The game was in its last and most exciting stage when Jan took himself off the ground; feeling ran high upon the rugs, and expressed itself more shrilly and even oftener than before; and such a storm of cheering chanced to follow Jan into the narrow country street, that two boys quite a long way ahead looked back with one accord. They did not see Jan. They were on the sunny side; he was in the shade. But he found himself following Devereux and Carpenter perforce, because their way was his. He slackened his pace; they stopped at the market-place, and separated obviously against Carpenter’s will. Carpenter pursued his way to Heriot’s. Devereux turned to the left across the market-place, into the shadow of the old grey church with the dominant spire, with the blue-faced clock that struck in the night, and so to the school buildings and his own quad by the short cut from the hill. And Jan dogged him all the way, lagging behind when his unconscious leader stopped to greet a friend, or to look at a game of fives in the School House court, and in the end seeing Devereux safely into his study before he followed and gave a knock.
Evan had scarcely shut his door before it was open again, but in that moment he had cast his cap, and he stood bareheaded against the dark background of his tiny den, in a frame of cropped ivy. It was an effective change, and an effective setting, in his case. His hair was not red, but it was a pale auburn, and peculiarly fine in quality. In a flash Jan remembered it in long curls, and somebody saying, “What a pity he’s not a girl!” And with this striking hair there had always been the peculiarly delicate and transparent skin which is part of the type; there had nearly always been laughing eyes, and a merry mouth; and here they all were in his study doorway, with hardly any difference that Jan could see, though he had dreaded all the difference in the world. And yet, the smile was not quite the old smile, and a flush came first; and Evan looked past Jan into the quad, before inviting him in; and even then he did not shake hands, as he had often done on getting home for the holidays, when Jan’s hand was not fit to shake.
But he laughed quite merrily when the door was shut. And Jan, remembering that ready laugh of old, and how little had always served to ring a hearty peal, saw nothing forced or hurtful in it now, but joined in himself with a shamefaced chuckle.
“It is funny, isn’t it?” he mumbled. “Me being here!”
“I know!” said Evan, with laughing eyes fixed none the less curiously on Jan.
“When did you get back?” inquired Jan, speedily embarrassed by the comic side.
“Only just this afternoon. I went and had mumps at home.”
“That was a bad job,” said Jan, solemnly. “It must have spoilt your holidays.”
“It did, rather.”
“You wouldn’t expect to find me here, I suppose?”
“Never thought of it till I heard your name called over and saw it was you. I hear you’re in Bob’s house?”
“We don’t 'mister’ ’em behind their backs,” said Evan, in tears of laughter. “It’s awfully funny,” he explained, “but I’m awfully glad to see you.”
“Thanks,” said Jan. “But it’s not such fun for me, you know.”
“I should have thought you’d like it awfully,” remarked Evan, still looking the new Jan merrily up and down.
“After the stables, I suppose you mean?”
Evan was more than serious in a moment.
“I wasn’t thinking of them,” he declared, with an indignant flush.
“But I was!” cried Jan. “And I’d give something to be back in them, if you want to know!”
“You won’t feel like that long,” said Evan, reassuringly.
“Why should you?”
“I never wanted to come here, for one thing.”
“You’ll like it well enough, now you are here.”
“I hate it!”
“Only to begin with; lots of chaps do at first.”
“I always shall. I never wanted to come here; it wasn’t my doing, I can tell you.”
Evan stared, but did not laugh; he was now studiously kind in look and word, and yet there was something about both that strangely angered Jan. Look and word, in fact, were alike instinctively measured, and the kindness perfunctory if not exactly condescending. There was, to be sure, no conscious reminder, on Evan’s part, of past inequality; and yet there was just as little to show that in their new life Evan was prepared to treat Jan as an equal; nay, on their former footing he had been far more friendly. If his present manner augured anything, he was to be neither the friend nor the foe of Jan’s extreme hopes and fears. And the unforeseen mien was not the less confusing and exasperating because Jan was confused and exasperated without at the time quite knowing why.
“You needn’t think it was because you were here,” he added suddenly, aggressively – “because I thought you were at Winchester.”
“I didn’t flatter myself,” retorted Evan. “But, as a matter of fact, I should be there if I hadn’t got a scholarship here.”
“So I suppose,” said Jan.
“And yet I’m in the form below you!”
Evan was once more openly amused at this, and perhaps not so secretly annoyed as he imagined.
“I know,” said Jan. “That wasn’t my fault, either. I doubt they’ve placed me far too high.”
“But how did you manage to get half so high?” asked Evan, with a further ingenuous display of what was in his mind.
