Yes! There was Haigh freshly groomed, in a clean collar and another suit of clothes, the grey hair brushed back from his pink temples, but his mouth inexorably shut on the tidings it was soon to utter. Decent of Haigh to wait until the match was lost or won; but then Haigh resembled the Upper inasmuch as Jan already liked everything about him better than he had ever done before. In front of the pavilion, in tall hat, frock-coat and white cravat, sat splendid little old Jerry himself, that flogging judge of other days, soon to assume the black cap at last, but still ignorant of the capital offence committed, still beaming with delight and pride in a glorious finish. Elsewhere a triangle of familiar faces made themselves seen and heard; its apex was gaunt old Heriot, who in his innocence had bawled a salvo for the sixer; and the gay old dog on his right was his friend Major Mangles, while Oxford had already turned the austere Crabtree into the gay young dog on his left.
Jan wondered what Crabtree would think – and then what the Major was saying as he poked Bob Heriot in the ribs. He soon saw what they were saying; all that Cambridge and Lord’s had left of the original Charles Cave was going on to bowl instead of Swallow, and those three tense faces on the boundary had relaxed in esoteric laughter. But it was Jan who had to play Cave’s over, and it was almost worthy of the Cantab’s youth three years ago. Jan, however, was almost at home by this time; all four balls found the middle of his bat; and then the public-spirited policy of A. G. Swallow dictated an audacious move.
Of course he must know what he was doing, for he had led a first-class county in his day, and had never been the captain to take himself off without reason. No doubt he understood the value of a double change; but was it really wise to put on Swiller Wilman at Whitfield’s end with lobs when only 15 runs were wanted to win the match? Pavilion critics had their oracular doubts about it; old judges on the rugs had none at all, but gave Devereux a couple of covers for the winning hit; and only Evan himself betrayed a certain apprehension as he crossed beckoning to Jan before the lobs began.
“Have you any idea how many I’ve got?” he asked below his breath. The second hundred had just gone up to loud applause.
“I can tell you to a run if you want to know.”
“I’m asking you.”
“You’ve made 94.”
“You have. You’d made 84 when I came in. I’ve counted your runs since then.”
“I’d no idea it was nearly so many!”
“And I didn’t mean to tell you.”
There Jan had been quite right, but it was not so tactful to remind the batsman of every batsman’s anxiety on nearing the century. Evan, to be sure, repudiated the faint suggestion with some asperity; but his very lips looked redder than before.
“Well, don’t you get out off him,” said Evan, consequentially.
“I’ll try not to. Let’s both follow the rule, eh?”
“Dudley Relton’s for lobs: a single off every ball, never more and never less, and nothing whatever on the half-volley.”
“Oh, be blowed!” said Evan.
Accordingly he hit the first lob just over mid-on’s head for three, and Jan got his single off the next, but off both of the next two balls Evan was very nearly out for 97 and the match lost by 10 runs.
On the second occasion even George Grimwood gratuitously conceded that off a lob a fraction faster Mr. Devereux would indeed have been stumped; as it was he had only just got back in time. This explanation was not acknowledged by Mr. Stratten, whose vain appeal had been echoed by half the field. The nice fellow seemed to have lost all his looks as he crossed to the other end.
The next incident was a full-pitch to leg from Charles Cave and a fourer to Jan Rutter. That made 6 to tie and 7 to win, but only about another hit to Jan if Evan was to get his century. Jan thought of that as he played hard forward to the next ball but one, and felt it leap and heard it hiss through the covers; for even his old bat was driving as it had never done before; but a delightful deep-field sprinter just saved the boundary, and Jan would not risk the more than possible third run.
At this stage only 5 runs were wanted to win the match. And Evan Devereux, within 3 of every cricketer’s ambition, again faced the merry underhand bowler against whom he had shaped so precariously the over before last.
George Grimwood might have been seen shifting from foot to foot, and jingling pence in his accomplished palm. Another of those near things was not wanted this over, with the whole match hanging to it, and Mr. Stratten still looking like that…
A bit better, was that! A nice two for Mr. Devereux to the unprotected off – no! – blessed if they aren’t running again. They must be daft; one of them’ll be out, one of ’em must be! No – a bad return – but Mr. Cave has it now. How beautifully this gentleman always throws! You wouldn’t think it of him, to see him crossing over, or even batting or bowling; he’s got a return like a young cannon, and here it comes!
