Ernest Hornung.

Fathers of Men





After all, why should you? asked Jan, with a strange chuckle. But I shall have to raise it somewhere, and I daresay you wont tell anybody that I tried you first.

And before there could be any answer to that, Jan had turned without ceremony into Heaths, the saddlers shop, where the boys bespoke flies to take them to their trains at the end of the term. As a rule these orders were booked weeks beforehand, but the fly that Jan now ordered was to be outside Mr. Heriots quad at 2.45 that afternoon.

Is it to go to Molton, sir?

Thats it.

But theres no train before the 4.10, Mr. Rutter.

I cant help that. I was asked to order it for some people whore down for the match. They may be going to see some of the sights of the country first.

Outside the shop, he found Evan waiting for him.

I say, Jan, whats all this about your being seedy?

Thats my business. Do you think Im shamming?

Evan missed the twinkle again. There was some excuse for him. It was unintentional now.

I dont know, but if I thought you were going yourself

Shut up, Evan! Thats all settled. You go in fourth wicket down again, and mind you make some.

But if youre seen

What on earth makes you think Im going? Ive fixed up the whole thing. That should be good enough. I thought you left it to me?

At Heriots corner, old Bob himself was standing in conversation with Mr. Haigh, the two of them mechanically returning the no less perfunctory salutes of the passing stream. Charles Cave had paused a moment before going on into the house.

Im afraid the hero of the mornings a bit off-colour, Mr. Heriot.

Not Rutter?

Cave nodded.

He says his heads bad. I think it must be. It looks to me like a touch of the sun.

I hope not, said Heriot, as Cave passed on. He really is a fine fellow, Haigh, as well as the fine bowler youve just seen once more. I sometimes think you might forget what he was, after all these years.

Oh, Ive nothing against the fellow, said Haigh, rather grandly. But I take a boy as I find him, and I found Rutter the most infernal nuisance I ever had in my form.

Years ago!

Well, at all events, theres no question of a grudge on my side. I wouldnt condescend to bear a grudge against a boy.

Haigh spoke as though he really wished to mean what he said. His general principles were as sound as his heart could be kind, but both were influenced by a temper never meant for schoolmastering. At this moment Jan and Evan hove into sight, and Heriot detained the cricketer of his house, questioned him about his head, reassured himself as to a former authentic attack of measles, and finally agreed with Jans suggestion that he should stay quietly in his study until he felt fit to go back to the ground. He did not want any lunch.

Meanwhile, Haigh had not gone off up the hill, but had stayed to put in a difficult word or two of his own, as though to prove the truth of his assertion to Heriot.

He went further as Jan was about to turn down to the quad.

By the way, Rutter, Ive a very good prescription for that kind of thing, now I think of it. Ill send it up to you if you like.

Oh, thank you, sir, said Jan politely.

You shall have it as soon as they can make it up. Theyve probably kept a copy at the chemists. Ill go in and see.

Jan could only thank his old enemy again, and so retreat from the embarrassment of further tributes to his successful malingering. It was a loathsome part to play, especially for a blunt creature who had very seldom played a part in his life. But there were worse things in front of him, if he was to carry out his resolve, and do the deed which he never seriously dreamt of deputing to another. It was more than risky. But it could be done; nor was the risk the greatest obstacle. Money was at once the crux and the touchstone of the situation. No use tackling Cerberus without a decent sop up ones sleeve! And Jan had only just eight shillings left.

He sat in his bleak, untidy study, listening to the sound of knives and forks and voices in the hall, and eyeing those few possessions of his which conceivably might be turned into substantial coin of the realm. There were the four or five second and third prizes that he had won in the sports, and there was his mothers gold watch. It he had worn throughout his schooldays; and it had struck him very much in the beginning that nobody had ever asked him why he wore a ladys watch; but there were some things about which even a new boys feelings were respected, now he came to think of it He came to think of too many things that had nothing to do with the pressing question; of the other watch that he had won at the fair, and sold at the time for the very few shillings it would bring; of the mad way in which he had thrown himself into that adventure, just as he was throwing himself into this one now. But it was no good raking up the past and comparing it with the present. Besides, there had been no sense in the risk he ran then; and now there was not only sense but necessity.

