November was a month of the past; another week would finish off the term’s work, leaving ten clear and strenuous days for the Exams. Haigh could only set one more copy of Latin verses, and Carpenter was as sorry on his own account as he was thankful for Jan’s sake. Carpenter had acquired an undeniable knack of making hexameters and pentameters that continually construed and invariably scanned; it was the one thing he could do better than anybody in the form, and it had brought him latterly into considerable favour with a master whose ardour for the Muse betrayed a catholicity of intellect in signal contrast to his view of boys. It was not only the Greeks and Latins whose august measures appealed to Haigh; never a copy of elegiacs set he, but it was a gem already in its native English, and his voice must throb with its music even as he dictated it to his form. All this was another slight mistake in judgment: the man made a personal grievance of atrocities inevitably committed upon his favourite poets, and the boys conceived a not unreasonable prejudice against some of the noblest lyrics in the language. Carpenter was probably the only member of the form who not only revelled in the original lines, but rather enjoyed hunting up the Latin words, and found a positive satisfaction in fitting them into their proper places as dactyls and spondees.
“That’s the finest thing he’s set us yet,” said Chips, when Haigh had given them Cory’s “Heraclitus” for the last copy of the term.
“It’ll be plucky fine when I’ve done with it,” Jan rejoined grimly.
“I should start on it early, if I were you,” said Chips, “like you did last week.”
“And then get told you’ve had ’em done for you? Thanks awfully; you don’t catch me at that game again. Between tea and prayers on Saturday night’s good enough for me – if I’m not too done after the paper-chase.”
“You’re not going to the paper-chase, Tiger?”
“I am if I’m not stopped.”
“When you’re not even allowed to play football?”
“That’s exactly why.”
The paper-chase always took place on the last Saturday but one, and was quite one of the events of the winter term. All the morning, after second school, fags had been employed in tearing up scent in the library; and soon after dinner the road under Heriot’s study windows began to resound with the tramp of boys on their way in twos and threes to see the start from Burston Beeches. A spell of hard weather had broken in sunshine and clear skies; the afternoon was brilliantly fine; and by half-past two the scene in the paddock under the noble beeches, with the grey tower of Burston church rising behind the leafless branches, was worthy of the day. Practically all the school was there, and quite a quarter of it in flannels and jerseys red or white, trimmed or starred with the colour of some fifteen. Off go the two hares – gigantic gentlemen with their football colours thick upon them. Hounds and mere boys in plain clothes crowd to the gate to see the last of them and their bulging bags of scent.
On the top of the last hill, by the white palings of the Upper Ground, there is a group of boys and masters, and several of the masters’ wives as well, to see the finish; and it is going to be one of the best finishes they ever have seen. Here come the gigantic gentlemen, red as Indians with the sun upon their faces, and one of them plunging headlong in a plain distress. They rush down that hill, and are half-way up this one, the wet mud shining all over them like copper, when the first handful of hounds start up against the sky behind them.
“Surely that’s rather a small boy to be in the first dozen,” says Miss Heriot, pointing out a puppy in an untrimmed jersey, who is running gamely by himself between the first and second batches of hounds.
“In no fifteen, either,” says Heriot, noticing the jersey rather than the boy, who is still a slip of muddy white on the opposite hill.
The hares are already home. They have been received with somewhat perfunctory applause, the real excitement being reserved for the race between the leading hounds, now in a cluster at the foot of the last hill; but half-way up the race is over, and Sprawson is increasing his lead with every stride.
“Well run, my house!” says Heriot, with laconic satisfaction.
“The house isn’t done with yet, sir,” pants Sprawson, turning his back to the sun. “There’s young Rutter been running like an old hound all the way; here he is, in the first ten!”
And there indeed was the rather small boy in the plain jersey whom neither Heriot nor his sister had recognised as Jan; but then he looked another being in his muddy flannels; slimmer and trimmer, and somehow more in his element than in the coat and collar of workaday life; and the flush upon his face is not merely the result of exercise and a scarlet sky, it is a flush of perfect health and momentary happiness as well.