No umpire will be able to give this in; there’s Mr. Rutter a good two yards down the pitch, legging it for dear life; and here comes the ball like a bullet. He’s out if it doesn’t miss the wicket after all; but it does miss it, by a coat of varnish, and ricochets to the boundary for other four, that win the match for the school, the ultimate honour of three figures, for Evan Devereux, and peace beyond this racket for George Grimwood.
Over the ground swarm the whole school like a small Surrey crowd, but Evan and Jan have been too quick for them; they break through the swift outer fringe; and it is not Lord’s or the Oval after all. Nobody cares so much who wins this match, it’s the magnificent finish that matters and will matter while the school exists.
So the dense mass before the pavilion parts in two, and the smiling Old Boys march through the lane; but it does not close up again until Rutter has come out and given Devereux his colours in the dear old way, by taking the blue sash from his own waist and tying it round that of his friend.
Did somebody say that Devereux was blubbing from excitement? It was not the case; but nobody was watching Jan.
It is not to be pretended that a cloud of live young eye-witnesses make quite so much of these excitements as the historian old or young; they may yell themselves hoarse in front of the pavilion, but the beads are not wiped from their heroes’ brows before the question is, “What shall we do till lock-up?” It is only the Eleven who want to talk it all over in that sanctum of swelldom, the back room at Maltby’s, and only its latest member who has a tremendous telegram to send to his people first. And then it so happens that he does not join them; neither does the Captain of Cricket, though for once in his captaincy he would be really welcome.
Evan had retired to his house, and not a bit as though the school belonged to him, but with curiously little of the habitual strut (now that he had something to strut about) in his almost unsteady gait. Jan, too, was ensconced in Heriot’s, and quite unnecessarily prepared to dodge Evan at any moment, or to protect himself with a third person if run to ground. The third person was naturally Chips Carpenter, who had gone mad on the ground, and was now working off the fit in a parody of “The Battle of Blenheim” in place of an ordinary prose report of the latest and most famous of all victories.
Though there was no sign of Evan, and after an hour or so little likelihood of his appearance, still Jan kept dodging in and out of the Editor’s study, like an uneasy spirit. And once he remarked that there was an awful row in the lower passage, apparently suggesting that Chips ought to go down and quell it. But Chips had never been a Crabtree in the house, and at present he was too deep in his rhyming dictionary to hear either the row or Jan.
Lock-up at last. The little block of ivy-mantled studies became a manufactory of proses and verses, all Latin but Chips’s, and the Greek iambics of others high up in the school, and all but the English effort to be signed by Mr. Heriot after prayers that night or first thing in the morning, to show that the Sabbath had not been broken by secular composition. Nine o’clock and prayers were actually approaching; and yet Jan still sat, or stood about, unmolested in his disorderly study; and yet the heavens had not fallen, or earth trembled with the wrath of Heriot or anybody else. Could it be that for the second time Jan was to be let off by the soft-heartedness of a master who knew enough to hang him?
Hardly! Haigh, of all men! Yet he had been most awfully decent about it all; it was a revelation to Jan that there was so much common decency after all in his oldest enemy…
Now he would soon know. Hark at the old harsh bell, rung by Morgan outside the hall, across the quad!
Jan had scarcely expected to go in to prayers again, and as he went he remembered his first impressions of the function at the beginning of his first term. He remembered the small boy standing sentinel in the flagged passage leading to the green-baize door, and all the fellows armed with hymn-books and chatting merrily in their places at table. That small boy was a big fellow at the Sixth Form table now, and the chat was more animated but less merry than it had seemed to Jan then. Something was in the air already. Could it have leaked out before the sword descended? No; it must be something else. Everybody was eager to tell him about it, as he repeated ancient history by coming in almost last.
“Have you heard about Devereux?”
“Have you heard, Rutter?”
“Haven’t you heard?”
His heart missed a beat.
“He’s down with measles!”
“That all?” exclaimed Jan, tingling with returning animation.
If his own downfall had been in vain!
“It’s bad enough,” said the big fellow who had stood sentinel four years ago. “They say he must have had them on him when he was in, and the whole thing may make him jolly bad.”
“Who says so?”
“Morgan; he’s just heard it.”
Poverty of detail was eked out by fertile speculation. Jan was hardly listening; he could not help considering how far this new catastrophe would affect himself. Evan was as strong as a horse, and that moreover with the strength which had never been outgrown; besides, he would have his magnificent century to look back upon from his pillow. That was enough to see anybody through anything. And now there would be no fear of mental complication, no question of his coming forward and owning up: for who was going to carry a school scandal into the Sanatorium, even if the school ever learnt the rights?
