“I happened to have done the hardest bit before,” said Jan, chuckling consumedly; “and not so long since, either!”
Carpenter looked at him.
“Then it wasn’t unseen at all?”
“Not to me.”
“You didn’t think of saying so on your paper?”
“Not I! It’s their look-out, not mine,” chuckled Jan.
The other made no comment. It was the long break in the middle of the day, and the pair were on their way back to Heriot’s for dinner.
“I wish they’d set us some verses,” said Carpenter. “They’d be my best chance.”
“Then you’re a fool if you take it,” put in a good-humoured lout who had joined them in the street.
“But it’s the only thing I can do at all decently,” explained the ingenuous Carpenter. “I’m a backward sort of ass at most things, but I rather like Latin verses.”
“Well, you’re another sort of ass if you do your best in any of these piffling papers.”
“I see! You mean to make sure of a nice easy form?”
“There’s no fagging over the Upper Fourth, let me tell you, even for us.”
“Perhaps not, but there’s more kinds of fagging than one, you take my word for it; and I prefer to do mine out of school,” said the big new boy, significantly, as their ways parted.
Carpenter wanted to discuss his meaning, but Jan took no interest in it, and was evidently not to be led into any discussion against his will. He had in fact a gift of silence remarkable in a boy and not a little irritating to a companion. Yet he broke it again to the extent of asking Heriot at table, and that ? propos of nothing, when the other boys would “start to arrive.”
“The tap will be turned on any minute now,” said Heriot, with a look at his sister. “In some houses I expect it’s running already.”
“Which house is Devereux in?” asked Rutter, always direct when he spoke at all.
“Let me think. I know – the Lodge – the house opposite the chapel with the study doors opening into the quad.”
Carpenter’s silence was the companion feature of this meal.
The boys had time for a short walk afterwards, and more than a hint to take one. But they only went together because they were thrown together; these two had obviously as little else in common as boys could have; and yet, there was something else, and neither dreamt what a bond it was to be.
“Do you know Devereux?” Carpenter began before they were out of their quad.
“Why? Do you know him?”
Jan was not unduly taken aback; he was prepared for anything with regard to Devereux, including the next question long before it came.
“We were at the same preparatory school, and great pals there,” replied Carpenter, wistfully. “I suppose you know him at home?”
“I used to, but only in a sort of way,” said Jan, warily. “I don’t suppose we shall see anything of each other here; he mayn’t even recognise me, to start with.”
“Or me, for that matter!” cried Carpenter, with less reserve.
It was on the tip of Jan’s tongue to defend the absent Evan with injudicious warmth; but he remembered what he had just said, and held his tongue as he always could. Carpenter, on the other hand, apparently regretting his little show of pique, changed the subject with ingenuous haste and chattered more freely than ever about the various school buildings that they passed upon their way. There was a house at the end of the street with no fewer than three tiers of ivy-covered study windows; but it had no quad. There were other houses tucked more out of sight; but Carpenter knew about them, and which hero of the Cambridge eleven had been at this, that, or the other. His interest in his school was of the romantic and imaginative order; it contrasted very favourably with Jan’s indifference, which grew the more perversely pronounced as his companion waxed enthusiastic. It appeared that Carpenter was following a number of youths from his part of the world, who had been through the school before him, and from whom he had acquired a smattering of its lore. The best houses of all, he had heard, were not in the town at all, but on the hill a quarter of a mile away. The pair went to inspect, and found regular mansions standing back in their own grounds, their studies and fives-courts hidden from the road; for the new boys trespassed far enough to see for themselves; and Rutter at once expressed a laconic preference for the hill houses, whereat Carpenter stood up as readily for the town.
“There’s no end of rivalry between the two,” he explained, as they trotted down into the valley, pressed for time. “I wouldn’t be in a hill house for any money, or in any house but ours if I had my choice of all the lot.”
“And I wouldn’t be here at all,” retorted Jan, depriving his companion of what breath he had as they hurried up the hill towards the town. By turning to the left, however, in the wake of other new boys in a like hurry, they found themselves approaching the chapel and the great schoolroom by a shorter route. It led through a large square quad with study doors opening upon it down two sides, and nothing over these studies but their own roof.
“There’s plenty of time,” said Jan, with rather a furtive look at a little gold lady’s watch that he pulled out in his fist. “I wonder if this is the Lodge?”
“No – it’s the next – opposite the chapel. This is the School House. Do come on!”
