HotFreeBooks.com
Tell England - A Study in a Generation
by Ernest Raymond
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

TELL ENGLAND

A Study in a Generation

By ERNEST RAYMOND



NEW YORK GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY 1922



_For all emotions that are tense and strong, And utmost knowledge, I have lived for these— Lived deep, and let the lesser things live long, The everlasting hills, the lakes, the trees, Who'd give their thousand years to sing this song Of Life, and Man's high sensibilities, Which I into the face of Death can sing— O Death, then poor and disappointed thing—

Strike if thou wilt, and soon; strike breast and brow; For I have lived: and thou canst rob me now Only of some long life that ne'er has been. The life that I have lived, so full, so keen, Is mine! I hold it firm beneath thy blow And, dying, take it with me where I go._



CONTENTS

A PROLOGUE BY PADRE MONTY

BOOK I: FIVE GAY YEARS OF SCHOOL

Part I: Tidal Reaches

Chapter I RUPERT RAY BEGINS HIS STORY II RUPERT OPENS A GREAT WAR III AWFUL ROUT OF RAY IV THE PREFECTS GO OVER TO THE ENEMY V CHEATING VI AN INTERLUDE

Part II: Long, Long Thoughts

VII CAUGHT ON THE BEATEN TRACK VIII THE FREEDHAM REVELATIONS IX WATERLOO OPENS X WATERLOO CONTINUES: THE CHARGE AT THE END OF THE DAY XI THE GREAT MATCH XII CASTLES AND BRICK-DUST

BOOK II: AND THE REST—WAR

Part I: "Rangoon" Nights

I THE ETERNAL WATERWAY II PADRE MONTY AND MAJOR HARDY COME ABOARD III "C. OF E., NOW AND ALWAYS" IV THE VIGIL V PENANCE VI MAJOR HARDY AND PADRE MONTY FINISH THE VOYAGE

Part II: The White Heights

VII MUDROS, IN THE ISLE OF LEMNOS VIII THE GREEN ROOM IX PROCEEDING FORTHWITH TO GALLIPOLI X SUVLA AND HELLES AT LAST XI AN ATMOSPHERE OF SHOCKS AND SUDDEN DEATH XII SACRED TO WHITE XIII "LIVE DEEP, AND LET THE LESSER THINGS LIVE LONG" XIV THE NINETEENTH OF DECEMBER XV TRANSIT XVI THE HOURS BEFORE THE END XVII THE END OF GALLIPOLI XVIII THE END OF RUPERT'S STORY



TELL ENGLAND



A PROLOGUE BY PADRE MONTY

Sec.1

In the year that the Colonel died he took little Rupert to see the swallows fly away. I can find no better beginning than that.

When there devolved upon me as a labour of love the editing of Rupert Ray's book, "Tell England," I carried the manuscript into my room one bright autumn afternoon, and read it during the fall of a soft evening, till the light failed, and my eyes burned with the strain of reading in the dark. I could hardly leave his ingenuous tale to rise and turn on the gas. Nor, perhaps, did I want such artificial brightness. There are times when one prefers the twilight. Doubtless the tale held me fascinated because it revealed the schooldays of those boys whom I met in their young manhood, and told afresh that wild old Gallipoli adventure which I shared with them. Though, sadly enough, I take Heaven to witness that I was not the idealised creature whom Rupert portrays. God bless them, how these boys will idealise us!

Then again, as Rupert tells you, it was I who suggested to him the writing of his story. And well I recall how he demurred, asking:

"But what am I to write about?" For he was always diffident and unconscious of his power.

"Is Gallipoli nothing to write about?" I retorted. "And you can't have spent five years at a great public school like Kensingtowe without one or two sensational things. Pick them out and let us have them. For whatever the modern theorists say, the main duty of a story-teller is certainly to tell stories."

"But I thought," he broke in, "that you're always maintaining that the greatest fiction should be occupied with Subjective Incident."

"Don't interrupt, you argumentative child," I said (you will find Rupert is impertinent enough in one place to suggest that I have a tendency to be rude and a tendency to hold forth). "Surely the ideal story must contain the maximum of Objective Incident with the maximum of Subjective Incident. Only give us the exciting events of your schooldays, and describe your thoughts as they happened, and you will unconsciously reveal what sort of scoundrelly characters you and your friends were. And when you get to the Gallipoli part, well, you can give us chiefly your thoughts, for Gallipoli, as far as dramatic incident is concerned, is well able to shift for itself."

Little wonder that I was fascinated to read Rupert's final manuscript. And, when I had finished the last words, I announced aloud a weighty decision: "We must have a Prologue, Rupert,"—though, to be sure, my study was empty at the time—"and it must give pictures of what your three heroes were like, when they were small, abominable boys."

And thereafter I busied myself in seeking information of the early childhood of Rupert Ray, Archibald Pennybet, and Edgar Gray Doe. Not without misgiving do I offer the result of these researches, for I fear all the time lest my self-conscious hand should profane Rupert's artless narrative.

