The golden autumn day was still almost at its best, but Jan had no stomach for another lonely walk. A really lonely walk would have been different; but to go off by oneself, and to meet hundreds in sociable twos and threes, with linked arms and wagging tongues, was to cut too desolate a figure before the world. Carpenter apparently had found a friend; at least Jan saw him obviously waiting for one after chapel; yet hardly had he settled to his novel, than a listless step was followed by the banging of the study door next his own.
“I thought you’d gone for a walk,” said Jan, when he had gained admission by pounding on Carpenter’s door.
“Did you! You thought wrong, then.”
Carpenter smiled as though to temper an ungraciousness worthier of Jan, but the effort was hardly a success. He was reclining in a chair with a leg-rest, under the window opposite the door. He had already put up a number of pictures and brackets, and photograph frames in the plush of that period. Everything was very neat and nice, and there was a notable absence of inharmonious or obtrusive shades.
“How on earth did you open the door from over there?” asked Jan.
“Lazy-pull,” said Carpenter, showing off a cord running round three little walls and ending in a tassel at his elbow. “You can buy ’em all ready at Blunt’s.”
“You have got fettled up,” remarked Jan, “and no mistake!”
Carpenter opened his eyes at the uncouth participle.
“I want to have a good study,” he said. “I’ve one or two pictures to put up yet, and I’ve a good mind to do them now.”
“You wouldn’t like to come for a walk instead?”
The suggestion was very shyly made, and as candidly considered by Chips Carpenter.
“Shall I?” he asked himself aloud.
“You might as well,” said Jan without pressing it.
“I’m not sure that I mightn’t.”
And off they went, but not with linked arms, or even very close together; for Chips still seemed annoyed at something or other, and for once not in a mood to talk about it or anything else. It was very unlike him; and a small boy is not unlike himself very long. They took the road under the study windows, left the last of the little town behind them, dipped into a wooded hollow, and followed a couple far ahead over a stile and along a right-of-way through the fields; and in the fields, bathed in a mellow mist, and as yet but thinly dusted with the gold of autumn, Carpenter found his tongue. He expatiated on this new-found freedom, this intoxicating licence to roam where one would within bounds of time alone, a peculiar boon to the boy from a private school, and one that Jan appreciated as highly as his companion. It was not the only thing they agreed about that first Sunday afternoon. Jan was in a much less pugnacious mood than usual, and Carpenter less ponderously impressed with every phase of their new life. They exchanged some prejudices, and compared a good many notes, as they strolled from stile to stile.
Jan was not jealous; from his primitive point of view the master was the natural enemy of the boy; and he was not at the time surprised when Carpenter dismissed the incident as briefly as though he were rather ashamed of it. He would have thought no more of the matter but for a chance encounter as they crossed their last stile and came back into the main road.
Swinging down the middle of the road came a trio arm-in-arm, full of noisy talk, and so hilarious that both boys recognised Evan Devereux by his laugh before they saw his face. Evan, on his side, must have been almost as quick to recognise Carpenter, who was first across the stile, for he at once broke away from his companions.
“I’m awfully sorry!” he cried. “I quite forgot I’d promised these fellows when I promised you.”
“It doesn’t matter a bit,” said Carpenter, in a rather unconvincing voice.
“You didn’t go waiting about for me, did you?”
“Not long,” replied Carpenter, dryly.
“Well, I really am awfully sorry; but, you see, I’d promised these men at the end of last term, and I quite forgot about it this morning at Heriot’s.”
“I won’t do it again, I swear.”
“You won’t get the chance!” muttered Carpenter, as Devereux ran after his companions. He looked at his watch, and turned to Jan. “There’s plenty of time, Rutter. Which way shall we go?”
Jan came out of the shadow of the hedge; he had remained instinctively in the background, and had no reason to think that Evan had seen him. Certainly their eyes had never met. And yet there had been something in Evan’s manner, something pointed in his fixed way of looking at Carpenter and not beyond him, something that might have left a doubt in Jan’s mind if a greater doubt had not already possessed it.
“Which way shall we turn?” Carpenter repeated as Jan stood looking at him strangely.
“Neither way, just yet a bit,” said Jan, darkly. “I want to ask you something first.”
“Right you are.”
“There are not so many here that you could say it for, so far as I can see,” continued Jan, the inscrutable: “but from what I’ve seen of you, Carpenter, I don’t believe you’d tell me a lie.”
