Jan looked up suddenly.
“Am I to go on a Sunday, sir?”
The thought of his return to the Norfolk rectory, in this dire disgrace, had taken sudden and most poignant shape. On a Sunday it would be too awful, with the somnolent yet captious household in a state of either complacent indolence or sanctified fuss, assimilating sirloin or starting for church, according to the hour of his arrival.
Mr. Thrale seemed already to have taken this into humane consideration, for he promptly replied: “You will remain till Monday; meanwhile you are to consider yourself a prisoner on parole, and mix no more in the society for which you have shown yourself unfit. So far as this school goes you are condemned to death for lying betrayal, and mock-manly meanness. Murder will out, Rutter, but you are not condemned for any undiscovered crime of the past. Yet if it is true that you ever got out of your house at night – ”
Jan could not meet the awful mien with which Mr. Thrale here made dramatic pause; but he filled it by mumbling that it was quite true, he had got out once, over two years ago.
“Once,” said Mr. Thrale, “is enough to deprive you of the previous good character that might otherwise have been taken into consideration. I do not say it could have saved you; but nothing can save the traitor guilty of repeated acts of treason. A certain consideration you will receive at Mr. Heriot’s hands, by his special request, until you go on Monday morning. And that, Rutter, is all I have to say to you as Head Master of this school.”
Even so is the convicted murderer handed over to the High Sheriff for destruction; but just as other judges soften the dread language of the law with more human utterances on their own account, so before he was done did Mr. Thrale address himself to Jan as man to man, merely reversing the legal order. He asked the boy what he was going to do in life, and besought him not to look upon his whole life as necessarily ruined. The greater the fall, the greater the merit of rising again; he had almost said, and he would say, the greater the sport of rising! Jan had pulled matches out of the fire; let him take life as a game, bowl out the Devil that was in him, and pull his own soul out of Hell! Here he enlarged upon the lust of drink, bluntly but with a tender breadth of understanding, as a snare set alike for the just and the unjust, a curse most accursed in its destruction of the moral fibre, as in this very case; and Jan could not have listened more humbly if his own whole body and soul had been already undermined. He thought he saw tears in the old man’s eyes; he knew he had them in his own. These last words of earnest exhortation, beginning as they did between man and man, went on and finished almost as between father and son, with a handshake and “God guide you!” There was even the offer of a letter which, while not glozing the worst, would yet say those other things that could still be said, and might stand Jan in good stead if he were man enough to show it in Australia.
But meanwhile he had been expelled from school, expelled in his last term, when Captain of Cricket, and on top of his one triumph in that capacity.
He laughed aloud as he suddenly remembered the actual facts of the case.
Mr. Heriot himself showed Jan to his room, the spare bedroom on the private side of the house, where he was to remain until he went. All his belongings had been brought down from dormitory, and some few already from his study. The bed was made and turned down, with clean sheets as if for a guest; and there was an adjoining dressing-room at his disposal, with the gas lit and hot water placed in readiness by some unenlightened maid.
This led Heriot to explain, gruffly enough, the special consideration to which Mr. Thrale had referred.
“The whole thing’s a secret from the house so far, and of course the servants don’t know anything about it. They probably think you’re suspected of measles, not strongly enough for the Sanatorium but too strongly for the sick-room in the boys’ part. I shall allow that impression to prevail until – as long as you remain.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I remember better days, Rutter; we had seen a good many together before you came to anything like this, I’m quite sure.” His glasses flashed. “Yet all the time – ”
He stopped himself as before, turned on his heel and shut a window which he had opened on entering the room. And now Jan grasped what it was that his house-master kept remembering, but could not trust himself to mention. And the mutual constraint made the prisoner thankful when he was bidden an abrupt good-night, and left alone at last.
Alone in the condemned cell, or rather a luxurious suite of cells! The luxury was an irony not lost on Jan; he was as much alive to every detail of his environment as he had been towards the end of the match. And the grim humours of the situation, which had only come home to him since his interview with the Head Master, were still a relief after the deceptive solemnity of that ordeal. He must never again forget that he was guiltless. That made all the difference in the world. Would he have been able to think of condemned cells if he had deserved to be in one, or of the portmanteau he now discovered in the dressing-room, lying ready to be packed, as the open coffin of his school life?
And yet it was, it was!