The School House and the Lodge were like none of the other houses. Instead of standing by themselves in the town or on the hill, each formed a part of the distinctive group of which the chapel and the great schoolroom were the salient features. Their quadrangles not only adjoined, but there was no line of demarcation to show where one began or the other ended. In both the study doors opened straight into the fresh air; but in neither was a boy to be seen as Carpenter and Rutter caught up the flying remnant of the forty-two.
“Let’s go back by the Lodge,” said Jan, when at last they were let out for good. But now the scene was changing. Groups of two and three were dotted about in animated conversation, some still in their journey hats, others in old school caps with faded badges, but none who took the smallest notice of the new boys with the new badges, which they had still to learn to crease correctly over the peak.
And now it was that Rutter horrified his companion by accosting with apparent coolness a big fellow just emerged from one of the Lodge studies.
“Do you mind telling us if a boy they call Devereux has got back yet?” asked Jan, with more of his own idioms than he had often managed to utter in one breath.
“I haven’t seen him,” the big fellow answered civilly enough. But his stare followed the retreating couple, one of whom had caught the other by the arm.
“I shouldn’t talk about 'a boy,’ if I were you,” Carpenter was saying as nicely as he could.
But Rutter was quite aware of his other solecisms, though not of this one, and was already too furious with himself to brook a gratuitous rebuke.
“Oh! isn’t it the fashion? Then I’ll bet you wouldn’t!” he cried, as he shook off the first arm which had ever been thrust through his by a gentleman’s son.
A ball like a big white bullet was making staccato music in Heriot’s outer fives-court; two school caps were bobbing above the back wall; and a great thick-lipped lad of sixteen or seventeen, who was hanging about the door leading to the studies, promptly asked the new boys their names.
“What’s your gov’nor?” he added, addressing Carpenter first.
“A rag-merchant, I should think! And yours?”
Jan was not embarrassed by the question; he was best prepared at all his most vulnerable points. But his natural bluntness had so recently caused him such annoyance with himself, that he replied as politely as he possibly could:
“My father happens to be dead.”
“Oh, he does, does he?” cried the other with a scowl. “Well, if you happen to think it funny to talk about 'happening’ to me, you may jolly soon happen to wish you were dead yourself!”
The tap had indeed been turned on, and the water was certainly rather cold; the more fortunate for Rutter that his skin was thick enough to respond with a glow rather than a shiver.
Jan’s impressions were not the less vivid for his determination not to be impressed at all; for no attitude of mind is harder to sustain than one of deliberate indifference, which is not real indifference at all, but at best a precarious pose. Jan was really indifferent to a large extent, but not wholly, and the leaven of sensibility rendered him acutely alive to each successive phase of his experience; on the other hand, the fact that he was not too easily hurt was of immense value in keeping his wits about him, and his whole garrison of senses at attention. Sensitive he was, and that to the last degree, on a certain point; but it was a point no longer likely to arise that night. And meanwhile there was quite enough to occupy his mind.
There was the long-drawn arrival of the house, unit by unit, in bowler hats which changed as if by magic into old school caps, and even in “loud” ties duly discarded for solemn black. Then there was tea, with any amount of good cheer in hall, every fellow bringing in some delicacy of his own, and newcomers arriving in the middle to be noisily saluted by their friends. Nobody now took the slightest notice of Jan, who drifted into a humble place at the long table, which was still far from full, and fell to work upon the plain bread and butter provided, until some fellow pushed a raised pie across the table to him without a word. The matron dispensed tea from a gigantic urn, and when anybody wanted another cup he simply rattled it in his saucer. Jan could have made even more primitive use of his saucer, for the tea was hot if not potent. But fortunately there were some things it was not necessary for Carpenter to tell him, for that guide and counsellor was not in hall; he had gone out to tea with another new boy and his people, who knew something about him at home.
Jan was allowed to spend the evening in an empty study which he might or might not be able to take over next day, according to the place assigned to him in the school; meanwhile the bare boards, table, Windsor chair, and book-shelf, with an ironically cold hot-water pipe, and the nails with which the last occupant had studded the walls, looked dismal enough in the light of a solitary candle supplied by Morgan. The narrow passage resounded with shouts of laughter and boyish badinage from the other studies; either the captain of the house had not come back, or he was not the man to play the martinet on the first night of the term; and Jan, left as severely alone as even he could have wished, rose with alacrity when one in passing pounded on his door and shouted that it was time for prayers. He was in fact not sorry to mingle with his kind again in the lighted hall, where the fellows were already standing in their places at table, armed with hymn-books but chatting merrily, while one of the small fry stood sentinel in the flagged passage leading to the green baize door. Jan had scarcely found a place when in flew this outpost with a sepulchral “hush!” In the ensuing silence came Miss Heriot followed by her brother, who began by giving out the hymn which she played on the piano under the shelf with the cups, and which the house sang heartily enough.