“I’d try not to,” said the other, smiling, yet no easier than Jan in his general manner.
“That’s good enough for me,” said Jan. “So what did Devereux mean just now by talking about 'this morning at Heriot’s’?”
“Oh, he had breakfast with Heriot, too; didn’t I tell you?”
“No; you didn’t.”
“Well, I never supposed it would interest you.”
“Although I told you I knew something about him at home!”
The two were facing each other, eye to eye. Those of Jan were filled with a furious suspicion.
“I wonder you didn’t speak to him just now,” remarked Carpenter, looking at his nails.
“He never saw me; besides, I’d gone and said all I’d got to say to him yesterday in his study.”
“Didn’t Devereux tell you I’d been to see him?”
“Oh, I think he said he’d seen you, but that was all.”
“At breakfast this morning?”
“Did Heriot ask him anything about me?”
“Has he told you anything about me at home, Chips?”
“Only that he hardly knew you; that was all,” declared Carpenter, looking Jan in the face once more. “And I must say I don’t see what you’re driving at, Rutter!”
“You’d better go and ask Devereux,” said Jan, unworthily; but, as luck would have it, he could not have diverted his companion’s thoughts more speedily if he had tried.
“Devereux? I don’t go near him!” he cried. “He promised to wait for me after chapel, and he cut me for those fellows we saw him with just now.”
“Although you were friends at the same private school?”
“If you call that friendship! He never wrote to me all last term, though I wrote twice to him!”
“I suppose that would be why Heriot asked you both to breakfast,” said Jan, very thoughtfully, as they began walking back together. “I mean, you both coming from the same school.”
“What? Oh, yes, of course it was.”
Jan threw one narrow look over his shoulder.
“Of course it was!” he agreed, and walked on nodding to himself.
“But he didn’t know Evan Devereux, or he’d have known that an old friend was nothing to him!”
“I wouldn’t be too sure,” said Jan with gentle warmth. “I wouldn’t be too sure, if I were you.”
By the beginning of October there was a bite in the air, and either fives or football every afternoon; and before the middle of the month Jan began now and then to feel there might be worse places than a public school. He had learnt his way about. He could put a name to all his house and form. He was no longer strange; and on the whole he might have disliked things more than he did. There was much that he did dislike, instinctively and individually; but there was a good deal that he could not help enjoying, over and above the football and the fives. There was the complete freedom out of school, the complete privacy of the separate study, above all the amazing absence of anything in the way of espionage by the masters. These were all surprises to Jan; but they were counterbalanced by some others, such as the despotic powers of the pr?postors, which only revived the spirit of sensitive antagonism in which he had come to school. The pr?postors wore straw hats, had fags, and wielded hunting-crops to keep the line at football matches. This was a thing that made Jan’s blood boil; he marvelled that no one else seemed to take it as an indignity, or to resent the authority of these pr?postors as he did. Then there were boys like Shockley whom he could cheerfully have attended on the scaffold. And there was one man he very soon detested more than any boy.
That man was Mr. Haigh, the master of the Middle Remove; and Jan’s view of him was perhaps no fairer than his treatment of Jan. Haigh, when not passing more or less unworthy pleasantries, and laughing a great deal at very little indeed, was a serious and even passionate scholar. He had all the gifts of his profession except coolness and a right judgment of boys. His enthusiasm was splendid. The willing dullard caught fire in his form. The gifted idler was obliged to work for Haigh. He had hammered knowledge into all sorts and conditions of boys; but here was one who would get up and wring the sense out of a page of Virgil, and then calmly ask Haigh to believe him incapable of parsing a passage or of scanning a line of that page! Of course Haigh believed no such thing, and of course Jan would vouchsafe no explanation of his inconceivable deficiencies. Pressed for one, indeed, or on any other point arising from his outrageously unequal equipment, Jan invariably sulked, and Haigh invariably lost his temper and called Jan elaborate names. The more offensive they were, the better care Jan took to earn them. Sulky he was inclined to be by nature; sulkier he made himself when he found that it exasperated Haigh more than the original offence.