So absolute was the necessity in Jans view that he would not have hesitated to part with his precious watch for the time being, if only there had been a pawnbrokers shop within reach; but, perhaps by arrangement with the school authorities, there was no such establishment in the little town; and there was no time to try the ordinary tradesmen, even if there was one of them likely to comply and to hold his tongue. Jan thought of Lloyd, the authorised jeweller, thought of George Grimwood and old Maltby, and was still only thinking when the quad filled under his window, the study passage creaked and clattered with boots, and Chips Carpenter was heard demanding less noise in a far more authoritative voice than usual.

It was almost too much to hear poor old Chips steal into his own study next door like any mouse to hear what he was about, and how quietly, and then to see the solicitous face he poked into Jans study before going back to the Upper. Chips left him his Saturday allowance of a shilling that made nine but it was no good consulting or trying to borrow from a chap who hated Evan. Jan got rid of him with a twitch of preposterous excruciation, and in a very few minutes had the studies to himself.

CHAPTER XXV
INTERLUDE IN THE WOOD

Morgan, the man-servant, and his myrmidon of the boots and knives, were busy and out of sight in the pantry near the hall, as Jan knew they would be by this time. Yet he was flushed and flurried as he ran down into the empty quad, and dived into the closed fly which had just pulled up outside. He leant as far back as possible. The road broadened, the town came to an end. The driver drove on phlegmatically, without troubling his head as to why one of the cricketing young gentlemen should be faring forth alone, in his flannels, too, and without any luggage either. He would be going to meet his friends at Molton, likely, and bring them back to see the cricket. So thought the seedy handler of shabby ribbons, so far as he may be said to have thought at all, until a bare head stuck out behind him at Burston Corner, and he was told to pull up.

Jump down a minute, will you? I want to speak to you.

The fly stopped in one of the great dappled shadows that trembled across the wooded road. A bucolic countenance peered over a huge horse-shoe pin into the recesses of the vehicle.

See here, my man; heres nine bob for you. Im sorry it isnt ten, but Ill make it up to a pound at the end of the term.

Im very much obliged to you, sir, Im sure!

Wait a bit. Thats only on condition you keep your mouth shut; there may be a bit more in it when youve kept it jolly well shut till then.

Youre not going to get me into any trouble, sir?

Not if I can help it and you hold your tongue. Were only going round by Yardley Wood instead of to Molton, and I shant keep you waiting there above half an hour. Its its only a bit of a lark!

A sinful smile grew into the crab-apple face at the fly-window.

I been a-watching you over them palings at bottom end o ground all the morning, Mr. Rutter, but I didnt see it was you just now, not at first. Lord, how you did bool em down! Ill take an chance it for you, sir, jiggered if I dont!

The fly rolled to the left of Burston church, now buried belfry-deep in the fretful foliage of its noble avenue. It threaded the road in which Chips had encountered Evan on their first Sunday walk; there was the stile where Jan had waited in the background, against the hedge. Strange to think of Evans attitude then and long afterwards, and of Jans errand now; but lots of things were strange if you were fool enough to stop to think about them. That was not Jans form of folly when once committed to a definite course of action; and any such tendency was extremely quickly quelled on this occasion. He had more than enough to think about in the interview now before him. It was almost his first opportunity of considering seriously what he was to say, how he had better begin, what line exactly it would be wisest to take, and what tone at the start. It was annoying not to be able to decide absolutely beforehand; it was disconcerting, too, because in his first glow the very words had come to him together with his plan. He had made short work of the noxious Mulberry almost as soon as the creature had taken shape in his mind. But on second thoughts it appeared possible to make too short work of a scoundrel with tales to tell, money or no money. And by the time the horse was walking up the last hill, with the green lane on top, Jan had thought of the monstrous Cacus in the Aventine woods, without feeling in the least like the superhuman hero of the legend.

There lay the celebrated covert, in its hollow in the great grass country. In the heavy sunlight of a rainy summer, the smear of woodland, dense and compressed, was like a forest herded in a lane. So smoky was the tint of it, from the green heights above, that one would have said any moment it might burst into flames, like a damp bonfire. But Jan only thought of the monster in its depths, as he marched down through the lush meadows, with something jingling on him at every other stride.

Yardley Wood was bounded by a dyke and a fence, and presented such a formidable tangle of trees and undergrowth within, that Jan, though anxious for immediate cover, steered a bold course for the made opening. The white wicket looked positively painted on the dark edge of the wood. It led into a broad green ride, spattered with buttercups as thick as freckles on a country face.

