A PREFECT'S UNCLE
by P. G. Wodehouse
[Dedication] TO W. TOWNEND
1 Term Begins
2 Introduces an Unusual Uncle
3 The Uncle Makes Himself at Home
4 Pringle Makes a Sporting Offer
5 Farnie Gets Into Trouble—
6 —and Stays There
7 The Bishop Goes For a Ride
8 The M.C.C. Match
9 The Bishop Finishes His Ride
10 In Which a Case is Fully Discussed
11 Poetry and Stump-cricket
12 'We, the Undersigned—'
13 Leicester's House Team Goes Into a Second Edition
14 Norris Takes a Short Holiday
15 Versus Charchester (at Charchester)
16 A Disputed Authorship
17 The Winter Term
18 The Bishop Scores
Marriott walked into the senior day-room, and, finding no one there, hurled his portmanteau down on the table with a bang. The noise brought William into the room. William was attached to Leicester's House, Beckford College, as a mixture of butler and bootboy. He carried a pail of water in his hand. He had been engaged in cleaning up the House against the conclusion of the summer holidays, of which this was the last evening, by the simple process of transferring all dust, dirt, and other foreign substances from the floor to his own person.
''Ullo, Mr Marriott,' he said.
'Hullo, William,' said Marriott. 'How are you? Still jogging along? That's a mercy. I say, look here, I want a quiet word in season with the authorities. They must have known I was coming back this evening. Of course they did. Why, they specially wrote and asked me. Well, where's the red carpet? Where's the awning? Where's the brass band that ought to have met me at the station? Where's anything? I tell you what it is, William, my old companion, there's a bad time coming for the Headmaster if he doesn't mind what he's doing. He must learn that life is stern and life is earnest, William. Has Gethryn come back yet?'
William, who had been gasping throughout this harangue, for the intellectual pressure of Marriott's conversation (of which there was always plenty) was generally too much for him, caught thankfully at the last remark as being the only intelligible one uttered up to present date, and made answer—
'Mr Gethryn 'e's gorn out on to the field, Mr Marriott. 'E come 'arf an hour ago.'
'Oh! Right. Thanks. Goodbye, William. Give my respects to the cook, and mind you don't work too hard. Think what it would be if you developed heart disease. Awful! You mustn't do it, William.'
Marriott vanished, and William, slightly dazed, went about his professional duties once more. Marriott walked out into the grounds in search of Gethryn. Gethryn was the head of Leicester's this term, vice Reynolds departed, and Marriott, who was second man up, shared a study with him. Leicester's had not a good name at Beckford, in spite of the fact that it was generally in the running for the cricket and football cups. The fact of the matter was that, with the exception of Gethryn, Marriott, a boy named Reece, who kept wicket for the School Eleven, and perhaps two others, Leicester's seniors were not a good lot. To the School in general, who gauged a fellow's character principally by his abilities in the cricket and football fields, it seemed a very desirable thing to be in Leicester's. They had been runners-up for the House football cup that year, and this term might easily see the cricket cup fall to them. Amongst the few, however, it was known that the House was passing through an unpleasant stage in its career. A House is either good or bad. It is seldom that it can combine the advantages of both systems. Leicester's was bad.
This was due partly to a succession of bad Head-prefects, and partly to Leicester himself, who was well-meaning but weak. His spirit was willing, but his will was not spirited. When things went on that ought not to have gone on, he generally managed to avoid seeing them, and the things continued to go on. Altogether, unless Gethryn's rule should act as a tonic, Leicester's was in a bad way.
The Powers that Be, however, were relying on Gethryn to effect some improvement. He was in the Sixth, the First Fifteen, and the First Eleven. Also a backbone was included in his anatomy, and if he made up his mind to a thing, that thing generally happened.
The Rev. James Beckett, the Headmaster of Beckford, had formed a very fair estimate of Gethryn's capabilities, and at the moment when Marriott was drawing the field for the missing one, that worthy was sitting in the Headmaster's study with a cup in his right hand and a muffin (half-eaten) in his left, drinking in tea and wisdom simultaneously. The Head was doing most of the talking. He had led up to the subject skilfully, and, once reached, he did not leave it. The text of his discourse was the degeneracy of Leicester's.
'Now, you know, Gethryn—another muffin? Help yourself. You know, Reynolds—well, he was a capital boy in his way, capital, and I'm sure we shall all miss him very much—but he was not a good head of a House. He was weak. Much too weak. Too easy-going. You must avoid that, Gethryn. Reynolds....' And much more in the same vein. Gethryn left the room half an hour later full of muffins and good resolutions. He met Marriott at the fives-courts.
'Where have you been to?' asked Marriott. 'I've been looking for you all over the shop.'
'I and my friend the Headmaster,' said Gethryn, 'have been having a quiet pot of tea between us.'
'Really? Was he affable?'
'You know,' said Marriott confidentially, 'he asked me in, but I told him it wasn't good enough. I said that if he would consent to make his tea with water that wasn't two degrees below lukewarm, and bring on his muffins cooked instead of raw, and supply some butter to eat with them, I might look him up now and then. Otherwise it couldn't be done at the price. But what did he want you for, really?'
'He was ragging me about the House. Quite right, too. You know, there's no doubt about it, Leicester's does want bucking up.'
'We're going to get the cricket cup,' said Marriott, for the defence.
'We may. If it wasn't for the Houses in between. School House and Jephson's especially. And anyhow, that's not what I meant. The games are all right. It's—'
'The moral je-ne-sais-quoi, so to speak,' said Marriott. 'That'll be all right. Wait till we get at 'em. What I want you to turn your great brain to now is this letter.'
He produced a letter from his pocket. 'Don't you bar chaps who show you their letters?' he said. 'This was written by an aunt of mine. I don't want to inflict the whole lot on you. Just look at line four. You see what she says: "A boy is coming to Mr Leicester's House this term, whom I particularly wish you to befriend. He is the son of a great friend of a friend of mine, and is a nice, bright little fellow, very jolly and full of spirits."'
'That means,' interpolated Gethryn grimly, 'that he is up to the eyes in pure, undiluted cheek, and will want kicking after every meal and before retiring to rest. Go on.'
'His name is—'
'That's the point. At this point the manuscript becomes absolutely illegible. I have conjectured Percy for the first name. It may be Richard, but I'll plunge on Percy. It's the surname that stumps me. Personally, I think it's MacCow, though I trust it isn't, for the kid's sake. I showed the letter to my brother, the one who's at Oxford. He swore it was Watson, but, on being pressed, hedged with Sandys. You may as well contribute your little bit. What do you make of it?'
Gethryn scrutinized the document with care.
'She begins with a D. You can see that.'
'Next letter a or u. I see. Of course. It's Duncan.'
'Think so?' said Marriott doubtfully. 'Well, let's go and ask the matron if she knows anything about him.'
'Miss Jones,' he said, when they had reached the House, 'have you on your list of new boys a sportsman of the name of MacCow or Watson? I am also prepared to accept Sandys or Duncan. The Christian name is either Richard or Percy. There, that gives you a fairly wide field to choose from.'
'There's a P. V. Wilson on the list,' said the matron, after an inspection of that document.
'That must be the man,' said Marriott. 'Thanks very much. I suppose he hasn't arrived yet?'
'No, not yet. You two are the only ones so far.'
'Oh! Well, I suppose I shall have to see him when he does come. I'll come down for him later on.'
They strolled out on to the field again.
'In re the proposed bucking-up of the House,' said Marriott, 'it'll be rather a big job.'
'Rather. I should think so. We ought to have a most fearfully sporting time. It's got to be done. The Old Man talked to me like several fathers.'
'What did he say?'
'Oh, heaps of things.'
'I know. Did he mention amongst other things that Reynolds was the worst idiot on the face of this so-called world?'
'Something of the sort.'
'So I should think. The late Reynolds was a perfect specimen of the gelatine-backboned worm. That's not my own, but it's the only description of him that really suits. Monk and Danvers and the mob in general used to do what they liked with him. Talking of Monk, when you embark on your tour of moral agitation, I should advise you to start with him.'
'Yes. And Danvers. There isn't much to choose between them. It's a pity they're both such good bats. When you see a chap putting them through the slips like Monk does, you can't help thinking there must be something in him.'
'So there is,' said Marriott, 'and it's all bad. I bar the man. He's slimy. It's the only word for him. And he uses scent by the gallon. Thank goodness this is his last term.'
'Is it really? I never heard that.'
'Yes. He and Danvers are both leaving. Monk's going to Heidelberg to study German, and Danvers is going into his pater's business in the City. I got that from Waterford.'
'Waterford is another beast,' said Gethryn thoughtfully. 'I suppose he's not leaving by any chance?'
'Not that I know of. But he'll be nothing without Monk and Danvers. He's simply a sort of bottle-washer to the firm. When they go he'll collapse. Let's be strolling towards the House now, shall we? Hullo! Our only Reece! Hullo, Reece!'
'Hullo!' said the new arrival. Reece was a weird, silent individual, whom everybody in the School knew up to a certain point, but very few beyond that point. His manner was exactly the same when talking to the smallest fag as when addressing the Headmaster. He rather gave one the impression that he was thinking of something a fortnight ahead, or trying to solve a chess problem without the aid of the board. In appearance he was on the short side, and thin. He was in the Sixth, and a conscientious worker. Indeed, he was only saved from being considered a swot, to use the vernacular, by the fact that from childhood's earliest hour he had been in the habit of keeping wicket like an angel. To a good wicket-keeper much may be forgiven.
He handed Gethryn an envelope.
'Letter, Bishop,' he said. Gethryn was commonly known as the Bishop, owing to a certain sermon preached in the College chapel some five years before, in aid of the Church Missionary Society, in which the preacher had alluded at frequent intervals to another Gethryn, a bishop, who, it appeared, had a see, and did much excellent work among the heathen at the back of beyond. Gethryn's friends and acquaintances, who had been alternating between 'Ginger'—Gethryn's hair being inclined to redness—and 'Sneg', a name which utterly baffles the philologist, had welcomed the new name warmly, and it had stuck ever since. And, after all, there are considerably worse names by which one might be called.
'What the dickens!' he said, as he finished reading the letter.