But the waking night was a long succession of obstacles to oblivion. Forgotten circumstances came back with new and dolorous significance; this began when he emptied his pockets before undressing, and missed his watch. It was the first night in all his schooldays that he had been without the small gold watch which had been his mother’s when she ran away from home. Again he remembered wondering if the boys would laugh at him for having a lady’s watch; but they were marvellously decent about some things; not one of them had ever made a single remark about it. The little gold watch had timed him through all these years, and the first time he left it behind him he came to grief. It was only in the studies; but it would never bring his luck back now.
Then there was that pocketful of small silver and stray gold. Two pounds eighteen and sixpence, he ought to make it; and he did. The amount was not the only point about the money that he recalled in lurid flashes as he counted it all out upon the dressing-table. He took an envelope from the stationery case on another table, swept all the coins in and stuck it up with care. He even wrote the amount outside, then dropped the jingling packet into a drawer. Soon after this he got to bed in the superfine sheets dedicated to guests; of course his own sheets would not have stretched across this great bedstead; and yet these reminded every inch of him where he was, every hour of the night.
He heard them all struck by the old blue monkey of a church clock. It was the first time he had heard it like this since his removal from the little front dormitory, his first year in the Eleven. It was strange to be sleeping over the street again, listening to all its old noises … listening … listening again … at last listening to the old harsh bell!
That was the worst noise of all; for he must have been asleep, in spite of everything; he only really woke up standing on the soft, spacious, unfamiliar floor. The spare bedroom was full of summer sunshine. The fine weather had come to stay. They would get a fast wicket over at Repton, and Goose would have to win the toss.
Meanwhile it was only Sunday, and Jan knew the habits of his house on Sunday morning; now was his chance of the bath. Bathrooms were not as plentiful then as now; there was only one between both sides of the house, of course not counting the shower off the lavatory. That, however, was now out of bounds; the bathroom was not, and Jan got to it first, bolted both doors and looked out into the quad while the bath was filling.
O cursed memories! Here was another, of his very first sight of the quad, his very first morning in the school… Well, he had lived to be cock of that walk, at any rate; on those fives-courts, moreover, with their unorthodox back wall, he was certainly leaving no superior. But how pleasant it all looked in the cool morning sun! There is a peculiar quality about Sunday sunshine, a restfulness at once real and imaginary; it was very real to Jan as he took leave of the quiet study windows down the further side, and down this one the empty garden seats shaded by the laburnum with its shrivelled blossoms, the little acacia, and the plane-tree which had been blown down once and ever since held in leash by a chain. Closer at hand, hardly out of reach, the dormitory windows stood wide open; but nobody got up in dormitory till the last five minutes on a Sunday morning, and so Jan gloated unobserved on the set-scene of so much that had happened to the house and him – of the burglar-hunt led by the egregious Spook – of Sprawson’s open pranks and Shockley’s wary brutalities. It was down there that Mulberry first showed his fatal nose, and Jan was christened Tiger, and it was there they all lit up a slide with candles at the end of his first winter term. Now it was the end of all terms for Jan, and in a night the old quad had changed into a place of the past.
It was better in the cells at the front of the house; it might have been quite bearable there, but for the bells. But on a Sunday the cracked bell rung by Morgan was nothing to the bells you heard on the other side of the house, if you came to listen to them as Jan did. Apparently there was early celebration in the parish church as well as in chapel; but that was the only time the rival bells rang an actual duet of sedate discords. They followed each other with due propriety all the rest of the day.
The chapel bells led off with their incorrigibly merry measure. Worse hearing was the accompanying tramp of boys in twos and threes, in Sunday tails or Eton jackets; looking heartlessly content with life; taking off pr?postorial hats, or touching those hot school caps, to gowned and hooded masters; for Jan was obliged to peep through the casement blinds, not deliberately to make things worse, but for the sake or on the chance of a single moment’s distraction. That was all he got. It was quite true that there were heaps of fellows now to whom he could not put a name. There could not have been more in his second or third term; mere mortal boys do not excite the curiosity of gods; but once or twice poor Lucifer espied some still unfallen angel in the ribbon of shade across the street. One was Ibbotson, a god with clay feet, if ever there was one; but there he went, looking all he should be, to the happy jingle of those callous bells. Ibbotson would come down as an Old Boy, and never think twice of what he had really been. Why should he? Jan, at all events, was not his judge; and yet he would be one of Jan’s.