Jan entered the ride, and peered into the tangled thicket on either hand. Its sombre depths, unplumbed by a ray of sun, reminded him of a striking description in one of the many novels that Chips had made him read: it was twilight there already, it must be dark as midnight at dusk, and black as the ninth plague of Egypt at midnight. And there was another plague of Egypt that Jan recalled before he had penetrated a yard into the fringe of tangle-wood. He became at once the sport and target of a myriad flies. The creatures buzzed aggressively in the sudden stillness of the natural catacomb; and yet above their hum the tree-tops made ?olian music from the first moment that he stood beneath them, while last years leaves, dry enough there even in that wet summer, rustled at every jingling step he took.

And now his steps followed the wavering line of least resistance, and so turned and twisted continually; but he would not have taken very many in this haphazard, tentative fashion, and was beginning in fact to bend them back towards the ride, when the bulbous nose of Mulberry appeared under his very own.

It was making music worthy of its painful size, as he lay like a log on the broad of his back, in a small open space. His battered hat lay beside him, along with a stout green cudgel newly cut, Jan had half a mind to remove this ugly weapon as a first preliminary; but it was not the half which had learnt to give points rather than receive them, and the impulse was no sooner felt than it was scorned. Yet the drunkard was a man of no light build. Neither did he lie like one just then particularly drunk, or even very sound asleep. The flies were not allowed to batten on his bloated visage; every now and then the snoring stopped as he shook them off; and presently a pair of bloodshot eyes rested on Jans person.

So youve come, have you? grunted Mulberry; and the red eyes shut again ostentatiously, without troubling to climb to Jans face.

I have, said he, with dry emphasis. It was either too dry or else not emphatic enough for Mulberry.

Youre late, then, hear that? Like your cheek to be late. Now you can wait for me.

Not another second! cried Jan, all his premeditated niceties forgotten in that molecule of time. Mulberry sat up, blinking.

I thought it was Mr. Devereux!

I know you did.

Have you come instead of him?

Looks like it, doesnt it?

I dont know you! I wont have anything to do with you, exclaimed Mulberry, with a drunken dignity rendered the more grotesque by his difficulty in getting to his feet.

Well, you certainly wont have anything more to do with Mr. Devereux, retorted Jan, only to add: So Im afraid youll have to put up with me, in a much more conciliatory voice. He had just remembered his second thoughts on the way.

Why? Whats happened him? asked Mulberry, suspiciously.

Never you mind. He cant come; thats good enough. But Ive come instead to settle up with you.

You have, have you?

On the spot. Once for all.

Jan slapped one of the pockets that could not be abolished in cricket trousers. It rang like a money-bag flung upon a counter. The reprobate looked impressed, but still suspicious about Evan.

He was to come here yesterday, and he never did.

It wasnt his fault; thats why Ive come to-day.

I said Id go in and report him to Mr. Thrale, if he slipped me up twice.

'Blab was your word, Mulberry!

Have you seen what I wrote?

I happen to have got it in my pocket.

Mulberry lurched a little nearer. Jan shook his head with a grin.

It may come in useful, Mulberry, if you ever get drunk enough to do as you threaten.

Useful, may it?

If the red eyes fixed on Jan had been capable of flashing, they would have done so now. They merely watered as though with blood. Till this moment man and boy had been only less preoccupied with the flies than with each other. Mulberry with the battered hat had vied with Jan and his handkerchief in keeping the little brutes at bay. But at this point the swollen sot allowed the flies to cover his hideousness like a spotted veil. It was only for seconds, yet to Jan it was almost proof that the scamp had something to fear, that his pressure on Evan was rather more than extortionate. His expressionless stare had turned suddenly expressive. That could not be the flies. Nor was it only what Jan thought it was.

Ive seen you before, young feller! exclaimed Mulberry.

Youve had chances enough of seeing me these four years.

I dont mean at school. I dont mean at school, repeated Mulberry, racking his muddled wits for whatever it might be that he did mean. Jan was under no such necessity; already he was back at the fair, that wet and fateful night in March but he did not intend Mulberry to join him there again.

Its no good you trying to change the subject, Mulberry! Ive got your letter to Mr. Devereux, and youll hear more about it if you go making trouble at the school. If you want trouble, Mulberry, you shall have all the trouble you want, and praps well give the police a bit more to make em happy. See? But I came to square up with you, and the sooner we get it done the better for all the lot of us.