'Tell us the worst,' said Marriott. 'You must read it out now out of common decency, after rousing our expectations like that.'
'All right! It isn't private. It's from an aunt of mine.'
'Seems to be a perfect glut of aunts,' said Marriott. 'What views has your representative got to air? Is she springing any jolly little fellow full of spirits on this happy community?'
'No, it's not that. It's only an uncle of mine who's coming down here. He's coming tomorrow, and I'm to meet him. The uncanny part of it is that I've never heard of him before in my life.'
'That reminds me of a story I heard—' began Reece slowly. Reece's observations were not frequent, but when they came, did so for the most part in anecdotal shape. Somebody was constantly doing something which reminded him of something he had heard somewhere from somebody. The unfortunate part of it was that he exuded these reminiscences at such a leisurely rate of speed that he was rarely known to succeed in finishing any of them. He resembled those serial stories which appear in papers destined at a moderate price to fill an obvious void, and which break off abruptly at the third chapter, owing to the premature decease of the said periodicals. On this occasion Marriott cut in with a few sage remarks on the subject of uncles as a class. 'Uncles,' he said, 'are tricky. You never know where you've got 'em. You think they're going to come out strong with a sovereign, and they make it a shilling without a blush. An uncle of mine once gave me a threepenny bit. If it hadn't been that I didn't wish to hurt his feelings, I should have flung it at his feet. Also I particularly wanted threepence at the moment. Is your uncle likely to do his duty, Bishop?'
'I tell you I don't know the man. Never heard of him. I thought I knew every uncle on the list, but I can't place this one. However, I suppose I shall have to meet him.'
'Rather,' said Marriott, as they went into the House; 'we should always strive to be kind, even to the very humblest. On the off chance, you know. The unknown may have struck it rich in sheep or something out in Australia. Most uncles come from Australia. Or he may be the boss of some trust, and wallowing in dollars. He may be anything. Let's go and brew, Bishop. Come on, Reece.'
'I don't mind watching you two chaps eat,' said Gethryn, 'but I can't join in myself. I have assimilated three pounds odd of the Headmagisterial muffins already this afternoon. Don't mind me, though.'
They went upstairs to Marriott's study, which was also Gethryn's. Two in a study was the rule at Beckford, though there were recluses who lived alone, and seemed to enjoy it.
When the festive board had ceased to groan, and the cake, which Marriott's mother had expected to last a fortnight, had been reduced to a mere wreck of its former self, the thought of his aunt's friend's friend's son returned to Marriott, and he went down to investigate, returning shortly afterwards unaccompanied, but evidently full of news.
'Well?' said Gethryn. 'Hasn't he come?'
'A little,' said Marriott, 'just a little. I went down to the fags' room, and when I opened the door I noticed a certain weird stillness in the atmosphere. There is usually a row going on that you could cut with a knife. I looked about. The room was apparently empty. Then I observed a quaint object on the horizon. Do you know one Skinner by any chance?'
'My dear chap!' said Gethryn. Skinner was a sort of juvenile Professor Moriarty, a Napoleon of crime. He reeked of crime. He revelled in his wicked deeds. If a Dormitory-prefect was kept awake at night by some diabolically ingenious contrivance for combining the minimum of risk with the maximum of noise, then it was Skinner who had engineered the thing. Again, did a master, playing nervously forward on a bad pitch at the nets to Gosling, the School fast bowler, receive the ball gaspingly in the small ribs, and look round to see whose was that raucous laugh which had greeted the performance, he would observe a couple of yards away Skinner, deep in conversation with some friend of equally villainous aspect. In short, in a word, the only adequate word, he was Skinner.
'Well?' said Reece.
'Skinner,' proceeded Marriott, 'was seated in a chair, bleeding freely into a rather dirty pocket-handkerchief. His usual genial smile was hampered by a cut lip, and his right eye was blacked in the most graceful and pleasing manner. I made tender inquiries, but could get nothing from him except grunts. So I departed, and just outside the door I met young Lee, and got the facts out of him. It appears that P. V. Wilson, my aunt's friend's friend's son, entered the fags' room at four-fifteen. At four-fifteen-and-a-half, punctually, Skinner was observed to be trying to rag him. Apparently the great Percy has no sense of humour, for at four-seventeen he got tired of it, and hit Skinner crisply in the right eyeball, blacking the same as per illustration. The subsequent fight raged gorily for five minutes odd, and then Wilson, who seems to be a professional pugilist in disguise, landed what my informant describes as three corkers on his opponent's proboscis. Skinner's reply was to sit down heavily on the floor, and give him to understand that the fight was over, and that for the next day or two his face would be closed for alterations and repairs. Wilson thereupon harangued the company in well-chosen terms, tried to get Skinner to shake hands, but failed, and finally took the entire crew out to the shop, where they made pigs of themselves at his expense. I have spoken.'
'And that's the kid you've got to look after,' said Reece, after a pause.
'Yes,' said Marriott. 'What I maintain is that I require a kid built on those lines to look after me. But you ought to go down and see Skinner's eye sometime. It's a beautiful bit of work.'
INTRODUCES AN UNUSUAL UNCLE
On the following day, at nine o'clock, the term formally began. There is nothing of Black Monday about the first day of term at a public school. Black Monday is essentially a private school institution.
At Beckford the first day of every term was a half holiday. During the morning a feeble pretence of work was kept up, but after lunch the school was free, to do as it pleased and to go where it liked. The nets were put up for the first time, and the School professional emerged at last from his winter retirement with his, 'Coom right out to 'em, sir, right forward', which had helped so many Beckford cricketers to do their duty by the School in the field. There was one net for the elect, the remnants of last year's Eleven and the 'probables' for this season, and half a dozen more for lesser lights.
At the first net Norris was batting to the bowling of Gosling, a long, thin day boy, Gethryn, and the professional—as useful a trio as any school batsman could wish for. Norris was captain of the team this year, a sound, stylish bat, with a stroke after the manner of Tyldesley between cover and mid-off, which used to make Miles the professional almost weep with joy. But today he had evidently not quite got into form. Twice in successive balls Gosling knocked his leg stump out of the ground with yorkers, and the ball after that, Gethryn upset his middle with a beauty.
'Hat-trick, Norris,' shouted Gosling.
'Can't see 'em a bit today. Bowled, Bishop.'
A second teaser from Gethryn had almost got through his defence. The Bishop was undoubtedly a fine bowler. Without being quite so fast as Gosling, he nevertheless contrived to work up a very considerable speed when he wished to, and there was always something in every ball he bowled which made it necessary for the batsman to watch it all the way. In matches against other schools it was generally Gosling who took the wickets. The batsmen were bothered by his pace. But when the M.C.C. or the Incogniti came down, bringing seasoned county men who knew what fast bowling really was, and rather preferred it on the whole to slow, then Gethryn was called upon.
Most Beckfordians who did not play cricket on the first day of term went on the river. A few rode bicycles or strolled out into the country in couples, but the majority, amongst whom on this occasion was Marriott, sallied to the water and hired boats. Marriott was one of the six old cricket colours—the others were Norris, Gosling, Gethryn, Reece, and Pringle of the School House—who formed the foundation of this year's Eleven. He was not an ornamental bat, but stood quite alone in the matter of tall hitting. Twenty minutes of Marriott when in form would often completely alter the course of a match. He had been given his colours in the previous year for making exactly a hundred in sixty-one minutes against the Authentics when the rest of the team had contributed ninety-eight. The Authentics made a hundred and eighty-four, so that the School just won; and the story of how there were five men out in the deep for him, and how he put the slow bowler over their heads and over the ropes eight times in three overs, had passed into a school legend.
But today other things than cricket occupied his attention. He had run Wilson to earth, and was engaged in making his acquaintance, according to instructions received.
'Are you Wilson?' he asked. 'P.V. Wilson?'
Wilson confirmed the charge.
'My name's Marriott. Does that convey any significance to your young mind?'
'Oh, yes. My mater knows somebody who knows your aunt.'
'It is a true bill.'
'And she said you would look after me. I know you won't have time, of course.'
'I expect I shall have time to give you all the looking after you'll require. It won't be much, from all I've heard. Was all that true about you and young Skinner?'
'I did have a bit of a row with a chap called Skinner,' he admitted.
'So Skinner seems to think,' said Marriott. 'What was it all about?'
'Oh, he made an ass of himself,' said Wilson vaguely.
'He would. I know the man. I shouldn't think you'd have much trouble with Skinner in the future. By the way, I've got you for a fag this term. You don't have to do much in the summer. Just rot around, you know, and go to the shop for biscuits and things, that's all. And, within limits of course, you get the run of the study.'
'I see,' said Wilson gratefully. The prospect was pleasant.
'Oh yes, and it's your privilege to pipe-clay my cricket boots occasionally before First matches. You'll like that. Can you steer a boat?'
'I don't think so. I never tried.'
'It's easy enough. I'll tell you what to do. Anyhow, you probably won't steer any worse than I row, so let's go and get a boat out, and I'll try and think of a few more words of wisdom for your benefit.'
At the nets Norris had finished his innings, and Pringle was batting in his stead. Gethryn had given up his ball to Baynes, who bowled slow leg-breaks, and was the most probable of the probables above-mentioned. He went to where Norris was taking off his pads, and began to talk to him. Norris was the head of Jephson's House, and he and the Bishop were very good friends, in a casual sort of way. If they did not see one another for a couple of days, neither of them broke his heart. Whenever, on the other hand, they did meet, they were always glad, and always had plenty to talk about. Most school friendships are of that description.
'You were sending down some rather hot stuff,' said Norris, as Gethryn sat down beside him, and began to inspect Pringle's performance with a critical eye.
'I did feel rather fit,' said he. 'But I don't think half those that got you would have taken wickets in a match. You aren't in form yet.'
'I tell you what it is, Bishop,' said Norris, 'I believe I'm going to be a rank failure this season. Being captain does put one off.'
'Don't be an idiot, man. How can you possibly tell after one day's play at the nets?'
'I don't know. I feel so beastly anxious somehow. I feel as if I was personally responsible for every match lost. It was all right last year when John Brown was captain. Good old John! Do you remember his running you out in the Charchester match?'