“Well, there was the vicar, to begin with.”
“That old sinner!” said Evan.
“I used to go to him three nights a week.”
“Now I remember.”
“Then you heard what happened when my father died?”
“It would be a surprise to you, Master Evan?”
It had been on the tip of his tongue more than once, but until now he had found no difficulty in keeping it there. Yet directly they got back to the old days, out it slipped without a moment’s warning.
“You’d better not call me that again,” said Evan, dryly.
“Unless you want the whole school to know!”
“You see, my mother’s friends – ”
“I know. I’ve heard all about it. I always had heard – about your mother.”
Jan had only heard that pitiful romance from his father’s dying lips; it was then the boy had promised to obey her family in all things, and his coming here was the first thing of all. He said as much in his own words, which were bald and broken, though by awkwardness rather than emotion. Then Evan asked, as it were in his stride, if Jan’s mother’s people had a “nice place,” and other questions which might have betrayed to a more sophisticated observer a wish to ascertain whether they really were gentlefolk as alleged. Jan answered that it was “a nice enough place”; but he pointed to a photograph in an Oxford frame – the photograph of a large house reflected in a little artificial lake – a house with a slate roof and an ornamental tower, and no tree higher than the first-floor windows.
“That’s a nicer place,” said Jan, with a sigh.
“I daresay,” Evan acquiesced, with cold complacency.
“There’s nothing like that in Norfolk,” continued Jan, with perfect truth. “Do you remember the first time you took me up to the tower?”
“I can’t say I do.”
“What! not when we climbed out on the roof?”
“I’ve climbed out on the roof so often.”
“And there’s our cottage chimney; and just through that gate we used to play 'snob’!”
Evan did not answer. He had looked at his watch, and was taking down some books. The hint was not to be ignored.
“Well, I only came to say it wasn’t my fault,” said Jan. “I never knew they were going to send me to the same school as you, or they’d have had a job to get me to come.”
“Why?” asked Evan, more stiffly than he had spoken yet. “I shan’t interfere with you.”
“I’m sure you won’t!” cried Jan, with the bitterness which had been steadily gathering in his heart.
“Then what’s the matter with you? Do you think I’m going to tell the whole school all about you?”
Jan felt that he was somehow being put in the wrong; and assisted in the process by suddenly becoming his most sullen self.
“I don’t know,” he answered, hanging his head.
“You don’t know! Do you think I’d think of such a thing?”
“I think a good many would.”
“You think I would?”
“I don’t say that.”
“But you think it?”
Evan pressed him hotly.
“I don’t think anything; and I don’t care what anybody thinks of me, or what anybody knows!” cried Jan, not lying, but speaking as he had suddenly begun to feel.
“Then I don’t know why on earth you came to me,” said Evan scornfully.
“No more do I,” muttered Jan; and out he went into the quad, and crossed it with a flaming face. But at the further side he turned. Evan’s door was still open, as Jan had left it, but Evan had not come out.
Jan found him standing in the same attitude, with the book he had taken down, still unopened in his hand, and a troubled frown upon his face.
“What’s the matter now?” asked Evan.
“I’m sorry – Devereux!”
“So am I.”
“I might have known you wouldn’t tell a soul.”
“I think you might.”
“And of course I don’t want a soul to know. I thought I didn’t care a minute ago. But I do care, more than enough.”
“Well, no one shall hear from me. I give you my word about that.”
Jan was holding out his hand.
“Oh, that’s all right.”
“Won’t you shake hands?”
“Oh, with pleasure, if you like.”
But the grip was all on one side.
Jan went back to his house in a dull glow of injury and anger. But he was angriest with himself, for the gratuitous and unwonted warmth with which he had grasped an unresponsive hand. And the sense of injury abated with a little honest reflection upon its cause. After all, with such a different relationship so fresh in his mind, the Master Evan of the other day could hardly have said more than he had said this afternoon; in any case he could not have promised more. Jan remembered his worst fears; they at least would never be realised now. And yet, in youth, to escape the worst is but to start sighing for the best. Evan might be loyal enough. But would he ever be a friend? Almost in his stride Jan answered his own question with complete candour in the negative; and having faced his own conclusion, thanked his stars that Evan and he were in different houses and different forms.
Shockley was lounging against the palings outside the door leading to the studies; the spot appeared to be his favourite haunt. It was an excellent place for joining a crony or kicking a small boy as he passed. Jan was already preparing his heart for submission to superior force, and his person for any violence, when Shockley greeted him with quite a genial smile.
“Lot o’ parcels for you, Tiger,” said he. “I’ll give you a hand with ’em, if you like.”
