“Rutter! Where are you, Rutter?”
Heriot, of course, when he was least wanted! Jan slipped behind the dressing-room door, and saw him through the crack as he looked in hastily. Luckily there was no time for an exhaustive search. Heriot gave it up, the door below drowned the opening strokes of the last bell, and Jan had shut it softly in his turn before they stopped.
The fellows went into chapel there in droves under gowned and hooded shepherds. Jan so timed matters as to enter in the wake of the last lot, but well before the appearance of Mr. Thrale and his chaplain. Not being in the choir, his place in chapel, where the seats were allotted on a principle unknown to the boys, was mercifully unexalted, and he reached it with no worse sign or portent than the raised eyebrows and whispered welcome of his immediate neighbours. A congregation of four hundred persons absorbs even a Captain of Cricket more effectually than he thinks. And a voluntary, bright and exhilarating as all the music in that chapel, gave him heart and hope until the arrival of the officiating pair afforded an ineffable sense of security and relief.
Jan stood up with the rest, not quite at his full height, yet with his eyes turned in sheer fascination towards the little old Head Master. He looked very pale and stern, but his eyes could not have been fixed more steadfastly in front of him if he himself had been marching to his doom. In his left hand he held something that Jan was glad to see; it was dear old Jerry’s purple and embroidered sermon-case, a gift no doubt, and yet almost an incongruous vanity in that uncompromising hand.
Jan sank down and breathed his thanks for the last mercy of this service, for his perhaps undeserved escape from open humiliation and public shame. It was not to be seen through his forcible composure, but the glow of momentary victory filled every cell of a heart which the bells had first expanded. And he had never joined in the quick and swinging psalms with a zest more grateful to himself or so distressing to one or two of his hypercritical neighbours; there could not have been much wrong with Rutter, either physically or morally, these opined; or else he had been let off, and was already wallowing in an indecent odour of sanctity.
Wallowing he was, but for once only in the present, without dwelling on old days or on the wrath already come. This was not the house of wrath, but of brightness and light; he was not going to darken it for the last time with cheap memories and easy phantoms. Any fool could think of his first Sunday, and recall his first impressions of chapel; it was rather Jan’s desire so to receive his last impression as to have something really worth recalling all the days of his life; but even that was a vague and secondary consideration, whereas the present recompense was certain, vivid, and acute.
One wonders whether any fellow ever loved a public-school chapel as much as Jan loved his that afternoon, and not from the conscious promptings of reverence and piety, but purely as a familiar place of peace and comfort which he might never see again.
The great east window made the first impress on his sensitised film of vision; he had not been at the school four years, on a cricketer’s easy footing with so many of the masters, without hearing that window frankly depreciated; but it was light and bright, and good enough for Jan. Then there were the huge brass candelabra in the chancel, pyramids of light on winter evenings, trees of gold this golden afternoon; for the summer sun came slanting in over everybody’s right shoulder, as all sat in rows facing the altar, and not in the long opposing lines of other school chapels. Tablets to Old Boys who had lived great lives or died gallant deaths brought a sigh of envy for the first time. They were the only sight that reminded Jan sorely of himself, until he looked up and saw dear old Jerry standing in his marble pulpit for the last time. The hymn ceased. The organ purred like a cat until the last stop had been driven in. Jan supposed it must have done it always. A sparrow chirped outside, and Mr. Thrale pronounced the invocation in that voice which knew no lip-service, but prayed and preached as it taught and thundered, from the heart.
“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
That was his text; and many there were present, boys and Old Boys, masters and masters’ wives, who reverenced the preacher before all living men, yet knew what was coming and faced it with something akin to resignation. Life was the first word in his language, if not his last. It meant so much to him. He never used it in the narrow sense. True Life was his simple watchword; where the noun was, the adjective was never far away, and together the two rolled out like noble thunder. The corporate life, the life of a nation, the life of that school, it was into those great streams that he sought to pour the truth that was in him – sometimes at the expense of the individual ripple. Boys do not listen to abstractions; abstract truths are better read than heard by boy or man. Mr. Thrale was too elusive, perhaps too deep, for ordinary ears; in his daily teaching he was direct, concrete, and dramatic, but from his pulpit he soared above heads of all ages. Yet that earnest voice and noble mien, which had so impressed Jan on his very first Sunday in the school, were as the voice from Sinai and the face of God to him to-day.