'Don't,' said Gethryn pathetically. 'The only time I've ever felt as if I really was going to make that century. By Jove, see that drive? Pringle seems all right.'
'Yes, you know, he'll simply walk into his Blue when he goes up to the Varsity. What do you think of Baynes?'
'Ought to be rather useful on his wicket. Jephson thinks he's good.'
Mr Jephson looked after the School cricket.
'Yes, I believe he rather fancies him,' said Norris. 'Says he ought to do some big things if we get any rain. Hullo, Pringle, are you coming out? You'd better go in, then, Bishop.'
'All right. Thanks. Oh, by Jove, though, I forgot. I can't. I've got to go down to the station to meet an uncle of mine.'
'What's he coming up today for? Why didn't he wait till we'd got a match of sorts on?'
'I don't know. The man's probably a lunatic. Anyhow, I shall have to go and meet him, and I shall just do it comfortably if I go and change now.'
'Oh! Right you are! Sammy, do you want a knock?'
Samuel Wilberforce Gosling, known to his friends and admirers as Sammy, replied that he did not. All he wanted now, he said, was a drink, or possibly two drinks, and a jolly good rest in the shade somewhere. Gosling was one of those rare individuals who cultivate bowling at the expense of batting, a habit the reverse of what usually obtains in schools.
Norris admitted the justice of his claims, and sent in a Second Eleven man, Baker, a member of his own House, in Pringle's place. Pringle and Gosling adjourned to the School shop for refreshment.
Gethryn walked with them as far as the gate which opened on to the road where most of the boarding Houses stood, and then branched off in the direction of Leicester's. To change into everyday costume took him a quarter of an hour, at the end of which period he left the House, and began to walk down the road in the direction of the station.
It was an hour's easy walking between Horton, the nearest station to Beckford, and the College. Gethryn, who was rather tired after his exertions at the nets, took it very easily, and when he arrived at his destination the church clock was striking four.
'Is the three-fifty-six in yet?' he asked of the solitary porter who ministered to the needs of the traveller at Horton station.
'Just a-coming in now, zur,' said the porter, adding, in a sort of inspired frenzy: ''Orton! 'Orton stertion! 'Orton!' and ringing a bell with immense enthusiasm and vigour.
Gethryn strolled to the gate, where the station-master's son stood at the receipt of custom to collect the tickets. His uncle was to arrive by this train, and if he did so arrive, must of necessity pass this way before leaving the platform. The train panted in, pulled up, whistled, and puffed out again, leaving three people behind it. One of these was a woman of sixty (approximately), the second a small girl of ten, the third a young gentleman in a top hat and Etons, who carried a bag, and looked as if he had seen the hollowness of things, for his face wore a bored, supercilious look. His uncle had evidently not arrived, unless he had come disguised as an old woman, an act of which Gethryn refused to believe him capable.
He enquired as to the next train that was expected to arrive from London. The station-master's son was not sure, but would ask the porter, whose name it appeared was Johnny. Johnny gave the correct answer without an effort. 'Seven-thirty it was, sir, except on Saturdays, when it was eight o'clock.'
'Thanks,' said the Bishop. 'Dash the man, he might at least have wired.'
He registered a silent wish concerning the uncle who had brought him a long three miles out of his way with nothing to show at the end of it, and was just turning to leave the station, when the top-hatted small boy, who had been hovering round the group during the conversation, addressed winged words to him. These were the winged words—
'I say, are you looking for somebody?' The Bishop stared at him as a naturalist stares at a novel species of insect.
'Yes,' he said. 'Why?'
'Is your name Gethryn?'
This affair, thought the Bishop, was beginning to assume an uncanny aspect.
'How the dickens did you know that?' he said.
'Oh, then you are Gethryn? That's all right. I was told you were going to be here to meet this train. Glad to make your acquaintance. My name's Farnie. I'm your uncle, you know.'
'My what?' gurgled the Bishop.
'Your uncle. U-n, un; c-l-e—kul. Uncle. Fact, I assure you.'
THE UNCLE MAKES HIMSELF AT HOME
'But, dash it,' said Gethryn, when he had finished gasping, 'that must be rot!'
'Not a bit,' said the self-possessed youth. 'Your mater was my elder sister. You'll find it works out all right. Look here. A, the daughter of B and C, marries. No, look here. I was born when you were four. See?'
Then the demoralized Bishop remembered. He had heard of his juvenile uncle, but the tales had made little impression upon him. Till now they had not crossed one another's tracks.
'Oh, all right,' said he, 'I'll take your word for it. You seem to have been getting up the subject.'
'Yes. Thought you might want to know about it. I say, how far is it to Beckford, and how do you get there?'
Up till now Gethryn had scarcely realized that his uncle was actually coming to the School for good. These words brought the fact home to him.
'Oh, Lord,' he said, 'are you coming to Beckford?'
The thought of having his footsteps perpetually dogged by an uncle four years younger than himself, and manifestly a youth with a fine taste in cheek, was not pleasant.
'Of course,' said his uncle. 'What did you think I was going to do? Camp out on the platform?'
'What House are you in?'
The worst had happened. The bitter cup was full, the iron neatly inserted in Gethryn's soul. In his most pessimistic moments he had never looked forward to the coming term so gloomily as he did now. His uncle noted his lack of enthusiasm, and attributed it to anxiety on behalf of himself.
'What's up?' he asked. 'Isn't Leicester's all right? Is Leicester a beast?'
'No. He's a perfectly decent sort of man. It's a good enough House. At least it will be this term. I was only thinking of something.'
'I see. Well, how do you get to the place?'
'Walk. It isn't far.'
'The porter said four.'
'It may be four. I never measured it.'
'Well, how the dickens do you think I'm going to walk four miles with luggage? I wish you wouldn't rot.'
And before Gethryn could quite realize that he, the head of Leicester's, the second-best bowler in the School, and the best centre three-quarter the School had had for four seasons, had been requested in a peremptory manner by a youth of fourteen, a mere kid, not to rot, the offender was talking to a cabman out of the reach of retaliation. Gethryn became more convinced every minute that this was no ordinary kid.
'This man says,' observed Farnie, returning to Gethryn, 'that he'll drive me up to the College for seven bob. As it's a short four miles, and I've only got two boxes, it seems to me that he's doing himself fairly well. What do you think?'
'Nobody ever gives more than four bob,' said Gethryn.
'I told you so,' said Farnie to the cabman. 'You are a bally swindler,' he added admiringly.
'Look 'ere,' began the cabman, in a pained voice.
'Oh, dry up,' said Farnie. 'Want a lift, Gethryn?'
The words were spoken not so much as from equal to equal as in a tone of airy patronage which made the Bishop's blood boil. But as he intended to instil a few words of wisdom into his uncle's mind, he did not refuse the offer.
The cabman, apparently accepting the situation as one of those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which no man can hope to escape, settled down on the box, clicked up his horse, and drove on towards the College.
'What sort of a hole is Beckford?' asked Farnie, after the silence had lasted some time.
'I find it good enough personally,' said Gethryn. 'If you'd let us know earlier that you were coming, we'd have had the place done up a bit for you.'
This, of course, was feeble, distinctly feeble. But the Bishop was not feeling himself. The essay in sarcasm left the would-be victim entirely uncrushed. He should have shrunk and withered up, or at the least have blushed. But he did nothing of the sort. He merely smiled in his supercilious way, until the Bishop felt very much inclined to spring upon him and throw him out of the cab.
There was another pause.
'Farnie,' began Gethryn at last.
'Doesn't it strike you that for a kid like you you've got a good deal of edge on?' asked Gethryn.
Farnie effected a masterly counter-stroke. He pretended not to be able to hear. He was sorry, but would the Bishop mind repeating his remark.
'Eh? What?' he said. 'Very sorry, but this cab's making such a row. I say, cabby, why don't you sign the pledge, and save your money up to buy a new cab? Eh? Oh, sorry! I wasn't listening.' Now, inasmuch as the whole virtue of the 'wretched-little-kid-like-you' argument lies in the crisp despatch with which it is delivered, Gethryn began to find, on repeating his observation for the third time, that there was not quite so much in it as he had thought. He prudently elected to change his style of attack.
'It doesn't matter,' he said wearily, as Farnie opened his mouth to demand a fourth encore, 'it wasn't anything important. Now, look here, I just want to give you a few tips about what to do when you get to the Coll. To start with, you'll have to take off that white tie you've got on. Black and dark blue are the only sorts allowed here.'
'How about yours then?' Gethryn was wearing a somewhat sweet thing in brown and yellow.
'Mine happens to be a First Eleven tie.'
'Oh! Well, as a matter of fact, you know, I was going to take off my tie. I always do, especially at night. It's a sort of habit I've got into.'
'Not quite so much of your beastly cheek, please,' said Gethryn.
'Right-ho!' said Farnie cheerfully, and silence, broken only by the shrieking of the cab wheels, brooded once more over the cab. Then Gethryn, feeling that perhaps it would be a shame to jump too severely on a new boy on his first day at a large public school, began to think of something conciliatory to say. 'Look here,' he said, 'you'll get on all right at Beckford, I expect. You'll find Leicester's a fairly decent sort of House. Anyhow, you needn't be afraid you'll get bullied. There's none of that sort of thing at School nowadays.'
'Yes, and there's another thing I ought to warn you about. Have you brought much money with you?'
''Bout fourteen pounds, I fancy,' said Farnie carelessly.
'Fourteen what!' said the amazed Bishop. 'Pounds!'
'Or sovereigns,' said Farnie. 'Each worth twenty shillings, you know.'
For a moment Gethryn's only feeling was one of unmixed envy. Previously he had considered himself passing rich on thirty shillings a term. He had heard legends, of course, of individuals who come to School bursting with bullion, but never before had he set eyes upon such an one. But after a time it began to dawn upon him that for a new boy at a public school, and especially at such a House as Leicester's had become under the rule of the late Reynolds and his predecessors, there might be such a thing as having too much money.
'How the deuce did you get all that?' he asked.
'My pater gave it me. He's absolutely cracked on the subject of pocket-money. Sometimes he doesn't give me a sou, and sometimes he'll give me whatever I ask for.'
'But you don't mean to say you had the cheek to ask for fourteen quid?'