“Thank you very much,” mumbled Jan, quite in a flutter. “But where will they be?”
“Where will they be?” the other murmured under his breath. “I’ll show you, Tiger.”
Jan could not help suspecting that Carpenter might be right after all. He had actually done himself good by his display of spirit in the quad! Young Petrie had been civil to him within an hour, and here was Shockley doing the friendly thing before the afternoon was out. He had evidently misjudged Shockley; he tried to make up for it by thanking him nearly all the way to the hall, which was full of fellows who shouted an embarrassing greeting as the pair passed the windows. They did not go into the hall, however, but stopped at the slate table at the foot of the dormitory stairs. It was covered with parcels of all sizes, on several of which Rutter read his name.
“Tolly-sticks – don’t drop ’em,” said Shockley, handing one of the parcels. “This feels like your table-cloth; that must be tollies; and all the rest are books. I’ll help you carry them over.”
“I can manage, thanks,” said Jan, uncomfortably. But Shockley would not hear of his “managing,” and led the way back past the windows, an ironical shout following them into the quad.
“You should have had the lot yesterday,” continued Shockley in the most fatherly fashion. “I should complain to Heriot, if I were you.”
Jan’s study had also been visited in his absence. A folding chair, tied up with string, stood against the wall, with billows of bright green creton bulging through string and woodwork; an absurd bit of Brussels carpet covered every inch of the tiny floor; and it also was an aggressive green, though of another and a still more startling shade.
“Curtains not come yet,” observed Shockley. “I suppose they’re to be green too?”
“I don’t know,” replied Rutter. “I left it to them.”
“I rather like your greens,” said Shockley, opening the long soft parcel. “Why, you’ve gone and got a red table-cloth!”
“It’s their doing, not mine,” observed Jan, phlegmatically.
“I wonder you don’t take more interest in your study,” said Shockley. “Most chaps take a pride in theirs. Red and green! It’ll spoil the whole thing; they don’t go, Tiger.”
Jan made some show of shaking off his indifference in the face of this kindly interest in his surroundings.
“They might change it, Shockley.”
“I wouldn’t trust ’em,” said that authority, shaking and scratching a bullet head by turns. “They’re not too obliging, the tradesmen here – too much bloated monopoly. If you take my advice you’ll let well alone.”
“Then I will,” said Jan, eagerly. “Thanks, awfully, Shockley!”
“Not that it is well,” resumed Shockley, as though the matter worried him. “A green table-cloth’s the thing for you, Tiger, and a green table-cloth you must have if we can work it.”
“It’s very good of you to bother,” said Jan, devoutly wishing he would not.
Shockley only shook his head.
“I’ve got one myself, you see,” he explained in a reflective voice, as he examined the red cloth critically. “It’s a better thing than this – better taste – and green – but I’d rather do a swop with you than see you spoil your study, Tiger.”
“Very well,” said Jan, doubtfully.
Shockley promptly tucked the new table-cloth under his arm. “Let’s see your tolly-sticks!” said he, briskly.
“Candle-sticks, you fool!”
Jan unpacked them, noting as he did so that the fatherly tone had been dropped.
“I suppose you wouldn’t like a real old valuable pair instead of these meagre things?”
“No, thanks, Shockley.”
“Well, anyhow you must have a picture or two.”
“Why must I?” asked Jan. He had suddenly remembered Carpenter’s story of the seven-and-sixpenny chair.
“Because I’ve got the very pair for you, and going cheap.”
“I see,” said Jan, in his dryest Yorkshire voice.
“Oh, I don’t care whether you’ve a study or a sty!” cried Shockley, and away he went glaring, but with the new cloth under his arm. In a minute he was back with the green one rolled into a ball, which he flung in Jan’s face. “There you are, you fool, and I’m glad you like your own colour!” he jeered as he slammed the door behind him.
Neither had Jan much mercy on himself, when he had fitted two candles into the two new china sticks, and lit them with a wax match from the shilling box included in his supplies. Shockley’s table-cloth might once have been green, but long service had reduced it to a more dubious hue; it was spotted with ink and candle-grease, and in one place cut through with a knife. To Jan, indeed, one table-cloth was like another; he was only annoyed to think he had been swindled as badly as Carpenter, by the same impudent impostor, and with Carpenter’s experience to put him on his guard. But even in his annoyance the incident appealed to that prematurely grim sense of the ironic which served Jan Rutter for the fun and nonsense of the ordinary boy; and on the whole he thought it wiser to avoid another row by saying no more about it.
But he was not suffered to keep his resolution to the letter: at tea Buggins and Eyre major were obviously whispering about Jan before Buggins asked him across the table how he liked his new table-cloth.