The church bells came as a relief, richer in tone, poorer in association, with townspeople on the pavement and not a sound in the house. Jan fell to and packed. All his wardrobe had been brought in now; his study possessions would be sent after him; so Mr. Heriot had looked in to say, and at the same time to extract an explicit pledge that Jan would not again set foot on the boys’ side of the house. He wondered if the bath had been judged a step in that direction, and what it was feared that he might do when all their backs were turned. But he gave his word without complaining; never, to be sure, had condemned man less cause for complaint. His dietary was on the traditional scale; excellent meals were brought to the spare room. There was the usual sound fare for dinner, including the inevitable cold apple-pie with cloves in it, and a long glass of beer because Jan’s exalted place in the house entitled him (in those unregenerate days) to two ordinary glasses. Morgan, at any rate, could not know what he was there for! Jan was wondering whether it was enough to make him sleepy after his wretched night, and so kill an hour of this more wretched day, when the door burst open, without preliminary knock, and Carpenter stood wheezing on the other side of the bed.
His high shoulders heaved. His rather unhealthy face looked grotesquely intense and agonised. It was plain at a glance that Old Chips knew something.
“Oh, Jan!” he cried. “What did you do it for?”
“That’s my business. Who sent you here?”
“I got leave from Heriot.”
“Very good of you, I’m sure!”
“That wasn’t why I came,” said Chips, braced though stung by this reception. He had shut the door behind him. He walked round the bed with the extremely determined air of one in whom determination was not a habit.
“Well, why did you come?” inquired Jan, though he was beginning to guess.
“You did a thing I couldn’t have believed you’d do!”
“Many things, it seems.”
“I’m only thinking of one. The others don’t concern me. You went into my locker and – and broke into the house money-box!”
“I left you something worth five times as much, and I owned what I’d done in black and white.”
“I know that. Here’s your watch and your I.O.U. I found them after chapel this morning.”
Jan took his treasure eagerly, laid it on the dressing-table, and produced his packet of coins from one of the small side drawers.
“And here’s your money,” said he. “You’d better count it; you won’t find a sixpence missing.”
Chips stared at him with round eyes.
“But what on earth did you borrow it for?”
“That’s my business,” said Jan, in the same tone as before, though Chips had changed his.
“I don’t know how you knew I had all this money. It isn’t usual late in the term like this, when all the subs. have been banked long ago.”
Jan showed no disposition to explain the deed.
“This is my business, you know,” persisted Chips.
“Oh! is it? Then I don’t mind telling you I heard you filling your precious coffers after dinner.”
It was Chips’s own term for the money-box in which as captain of the house he placed the various house subscriptions as he received them. He looked distressed.
“I was afraid you must have heard me.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“I hoped you hadn’t.”
“What difference does it make?”
“You heard me with the money, and yet you couldn’t come in and ask me to lend it to you.”
“I should like to have seen you do it!”
“The money was for something special, Jan.”
“I thought it was.”
“Half the house had just been giving me their allowances, but some had got more from home expressly.”
“Yet you pretend you’d have let me touch it!”
Chips bore this taunt without heat, yet with a treacherous lip.
“I would, Jan, every penny of it.”
“Why should you?”
“Because it was yours already! It was only for something we were all going to give you because of – because of those cups we got through you – and – and everything else you’ve done for the house, Jan!”
An emotional dog, this Chips, he still had the sense to see that it was not for him to show emotion then, and the self-control to act up to his lights. But he could not help thrusting the packet back towards Jan, as much as to say that it was still his and he must really take it with the good wishes he now needed more than ever. Not a word of the kind from his lips, and yet every syllable in his eyes and gestures. But Jan only shook his head, wheeled round, and stood looking down into the street.
Anybody entering the room just then would have smelt bad blood between the fellow looking out of the window and the other fellow sitting on the edge of the bed. Jan’s whole attitude was one of injury, and Chips looked thoroughly guilty of a grave offence against the laws of friendship. Even when Jan turned round it was with the glare which is the first skin over an Englishman’s wound; only a hoarse solicitude of tone confessed the wound self-inflicted, and the visitor a bringer of balm hardly to be borne.
“I suppose you know what’s happened, Chips?”
“I don’t know much.”
“Not that I’m – going?”
“That’s about all.”
“Isn’t it enough, Chips?”
“No. I want to know why.”
Jan’s look grew searching.
“If Heriot told you so much – ”
“He didn’t till I pressed him.”
“Why should you have pressed him, Chips? What had you heard?”
“Only something they were saying in the Sixth Form Room; there’s nothing really got about yet.”