'I asked for fifteen. Got it, too. I've spent a pound of it. I said I wanted to buy a bike. You can get a jolly good bike for five quid about, so you see I scoop ten pounds. What?'
This ingenious, if slightly unscrupulous, feat gave Gethryn an insight into his uncle's character which up till now he had lacked. He began to see that the moral advice with which he had primed himself would be out of place. Evidently this youth could take quite good care of himself on his own account. Still, even a budding Professor Moriarty would be none the worse for being warned against Gethryn's bete noire, Monk, so the Bishop proceeded to deliver that warning.
'Well,' he said, 'you seem to be able to look out for yourself all right, I must say. But there's one tip I really can give you. When you get to Leicester's, and a beast with a green complexion and an oily smile comes up and calls you "Old Cha-a-p", and wants you to swear eternal friendship, tell him it's not good enough. Squash him!'
'Thanks,' said Farnie. 'Who is this genial merchant?'
'Chap called Monk. You'll recognize him by the smell of scent. When you find the place smelling like an Eau-de-Cologne factory, you'll know Monk's somewhere near. Don't you have anything to do with him.'
'You seem to dislike the gentleman.'
'I bar the man. But that isn't why I'm giving you the tip to steer clear of him. There are dozens of chaps I bar who haven't an ounce of vice in them. And there are one or two chaps who have got tons. Monk's one of them. A fellow called Danvers is another. Also a beast of the name of Waterford. There are some others as well, but those are the worst of the lot. By the way, I forgot to ask, have you ever been to school before?'
'Yes,' said Farnie, in the dreamy voice of one who recalls memories from the misty past, 'I was at Harrow before I came here, and at Wellington before I went to Harrow, and at Clifton before I went to Wellington.'
'Anywhere before you went to Clifton?' he enquired.
'Only private schools.'
The recollection of the platitudes which he had been delivering, under the impression that he was talking to an entirely raw beginner, made Gethryn feel slightly uncomfortable. What must this wanderer, who had seen men and cities, have thought of his harangue?
'Why did you leave Harrow?' asked he.
'Sacked,' was the laconic reply.
Have you ever, asks a modern philosopher, gone upstairs in the dark, and trodden on the last step when it wasn't there? That sensation and the one Gethryn felt at this unexpected revelation were identical. And the worst of it was that he felt the keenest desire to know why Harrow had seen fit to dispense with the presence of his uncle.
'Why?' he began. 'I mean,' he went on hurriedly, 'why did you leave Wellington?'
'Sacked,' said Farnie again, with the monotonous persistence of a Solomon Eagle.
Gethryn felt at this juncture much as the unfortunate gentleman in Punch must have felt, when, having finished a humorous story, the point of which turned upon squinting and red noses, he suddenly discovered that his host enjoyed both those peculiarities. He struggled manfully with his feelings for a time. Tact urged him to discontinue his investigations and talk about the weather. Curiosity insisted upon knowing further details. Just as the struggle was at its height, Farnie came unexpectedly to the rescue.
'It may interest you,' he said, 'to know that I was not sacked from Clifton.'
Gethryn with some difficulty refrained from thanking him for the information.
'I never stop at a school long,' said Farnie. 'If I don't get sacked my father takes me away after a couple of terms. I went to four private schools before I started on the public schools. My pater took me away from the first two because he thought the drains were bad, the third because they wouldn't teach me shorthand, and the fourth because he didn't like the headmaster's face. I worked off those schools in a year and a half.' Having finished this piece of autobiography, he relapsed into silence, leaving Gethryn to recollect various tales he had heard of his grandfather's eccentricity. The silence lasted until the College was reached, when the matron took charge of Farnie, and Gethryn went off to tell Marriott of these strange happenings.
Marriott was amused, nor did he attempt to conceal the fact. When he had finished laughing, which was not for some time, he favoured the Bishop with a very sound piece of advice. 'If I were you,' he said, 'I should try and hush this affair up. It's all fearfully funny, but I think you'd enjoy life more if nobody knew this kid was your uncle. To see the head of the House going about with a juvenile uncle in his wake might amuse the chaps rather, and you might find it harder to keep order; I won't let it out, and nobody else knows apparently. Go and square the kid. Oh, I say though, what's his name? If it's Gethryn, you're done. Unless you like to swear he's a cousin.'
'No; his name's Farnie, thank goodness.'
'That's all right then. Go and talk to him.'
Gethryn went to the junior study. Farnie was holding forth to a knot of fags at one end of the room. His audience appeared to be amused at something.
'I say, Farnie,' said the Bishop, 'half a second.'
Farnie came out, and Gethryn proceeded to inform him that, all things considered, and proud as he was of the relationship, it was not absolutely essential that he should tell everybody that he was his uncle. In fact, it would be rather better on the whole if he did not. Did he follow?
Farnie begged to observe that he did follow, but that, to his sorrow, the warning came too late.
'I'm very sorry,' he said, 'I hadn't the least idea you wanted the thing kept dark. How was I to know? I've just been telling it to some of the chaps in there. Awfully decent chaps. They seemed to think it rather funny. Anyhow, I'm not ashamed of the relationship. Not yet, at any rate.'
For a moment Gethryn seemed about to speak. He looked fixedly at his uncle as he stood framed in the doorway, a cheerful column of cool, calm, concentrated cheek. Then, as if realizing that no words that he knew could do justice to the situation, he raised his foot in silence, and 'booted' his own flesh and blood with marked emphasis. After which ceremony he went, still without a word, upstairs again.
As for Farnie, he returned to the junior day-room whistling 'Down South' in a soft but cheerful key, and solidified his growing popularity with doles of food from a hamper which he had brought with him. Finally, on retiring to bed and being pressed by the rest of his dormitory for a story, he embarked upon the history of a certain Pollock and an individual referred to throughout as the Porroh Man, the former of whom caused the latter to be decapitated, and was ever afterwards haunted by his head, which appeared to him all day and every day (not excepting Sundays and Bank Holidays) in an upside-down position and wearing a horrible grin. In the end Pollock very sensibly committed suicide (with ghastly details), and the dormitory thanked Farnie in a subdued and chastened manner, and tried, with small success, to go to sleep. In short, Farnie's first evening at Beckford had been quite a triumph.
PRINGLE MAKES A SPORTING OFFER
Estimating it roughly, it takes a new boy at a public school about a week to find his legs and shed his skin of newness. The period is, of course, longer in the case of some and shorter in the case of others. Both Farnie and Wilson had made themselves at home immediately. In the case of the latter, directly the Skinner episode had been noised abroad, and it was discovered in addition that he was a promising bat, public opinion recognized that here was a youth out of the common run of new boys, and the Lower Fourth—the form in which he had been placed on arrival—took him to its bosom as an equal. Farnie's case was exceptional. A career at Harrow, Clifton, and Wellington, however short and abruptly terminated, gives one some sort of grip on the way public school life is conducted. At an early date, moreover, he gave signs of what almost amounted to genius in the Indoor Game department. Now, success in the field is a good thing, and undoubtedly makes for popularity. But if you desire to command the respect and admiration of your fellow-beings to a degree stretched almost to the point of idolatry, make yourself proficient in the art of whiling away the hours of afternoon school. Before Farnie's arrival, his form, the Upper Fourth, with the best intentions in the world, had not been skilful 'raggers'. They had ragged in an intermittent, once-a-week sort of way. When, however, he came on the scene, he introduced a welcome element of science into the sport. As witness the following. Mr Strudwick, the regular master of the form, happened on one occasion to be away for a couple of days, and a stop-gap was put in in his place. The name of the stop-gap was Mr Somerville Smith. He and Farnie exchanged an unspoken declaration of war almost immediately. The first round went in Mr Smith's favour. He contrived to catch Farnie in the act of performing some ingenious breach of the peace, and, it being a Wednesday and a half-holiday, sent him into extra lesson. On the following morning, more by design than accident, Farnie upset an inkpot. Mr Smith observed icily that unless the stain was wiped away before the beginning of afternoon school, there would be trouble. Farnie observed (to himself) that there would be trouble in any case, for he had hit upon the central idea for the most colossal 'rag' that, in his opinion, ever was. After morning school he gathered the form around him, and disclosed his idea. The floor of the form-room, he pointed out, was some dozen inches below the level of the door. Would it not be a pleasant and profitable notion, he asked, to flood the floor with water to the depth of those dozen inches? On the wall outside the form-room hung a row of buckets, placed there in case of fire, and the lavatory was not too far off for practical purposes. Mr Smith had bidden him wash the floor. It was obviously his duty to do so. The form thought so too. For a solid hour, thirty weary but enthusiastic reprobates laboured without ceasing, and by the time the bell rang all was prepared. The floor was one still, silent pool. Two caps and a few notebooks floated sluggishly on the surface, relieving the picture of any tendency to monotony. The form crept silently to their places along the desks. As Mr Smith's footsteps were heard approaching, they began to beat vigorously upon the desks, with the result that Mr Smith, quickening his pace, dashed into the form-room at a hard gallop. The immediate results were absolutely satisfactory, and if matters subsequently (when Mr Smith, having changed his clothes, returned with the Headmaster) did get somewhat warm for the thirty criminals, they had the satisfying feeling that their duty had been done, and a hearty and unanimous vote of thanks was passed to Farnie. From which it will be seen that Master Reginald Farnie was managing to extract more or less enjoyment out of his life at Beckford.
Another person who was enjoying life was Pringle of the School House. The keynote of Pringle's character was superiority. At an early period of his life—he was still unable to speak at the time—his grandmother had died. This is probably the sole reason why he had never taught that relative to suck eggs. Had she lived, her education in that direction must have been taken in hand. Baffled in this, Pringle had turned his attention to the rest of the human race. He had a rooted conviction that he did everything a shade better than anybody else. This belief did not make him arrogant at all, and certainly not offensive, for he was exceedingly popular in the School. But still there were people who thought that he might occasionally draw the line somewhere. Watson, the ground-man, for example, thought so when Pringle primed him with advice on the subject of preparing a wicket. And Langdale, who had been captain of the team five years before, had thought so most decidedly, and had not hesitated to say so when Pringle, then in his first term and aged twelve, had stood behind the First Eleven net and requested him peremptorily to 'keep 'em down, sir, keep 'em down'. Indeed, the great man had very nearly had a fit on that occasion, and was wont afterwards to attribute to the effects of the shock so received a sequence of three 'ducks' which befell him in the next three matches.