In fact it has been the one afternoon of all the term which Jan may care to recall in later life; and how it will stand out among the weary walks with poor Carpenter and the hours of bitterness under Haigh! But the afternoon is not over yet. Sprawson is first back at the house; his good-natured tongue has been wagging before Jan gets there, and Jan hears a pleasant thing or two as he jogs through the quad to change in the lavatory. But why has he not been playing football all these weeks? It might have made just the difference to the Under-Sixteen team; they might have beaten Haigh’s in the second round, instead of just losing as they had done to his mortification before Jan’s eyes. What did he mean by pretending to have a heart, and then running like this? It must be jolly well inquired into.
“Then you’d better inquire of old Hill,” says Jan, naming the doctor as disrespectfully as he dares to the captain of the house. “It was he said I had one, Loder, not me!”
And Loder looks as if he would like to smack Jan’s head again, but is restrained by the presence of Sprawson and Cave major, both of whom have more influence in the house than he. The great Charles Cave has not been in the paper-chase; he will win the Hundred and the Hurdles next term, but he is too slender a young Apollo to shine across country, and is not the man to go in for the few things at which he happens not to excel. He does not address Jan personally, but deigns to mention him in a remark to Sprawson.
“Useful man for us next term, Mother,” says Cave, “if he’s under fifteen.”
“When’s your birthday, Tiger?” splutters Sprawson from the showerbath.
“End of this month,” says Jan.
“Confound your eyes!” cries Mother Sprawson, “then you won’t be under fifteen for the sports, and I’ll give you a jolly good licking!”
But what Sprawson really does give Jan is cocoa and biscuits at Maltby’s in the market-place: a most unconventional attention from a man of his standing to a new boy: who knows enough by this time to feel painfully out of place in the fashionable shop, and devoutly to wish himself with Carpenter at one of their humble haunts. But even this incident is a memory to treasure, and not to be spoilt by the fact that Shockley waylays and kicks him in the quad for “putting on a roll,” and that Heriot himself has Jan into his study after lock-up, for the first time since the term began, and first gives him a severe wigging for having run in the paper-chase at all, but sends him off with a parting compliment on having run so well.
“He said he’d only been forbidden to play football,” so Bob Heriot reported to his sister. “Of course I had to jump on him for that; but I own I’m thankful I didn’t find out in time to stop his little game. It’s just what was wanted to lift him an inch out of the ruck. It augurs the sportsman I believe he’ll turn out in spite of us.”
“But what about his heart?”
“He hasn’t a heart, never had one, and after this can never be accused of such a thing again.”
“I wonder you didn’t go to Dr. Hill about it long ago, Bob.”
“I did go to him. But Hill said he wouldn’t take the responsibility of letting the unfortunate boy play football without inquiring into his past history. That was the last proceeding to encourage, and so my hands are tied. They always are where poor Rutter is concerned. It was the same thing with Haigh over his Latin verses. He wanted me to write to the boy’s preparatory schoolmaster! I haven’t interceded with him since. Rutter’s the one boy in my house I can’t stick up for. He must sink or swim for himself, and I think he’s going to swim; if he were in any other form I should be sure. But I simply daren’t hold out the helping hand that one would to others.”
Miss Heriot gave an understanding nod.
“I’ve often heard you say you can’t treat two boys alike. Now I see what you mean.”
“But I can’t treat Rutter as I ever treated any boy before. I’ve got to keep my treatment to myself. I mustn’t make him conscious, if I know it; that applies to them all, of course, but it would make this boy suspicious in a minute. He puts me on my mettle, I can tell you! I’m not sure that he isn’t putting the whole public-school system on its trial!”
“That one boy, Bob?”
“They all do, of course. They’re all our judges in the end. But this one is such a nut to crack, and yet there’s such a kernel somewhere! I stake my place on that. The boy has more character even than I thought.”
“Although he sulks?”
“That’s often a sign. It means at the least courage of one’s mood. But what you and I know, and have not got to forget, is that his whole point of view is probably different from that of any fellow who ever went through the school.”
“As a straw plucked from the stables?” laughed Miss Heriot under her breath.
“Hush, Milly, for heaven’s sake! No. I was thinking of the absolute adventure the whole thing must be to him, and has been from the very first morning when he got up early to look about for himself like a castaway exploring the coast!”
“Well, I only hope he’s found the natives reasonably friendly!”