Loder, the captain of his house, was another object of Jan’s dislike. Loder was not only a pr?postor, who lashed your legs in public with a hunting-crop, but he was generally accounted a bit of a prig and a weakling into the bargain, and Jan thought he deserved his reputation. Loder had a great notion of keeping order in the house, but his actual tactics were to pounce upon friendless wretches like Chips or Jan, and not to interfere with stalwarts of the Shockley gang, or even with popular small boys like young Petrie. Nor was it necessary for Jan to be caught out of his study after lock-up, or throwing stones in the quad, in order to incur the noisy displeasure of the captain of the house. Loder heard of the daily trouble with Haigh; it was all over the house, thanks to Shockley & Co., whose lurid tales had the unforeseen effect of provoking a certain admiration for “the new man who didn’t mind riling old Haigh.” Indifference on such a point implied the courage of the matador – to all who had been gored aforetime in the Middle Remove – save and except the serious Loder. Passing Jan’s door one day, this exemplary pr?postor looked in to tell him he was disgracing the house, and stayed to inquire what on earth he meant by having such a filthy study. The epithet was inexact; but certainly the study was ankle-deep in books and papers, with bare walls still bristling with the last tenant’s nails; and it was not improved by a haunting smell of sulphur and tallow, due to the recent firing of the shilling box of wax matches.
“It says nothing about untidy studies in the School Rules,” said Jan, tilting his chair back from his table, and glowering at his interrupted imposition.
“Don’t you give me any cheek!” cried Loder, looking dangerous for him.
“But it does say,” continued Jan, quoting a characteristic canon with grim deliberation, “that 'a boy’s study is his castle,’ Loder!”
Jan had to pick himself up, and then his chair, with an ear that tingled no more than Jan deserved. But this was not one of the events that rankled in his mind. He had made a swaggering pr?postor look the fool he was; no smack on the head could rob him of the recollection.
With such a temper it is no wonder that Jan remained practically friendless. Yet he might have made friends among the smaller fry below him in the house; and there was one unathletic boy of almost his own age, but really high up in the school, whose advances were summarily repulsed because they appeared to Jan to betray some curiosity about his people and his home. It was only human that the lad should be far too suspicious on all such points; the pity was that this often made him more forbidding and hostile in his manner than he was at heart. But in all his aversions and suspicions there was no longer a hard or a distrustful thought of Evan Devereux, though Jan and he had not spoken since that first Saturday, and though they often met upon the hill or in the street without exchanging look or nod.
Otherwise his likes were not so strong as his dislikes, or at any rate not so ready; and yet in his heart even Jan soon found himself admiring a number of fellows to whom he never dreamt of speaking before they spoke to him. Head and chief of these was Cave major, who was already in the Eleven, and who got his football colours after the first match. How the whole house clapped him in hall that night at tea! The only notice he had ever taken of Jan was to relieve him of Carpenter’s yellow-back novel, which the great man read and passed on to another member of the Fifteen in another house. To the owner of the book that honour was sufficient solace; but neither new boy had ever encountered quite so heroic a figure as the great Charles Cave. Then there was Sprawson – Mother Sprawson, to Cave and Loder – reputed a tremendous runner, but seen to be several things besides. Sprawson amused Jan immensely by carrying an empty spirit-flask in his pocket, and sometimes behaving as though he had just emptied it; he was rather a bully, but more of a humorist, who would administer a whole box of pills prescribed for himself to some unfortunate urchin in no need of them; and yet when he drew Jan in the house fives, and was consequently knocked out in the first round, nobody could have taken a defeat or treated a partner better. Then there were Stratten and Jellicoe. Stratten seemed a very perfect gentleman, and Jellicoe a distinct though fiery one; they were always about arm-in-arm together, or playing fives on the inner court; and Jan enjoyed watching them when he could not get a game himself on the outer. At closer range he developed a more intimate appreciation of Joyce, with his bad language and his good heart, and of Bingley and his joyous interest in violent crime.
As for old Bob Heriot, he completely upset all Jan’s ideas about schoolmasters. He was never in the least angry, yet even Cave major looked less dashing in his presence, and the likes of Shockley ludicrously small. Not that his house saw too much of Heriot. He was not the kind of master who is continually in and out of his own quad. His sway was felt rather than enforced. But he had a brisk and cheery word with the flower of the house most nights after prayers, and somehow Jan and others of his size generally lingered in the background to hear what he had to say; he never embarrassed them by taking too much notice of them before their betters, and seldom chilled them by taking none at all. The Shockley fraternity, however, had not a good word to say for poor Mr. Heriot. And that was not the least of his merits in Jan’s eyes.