It was one of the many disadvantages of Jan’s strange boyhood that he had been brought up practically without religion. Mention has been made of an eccentric clergyman who was the first to take an interest in Jan’s intellectual welfare; unhappily, his eccentricities had been of such a character as almost to stultify his spiritual pretensions; and in his new home the boy had encountered another type of clerical example which had been but little better in its effect upon his mind. Prayer had never been to him the natural practice which it is to young English schoolboys of all shades of character and condition. So he paid very little attention to the prayers read by Heriot, at this first time of hearing; but even so the manly unaffected voice, and a few odd phrases on which it dwelt in gentler tones, were not altogether lost upon Jan. Nevertheless, when he went up to dormitory, after biscuits (which he heard called “dog-rocks”) and milk, and another dreary half-hour in the empty study, the last thing he feared or thought about was the kind of difficulty which had beset little Arthur in a certain chapter of Tom Brown which had not appealed to Jan. And all this may be why he was so much impressed by what happened in the little dormitory at the top of the house, when he and his three companions were undressing for bed.
Joyce, the captain of the dormitory, who proved to be a rather delicate youth with a most indelicate vocabulary, suddenly ceased firing, as it were, and commanded silence for “bricks.”
“Know what 'bricks’ are?” asked Bingley, who occupied the “tish” adjoining Jan’s, and turned out to be a boy of his own age, instead of the formidable figure of his imagination.
“It’s your prayers,” said Joyce, with such an epithet that Jan could not possibly believe him.
“You are a brute, Joyce!” cried Crabtree, poking a clever red head through his curtains.
“Nevertheless, my boy,” rejoined Joyce, imitating a master through his nose, “I know what bricks are, and I say them.”
“Obvious corruption of prex,” began Crabtree, in didactic fashion, when Joyce cut him short with a genial malediction, and silence reigned for the best part of a minute.
Jan went on his knees with the others, though he had not done so the night before, and his lips moved through the Lord’s Prayer; but in his heart he was marvelling at the language of the nice tall fellow in the far corner. It was the kind of language he had often heard in the stables, but it was the last kind that he had expected to hear in a public school; and somehow it shocked him, for the first time in his life. But on the whole he was thankful to find himself in such pleasant company in dormitory, and it came to him to express his thankfulness while he was on his knees.
Nothing occurred, as they lay talking in the dark, to modify the new boy’s feeling on this point; nor had he subsequent occasion to revise a triple opinion which might well have proved premature in one case or the other. It revealed on the contrary an unusually sound instinct for character. Joyce’s only foible was his fondness for free language. He had a redeeming sense of humour, and it was in treatment rather than in choice of subject that he erred. Crabtree was irreproachable in conversation, and a kindly creature in his cooler moods; but he suffered from the curse of intellect, was precociously didactic and dogmatic, and had a temperament as fiery as his hair. Bingley was a lively, irresponsible, curly-headed dog, who enjoyed life in an insignificant position both in and out of school. The other two had nicknames which were not for the lips of new boys; but Jan called Bingley “Toby” after the first night.
Prayers were in houses on the first morning of the term, and nothing else happened before or after breakfast until the whole school assembled in the big schoolroom at ten o’clock to hear the new school order. Jan pulled his cap over his eyes as he found himself wedged in a crowd from all the houses, converging at the base of the worn stone spiral stair up and down which he had trotted at his ease between the papers of the previous day. Now he was slowly hoisted in the press, the breath crushed from his body, his toes only occasionally encountering a solid step, a helpless atom in a monster’s maw. At the top of the stone stairs, however, and through the studded oak door, there was room for all; but here it was necessary to uncover face and head; and yet none that he knew of old was revealed to Jan’s close though furtive scrutiny.
Carpenter, who had come with him, and squeezed into the next seat, watched the watcher in his turn, and then whispered:
“He’s not come back yet.”
“Evan Devereux. I asked a fellow in his house.”
“What made you think of him now?”
“Oh, nothing. I only thought you might be looking to see if he was here.”
“Well, perhaps I was,” said Jan, with grumpy candour. “But I’m sure I don’t care where he is.”
“No more do I, goodness knows!” said Carpenter.