The sudden friendliness of the natives was of course Jan’s greatest joy, as for once he revelled in the peace and quiet of the untidiest study in the house. He was more tired than he had ever been in his life before, but also happier than he had ever dreamt of being this term. The hot-water pipes threw a modicum of grateful warmth upon his aching legs, outstretched on the leg-rest of the folding-chair. The curtains were closely drawn, the candles burning at his elbow. On his knees lay a Gradus ad Parnassum, open, upon an open English-Latin; and propped against the candle-sticks was the exercise book in which he had taken down the beautiful English version of “Heraclitus.” It is to be feared that the beauty was lost upon Jan, who was much too weary to make a very resolute attack upon a position which he was not equipped to capture, or to lead another forlorn hope in which the least degree of success would be deemed a suspicious circumstance. But he did make certain idle demonstrations with a pencil upon a bit of foolscap. And ten minutes before prayers he pulled himself sufficiently together to write his eight lines out in ink.
“Let’s have a look,” said Carpenter, as they waited for the Heriots in hall; and a look was quite enough. “I say, Tiger, you can’t show this up! You’ll be licked as sure as eggs are eggs,” whispered Chips.
“I don’t care.”
“You would care. You simply shan’t get this signed to-night. I’ll touch it up after prayers, and let you have it in time to make a clean copy before ten, and Heriot’ll sign it after prayers in the morning.”
And he put that copy in his pocket as the sentinel in the passage flew in with his sepulchral “Hush!”
By gulping down his milk and taking his dog-rock with him to his study, Carpenter was able to devote a good half-hour to Jan’s verses and still give Jan ten minutes to copy out the revised version; the ten minutes was ample, but the half-hour was all too short. The very first line began with a false quantity, and ended with a grammatical blunder. Carpenter rectified the false quantity by a simple transposition, and made so bold as to substitute perisse for moriri at the end of the hexameter. The second half of the pentameter was hopeless: Chips fell back on his own, merely changing causa doloris to fletus acerbus, and plumed himself on his facility. But in the second couplet every other foot was a flogging matter if Jan got sent up.
“I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.”
Chips loved the lines well enough to blush for his own respectable attempt at a Latin rendering; but his blood ran cold at Jan’s —
“Flevi quum memini nostro quam s?pe loquendo
Defessum Ph?bum fecimus ire domum.”
He flung himself on the monstrosity, but had to leave it at —
“Cum lacrymis memini nostro quam s?pe loquendo
Hesperias Ph?bus fessus adisset aquas.”
Chips did not plume himself on this; but at any rate nostro loquendo was Jan’s own gem, and just bad enough to distract attention from the suspicious superiority of the rest without invoking the direst consequences. This was a subtle calculation on the part of Carpenter. He was quite conscious of the subtlety, and by no means as ashamed of it as such a desperately honest person should have been. He justified the means by the end, which was to save Jan a certain flogging; and the stage after justification was something very like a guilty relish in a first offence. There was an artistic satisfaction in doing the thing as deftly as Chips was doing it. The third couplet might almost have passed muster as Jan had left it; a touch or two and it was safe. But the last hexameter would never do, and Chips replaced it with a plagiarism of his own corresponding line which might have sufficed if he himself had not come curiously to grief over the last hexameter.
“Excellent, as usual, Carpenter,” said Haigh in the fulness of time. “I could have given you full marks but for an odd mistake of yours towards the end. You seem to have misread the original penultimate line: 'Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;’ what part of speech do you take that 'still’ to be?”
“Adjective, sir,” said Chips, beginning to wonder whether it was one.
“Exactly!” cried Haigh, with the guffaw of his lighter moments. “So you get Muta silet vox ista placens, tua carmina vivunt– 'Thy pleasant voices are still; on the other hand, however, thy nightingales are awake’ – eh?”
“Yes, sir,” said Chips, more doubtfully than before.
“Have you a comma after the word 'nightingales’ in the English line as you took it down?”
