that man as he came in grinning but square-jawed, with a kind of sunny storm-light in his keen, skilled eyes. It was capital fun to find this boy suddenly at his best again; good for the boy, better for the Eleven, and by no means bad for an old man of thirty-eight who was actually on the point of turning out once more for the Gentlemen at Lord’s. Practice and the bowler apart, however, it would never do for the Old Boys to go to pieces after leading a rather weak school Eleven as it was only proper that they should. It was time for a stand, and certainly a stand was made.
But A. G. Swallow did not knock Jan off his length; he played him with flattering care, and was content to make his runs off Cave. Jan made a change at the other end, but went on pegging away himself. Wilman began to treat him with less respect than the cricketer of highest class; in club cricket, to be sure, there were few sounder or more consistent players than the Swiller. He watched the ball on to the very middle of a perpendicular bat, and played the one that came with Jan’s arm so near to his left leg that there was no room for it between bat and pad. And he played it so hard that with luck it went to the boundary without really being hit at all.
Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, went up in sedate yet slightly accelerated succession. Jan was trying all he knew, and now he had Cave back at the other end. Another ten or so, and he felt that he himself must take a rest, especially as A. G. Swallow was beginning to hit ruthlessly all round the wicket. Yet Wilman’s was the wicket he most wanted, and it was on Wilman that he was trying all his wiles – but one. That fatal leg-break was not in his repertoire for the day; he had forsworn it to himself before taking the field, and he kept his vow like a man.
What he was trying to do was to pitch the other ball a little straighter, a fraction slower, and just about three inches shorter than all the rest; at last he did it to perfection. Wilman played forward pretty hard, the ball came skimming between the bowler and mid-off, and Jan shot out his left hand before recovering his balance. The ball hit it in the right place, his fingers closed automatically, and he had made a very clever catch off his own bowling.
“Well caught, old fellow!” cried Evan from mid-off before any of them. “I was afraid I’d baulked you.”
The others were as loud in their congratulations, and the field rang with cheers. But Evan kept Jan buttonholed at mid-off, and they had a whisper together while the new batsman was on his way out.
“What about bowling them all out by lunch? You might almost do it after all!”
“I mean to, now.”
“Six wickets in three quarters of an hour?”
“But there’s not another Wilman or Swallow.”
“We shan’t get him in a hurry.”
“Even if we don’t I believe I can run through the rest.”
“You’re a wonder!” exclaimed Evan, then drew still nearer and dropped his voice. “I say, Jan!”
“What is it? There’s a man in.”
“If you did get them I might still go by myself this afternoon.”
“I’d have time if you put me in as late as I deserve. I can fight my own battle. I really – ”
“Shut up, will you? Man in!”
Two overs later the new batsman had succumbed to Jan after a lofty couple through the slips; but A. G. Swallow had begun to force the game in a manner more delightful to watch from the ring than at close quarters. He did not say it was his only chance. He was too old a hand to discuss casualties with the enemy. He kept his own counsel in the now frequent intervals, but his keen eyes sparkled with appreciation of the attack (from one end) and with zest in the exercise of his own higher powers. Enterprise and defense had not been demanded of him in such equal measure for some past time; and yet with all his preoccupation he had a fatherly eye upon the young bowler who was making this tax upon his tried resources. Really, on his day, the boy was good enough to bowl for almost any side; and he seemed quite a nice boy, too, to A. G. Swallow, though perhaps a little rough. As to unpopularity, there was no sign of that now; that good-looking little chap at mid-off seemed fond enough of him; and he was not the only one. At the fall of each wicket a bigger and more enthusiastic band surrounded the heroic bowler; the cheers were louder from every quarter. If an unpopular fellow could achieve this popular success, well, it said all the more for his pluck and personality.
Eight wickets were down for 95, and Jan had taken every one of them, before Stratten stayed with Swallow and there was another stand. Stratten was only a moderate bats, but he had been two years in the team with Jan, and three years in the same house, and he knew how to throw his left leg across to the ball that looked as though it wanted cutting. He had never made 30 runs off Jan in a game, and he did not make 10 to-day, but he stayed while the score rose to 130 and the clock crept round to 1.15; then he spoilt Jan’s chance of all ten wickets by being caught in the country off a half-volley from Goose – last hope at the other end.
Swallow had crossed before the catch was made, and he trotted straight up to Jan in the slips.
“Hard luck, Rutter! I hoped you were going to set up a new school record.”
“I don’t care as long as we get you all out before lunch.”
Jan was wiping the cluster of beads from his forehead, and dashing more from the peak of his cap before pulling it down once more over his nose. He only saw his mistake when A. G. Swallow looked at him with a smile.