Jan was at home. Something contracted ages ago, nay, something that he had brought with him into the world, something of his father, was breaking through the layer of the last five years. It had broken through before. It had helped him to fight his earliest battles. But it had never had free play in all these terms, or in the holidays between terms. This was neither home nor school; this was a bite of life as Jan would have had to swallow it if his old life had never altered. And all at once it was a strapping lad from the stables, an Alcides of his own kidney and no young gentleman, with whom the local Cacus had to reckon.

Come on! said he sullenly. Lets see the colour o yer coin, an done with it.

Jan gave a conquerers grin; yet knew in his heart that the tussle was still to come; and if he had brought a cap with him, instead of driving out bare-headed this was the moment at which he would have given the peak a tug. He plunged his hand into the jingling pocket. He brought out a fistful of silver of all sizes, and one or two half-sovereigns. In the act he shifted his position, and happened to tread but left his foot firmly planted upon that ugly cudgel just as its owner stooped to pick it up and almost overbalanced in the attempt.

Look out, mister! Thats my little stick. Id forgotten it was there.

Had you? I hadnt, said Jan, one eye on his money and the other on his man. You dont want it now, do you, Mulberry?

Not particly.

Then attend to me. Theres your money. Not so fast!

His fist closed. Mulberry withdrew a horrid paw.

I thought you said it was mine, mister?

It will be, in good time. Have a look at it first.

Lot o little silver, aint it?

One or two bits of gold as well.

It may be more than it looks; better let me count it, mister.

Its been counted. Thats the amount; you sign that, and its yours.

With his other hand Jan had taken from another pocket an envelope, stamped and inscribed, but not as for the post, and a stylographic pen. The stamp was just under the middle of the envelope; above was written, in Jans hand and in ink:

Received in final payment for everything supplied in Yardley Wood to end of June ?2 18s. 6d

Sign across the stamp. said Jan briskly. Underneath was the date.

The envelope fluttered in the drunkards fingers.

Two pun eighteen look here this wont do! he cried less thickly than he had spoken yet. What the devil dyou take me for? Its close on five golden sovereigns that Im owed. This is under three.

Its all youll get, Mulberry, and its a darned sight more than you deserve for swindling and blackmailing. If you dont take this you wont get anything, except what you dont reckon on!

The man understood; but he was almost foaming at the mouth.

I tell you its a dozen and a half this summer! Half a dozen bottles and a dozen

I dont care what it is. I know what theres been, what youve charged for it, and what youve been paid already. Jan thought it time for a bit of bluff. This is all youll get; but you dont touch a penny of it till youve signed the receipt.

Dont I! snarled Mulberry. Without lowering his flaming eyes, or giving Jan time to lower his, he slapped the back of the upturned hand and sent the money flying in all directions. Neither looked where it fell. Mulberry was ready for a blow. Jan never moved an eye, scarcely a muscle. And over them rose and fell such sylvan music as had been rising and falling all the time; only now their silence brought it home.

Youll simply have to pick it all up again, said Jan quietly. But if you dont sign this, Mulberry, Im going to break every bone in your beastly body with your own infernal stick.

He finished as quietly as he had begun; it must have been his face that said still more, or his long and lissom body, or his cricketers wrists. Whatever the medium, the message was understood, and twitching hands held out in token of submission. Jan put the pen in one, the prepared receipt in the other, and Mulberry turned a back bowed with defeat. Close behind him grew a stunted old oak, forked like a catapult, with ivy winding up the twin stems. Down sat Mulberry in the fork, and with such careless precision that Jan might have seen it was a favourite seat, and the whole little open space, with its rustling carpet and its whispering roof, its acorns and its cigar ends, a tried old haunt of others besides Mulberry. But Jan kept so close an eye on his man that the receipt was being signed, on one corduroy knee, before he looked up to see the broad bust of a third party enclosed in the same oak frame.

It was Mr. Haigh, and in an instant Jan saw him redder than Mulberry himself. It was Haigh with a limp collar and a streaming face. So he had smelt a rat, set a watch, and followed the fly on foot like the old athlete that he was! But how much more like him all the rest. Jan not only came tumbling back into school life, as from that other which was to have been his, but back with a thud into the Middle Remove and all its old miseries and animosities.

I might have known what to expect! he cried with futile passion. Its about your form, doing the spy!

Haigh took less notice of this insult than Jan had known him to take of a false quantity in school. His only comment was to transfer his attention to Mulberry, who by now had scrambled to his legs. Leaning through the forked tree, the master held out his hand for the stamped envelope, obtained possession of it without a word, and read it as he came round into the open.





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