And yet somehow Jan felt as though a loophole had been stopped at the back of his brain; and an inquiry within made him ashamed to discover what the loophole had been. Evan would have found out, and never have let him bear the brunt; in the end Evan’s honesty would have saved them both, because nothing paid like honesty with dear old Thrale. That was what Jan saw, now that seeing it could only make him feel a beast! It was almost a relief to realise that Evan would still be ruined if the truth leaked out through other lips, and that a friend’s were thus sealed closer than before.
The Heriots were very late in coming in. Why was that? But at last the sentinel showed an important face, fulminating “Hush!” And sister and brother entered in the usual silence.
Miss Heriot took her place at the piano under the shelf bearing the now solitary cup of which Jan might almost be described as the solitary winner; at any rate the present house eleven consisted, like the historic Harrow eleven, of Rutter “and ten others.” The ten, nay, the thirty others then present could not have guessed a tenth or a thirtieth part of all that was in their bowler’s mind that night.
Mr. or Miss Heriot always chose a good hymn; to-night it was No. 22, Ancient and Modern; a simple thing, and only appropriate to the time of year, but still rather a favourite of Jan’s. He found himself braying out the air from the top of the Sixth Form table, as though nothing could happen to him, while Chips Carpenter lorded it like every captain of that house, with his back to the empty grate, and fondly imagined that he was singing bass. Neither friend and contemporary would ever have done much credit to the most musical school in England, and now only one of them would be able to go about saying that he had ever been there!
Unless … and there was no telling from Heriot’s voice.
It was the same unaffected, manly voice which had appealed to Jan on his very first night in hall; the prayers were the same, a characteristic selection only used in that house; but whereas a few phrases had struck Jan even on that occasion, now he knew them all off by heart, but listened with no less care in order to remember them if possible at the ends of the earth.
“O Lord, Who knowest our peculiar temptations here, help us by Thy Holy Spirit to struggle against them. Save us from being ashamed of Thee and of our duty. Save us from the base and degrading fear of one another…” Jan hoped he had stood up sufficiently to the other old choices in the Eleven; he could not help an ungodly feeling that he had; but he had been very down on his luck earlier in the term.
“Grant, O Lord, that we may always remember that our bodies are the temple of the living God, and that we may not pollute them by evil thoughts or evil words… Give us grace never to approve or by consent to sanction in others what our consciences tell us is wrong, but to reprove it either by word or by silence. Let us never ourselves act the part of tempter to others, never place a stumbling-block in our brother’s way, or offend any of our companions, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.”
Well, he had never played the tempter or placed stumbling-blocks, whatever else he had done; it was not for that that he would have to go; but he was not so sure about evil words. He had said some things, sometimes, which might have earned him his now imminent fate, if they had reached some ears; so perhaps he had little to complain about after all. Not that foul language had ever been his habit; but he had never been so particular as Chips, for example, now so devout in the Lord’s Prayer at the other end of the Sixth Form table. Old Chips in his early days had gone to the foolhardy and (in him) futile length of reproof by word; even now he was rising from his knees as though he had been really praying; but Jan had only been thinking his own thoughts, though kneeling there without doubt for the last time.
And yet a second moment’s doubt did thrill him as Heriot took up his usual stand in front of the grate, and some of the fellows made a dash for milk and dog-rocks at the bottom of the long table, but more clustered round the fireplace to hear Heriot and Jan discuss the match. They actually did discuss it for a minute or two; but Heriot was dry as tinder in spite of his intentions; and when he suddenly announced that he would sign all verses in the morning, but would just like to speak to Rutter for a minute, Jan followed him through into the private part with a stabbing conviction that all was over with him.
“I’ve heard Mr. Haigh’s story,” said Heriot very coldly in his study. “Do you wish me to hear yours?”
Jan did not wince at Heriot’s tone, but Heriot did at his. The one was to be expected, the other almost brazen in its unblushing alacrity.
“You have nothing whatever to say for yourself, after all these years, after – ”
Heriot pulled himself up – as on his haunches – with a jerk of the grizzled head and a fierce flash of the glasses.
“But from all I hear I’m not surprised,” he added with bitter significance. “I find I’ve been mistaken in you all along.”