In short, in every department of life, Pringle's advice was always (and generally unsought) at everybody's disposal. To round the position off neatly, it would be necessary to picture him as a total failure in the practical side of all the subjects in which he was so brilliant a theorist. Strangely enough, however, this was not the case. There were few better bats in the School than Pringle. Norris on his day was more stylish, and Marriott not infrequently made more runs, but for consistency Pringle was unrivalled.
That was partly the reason why at this time he was feeling pleased with life. The School had played three matches up to date, and had won them all. In the first, an Oxford college team, containing several Old Beckfordians, had been met and routed, Pringle contributing thirty-one to a total of three hundred odd. But Norris had made a century, which had rather diverted the public eye from this performance. Then the School had played the Emeriti, and had won again quite comfortably. This time his score had been forty-one, useful, but still not phenomenal. Then in the third match, versus Charchester, one of the big school matches of the season, he had found himself. He ran up a hundred and twenty-three without a chance, and felt that life had little more to offer. That had been only a week ago, and the glow of satisfaction was still pleasantly warm.
It was while he was gloating silently in his study over the bat with which a grateful Field Sports Committee had presented him as a reward for this feat, that he became aware that Lorimer, his study companion, appeared to be in an entirely different frame of mind to his own. Lorimer was in the Upper Fifth, Pringle in the Remove. Lorimer sat at the study table gnawing a pen in a feverish manner that told of an overwrought soul. Twice he uttered sounds that were obviously sounds of anguish, half groans and half grunts. Pringle laid down his bat and decided to investigate.
'What's up?' he asked.
'This bally poem thing,' said Lorimer.
'Poem? Oh, ah, I know.' Pringle had been in the Upper Fifth himself a year before, and he remembered that every summer term there descended upon that form a Bad Time in the shape of a poetry prize. A certain Indian potentate, the Rajah of Seltzerpore, had paid a visit to the school some years back, and had left behind him on his departure certain monies in the local bank, which were to be devoted to providing the Upper Fifth with an annual prize for the best poem on a subject to be selected by the Headmaster. Entrance was compulsory. The wily authorities knew very well that if it had not been, the entries for the prize would have been somewhat small. Why the Upper Fifth were so favoured in preference to the Sixth or Remove is doubtful. Possibly it was felt that, what with the Jones History, the Smith Latin Verse, the Robinson Latin Prose, and the De Vere Crespigny Greek Verse, and other trophies open only to members of the Remove and Sixth, those two forms had enough to keep them occupied as it was. At any rate, to the Upper Fifth the prize was given, and every year, three weeks after the commencement of the summer term, the Bad Time arrived.
'Can't you get on?' asked Pringle.
'What's the subject?'
'Death of Dido.'
'Something to be got out of that, surely.'
'Wish you'd tell me what.'
'Heap of things.'
'Such as what? Can't see anything myself. I call it perfectly indecent dragging the good lady out of her well-earned tomb at this time of day. I've looked her up in the Dic. of Antiquities, and it appears that she committed suicide some years ago. Body-snatching, I call it. What do I want to know about her?'
'What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?' murmured Pringle.
'Hecuba?' said Lorimer, looking puzzled, 'What's Hecuba got to do with it?'
'I was only quoting,' said Pringle, with gentle superiority.
'Well, I wish instead of quoting rot you'd devote your energies to helping me with these beastly verses. How on earth shall I begin?'
'You might adapt my quotation. "What's Dido got to do with me, or I to do with Dido?" I rather like that. Jam it down. Then you go on in a sort of rag-time metre. In the "Coon Drum-Major" style. Besides, you see, the beauty of it is that you administer a wholesome snub to the examiner right away. Makes him sit up at once. Put it down.'
Lorimer bit off another quarter of an inch of his pen. 'You needn't be an ass,' he said shortly.
'My dear chap,' said Pringle, enjoying himself immensely, 'what on earth is the good of my offering you suggestions if you won't take them?'
Lorimer said nothing. He bit off another mouthful of penholder.
'Well, anyway,' resumed Pringle. 'I can't see why you're so keen on the business. Put down anything. The beaks never make a fuss about these special exams.'
'It isn't the beaks I care about,' said Lorimer in an injured tone of voice, as if someone had been insinuating that he had committed some crime, 'only my people are rather keen on my doing well in this exam.'
'Why this exam, particularly?'
'Oh, I don't know. My grandfather or someone was a bit of a pro at verse in his day, I believe, and they think it ought to run in the family.'
Pringle examined the situation in all its aspects. 'Can't you get along?' he enquired at length.
'Not an inch.'
'Pity. I wish we could swop places.'
'So do I for some things. To start with, I shouldn't mind having made that century of yours against Charchester.'
Pringle beamed. The least hint that his fellow-man was taking him at his own valuation always made him happy.
'Thanks,' he said. 'No, but what I meant was that I wished I was in for this poetry prize. I bet I could turn out a rattling good screed. Why, last year I almost got the prize. I sent in fearfully hot stuff.'
'Think so?' said Lorimer doubtfully, in answer to the 'rattling good screed' passage of Pringle's speech. 'Well, I wish you'd have a shot. You might as well.'
'What, really? How about the prize?'
'Oh, hang the prize. We'll have to chance that.'
'I thought you were keen on getting it.'
'Oh, no. Second or third will do me all right, and satisfy my people. They only want to know for certain that I've got the poetic afflatus all right. Will you take it on?'
'I say, Lorimer,' said Pringle after a pause.
'Are your people coming down for the O.B.s' match?'
The Old Beckfordians' match was the great function of the Beckford cricket season. The Headmaster gave a garden-party. The School band played; the School choir sang; and sisters, cousins, aunts, and parents flocked to the School in platoons.
'Yes, I think so,' said Lorimer. 'Why?'
'Is your sister coming?'
'Oh, I don't know.' A brother's utter lack of interest in his sister's actions is a weird and wonderful thing for an outsider to behold.
'Well, look here, I wish you'd get her to come. We could give them tea in here, and have rather a good time, don't you think?'
'All right. I'll make her come. Look here, Pringle, I believe you're rather gone on Mabel.'
This was Lorimer's vulgar way.
'Don't be an ass,' said Pringle, with a laugh which should have been careless, but was in reality merely feeble. 'She's quite a kid.'
Miss Mabel Lorimer's exact age was fifteen. She had brown hair, blue eyes, and a smile which disclosed to view a dimple. There are worse things than a dimple. Distinctly so, indeed. When ladies of fifteen possess dimples, mere man becomes but as a piece of damp blotting-paper. Pringle was seventeen and a half, and consequently too old to take note of such frivolous attributes; but all the same he had a sort of vague, sketchy impression that it would be pleasanter to run up a lively century against the O.B.s with Miss Lorimer as a spectator than in her absence. He felt pleased that she was coming.
'I say, about this poem,' said Lorimer, dismissing a subject which manifestly bored him, and returning to one which was of vital interest, 'you're sure you can write fairly decent stuff? It's no good sending in stuff that'll turn the examiner's hair grey. Can you turn out something really decent?'
Pringle said nothing. He smiled gently as who should observe, 'I and Shakespeare.'
FARNIE GETS INTO TROUBLE—
It was perhaps only natural that Farnie, having been warned so strongly of the inadvisability of having anything to do with Monk, should for that very reason be attracted to him. Nobody ever wants to do anything except what they are not allowed to do. Otherwise there is no explaining the friendship that arose between them. Jack Monk was not an attractive individual. He had a slack mouth and a shifty eye, and his complexion was the sort which friends would have described as olive, enemies (with more truth) as dirty green. These defects would have mattered little, of course, in themselves. There's many a bilious countenance, so to speak, covers a warm heart. With Monk, however, appearances were not deceptive. He looked a bad lot, and he was one.
It was on the second morning of term that the acquaintanceship began. Monk was coming downstairs from his study with Danvers, and Farnie was leaving the fags' day-room.
'See that kid?' said Danvers. 'That's the chap I was telling you about. Gethryn's uncle, you know.'
'Not really? Let's cultivate him. I say, old chap, don't walk so fast.' Farnie, rightly concluding that the remark was addressed to him, turned and waited, and the three strolled over to the School buildings together.
They would have made an interesting study for the observer of human nature, the two seniors fancying that they had to deal with a small boy just arrived at his first school, and in the grip of that strange, lost feeling which attacks the best of new boys for a day or so after their arrival; and Farnie, on the other hand, watching every move, as perfectly composed and at home as a youth should be with the experience of three public schools to back him up.
When they arrived at the School gates, Monk and Danvers turned to go in the direction of their form-room, the Remove, leaving Farnie at the door of the Upper Fourth. At this point a small comedy took place. Monk, after feeling hastily in his pockets, requested Danvers to lend him five shillings until next Saturday. Danvers knew this request of old, and he knew the answer that was expected of him. By replying that he was sorry, but he had not got the money, he gave Farnie, who was still standing at the door, his cue to offer to supply the deficiency. Most new boys—they had grasped this fact from experience—would have felt it an honour to oblige a senior with a small loan. As Farnie made no signs of doing what was expected of him, Monk was obliged to resort to the somewhat cruder course of applying for the loan in person. He applied. Farnie with the utmost willingness brought to light a handful of money, mostly gold. Monk's eye gleamed approval, and he stretched forth an itching palm. Danvers began to think that it would be rash to let a chance like this slip. Ordinarily the tacit agreement between the pair was that only one should borrow at a time, lest confidence should be destroyed in the victim. But here was surely an exception, a special case. With a young gentleman so obviously a man of coin as Farnie, the rule might well be broken for once.
'While you're about it, Farnie, old man,' he said carelessly, 'you might let me have a bob or two if you don't mind. Five bob'll see me through to Saturday all right.'
'Do you mean tomorrow?' enquired Farnie, looking up from his heap of gold.
'No, Saturday week. Let you have it back by then at the latest. Make a point of it.'
'How would a quid do?'
'Ripping,' said Danvers ecstatically.
'Same here,' assented Monk.