“You might tell me what they’re saying! I – I don’t want to be made out ever so much worse than I am.”
That was not quite the case. He wanted to know whether there was any movement, or even any strong feeling, in his favour; but it was a sudden want, and he could not bring himself to clothe it in words. It was his prototype’s hope of a reprieve, entertained with as little reason, more as a passing irresistible thought.
“They say there was nothing the matter with you yesterday afternoon.”
“No more there was. I was shamming.”
Chips experienced something of Heriot’s revulsion at this avowal.
“They say you went off – to – meet somebody.”
“How did they get hold of that, I should like to know?”
Of course the masters had been talking; why should they not? But then why had Heriot pretended that nobody was to know just yet? Why had Haigh talked about the worst cases being kept quiet? Chips allayed rising resentment by saying he believed it had come through a fly-man, whereupon Jan admitted that it was perfectly true.
“They say you drove out to Yardley Wood.”
“So I did.”
“It was madness!”
Jan shrugged his powerful shoulders.
“I took my risks, and I was bowled out, that’s all.”
Chips looked at him; the cynically glib admissions were ceasing to grate on him, were beginning to excite the incredulity with which he had first heard of the suicidal escapade. This shameless front was not a bit like Jan, whatever he had done, and Chips who knew him best was the first to perceive it.
“I wish I knew why you’d done it!” he exclaimed ingenuously.
“What do they say about that?” inquired Jan.
“Well, there was some talk about – about a bit of a – romance!”
Jan’s grin made him look quite himself.
“Nicely put, Chips! But you can contradict that on the best authority.”
“Now it’s got about that it’s a drinking row.”
“That’s more like it.”
“It’s what most fellows believe,” said Chips, with questionable tact.
“Oh, is it? Think I look the part, do they?”
“Not you, Jan – ”
Chips did not like going on, but was obliged to now.
“Well, some fellows seem to think that – except yesterday, of course – your bowling – ”
“Has suffered from it, eh? Go on, Chips! I like this. I like it awfully!”
And this time Jan laughed outright, but did not look himself.
“It’s not what I say, Jan! I wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Very kind of you, I’m sure; but I shouldn’t wonder if you thought it all the same.”
“I don’t, I tell you!”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you did. How things fit in! Any other circumstantial evidence against me?”
Chips hesitated again.
“Out with it, man. I may as well know.”
“Well, some say – but only some – that’s why you’ve been going about so much by yourself!”
“To go off on the spree alone?”
Chips nodded. “You see, you often refused to go out even with me,” he said reproachfully; not as though he believed the worst himself, but in a tone of excuse for those who did.
Jan could only stare. His unsociability had been due of course to his unpopularity with his Eleven, his estrangement from Evan, and his delicacy about falling back on Chips. And even Chips could not see that for himself, but saw if anything with the other idiots! This was too much for Jan; it made him look more embittered than was wise if he still wished to be taken as the only villain of the piece. But the fact was that for the moment he was forgetting to act.
“Solitary drinking!” he ejaculated. “Bad case, isn’t it?”
“It isn’t a case at all,” returned Chips, looking him in the face. “I don’t believe a word of the whole thing! Even if it’s true that you went out to Yardley to meet Mulberry – ”
“Who say’s that?”
“Oh, it’s one of the things that’s got about. But I can jolly well see that if you did go to meet him it wasn’t on your own account!”
Confound old Chips! He was looking as if he could fairly see into a fellow’s skull, and very likely making a fellow look in turn as big a fool as he felt!
“Of course you know more about it than I do!” sneered Jan, desperately. “But do you suppose I’d do a thing like that for anybody but myself?”
“I believe you’d do a jolly sight more,” replied Chips, “for Evan Devereux!”
Jan made no reply beyond an unconvincing little laugh; of plain denial he looked as incapable as he actually was, in his surprise at so shrewd a thrust.
“The whole thing was for Devereux!” pursued Carpenter with explosive conviction. “What about him and Sandham out at Yardley the other Sunday, when old Mulberry beckoned to us by mistake? Obviously he mistook us for them; I thought so at the time, but you wouldn’t have it, just because it was Devereux! What about his coming to you yesterday morning, in such a stew about something? Oh, I didn’t listen, but anybody could spot that something was up. What a fool I was not to see the whole thing from the first! Why, of course you’d never have touched that money for yourself, let alone planting out the thing I know you value more than anything else you’ve got!”