“Why before lunch, with the afternoon before us?”
“Because I feel dead!” exclaimed Jan with abnormal presence of mind. “I could go on now till I drop, but I feel more like lying up than lunch.”
“Not measles, I hope?” said Swallow; and certainly Jan looked very red.
“Had ’em,” said he laconically.
“Then it’s either cause or effect,” remarked Swallow, turning to George Grimwood, who had long looked as inflated as though he had taught Jan all he knew. “I’ve often noticed that one does one’s best things when one isn’t absolutely fighting fit, and I’ve heard lots of fellows say the same.”
Now George Grimwood, as already stated, was a professional cricketer of high standing and achievement; but by this time he was also a school umpire of the keenest type, and his original humanity had not shown itself altogether proof against the foibles of that subtly demoralising office. Not only did he take to himself entirely undue credit for Mr. Rutter’s remarkable performance, but he grudged Mr. Goose that last wicket far more than Jan did. One hope, however, the professional had cherished all the morning, and it was not yet dead in his breast. He longed to see Mr. Swallow, his own old opponent on many a first-class field, succumb to his young colt in the end; and now there was not much chance of it, with only one more over before lunch, especially if Mr. Rutter was really going to lie up afterwards.
So this was what happened – it may have been the very soundest verdict – but as the climax of a great performance it was not altogether satisfactory. Whitfield major, the last batsman, who really might have gone in earlier, clubbed the first ball of Jan’s last over for three. The next ball may or may not have been on the off-stump. It appeared to come from a tired arm, to lack the sting of previous deliveries, to be rather a slower ball and as such just short of a really good length. But A. G. Swallow, still notoriously nimble on his feet, came out to hit across a straight half-volley on the strength of the usual break. He missed the ball, and it hit his pad; but there was no appeal from the bowler. That was the great point against George Grimwood. Jan was giving his cap another tug over his nose, when consequential Evan appealed for him from mid-off.
“Out!” roared the redoubtable George without an instant’s hesitation. The Old Boys’ second innings had closed for 133. Jan had taken 9 wickets for 41 runs. And A. G. Swallow was last out for 57 – if out at all – and his eagle eye was clouded with his own opinion on the point.
The school was already streaming off the ground on its way back to dinner in the houses; but many remained, and some turned back, to give batsmen and bowler the reception they deserved. More articulate praises pursued them to the dressing-room. These ran like water off Jan’s back as he sat stolidly changing his shoes; for in those days the players dispersed to luncheon in the houses also. He explained his apparent ungraciousness by some further mention of “a splitting head.” But as a matter of fact he had every one of his wits about him, and his most immediate anxiety was to avoid Evan, whom he saw obviously waiting to waylay him. He made a point of writing out the order of going in before leaving the pavilion. It was the same order as before, except that Jan promoted the last two men and wrote his own name last of all.
“I’ll turn up if I can,” he announced as he tacked himself on to Charles Cave, of all people, to Evan’s final discomfiture. “But let’s hope I shan’t be wanted; unless it’s a case of watching the other fellow make the winning hit, I shall be as much use in my study as on the pitch.”
Evan heard this as he walked as near them as he very well could. The narrow street was a running river of men and boys with glistening foreheads, who hugged the shadows and shrank ungratefully from the first hot sunshine of the term. Charles Cave, stalking indolently next the wall, said he hoped Jan was going up to the 'Varsity, as they wanted bowlers there, and a man who could bowl like that would stand a good chance of his Blue at either Oxford or Cambridge. Jan replied that he was afraid he was not going to either, but to the Colonies, a scheme which the other seemed to consider so deplorable that Evan dropped out of earshot from a feeling that the conversation was beginning to take a private turn. And sure enough, after a pause, it took one that surprised Jan himself almost as much as it did Charles Cave.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” said Jan with apparent deliberation, but in reality on as sudden an impulse as ever dictated spoken words. “You see, you don’t know what it is to be a beggar, Cave!”
“I don’t, I’m glad to say.”
“Well, I do, and it’s rather awkward when you’re captain of the Eleven.”
“It must be.”
“It is, Cave, and if you could lend me a fiver I’d promise to pay you back before the end of the term.”
The calm speech was so extraordinarily calm, the tone so matter-of-fact and every-day, that after a second’s amazement the Old Boy could only assume that Jan’s splitting head had already affected the mind within. That charitable construction did not prevent Charles Cave from refusing the monstrous request with equal coolness and promptitude; and an utterly unabashed reception of the rebuff only confirmed his conclusion.