'Then that's all right,' said Farnie briskly; 'I thought perhaps you mightn't have had enough. You've got a quid, I know, Monk, because I saw you haul one out at breakfast. And Danvers has got one too, because he offered to toss you for it in the study afterwards. And besides, I couldn't lend you anything in any case, because I've only got about fourteen quid myself.'
With which parting shot he retired, wrapped in gentle thought, into his form-room; and from the noise which ensued immediately upon his arrival, the shrewd listener would have deduced, quite correctly, that he had organized and taken the leading part in a general rag.
Monk and Danvers proceeded upon their way.
'You got rather left there, old chap,' said Monk at length.
'I like that,' replied the outraged Danvers. 'How about you, then? It seemed to me you got rather left, too.'
'Well, anyhow,' he said, 'we shan't get much out of that kid.'
'Little beast,' said Danvers complainingly. And they went on into their form-room in silence.
'I saw your young—er—relative in earnest conversation with friend Monk this morning,' said Marriott, later on in the day, to Gethryn; 'I thought you were going to give him the tip in that direction?'
'So I did,' said the Bishop wearily; 'but I can't always be looking after the little brute. He only does it out of sheer cussedness, because I've told him not to. It stands to reason that he can't like Monk.'
'You remind me of the psalmist and the wicked man, surname unknown,' said Marriott. 'You can't see the good side of Monk.'
'There isn't one.'
'No. He's only got two sides, a bad side and a worse side, which he sticks on on the strength of being fairly good at games. I wonder if he's going to get his First this season. He's not a bad bat.'
'I don't think he will. He is a good bat, but there are heaps better in the place. I say, I think I shall give young Farnie the tip once more, and let him take it or leave it. What do you think?'
'He'll leave it,' said Marriott, with conviction.
Nor was he mistaken. Farnie listened with enthusiasm to his nephew's second excursus on the Monk topic, and, though he said nothing, was apparently convinced. On the following afternoon Monk, Danvers, Waterford, and he hired a boat and went up the river together. Gethryn and Marriott, steered by Wilson, who was rapidly developing into a useful coxswain, got an excellent view of them moored under the shade of a willow, drinking ginger-beer, and apparently on the best of terms with one another and the world in general. In a brief but moving speech the Bishop finally excommunicated his erring relative. 'For all I care,' he concluded, 'he can do what he likes in future. I shan't stop him.'
'No,' said Marriott, 'I don't think you will.'
For the first month of his school life Farnie behaved, except in his choice of companions, much like an ordinary junior. He played cricket moderately well, did his share of compulsory fielding at the First Eleven net, and went for frequent river excursions with Monk, Danvers, and the rest of the Mob.
At first the other juniors of the House were inclined to resent this extending of the right hand of fellowship to owners of studies and Second Eleven men, and attempted to make Farnie see the sin and folly of his ways. But Nature had endowed that youth with a fund of vitriolic repartee. When Millett, one of Leicester's juniors, evolved some laborious sarcasm on the subject of Farnie's swell friends, Farnie, in a series of three remarks, reduced him, figuratively speaking, to a small and palpitating spot of grease. After that his actions came in for no further, or at any rate no outspoken comment.
Given sixpence a week and no more, Farnie might have survived an entire term without breaking any serious School rule. But when, after buying a bicycle from Smith of Markham's, he found himself with eight pounds to his name in solid cash, and the means of getting far enough away from the neighbourhood of the School to be able to spend it much as he liked, he began to do strange and risky things in his spare time.
The great obstacle to illicit enjoyment at Beckford was the four o'clock roll-call on half-holidays. There were other obstacles, such as half-holiday games and so forth, but these could be avoided by the exercise of a little judgement. The penalty for non-appearance at a half-holiday game was a fine of sixpence. Constant absence was likely in time to lead to a more or less thrilling interview with the captain of cricket, but a very occasional attendance was enough to stave off this disaster; and as for the sixpence, to a man of means like Farnie it was a mere nothing. It was a bad system, and it was a wonder, under the circumstances, how Beckford produced the elevens it did. But it was the system, and Farnie availed himself of it to the full.
The obstacle of roll-call he managed also to surmount. Some reckless and penniless friend was generally willing, for a consideration, to answer his name for him. And so most Saturday afternoons would find Farnie leaving behind him the flannelled fools at their various wickets, and speeding out into the country on his bicycle in the direction of the village of Biddlehampton, where mine host of the 'Cow and Cornflower', in addition to other refreshment for man and beast, advertised that ping-pong and billiards might be played on the premises. It was not the former of these games that attracted Farnie. He was no pinger. Nor was he a pongster. But for billiards he had a decided taste, a genuine taste, not the pumped-up affectation sometimes displayed by boys of his age. Considering his age he was a remarkable player. Later on in life it appeared likely that he would have the choice of three professions open to him, namely, professional billiard player, billiard marker, and billiard sharp. At each of the three he showed distinct promise. He was not 'lured to the green cloth' by Monk or Danvers. Indeed, if there had been any luring to be done, it is probable that he would have done it, and not they. Neither Monk nor Danvers was in his confidence in the matter. Billiards is not a cheap amusement. By the end of his sixth week Farnie was reduced to a single pound, a sum which, for one of his tastes, was practically poverty. And just at the moment when he was least able to bear up against it, Fate dealt him one of its nastiest blows. He was playing a fifty up against a friendly but unskilful farmer at the 'Cow and Cornflower'. 'Better look out,' he said, as his opponent effected a somewhat rustic stroke, 'you'll be cutting the cloth in a second.' The farmer grunted, missed by inches, and retired, leaving the red ball in the jaws of the pocket, and Farnie with three to make to win.
It was an absurdly easy stroke, and the Bishop's uncle took it with an absurd amount of conceit and carelessness. Hardly troubling to aim, he struck his ball. The cue slid off in one direction, the ball rolled sluggishly in another. And when the cue had finished its run, the smooth green surface of the table was marred by a jagged and unsightly cut. There was another young man gone wrong!
To say that the farmer laughed would be to express the matter feebly. That his young opponent, who had been irritating him unspeakably since the beginning of the game with advice and criticism, should have done exactly what he had cautioned him, the farmer, against a moment before, struck him as being the finest example of poetic justice he had ever heard of, and he signalized his appreciation of the same by nearly dying of apoplexy.
The marker expressed an opinion that Farnie had been and gone and done it.
''Ere,' he said, inserting a finger in the cut to display its dimensions. 'Look 'ere. This'll mean a noo cloth, young feller me lad. That's wot this'll mean. That'll be three pound we will trouble you for, if you please.'
Farnie produced his sole remaining sovereign.
'All I've got,' he said. 'I'll leave my name and address.'
'Don't you trouble, young feller me lad,' said the marker, who appeared to be a very aggressive and unpleasant sort of character altogether, with meaning, 'I know yer name and I knows yer address. Today fortnight at the very latest, if you please. You don't want me to 'ave to go to your master about it, now, do yer? What say? No. Ve' well then. Today fortnight is the time, and you remember it.'
What was left of Farnie then rode slowly back to Beckford. Why he went to Monk on his return probably he could not have explained himself. But he did go, and, having told his story in full, wound up by asking for a loan of two pounds. Monk's first impulse was to refer him back to a previous interview, when matters had been the other way about, that small affair of the pound on the second morning of the term. Then there flashed across his mind certain reasons against this move. At present Farnie's attitude towards him was unpleasantly independent. He made him understand that he went about with him from choice, and that there was to be nothing of the patron and dependant about their alliance. If he were to lend him the two pounds now, things would alter. And to have got a complete hold over Master Reginald Farnie, Monk would have paid more than two pounds. Farnie had the intelligence to carry through anything, however risky, and there were many things which Monk would have liked to do, but, owing to the risks involved, shirked doing for himself. Besides, he happened to be in funds just now.
'Well, look here, old chap,' he said, 'let's have strict business between friends. If you'll pay me back four quid at the end of term, you shall have the two pounds. How does that strike you?'
It struck Farnie, as it would have struck most people, that if this was Monk's idea of strict business, there were the makings of no ordinary financier in him. But to get his two pounds he would have agreed to anything. And the end of term seemed a long way off.
The awkward part of the billiard-playing episode was that the punishment for it, if detected, was not expulsion, but flogging. And Farnie resembled the lady in The Ingoldsby Legends who 'didn't mind death, but who couldn't stand pinching'. He didn't mind expulsion—he was used to it, but he could not stand flogging.
'That'll be all right,' he said. And the money changed hands.
—AND STAYS THERE
'I say,' said Baker of Jephson's excitedly some days later, reeling into the study which he shared with Norris, 'have you seen the team the M.C.C.'s bringing down?'
At nearly every school there is a type of youth who asks this question on the morning of the M.C.C. match. Norris was engaged in putting the finishing touches to a snow-white pair of cricket boots.
'No. Hullo, where did you raise that Sporter? Let's have a look.'
But Baker proposed to conduct this business in person. It is ten times more pleasant to administer a series of shocks to a friend than to sit by and watch him administering them to himself. He retained The Sportsman, and began to read out the team.
'Thought Middlesex had a match,' said Norris, as Baker paused dramatically to let the name of a world-famed professional sink in.
'No. They don't play Surrey till Monday.'
'Well, if they've got an important match like Surrey on on Monday,' said Norris disgustedly, 'what on earth do they let their best man come down here today for, and fag himself out?'
Baker suggested gently that if anybody was going to be fagged out at the end of the day, it would in all probability be the Beckford bowlers, and not a man who, as he was careful to point out, had run up a century a mere three days ago against Yorkshire, and who was apparently at that moment at the very top of his form.
'Well,' said Norris, 'he might crock himself or anything. Rank bad policy, I call it. Anybody else?'
Baker resumed his reading. A string of unknowns ended in another celebrity.
'Blackwell?' said Norris. 'Not O. T. Blackwell?'
'It says A. T. But,' went on Baker, brightening up again, 'they always get the initials wrong in the papers. Certain to be O. T. By the way, I suppose you saw that he made eighty-three against Notts the other day?'
Norris tried to comfort himself by observing that Notts couldn't bowl for toffee.