“I suppose you mean Shockley’s old one?” retorted Jan at once. “It’ll do all right; but it’s a good bargain for Shockley.”
“A bargain’s a bargain,” remarked Buggins with his mouth full.
“And a Jew’s a Jew!” said Jan.
The nice pair glared at him, and glanced at Shockley, who was two places higher up than Jan, but deep in ingratiating conversation with a good-looking fellow on his far side.
“God help you when the Shocker hears that!” muttered Buggins under his breath.
“You’ll be murdered before you’ve been here a week, you brute!” added Eyre major with a titter.
“I may be,” said Jan, “but not by you – you prize pig!”
And, much as he was still to endure from the trio in his form and house, this was the last Jan heard directly of the matter. Whether his reckless words ever reached the ears of Shockley, or whether the truth was in them, Jan never knew. As a good hater, however, he always felt that apart from thick lips, heavy nostrils, pale eyes and straight light hair, his arch-enemy combined all the most objectionable characteristics of Jew and Gentile.
So this stormy Saturday came to a comparatively calm close, and Jan was left to wrestle in peace with a Latin prose set by Mr. Haigh at second school. On other nights everybody went back to his form-master after tea, for a bout of preparation falsely called “private work”; but on Saturdays some kind of composition was set throughout the school, was laboriously evolved in the solitude of the study, and signed by the house-master after prayers that night or on the Sunday morning. Unfortunately, composition was Jan’s weak point. By the dim light of the dictionary, with the frail support of a Latin grammar, he could grope his way through a page of C?sar or of Virgil without inevitably plunging to perdition; but the ability to cast English back into Latin implies a point of scholarship which Jan had not reached by all the forced marches of the past few months. He grappled with his prose until head and hand perspired in the warm September evening. He hunted up noun after noun in his new English-Latin, and had a shot at case after case. And when at length his fair copy was food for Haigh’s blue pencil, and Jan leant back to survey his own two candles and his own four walls, he was conscious, in the first place, that he had been taken out of himself, and in the second that a study to oneself was a mitigating circumstance in school life.
Not that he disliked his dormitory either; there, nothing was said to him about the row in the quad, of which in fact he had heard very little since it occurred. He was embarrassed, however, by a command from Joyce to tell a story after the gas was out; stories were not at all in Jan’s line; and the situation was only relieved by Bingley’s sporting offer to stand proxy in the discharge of what appeared to be a traditional debt on the part of all new boys entering that house. Bingley, permitted to officiate as a stop-gap only, launched with much gusto and more minuti? into a really able account of a revolting murder committed in the holidays. Murders proved to be Bingley’s strong point; his face would glow over the less savoury portions of the papers in hall; and that night his voice was still vibrating with unctuous horror when Jan got off to sleep.
The school Sunday in his time was not desecrated by a stroke of work; breakfast of course was later, and Heriot himself deliberately late for prayers, which were held in the houses as on the first day of the term, instead of in the big school-room. Chapel seemed to monopolise morning and afternoon. Yet there was time for a long walk after either chapel, and abundant time for letter-writing after dinner. Not that Jan availed himself of the opportunity; he had already posted a brief despatch to the rectory, and nowhere else was there a soul who could possibly care to hear from him. He spent the latter end of the morning in a solitary stroll along a very straight country road, and the hour after dinner over a yellow-back borrowed from Chips.
Morning chapel had been quite a revelation to Jan. He had been forced to go to church in Norfolk; he went to chapel in the stoical spirit born of chastening experience. Yet there was something in the very ringing of the bells that might have prepared him for brighter things; they were like joy-bells in their almost merry measure. The service proved bright beyond belief. The chapel itself was both bright and beautiful. It was full of sunlight and fresh air, it lacked the heavy hues and the solemn twilight which Jan associated with a place of worship. The responses came with a hearty and unanimous ring. The psalms were the quickest thing in church music that Jan had ever heard; they went with such a swing that he found himself trying to sing for the first time in his life. His place in chapel had not yet been allotted to him, and he stood making his happily inaudible effort between two tail-coated veterans with stentorian lungs. Crowning merit of the morning service, there was no sermon; but in the afternoon the little man with the imperious air grew into a giant in his marble pulpit, and impressed Jan so powerfully that he wondered again how the fellows could call him Jerry, until he looked round and saw some of them nodding in their chairs. Then he found that he had lost the thread himself, that he could not pick it up again, that everything escaped him except a transfigured face and a voice both stern and tender. But these were flag and bugle to the soldier concealed about most young boys, and Jan for one came out of chapel at quick march.