On Sunday evenings between tea and prayers it was Heriot’s practice to make a round of the studies, staying for a few minutes’ chat in each; and on the second Sunday of the term he gave Jan rather more than his time allowance. But he seemed to notice neither the stark ugliness of the uncovered walls, nor the heavy fall of waste paper; and though he did speak of Jan’s difficulties in form, he treated them also in a very different manner from that employed by the captain of his house. The truth was that Haigh had said a good deal about the matter to Heriot, and Heriot very little to Haigh, whose tongue was as intemperate out of school as it was in form. But to Jan he spoke plainly on this second Sunday evening of the term.
“It’s obvious that you were placed a form too high. Such mistakes will occur; there’s no way of avoiding them altogether; the question is, shall we try to rectify this one? It’s rather late in the day, but I’ve known it done; the Head Master might allow it again. It would rest with him, so you had better not speak of it for the present. I mean, of course, that he might allow you to come down to Mr. Walrond’s form, or even into mine.”
At which Jan displayed some momentary excitement, and then sat stolidly embarrassed.
“It would be a desperate remedy, Rutter; it would mean your being a fag, after first escaping fagging altogether; in fact, it would be starting all over again. I don’t say it wouldn’t make your work easier for you during the whole time you’re here. But I shall quite understand it if you prefer the evils that you know.”
“It isn’t the fagging. It isn’t that I shouldn’t like being in your form, sir,” Jan blurted out. “But I don’t want to run away from Mr. Haigh!” he mumbled through his teeth.
“Well, you’d only have to fight another day, if you did,” said Heriot, with a laugh. And so the matter went no further; and not another boy or master in the school ever knew that it had gone so far.
But the being of whom Jan saw most, and the only one to whom he spoke his odd mind freely, was the other new man, Carpenter, now Chips to all the house. And Chips was another oddity in his way; but it was not Jan’s way at any single point. Chips had always been intended for a public school. But in some respects he was far less fit for one than Jan. To be at this school was to realise the dream of his life; but it was not the dream that it had been before it came true, and the dreamer took this extraordinary circumstance to heart, though he had the character to keep it to himself. Jan was the last person to whom he would have admitted it; he still stood up for the school in all their talks, and gloried in being where he was; but it was none the less obvious that he was not so happy as he tried to appear.
Chips’s troubles, to be sure, were not in form; they were almost entirely out of school, just where Jan got on best. Chips’s skin was thinner; the least taunt hurt his feelings, and he hid them less successfully than Jan could hide his. He was altogether more squeamish; lying and low talk were equally abhorrent to him; he would not smile, and had the courage to confess his repugnance under pressure, but not the force of personality to render a protest other than ineffectual. Such things ran like water from off Jan’s broader back; he was not particularly attracted or repelled.
One bad half-hour that the pair spent together almost daily was that between breakfast and second school. It was the recognised custom for fellows in the same house and form to prepare their construe together; this took Carpenter and Rutter most mornings into Shockley’s study, where Buggins and Eyre major completed the symposium. On a Virgil morning there would be interludes in which poor Chips felt himself a worm for sitting still; even when Thucydides claimed closer attention there was a lot of parenthetical swearing. But Chips – whose Greek was his weak point – endured it all as long as the work itself was fairly done.
One morning, however, as Jan was about to join the rest, Chips burst in upon him, out of breath, and stood with his back to Jan’s bare wall.
“They’ve gone and got a crib!” he gasped.
“And a jolly good job!” said Jan.
Chips looked as though he distrusted his ears.
“You don’t mean to say you’ll use it, Tiger?”
“It’s so – at least I mean it seems to me – so jolly unfair!”
Chips had stronger epithets on the tip of his tongue; but that of “pi” had been freely applied to himself; and it rankled in spite of all his principles.
“Not so unfair as sending you to a hole like this against your will,” retorted Jan, “and putting you two forms too high when you get here.”
“That’s another thing,” said Chips, for once without standing up for the “hole,” perhaps because he knew that Jan had called it one for his benefit.
“No; it’s all the same thing. Is that beast Haigh fair to me?”
“I don’t say he is – ”
“Then I’m blowed if I see why I should be fair to him.”
“I wasn’t thinking of Haigh,” said Chips. “I was thinking of the rest of the form who don’t use a crib, Tiger.”
“That’s their look-out,” said the Tiger, opening his door with the little red volume of Thucydides in his other hand.
“Then you’re going to Shockley’s study just the same?”