'Last week, too,' said Baker, 'he made a hundred and forty-six not out against Malvern for the Gentlemen of Warwickshire. They couldn't get him out,' he concluded with unction. In spite of the fact that he himself was playing in the match today, and might under the circumstances reasonably look forward to a considerable dose of leather-hunting, the task of announcing the bad news to Norris appeared to have a most elevating effect on his spirits:
'That's nothing extra special,' said Norris, in answer to the last item of information, 'the Malvern wicket's like a billiard-table.'
'Our wickets aren't bad either at this time of year,' said Baker, 'and I heard rumours that they had got a record one ready for this match.'
'It seems to me,' said Norris, 'that what I'd better do if we want to bat at all today is to win the toss. Though Sammy and the Bishop and Baynes ought to be able to get any ordinary side out all right.'
'Only this isn't an ordinary side. It's a sort of improved county team.'
'They've got about four men who might come off, but the M.C.C. sometimes have a bit of a tail. We ought to have a look in if we win the toss.'
'Hope so,' said Baker. 'I doubt it, though.'
At a quarter to eleven the School always went out in a body to inspect the pitch. After the wicket had been described by experts in hushed whispers as looking pretty good, the bell rang, and all who were not playing for the team, with the exception of the lucky individual who had obtained for himself the post of scorer, strolled back towards the blocks. Monk had come out with Waterford, but seeing Farnie ahead and walking alone he quitted Waterford, and attached himself to the genial Reginald. He wanted to talk business. He had not found the speculation of the two pounds a very profitable one. He had advanced the money under the impression that Farnie, by accepting it, was practically selling his independence. And there were certain matters in which Monk was largely interested, connected with the breaking of bounds and the purchase of contraband goods, which he would have been exceedingly glad to have performed by deputy. He had fancied that Farnie would have taken over these jobs as part of his debt. But he had mistaken his man. On the very first occasion when he had attempted to put on the screw, Farnie had flatly refused to have anything to do with what he proposed. He said that he was not Monk's fag—a remark which had the merit of being absolutely true.
All this, combined with a slight sinking of his own funds, induced Monk to take steps towards recovering the loan.
'I say, Farnie, old chap.'
'I say, do you remember my lending you two quid some time ago?'
'You don't give me much chance of forgetting it,' said Farnie.
Monk smiled. He could afford to be generous towards such witticisms.
'I want it back,' he said.
'All right. You'll get it at the end of term.'
'I want it now.'
'Awfully hard up, old chap.'
'You aren't,' said Farnie. 'You've got three pounds twelve and sixpence half-penny. If you will keep counting your money in public, you can't blame a chap for knowing how much you've got.'
Monk, slightly disconcerted, changed his plan of action. He abandoned skirmishing tactics.
'Never mind that,' he said, 'the point is that I want that four pounds. I'm going to have it, too.'
'I know. At the end of term.'
'I'm going to have it now.'
'You can have a pound of it now.'
'I don't see how you expect me to raise any more. If I could, do you think I should have borrowed it? You might chuck rotting for a change.'
'Now, look here, old chap,' said Monk, 'I should think you'd rather raise that tin somehow than have it get about that you'd been playing pills at some pub out of bounds. What?'
Farnie, for one of the few occasions on record, was shaken out of his usual sang-froid. Even in his easy code of morality there had always been one crime which was an anathema, the sort of thing no fellow could think of doing. But it was obviously at this that Monk was hinting.
'Good Lord, man,' he cried, 'you don't mean to say you're thinking of sneaking? Why, the fellows would boot you round the field. You couldn't stay in the place a week.'
'There are heaps of ways,' said Monk, 'in which a thing can get about without anyone actually telling the beaks. At present I've not told a soul. But, you know, if I let it out to anyone they might tell someone else, and so on. And if everybody knows a thing, the beaks generally get hold of it sooner or later. You'd much better let me have that four quid, old chap.'
'All right,' he said, 'I'll get it somehow.'
'Thanks awfully, old chap,' said Monk, 'so long!'
In all Beckford there was only one person who was in the least degree likely to combine the two qualities necessary for the extraction of Farnie from his difficulties. These qualities were—in the first place ability, in the second place willingness to advance him, free of security, the four pounds he required. The person whom he had in his mind was Gethryn. He had reasoned the matter out step by step during the second half of morning school. Gethryn, though he had, as Farnie knew, no overwhelming amount of affection for his uncle, might in a case of great need prove blood to be thicker (as per advertisement) than water. But, he reflected, he must represent himself as in danger of expulsion rather than flogging. He had an uneasy idea that if the Bishop were to discover that all he stood to get was a flogging, he would remark with enthusiasm that, as far as he was concerned, the good work might go on. Expulsion was different. To save a member of his family from expulsion, he might think it worth while to pass round the hat amongst his wealthy acquaintances. If four plutocrats with four sovereigns were to combine, Farnie, by their united efforts, would be saved. And he rather liked the notion of being turned into a sort of limited liability company, like the Duke of Plaza Toro, at a pound a share. It seemed to add a certain dignity to his position.
To Gethryn's study, therefore, he went directly school was over. If he had reflected, he might have known that he would not have been there while the match was going on. But his brain, fatigued with his recent calculations, had not noted this point.
The study was empty.
Most people, on finding themselves in a strange and empty room, are seized with a desire to explore the same, and observe from internal evidence what manner of man is the owner. Nowhere does character come out so clearly as in the decoration of one's private den. Many a man, at present respected by his associates, would stand forth unmasked at his true worth, could the world but look into his room. For there they would see that he was so lost to every sense of shame as to cover his books with brown paper, or deck his walls with oleographs presented with the Christmas numbers, both of which habits argue a frame of mind fit for murderers, stratagems, and spoils. Let no such man be trusted.
The Bishop's study, which Farnie now proceeded to inspect, was not of this kind. It was a neat study, arranged with not a little taste. There were photographs of teams with the College arms on their plain oak frames, and photographs of relations in frames which tried to look, and for the most part succeeded in looking, as if they had not cost fourpence three farthings at a Christmas bargain sale. There were snap-shots of various moving incidents in the careers of the Bishop and his friends: Marriott, for example, as he appeared when carried to the Pavilion after that sensational century against the Authentics: Robertson of Blaker's winning the quarter mile: John Brown, Norris's predecessor in the captaincy, and one of the four best batsmen Beckford had ever had, batting at the nets: Norris taking a skier on the boundary in last year's M.C.C. match: the Bishop himself going out to bat in the Charchester match, and many more of the same sort.
All these Farnie observed with considerable interest, but as he moved towards the book-shelf his eye was caught by an object more interesting still. It was a cash-box, simple and unornamental, but undoubtedly a cash-box, and as he took it up it rattled.
The key was in the lock. In a boarding House at a public school it is not, as a general rule, absolutely necessary to keep one's valuables always hermetically sealed. The difference between meum and tuum is so very rarely confused by the occupants of such an establishment, that one is apt to grow careless, and every now and then accidents happen. An accident was about to happen now.
It was at first without any motive except curiosity that Farnie opened the cash-box. He merely wished to see how much there was inside, with a view to ascertaining what his prospects of negotiating a loan with his relative were likely to be. When, however, he did see, other feelings began to take the place of curiosity. He counted the money. There were ten sovereigns, one half-sovereign, and a good deal of silver. One of the institutions at Beckford was a mission. The School by (more or less) voluntary contributions supported a species of home somewhere in the wilds of Kennington. No one knew exactly what or where this home was, but all paid their subscriptions as soon as possible in the term, and tried to forget about it. Gethryn collected not only for Leicester's House, but also for the Sixth Form, and was consequently, if only by proxy, a man of large means. Too large, Farnie thought. Surely four pounds, to be paid back (probably) almost at once, would not be missed. Why shouldn't he—
Farnie spun round. Wilson was standing in the doorway.
'Hullo, Farnie,' said he, 'what are you playing at in here?'
'What are you?' retorted Farnie politely.
'Come to fetch a book. Marriott said I might. What are you up to?'
'Oh, shut up!' said Farnie. 'Why shouldn't I come here if I like? Matter of fact, I came to see Gethryn.'
'He isn't here,' said Wilson luminously.
'You don't mean to say you've noticed that already? You've got an eye like a hawk, Wilson. I was just taking a look round, if you really want to know.'
'Well, I shouldn't advise you to let Marriott catch you mucking his study up. Seen a book called Round the Red Lamp? Oh, here it is. Coming over to the field?'
'Not just yet. I want to have another look round. Don't you wait, though.'
'Oh, all right.' And Wilson retired with his book.
Now, though Wilson at present suspected nothing, not knowing of the existence of the cash-box, Farnie felt that when the money came to be missed, and inquiries were made as to who had been in the study, and when, he would recall the interview. Two courses, therefore, remained open to him. He could leave the money altogether, or he could take it and leave himself. In other words, run away.
In the first case there would, of course, remain the chance that he might induce Gethryn to lend him the four pounds, but this had never been more than a forlorn hope; and in the light of the possibilities opened out by the cash-box, he thought no more of it. The real problem was, should he or should he not take the money from the cash-box?
As he hesitated, the recollection of Monk's veiled threats came back to him, and he wavered no longer. He opened the box again, took out the contents, and dropped them into his pocket. While he was about it, he thought he might as well take all as only a part.
Then he wrote two notes. One—to the Bishop—he placed on top of the cash-box; the other he placed with four sovereigns on the table in Monk's study. Finally he left the room, shut the door carefully behind him, and went to the yard at the back of the House, where he kept his bicycle.
The workings of the human mind, and especially of the young human mind, are peculiar. It never occurred to Farnie that a result equally profitable to himself, and decidedly more convenient for all concerned—with the possible exception of Monk—might have been arrived at if he had simply left the money in the box, and run away without it.
However, as the poet says, you can't think of everything.
THE BISHOP GOES FOR A RIDE
The M.C.C. match opened auspiciously. Norris, for the first time that season, won the toss. Tom Brown, we read, in a similar position, 'with the usual liberality of young hands', put his opponents in first. Norris was not so liberal. He may have been young, but he was not so young as that. The sun was shining on as true a wicket as was ever prepared when he cried 'Heads', and the coin, after rolling for some time in diminishing circles, came to a standstill with the dragon undermost. And Norris returned to the Pavilion and informed his gratified team that, all things considered, he rather thought that they would bat, and he would be obliged if Baker would get on his pads and come in first with him.