Yet Jan did not see his meaning at the time, and the bitterness only enabled him to preserve apparent insensibility.
“There’s nothing to say, sir. I was shamming right enough, and I suppose Mr. Haigh has told you why.”
“He has, indeed! The matter has also been reported to the Head Master, and he wishes to see you at once. I need hardly warn you what to expect, I should think.”
“No, sir. I expect to go.”
“Evidently you won’t be sorry, so I shan’t waste any sympathy upon you. But I must say I think you might have thought of the house!”
The matter had not presented itself in that light to Jan; now that it did, he felt with Heriot on the spot, and did not perceive an unworthy although most human element in the man’s outlook. The house would not be ruined for life. On the other hand, in his determination to put a stiff lip on every phase of his downfall, and beyond all things not to betray himself by ever breaking down, Jan had over-acted like most unskilled histrions, and had already created an impression of coarse bravado on a mind prepared to stretch any possible point in his favour.
But it was no time to think about the accomplished interview with Bob Heriot, with truly terrific retribution even now awaiting him at the hands of the redoubtable old Jerry. About a hundred yards of the soft summer night, and he would stand in that awful presence for the last time. And it was all very well for Jan to call him “old Jerry” in his heart up to the last, and to ask himself what there was, after all, to fear so acutely from a man of nearly seventy who could not eat him; his heart quaked none the less, and if he had been obliged to answer himself it would have been with a trembling lip.
He dared to dawdle on the way, rehearsing his scanty past relations with the great little old man. There was the time when he was nearly flogged, after the Abinger affair. Well, the old man might have been far more severe than he really was on that occasion. There was that other early scene when Jan was told that another time he would not sit down so comfortably, and Chips’s story about his friend Olympus. It was all grim humour that appealed to this delinquent; but it was a humour that became terrible when the whole school were arraigned and held responsible for some individual vileness, pronounced inconceivable in a really sound community; for then they were all dogs and curs together, and, that demonstrated, it was “Dogs, go to your kennels!” And go they would, feeling beaten mongrels every one; never laughing at the odd old man, never even reviling him; often loving but always fearing him.
Jan feared him now the more because of late especially he had been learning to love Mr. Thrale. Though still only in the Lower Sixth, as Captain of Cricket he had come in for sundry ex officio honours, in the shape of invitations to breakfast and audiences formal and informal. On all such occasions Jan had been embarrassed and yet braced, puzzled by parables but enlightened in flashes, stimulated in soul and sinew but awed from skin to core; and now the awe was undiluted, crude, and overwhelming. He felt that every word from that trenchant tongue would leave a scar for life, and the scorn in those old eyes haunt him to his grave.
Sub-consciously he was still thinking of the judge and executioner in his gown of office, on his carved judgment seat, as the day’s crop of petty offenders found and faced him after twelve. In his library Jan had seldom before set foot, never with the seeing eye that he brought to-night; and the smallness and simplicity of it struck him through all his tremors when the servant had shown him in. It was not so very much larger than the large studies at Heriot’s. Only a gangway of floor surrounded a great desk in a litter after Jan’s own heart; garden smells came through an open lattice, and with them a maze of midges to dance round the one lamp set amid the litter; and in the light of that lamp, a pale face framed in silvery hair, wide eyes filled with heart-broken disgust, and a mouth that might have been closed for ever.
At last it came to mobile life, and Jan heard in strangely dispassionate tones a brief recital of all that had been heard and seen of his proceedings in the fatal hour when pretended illness kept him from the match. Again he was asked if he had anything to challenge or to add; for it was Heriot’s question in other words, and Jan had no new answer; but this time he could only shake a bowed head humbly, as he had bent it in acknowledgment of his own writing on the envelope. Jerry was far less fierce than he had expected, but a hundredfold more terrible in his pale grief and scorn. Jan felt an even sorrier and meaner figure than on coming up for judgment after the Abinger affair; so far from the support of secret heroics, it was impossible to stand in the white light of that nobly reproachful countenance, and even to remember that he was not altogether the vile thing he seemed.
“If there is one form of treachery worse than another,” said Mr. Thrale, “it is treachery in high places. The office that you have occupied, Rutter, is rightly or wrongly a high one in this school; but you have dragged it in the dust, and our honour stands above our cricket. On the eve of our school matches, when we had a right to look to you to keep our flag flying, you have betrayed your trust and forfeited your post and your existence here; but if it were the end of cricket in this school, I would not keep you another day.”