He began by drinking in every syllable; but again it was too soon the look and tone rather than the words that thrilled him. He began listening with eyes glued to that noble countenance in its setting of silver hair; but soon they drooped to the edge and corners of the purple sermon-case, to the leaves that rose and fell, at regular intervals, under that strong, unrelenting, and yet most tender hand. Jan could feel its farewell grip again; he was back in the study full of garden smells and midges in the lamplight… Goodness! He really had been back there for an instant; it was the old trouble of keeping awake at this time of the afternoon. It had struck him painfully in others, on his very first Sunday in the school; but almost ever since he had felt it himself, say after a long walk; and he simply could not help feeling it after an almost sleepless night and that condemned man’s allowance of beer…
I say! It was incredible, it was contemptible, unpardonable in Jan of all the congregation that sunny afternoon. But it would not happen again; something had awakened him once and for all.
It was something in the old man’s voice. His voice had changed, his manner had changed, he was no longer reading from the purple case, but speaking directly and dramatically as was his wont elsewhere. His hands were clasped upon his manuscript. He was looking steadfastly before him – just a trifle downward – looking indeed Jan’s way, in clear-sighted criticism, in gentle and yet strong rebuke.
“… There is the life of the individual too. 'He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.’ But let him be sure for whose sake he would lose his life; let him not take his own life, on any provocation or under temptation whatsoever – not even to save his dearest friend – for Christ did not make and cannot countenance such a sacrifice. No soldier of Christ can die by his own hand, even to save his comrade; he must think of the army, think of those to whom his own life is valuable and dear, before he throws it away from a mistaken or unbalanced sense of sacrifice. I will have no false or showy standards of self-sacrifice in this school; I will have no moral suicides. Suicide is a crime, no matter the motive; evil is evil, good cannot come of it, and to step in between a friend and his folly is to stand accessory after the fact. And yet —humanum est errare! And he who errs only to save an erring brother has the divine spark somewhere in his humanity: may it light his brain as well as fire his heart, give him judgment as well as courage, and burn out of him the Upas growth of wrong-headed self-sacrifice. You cannot rob Peter to pay Paul, just because you happen to be Peter yourself. Has Paul the first or only claim upon you? Yet my heart goes out to the boy or man who can pick his own pocket, ay, or shed his own blood for his friend! Blame him I do, but I honour him, and I forgive him.”
In such parables spake their Master to those who sat daily at his feet; not often so to the school in chapel, nor was it to them that he was speaking now. Yet few indeed knew that he was addressing Jan Rutter, who sat spellbound in his place, chidden and yet shriven, head and heart throbbing in a flood of light and warmth.
The only two fellows who were leaving out of Heriot’s house had been dining with the Heriots on the last night of the term. One of them, after holding forth to Miss Heriot like a man and a brother, had gone on to the Sanatorium to take leave of a convalescent; the other accompanied Mr. Heriot into the jumble of books and papers, old oak and the insignia of many hobbies, which made his study such an uncomfortable yet stimulating little room. It appeared smaller and more crowded than ever when invaded by two tall ungainly men; for the young fellow, though never likely to be as lanky as the other, but already sturdier in build, stood about six feet from his rather flat soles to the unruly crest of his straight light hair. A fine figure of a man he made, and still under nineteen; yet his good and regular features were perhaps only redeemed from dulness by a delightfully stubborn mouth, and by the dark eyes that followed Heriot affectionately about the room.
“There’s one thing we’ve had in common from the start,” said Heriot, “and that’s our infernally untidy studies! I remember Loder speaking to me once about yours. I brought him in here to discuss the point, and he went out agreeing that indifference to your surroundings doesn’t necessarily spell the complete scoundrel. But it isn’t a merit either, Rutter, and I expect Carpenter to embellish life more than either of us.”
“I wonder what he’ll do, sir?”
“Get things into the Granta for a start. Not all his things; his style wants purging. Smoke, Rutter?”
Heriot was filling his own pipe; but it was one thing for a master to consider himself free to smoke before a leaving boy, on the last night of the term, in defiance of Mr. Thrale’s despotic attitude on the point, and quite another thing for him to offer the boy a cigarette. Jan declined the abrupt invitation with an almost shocked embarrassment.
“I thought a cigarette was no use to you,” said Heriot, laughing. “And yet you’ve never gone back to your pipe, I believe?”