The M.C.C. men took the field—O. T. Blackwell, by the way, had shrunk into a mere brother of the century-making A. T.—and the two School House representatives followed them. An amateur of lengthy frame took the ball, a man of pace, to judge from the number of slips. Norris asked for 'two leg'. An obliging umpire informed him that he had got two leg. The long bowler requested short slip to stand finer, swung his arm as if to see that the machinery still worked, and dashed wildly towards the crease. The match had begun.
There are few pleasanter or more thrilling moments in one's school career than the first over of a big match. Pleasant, that is to say, if you are actually looking on. To have to listen to a match being started from the interior of a form-room is, of course, maddening. You hear the sound of bat meeting ball, followed by distant clapping. Somebody has scored. But who and what? It may be a four, or it may be a mere single. More important still, it may be the other side batting after all. Some miscreant has possibly lifted your best bowler into the road. The suspense is awful. It ought to be a School rule that the captain of the team should send a message round the form-rooms stating briefly and lucidly the result of the toss. Then one would know where one was. As it is, the entire form is dependent on the man sitting under the window. The form-master turns to write on the blackboard. The only hope of the form shoots up like a rocket, gazes earnestly in the direction of the Pavilion, and falls back with a thud into his seat. 'They haven't started yet,' he informs the rest in a stage whisper. 'Si-lence,' says the form-master, and the whole business must be gone through again, with the added disadvantage that the master now has his eye fixed coldly on the individual nearest the window, your only link with the outer world.
Various masters have various methods under such circumstances. One more than excellent man used to close his book and remark, 'I think we'll make up a little party to watch this match.' And the form, gasping its thanks, crowded to the windows. Another, the exact antithesis of this great and good gentleman, on seeing a boy taking fitful glances through the window, would observe acidly, 'You are at perfect liberty, Jones, to watch the match if you care to, but if you do you will come in in the afternoon and make up the time you waste.' And as all that could be seen from that particular window was one of the umpires and a couple of fieldsmen, Jones would reluctantly elect to reserve himself, and for the present to turn his attention to Euripides again.
If you are one of the team, and watch the match from the Pavilion, you escape these trials, but there are others. In the first few overs of a School match, every ball looks to the spectators like taking a wicket. The fiendish ingenuity of the slow bowler, and the lightning speed of the fast man at the other end, make one feel positively ill. When the first ten has gone up on the scoring-board matters begin to right themselves. Today ten went up quickly. The fast man's first ball was outside the off-stump and a half-volley, and Norris, whatever the state of his nerves at the time, never forgot his forward drive. Before the bowler had recovered his balance the ball was half-way to the ropes. The umpire waved a large hand towards the Pavilion. The bowler looked annoyed. And the School inside the form-rooms asked itself feverishly what had happened, and which side it was that was applauding.
Having bowled his first ball too far up, the M.C.C. man, on the principle of anything for a change, now put in a very short one. Norris, a new man after that drive, steered it through the slips, and again the umpire waved his hand.
The rest of the over was more quiet. The last ball went for four byes, and then it was Baker's turn to face the slow man. Baker was a steady, plodding bat. He played five balls gently to mid-on, and glanced the sixth for a single to leg. With the fast bowler, who had not yet got his length, he was more vigorous, and succeeded in cutting him twice for two.
With thirty up for no wickets the School began to feel more comfortable. But at forty-three Baker was shattered by the man of pace, and retired with twenty to his credit. Gethryn came in next, but it was not to be his day out with the bat.
The fast bowler, who was now bowling excellently, sent down one rather wide of the off-stump. The Bishop made most of his runs from off balls, and he had a go at this one. It was rising when he hit it, and it went off his bat like a flash. In a School match it would have been a boundary. But today there was unusual talent in the slips. The man from Middlesex darted forward and sideways. He took the ball one-handed two inches from the ground, and received the applause which followed the effort with a rather bored look, as if he were saying, 'My good sirs, why make a fuss over these trifles!' The Bishop walked slowly back to the Pavilion, feeling that his luck was out, and Pringle came in.
A boy of Pringle's character is exactly the right person to go in in an emergency like the present one. Two wickets had fallen in two balls, and the fast bowler was swelling visibly with determination to do the hat-trick. But Pringle never went in oppressed by the fear of getting out. He had a serene and boundless confidence in himself.
The fast man tried a yorker. Pringle came down hard on it, and forced the ball past the bowler for a single. Then he and Norris settled down to a lengthy stand.
'I do like seeing Pringle bat,' said Gosling. 'He always gives you the idea that he's doing you a personal favour by knocking your bowling about. Oh, well hit!'
Pringle had cut a full-pitch from the slow bowler to the ropes. Marriott, who had been silent and apparently in pain for some minutes, now gave out the following homemade effort:
A dashing young sportsman named Pringle, On breaking his duck (with a single), Observed with a smile, 'Just notice my style, How science with vigour I mingle.'
'Little thing of my own,' he added, quoting England's greatest librettist. 'I call it "Heart Foam". I shall not publish it. Oh, run it out!'
Both Pringle and Norris were evidently in form. Norris was now not far from his fifty, and Pringle looked as if he might make anything. The century went up, and a run later Norris off-drove the slow bowler's successor for three, reaching his fifty by the stroke.
'Must be fairly warm work fielding today,' said Reece.
'By Jove!' said Gethryn, 'I forgot. I left my white hat in the House. Any of you chaps like to fetch it?'
There were no offers. Gethryn got up.
'Marriott, you slacker, come over to the House.'
'My good sir, I'm in next. Why don't you wait till the fellows come out of school and send a kid for it?'
'He probably wouldn't know where to find it. I don't know where it is myself. No, I shall go, but there's no need to fag about it yet. Hullo! Norris is out.'
Norris had stopped a straight one with his leg. He had made fifty-one in his best manner, and the School, leaving the form-rooms at the exact moment when the fatal ball was being bowled, were just in time to applaud him and realize what they had missed.
Gethryn's desire for his hat was not so pressing as to make him deprive himself of the pleasure of seeing Marriott at the wickets. Marriott ought to do something special today. Unfortunately, after he had played out one over and hit two fours off it, the luncheon interval began.
It was, therefore, not for half an hour that the Bishop went at last in search of the missing headgear. As luck would have it, the hat was on the table, so that whatever chance he might have had of overlooking the note which his uncle had left for him on the empty cash-box disappeared. The two things caught his eye simultaneously. He opened the note and read it. It is not necessary to transcribe the note in detail. It was no masterpiece of literary skill. But it had this merit, that it was not vague. Reading it, one grasped its meaning immediately.
The Bishop's first feeling was that the bottom had dropped out of everything suddenly. Surprise was not the word. It was the arrival of the absolutely unexpected.
Then he began to consider the position.
Farnie must be brought back. That was plain. And he must be brought back at once, before anyone could get to hear of what had happened. Gethryn had the very strongest objections to his uncle, considered purely as a human being; but the fact remained that he was his uncle, and the Bishop had equally strong objections to any member of his family being mixed up in a business of this description.
Having settled that point, he went on to the next. How was he to be brought back? He could not have gone far, for he could not have been gone much more than half an hour. Again, from his knowledge of his uncle's character, he deduced that he had in all probability not gone to the nearest station, Horton. At Horton one had to wait hours at a time for a train. Farnie must have made his way—on his bicycle—straight for the junction, Anfield, fifteen miles off by a good road. A train left Anfield for London at three-thirty. It was now a little past two. On a bicycle he could do it easily, and get back with his prize by about five, if he rode hard. In that case all would be well. Only three of the School wickets had fallen, and the pitch was playing as true as concrete. Besides, there was Pringle still in at one end, well set, and surely Marriott and Jennings and the rest of them would manage to stay in till five. They couldn't help it. All they had to do was to play forward to everything, and they must stop in. He himself had got out, it was true, but that was simply a regrettable accident. Not one man in a hundred would have caught that catch. No, with luck he ought easily to be able to do the distance and get back in time to go out with the rest of the team to field.
He ran downstairs and out of the House. On his way to the bicycle-shed he stopped, and looked towards the field, part of which could be seen from where he stood. The match had begun again. The fast bowler was just commencing his run. He saw him tear up to the crease and deliver the ball. What happened then he could not see, owing to the trees which stood between him and the School grounds. But he heard the crack of ball meeting bat, and a great howl of applause went up from the invisible audience. A boundary, apparently. Yes, there was the umpire signalling it. Evidently a long stand was going to be made. He would have oceans of time for his ride. Norris wouldn't dream of declaring the innings closed before five o'clock at the earliest, and no bowler could take seven wickets in the time on such a pitch. He hauled his bicycle from the shed, and rode off at racing speed in the direction of Anfield.
THE M.C.C. MATCH
But out in the field things were going badly with Beckford. The aspect of a game often changes considerably after lunch. For a while it looked as if Marriott and Pringle were in for their respective centuries. But Marriott was never a safe batsman.
A hundred and fifty went up on the board off a square leg hit for two, which completed Pringle's half-century, and then Marriott faced the slow bowler, who had been put on again after lunch. The first ball was a miss-hit. It went behind point for a couple. The next he got fairly hold of and drove to the boundary. The third was a very simple-looking ball. Its sole merit appeared to be the fact that it was straight. Also it was a trifle shorter than it looked. Marriott jumped out, and got too much under it. Up it soared, straight over the bowler's head. A trifle more weight behind the hit, and it would have cleared the ropes. As it was, the man in the deep-field never looked like missing it. The batsmen had time to cross over before the ball arrived, but they did it without enthusiasm. The run was not likely to count. Nor did it. Deep-field caught it like a bird. Marriott had made twenty-two.
And now occurred one of those rots which so often happen without any ostensible cause in the best regulated school elevens. Pringle played the three remaining balls of the over without mishap, but when it was the fast man's turn to bowl to Bruce, Marriott's successor, things began to happen. Bruce, temporarily insane, perhaps through nervousness, played back at a half-volley, and was clean bowled. Hill came in, and was caught two balls later at the wicket. And the last ball of the over sent Jennings's off-stump out of the ground, after that batsman had scored two.