“That accounts for it! Ha, ha, ha! But it may be my fault.” Nothing could exceed the geniality of Haigh towards a boy with Carpenter’s little gift. He was going through the week’s verses on the chimneypiece in his hall, but now he turned his back to the blazing fire. “Will those who have a comma after 'nightingales’ be good enough to hold up their hands?” A forest of hands flew up. “I’m afraid it’s your mistake, Carpenter,” resumed Haigh, with a final guffaw. “Well, I couldn’t have pitched upon a finer object-lesson in the importance of punctuation, if I had tried; but when you come to look at it again, Carpenter, you’ll find that even without the comma your reading was more ingenious than plausible.” He turned back to the chimneypiece and the pile of verses. The incident seemed closed, when suddenly Haigh was seen frowning thoughtfully into the fire. “Surely there was some other fellow did the same thing!” he exclaimed, and began glancing through the pile. “Ah! Rutter, of course! Jucund? voces tacit? sunt, carmina vivunt!”
His voice was completely changed as it rasped out the abhorred surname; it changed again before the end of Jan’s hexameter.
“Were you helped in this, Rutter?”
“Did you help him, Carpenter?”
There was not an instant’s hesitation before either answer. Yet the very readiness of the culprits to confess their crime was an evident aggravation in the eyes of Haigh, who flew into a passion on the spot.
“And you own up to it without a blush between you! And you, Rutter, expect me to believe that the same thing didn’t happen last week, when you denied it!”
“It did not happen last week, sir,” said Jan; but all save the first three words were drowned by Haigh.
“Silence!” he roared. “I don’t believe a word you say. But I begin to think you’re not such a fool as you pretend to be, Rutter; you saw you were found out at last, so you might as well make a clean breast of it! That doesn’t minimise the effect of cheating, or the impudence of the offence in a brace of beggarly new boys. Perhaps you are not aware how dishonesty is treated in this school? I would send you both up to Mr. Thrale at twelve o’clock, but we don’t consider that a flogging meets this kind of case. It’s rather one in which the whole must suffer for the corruption of a part. I shall consider the question of a detention for the entire form, and we’ll see if they can’t knock some rudimentary sense of honour into you!”
The two delinquents trembled in their shoes; they knew what they were in for now. Had they entertained a single doubt about the matter, a glance at the black looks encompassing them would have prepared them for the worst. But Chips had not the heart to lift his eyes, and so a slip of paper was thoughtfully passed down to him by Shockley. “I’ll murder you for this,” it said; and the storm burst upon the hapless couple the moment they were out in Haigh’s quad after second school.
“What the deuce do you both mean by owning up?”
“I wasn’t going to tell a lie about it,” said Jan, doggedly.
“No more was I!” squealed Chips, as Shockley twisted his arm to breaking point behind his back.
“Oh, yes, you’re so plucky pious, aren’t you? Couldn’t do Thicksides with other people; too highly moral and plucky superior for that; but not above doing the Tiger’s verses, and getting the whole form kept in!”
“It isn’t for getting your verses done,” cried another big fellow, frankly, as he tried but failed to get a free kick at Rutter: “it’s for being such infernal young fools as to own up!”
So much for the sense of honour to be knocked into the fraudulent pair by the rest of the form! It was a revelation to Carpenter and Rutter. They knew that Shockley and Buggins rarely did a line of any sort of composition for themselves, and more than once they had heard the pair indignantly repudiate the slightest suggestion against their good faith on the part of Haigh. But these poor specimens in their own house and form were the only fellows whose code of honour they had been hitherto able to probe. And it did surprise them to find some of the nicest fellows in the form entirely at one with their particular enemies in condemning the honesty which had got them all into trouble.
Was it a good system that could bring this about? The two boys did not ask themselves that question; nor did it occur to them to carry their grievance to Mr. Heriot, whose expert opinion would have been as interesting as his almost certain action in the matter. But in the bitterness of their hearts they did feel that an injustice had been done; and one of them at any rate was very sorry that he had told the truth. He would know what to say another time. Yet how human the fury of the form, threatened with punishment for an offence for which only two of their number were responsible, and subtly suborned by the master to do his dirty work by venting their natural anger on the luckless pair! Could any trick be shabbier in a master? Could any scheme be more demoralising for boys? The effect on them was easily seen. They were to inculcate a higher sense of schoolboy honour. And the first thing they did was to curse and kick you for not piling dishonour on dishonour’s head!