Heriot was smiling the beatified smile that always broke through his first cloud.
“You don’t suppose I didn’t know, Rutter, that you used to smoke when you first came here?”
“You never let me see that you knew it, sir.”
“You never let me catch you! I 'smelt it off you,’ as they say, all the same; but I shouldn’t have done so if I hadn’t known all those things I was not supposed to know.”
“It was magnificent of you to hush them up as you did!”
“It was a duty. But it wouldn’t have been quite fair to trade on one’s knowledge at the same time.”
“Every master wouldn’t look at it like that.”
“Perhaps I had a sneaking sympathy as well,” laughed Heriot, when he had blown a fresh cloud. “Still, I should have caught you if you hadn’t given it up; and I’ve often wondered why you ever did.”
“It was all Mr. Relton,” said Jan after a pause. “I promised him I wouldn’t smoke if I got into the Eleven.”
“Relton, eh?” Jan found himself gazing into still spectacles. “I’ve been wondering lately, Rutter, whether you’re the fellow he thought he saw at the fair?”
Jan was more taken aback than he had been about the smoking. This was the first time Heriot had ever mentioned the ancient escapade which had come to light with so much else a month ago. It was the one thing they had not threshed out since the Sunday after Founder’s Day, and yet on that awful Saturday night Jan felt that Heriot had been twice on the edge of the subject, and twice stopped short because he could not trust himself to discuss it calmly. Getting out of the best house in the school was an offence not to be condoned or belittled by the best house-master, even after two long years and a quarter. So Jan had felt till this minute; even now he had to face a lingering austerity behind the fixed glasses.
“Did he tell you he saw somebody, sir?”
“Not in so many words. He came in and asked what I thought would happen to a fellow who got out and went to the fair. I told him what I knew would happen. Then he began to hedge a bit, and I smelt a rat before he went. But I little dreamt it was a rat from my own wainscot! However, I’m not going to ask any questions now.”
Cunning old Heriot! Jan made a clean breast on the spot, conceiving that the whole truth said more for Dudley Relton than Bob Heriot was the man to gainsay when he heard it. But Jan added a good deal on his own account, ascribing even more than was justly due to that old night’s work, and yet extracting an ultimate admission that meant much from Mr. Heriot.
“I’m glad he took the law into his own hands, Jan; it would be an affectation to pretend I’m not, at this time of day. But I’m thankful I never knew about it when he was here! What beats me most is your own audacity in marching out, as you say, without the least premeditation, and therefore presumably without any sort or shape of disguise?”
Jan took his courage between his teeth.
“I not only walked out of your own door, sir, but I went and walked out in your own coat and hat!”
Heriot flushed and flashed. He could not have been the martinet he was without seeing himself as such, and for the moment in a light injurious to that essential quality. Then he laughed heartily, but not very long, and his laughter left him grave.
“You were an awful young fool, you know! It would have been the end of you, without the option of a pr?postors’ licking, if not with one from me thrown in! But you may tell Dudley Relton, when you see him out there, that I’m glad to know what a debt I’ve owed him these last three years. I won’t write to him, in case I might say something else while I was about it. But Lord! I do envy you both the crack you’ll have in those forsaken wilds!”
Mr. Heriot perhaps pictured the flourishing port of Geelong as a bush township, only celebrated for Dudley Relton and his young barbarians. Colonial geography, unlike that of Ancient Greece, was not then a recognised item in the public-school curriculum. It may be now; but on the whole it is more probable that Mr. Heriot was having a little dig at the land to which he grudged Jan Rutter even more than Dudley Relton. And Jan really was going to the wilderness, or a lodge therein where one of the uncles on his mother’s side ran sheep by the hundred thousand. It was said to be a good opening. Jan liked the letters he had read and the photographs he had seen; and if that uncle proved a patch on the one in the Indian Army, he was certain to fall on his feet; but his house-master held that after a more or less stormy schooling the peace (with cricket) of the University would have replenished the man without impairing the eventual squatter. The immediate man was Mr. Heriot’s chief concern; but when the thing had been decided against him, after a brief correspondence with the Revd. Canon Ambrose, he saw the best side of a settled future, and took an extra interest from his own point of view.
“What are your sheep going to get out of your Public School?” said Heriot. “Will you herd them any better for having floundered through the verbs in ??? Don’t you think a lot that you have learnt here will be wasted?”
