Jan did not see that was a confession he could not have made, or have had to make, about himself; and Heriot did not point it out to him. Presently Chips came in from the Sanatorium. He reported Evan as convalescent in body and mind, and so appreciative of the verses on the Old Boys’ Match in the July Mag. that he was getting them framed with the score.
“We’ve been talking about what you fellows get out of a school like this,” said Heriot. “If you ever take to your pen, I think you may owe us more than most, Carpenter; but there was one man once who said what we’re all three probably thinking to-night. Here’s his little book of verses. I’ve had a copy bound for each of you. Here they are.”
The little books were bound in the almost royal blue of the Eleven sash and cap-trimming. Carpenter had scarcely opened his when he exclaimed, “Here’s an old friend!” and read out:
“They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.”
“Rather an old enemy, that,” said Jan, grinning.
“Then, my good fellow, you’re incapable of appreciating four of the most classically perfect lines in a modern language!”
Heriot had quite turned on Jan. It took Chips to explain their former acquaintance with the lines, which he did with much gusto. And then they all three laughed heartily over his misconstruction of “Still are thy quiet voices, thy nightingales, awake,” in the second stanza, and roared at Jan’s nostro loquendo in the first.
“But that’s not the poem I mean,” said Heriot, borrowing Jan’s copy. “It’s this 'Retrospect of School Life.’ Can you stand it?”
And Heriot read a verse that made them hold their breath; then this one, with his head turned towards Jan, and a rich tremor in his virile voice:
“There courteous strivings with my peers,
And duties not bound up in books,
And courage fanned by stormy cheers,
And wisdom writ in pleasant looks,
And hardship buoyed with hope, and pain
Encountered for the common weal,
And glories void of vulgar gain,
Were mine to take, were mine to feel.”
“Isn’t that rather what we were driving at?” he asked of Jan.
Jan nodded. Chips begged for more, with a break in his voice. Heriot wagged his spectacles and went on…
“Much lost I; something stayed behind,
A snatch, maybe, of ancient song;
Some breathings of a deathless mind,
Some love of truth, some hate of wrong.”
“And to myself in games I said,
'What mean the books? Can I win fame?
I would be like the faithful dead
A fearless man, and pure of blame.
I may have failed, my School may fail;
I tremble, but thus much I dare;
I love her.Let the critics rail,
My brethren and my home are there.’”
Chips had laid an emotional hand on Jan’s arm after the last line but four; and Heriot went almost as far after the last one of all; but Jan had himself well in hand.
“That’s what you and I were forgetting, and we mustn’t,” Heriot said to him. “Your name isn’t only up in the pavilion. It’s in some of our hearts as well. Your brethren and your home are here!”
Still Jan looked rather stolid.
“There’s just one line I should like to alter,” said he with hardihood. “Do you mind reading the first verse over again, sir?”
And Heriot read:
“I go, and men who know me not,
When I am reckoned man, will ask,
'What is it then that thou hast got
By drudging through that five-year task?
What knowledge or what art is thine?
Set out thy stock, thy craft declare.’
Then this child-answer shall be mine,
'I only know they loved me there.’”
“It’s just that last line,” said Jan. “It should be the other way about.”
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