And between three and four hundred chattered on all sides with subdued but ceaseless animation; the pr?postors keeping order more or less, but themselves chatting to each other as became the first morning of the term. Then suddenly there fell an impressive silence. The oak door opened with a terrible click of the latch, like the cocking of a huge revolver, and in trooped all the masters, cap in hand and gown on shoulders, led by a little old man with a kindly, solemn, and imperious air. And Jan felt that this could only be Mr. Thrale, the Head Master, but Carpenter whispered:
“Old Thrale, of course, but everybody calls him Jerry.”
And Jan liked everybody’s impudence as Mr. Thrale took his place behind a simple desk on the dais, and read out the new list, form by form, as impressively as Holy Writ.
The first names that Jan recognised were those of Loder, the captain of his house, and Cave major, its most distinguished representative on tented field; they were in the Upper and Lower Sixth respectively. Joyce was still in the Remove, as captain of the form, but Crabtree had gained a double remove from the Lower to the Upper Fifth. Next in Jan’s ken came Shockley – the fellow who had threatened to make him wish he was dead – and then most thrillingly – long before either expected it – Carpenter’s name and his own in quick succession.
“What form will it be?” whispered Jan into the other’s ear.
“Middle Remove,” purred Carpenter. “And we don’t have to fag after all!”
Devereux was the next and the last name that Jan remembered hearing: it was actually in the form below his!
The new boys had already learnt that it was customary for the masters to take their forms in hall in their own houses; they now discovered that Mr. Haigh, the master of the Middle Remove, had just succeeded to the most remote of all the hill houses – the one house in fact on the further slope of the hill. Thither his new form accordingly repaired, and on the good ten minutes’ walk Carpenter and Rutter had their heads violently knocked together by Shockley, for having the cheek to get so high and to escape fagging their first term.
“But you needn’t think you have,” he added, ominously. “If you young swots come flying into forms it takes the rest of us two years to get to – by the sweat of our blessed brows – by the Lord Harry you shall have all the swot you want! You’ll do the construe for Buggins and me and Eyre major every morning of your miserable lives!”
Buggins (who rejoiced in a real name of less distinction, and a strong metropolitan accent) was climbing the hill arm-in-arm with Eyre major (better known as Jane), his echo and his shadow in one distended skin. Buggins embroidered Shockley’s threats, and Eyre major contributed a faithful laugh. But Jan heard them all unmoved, and thought the less of Carpenter when his thinner skin changed colour.
Mr. Haigh gave his new form a genial welcome, vastly reassuring those who knew least about him by laughing uproariously at points too subtle for their comprehension. He was a muscular man with a high colour and a very clever head. His hair was turning an effective grey about the temples, his body bulging after the manner of bodies no longer really young and energetic. Energy he had, however, of a spasmodic and intemperate order, though he only showed it on this occasion by savagely pouncing on a rather small boy who happened to be also in his house. Up to that moment Carpenter and Rutter were ready to congratulate themselves and each other upon their first form-master; but, though he left them considerately alone for a day or two, they were never sure of Mr. Haigh again.
This morning he merely foreshadowed his scheme of the term’s work, and gave out a list of the new books required; but some of these were enough to strike terror to the heart of Jan, and others made Carpenter look solemn. Ancient Greek Geography was not an enticing subject to one who had scarcely beheld even a modern map until the last six months; and to anybody as imperfectly grounded as Carpenter declared himself to be, it was an inhuman jump from somebody’s Stories in Attic Greek to Thucydides and his Peloponnesian War.
“I suppose it’s because I did extra well at something else,” said Carpenter with unconscious irony on their way down the hill. “What a fool I was not to take that fat chap’s advice! Why, I’ve never even done a page of Xenophon, and I’m not sure that I could say the Greek alphabet to save my life!”
“I only hope,” rejoined Jan, “that they haven’t gone and judged me by that unseen!”
But their work began lightly enough, and that first day the furnishing of their studies was food for much more anxious thought, with Carpenter at any rate. As for Jan, he really was indifferent to his surroundings, but the excitable enthusiasm of his companion made him feign even greater indifference than he felt. He was to retain the back upstairs study in which he had spent the previous evening, and Carpenter had the one next it; after dinner Heriot signed orders for carpet, curtains, candles and candlesticks, a table-cloth and a folding arm-chair apiece, as well as for stationery and a quantity of books; and Carpenter led the way to the upholsterer’s at a happy trot. He was an age finding curtains, carpet and table-cloth, of a sufficiently harmonious shade of red; and no doubt Jan made all the more point of leaving the choice of his chattels entirely to the tradesman.