“I hope not, sir,” replied Jan, with the solemn face due to the occasion, though there was an independent twinkle behind Heriot’s glasses.
“So do I, indeed,” said he. “But I shall be interested; you’re a bit of a test case – you see – and you may help us all.”
“I only know I’m jolly glad I came here,” said Jan devoutly. “I wasn’t once, but I am now, and have been long enough.”
“But what have you gained?” asked Heriot. “That’s what I always want to know – for certain. A bit of Latin and a lot of cricket, no doubt; but how far are they coming in? If you get up a match at the back of beyond, you’ll spoil it with your bowling. On the other hand, of course, you’ll be able to measure your paddocks in parasangs and call your buggy-horses Dactyl and Spondee – or Hex and Pen if you like it better!”
Jan guffawed, but there was an unsatisfied sound about Heriot’s chuckle.
“I want a fellow like you, Rutter, to get as nearly as possible 100 per cent. out of himself in life; and I should like to think that – what? – say 10 or 20 per cent. of the best of you came from this place. Yet you might have learnt to bowl as well on any local ground. And I wonder if we’ve taught you a single concrete thing that will come in useful in the bush.”
“I might have been a pro. by this time,” said Jan, set thinking of his prospects in his father’s life-time. “I certainly was more used to horses when I came here than I am now.”
“It isn’t as if we’d taught you book-keeping, for instance,” continued Heriot, pursuing his own line of thought. “That, I believe, is an important job on the most remote stations; but I doubt if we’ve even fitted you to audit books that have been kept for you. The only books we have rubbed into you are the very ones you’ll never open again. And what have you got out of them?”
“I can think of one thing,” said Jan – “and I got it from Mr. Haigh, too! Possunt quia posse videntur– you can because you think you can. I’ve often said that to myself when there was a good man in – and sometimes I’ve got him!”
“That’s good!” exclaimed Heriot. “That’s fine, Jan; you must let me tell Haigh that. Can you think of anything else?”
“I don’t know, sir. I never was much good at work. But sometimes I’ve thought it teaches you your place, a school like this.”
“It does – if you want teaching. But you – ”
“I’d learnt it somewhere else, but I had it to learn all over again here.”
“You always have – each time you get your step – that’s one of the chief points about promotion! You may have been schoolmastering for fifteen years, but you’ve got to learn your place even in your own house when you get one.”
That touch put Jan more at his ease.
“And you may have been in the Eleven two or three years,” said he, “but you’ve got a new job to tackle when you’re captain. They say there’s room at the top, but there isn’t room to sit down!”
“That was worth learning!” cried Heriot, eagerly. “I’m not sure it wasn’t worth coming here to pick up that alone. And you’ll manage your men all right, though I daresay they’re not any easier out there than here. That’s all to the good, Rutter.”
“But suppose I hadn’t been a left-hand bowler?”
Jan grinned; it had struck him as a poser.
“Well, you’d have come to the front in something else. You did, you know, in other things besides cricket. It’s a case of character, and that was never wanting.”
But if he had not been an athlete at all! That was the real poser. Heriot was glad it was not put to him. It would have been unanswerable in the case of perhaps half the athletes in the school. What would Goose have been?
“Then there’s manners,” said Jan, who could warm up to a discussion if he was given time. “But I doubt I’m no judge of them.”
“They’re the very worst criterion in the world, Jan. The only way to use your judgment, there, is not to judge anybody on earth by his manners.”
That was not quite what Jan meant, but he felt vaguely comforted and Heriot breathed again. He was not a man who could say what he did not mean to people whom he did care about. He knew that Jan could still be uncouth, that it might tell against him here and there in life, and yet that what he meant was no more than flotsam on the surface of a noble stream – strong, transparent, deep – and in its depths still undefiled. Indeed, there were no lees in Jan. And Heriot loved him; and they fell to talking for the last time (and almost the first) of old Thrale’s sermon on the Sunday after the Old Boys’ Match, and the curious fact that he meant Jan to be there, that Heriot himself had come to fetch him; that was when Jan hid behind the door, little dreaming that Evan had owned up everything on learning what had happened.
“I might have known he would!” said Jan fondly. “It was only a question of time; but you say he didn’t hesitate an instant? He wouldn’t! But thank goodness he didn’t go and make bad worse like I did for him. It would have killed him to get expelled; he says it was the bare thought that very nearly did, as it was.”