In the year that the Colonel died he took little Rupert to see the swallows fly away. Colonel Ray was a stately, grey-bearded grandfather; and Rupert his flushed and blue-eyed grandson of six years old; and the two stood side by side and watched. Behind them lay the French town, Boulogne; beside them went the waters of the French river, the Liane. Suddenly Rupert, who had kept his blue eyes on a sky but little bluer, cried out excitedly: "There they are!" For him at that moment the most interesting thing in the world was the flight of swallows overhead. The Colonel, also, looked at the birds till they were out of sight, and then, after keeping silence awhile, uttered a remark which was rather sent in pursuit of the birds than addressed to his young companion. "I shall not see the swallows again," he said.

Colonel Rupert Ray was no ordinary person. He was one of those of whom tales are told; and such people are never ordinary. The most treasured of these tales is the story of the swallows; and it goes on to tell, as you would expect, how the Colonel died that year, before the swallows came flying north and home again. He was buried, while little Rupert and Rupert's mother looked on, in that untidy corner of the Boulogne Cemetery, where many another English half-pay officer had been laid before him.

Of course the burial of the Colonel was very sad for Rupert; but he soon forgot it all in the excitement of preparing for the journey back to London. The Colonel, you see, had known that his old life would break up soon, and had summoned from their home in London the widow and child of his favourite son, "that Rupert, the best of the lot," as he used to call him. And now the Colonel was dead. So his grandson, the last of the Rupert Rays, could look forward to all the jolly thrills of steaming across the Channel to Folkestone and bowling in a train to London. Really life was an excellent thing.

The day of the venturesome voyage began with excited sleeplessness and glowing health, and ended with a headache and great tiredness. There was the bustle of embarkation on to the boat; the rattle and bang of falling luggage; the jangle of French and English tongues; the unstraining of mighty ropes; the "hoot! hoot!" from the funnel, a side-splitting incident; the suff-suff-lap-suff of the ploughed-up sea; the spray of the Channel, which sprinkling one's cheeks, caused one to roar with laughter, till more moderation was enjoined; the incessant throb of the engines; the vision of white cliffs, and the excitement among the passengers; the headache; the landing on a black old pier; the privilege of guarding the luggage by sitting upon as much of one trunk as six years' growth of boy will cover, and pressing firmly upon two other trunks with either hand, while Mrs. Ray (that capable lady) changed francs into shillings; there was the wearisome and rolling train-journey, wherein one slept, first against the window and then against the black sleeve of an unknown gentleman; and lastly there was the realisation that pale and sunny France had withdrawn into the past to make room for pale and smutty London.

Now the Captain of all these manoeuvres, as the meanest intelligence will have observed, was Mrs. Ray. Mrs. Ray was Rupert's mother, and as beautiful as every mother must be, who has an only son, and is a widow. Moreover she was a perfect teller of stories: all really beautiful mothers are. And, for years after, she used at evening time to draw young Rupert against her knees, and tell him the traditional stories of that old half-pay officer at Boulogne. And grandfather was indeed a hero in these stories. We suspect—but who can sound the artful depths of a woman who is at once young, lovely, a mother, and a widow?—that Mrs. Ray, knowing that Rupert could never recall his father, was determined that at least one soldierly figure should loom heroic in his childish memories. She would tell again and again how he asked repeatedly, as he lay dying, for "that Rupert, the best of the lot." And her son would say: "I s'pose he meant Daddy, mother." "Yes," she would answer. "You see, you were all Ruperts: Grandfather Rupert Ray, Daddy Rupert Ray, and Sonny Rupert Ray, my own little Sonny Ray." (Mothers talk in this absurd fashion, and Mrs. Ray was the chief of such offenders.)

But quite the masterpiece of all her tales was this. One summer morning, when the Boulogue promenade was bright and crowded and lively, the Colonel was seated with his grandson beside him. A little distance away sat Rupert's mother, who was just about as shy of the Colonel as the Colonel was shy of her (which fact accounts, probably, for Rupert Ray's growing up into the shy boy we knew). Well, all of a sudden, the boy got up, stood immediately in front of his grandsire, and leaned forward against his knees. There was no mistaking the meaning in the child's eyes; they said plainly: "This is entirely the best attitude for story-telling, so please."

The officer, with military quickness, summed up the perilous situation on his front; he had suffered himself to be bombarded by a pair of patient eyes. And now he must either acknowledge his incompetence by a shameful retreat, or he must stir up the dump of his imagination and see what stories it contained. So with no small apprehension, he drew upon his inventive genius.

A wonderful story resulted—wonderful as a prophetic parable of things which the Colonel would not live to see. Perhaps it was only coincidence that it should be so; perhaps the approach of death endowed the old gentleman with the gift of dim prophecy—did he not know that he would follow the swallows away?—perhaps all the Rays, when they stand in that shadow, possess a mystic vision. Certainly the boy Rupert—but there! I knew I was in danger of spoiling his story.

If the Colonel's tale this morning was wonderful to the listener, the author suspected that he was plagiarising. The hero was a knight of peculiar grace, who sustained the spotless name of Sir R—— R——. He was not very handsome, having hair that was neither gold nor brown, and a brace of absurdly sea-blue eyes. But he was distinguished by many estimable qualities; he was English, for example, and not French, very brave, very sober, and quite fond of an elderly relation. And one day he was undoubtedly (although the Colonel's conscience pricked him) plunging on foot through a dense forest to the aid of a fellow-knight who had been captured and imprisoned.

"What was the other knight like?" interrupted Rupert.

"What, indeed?" echoed the Colonel, temporising till he should evolve an answer. "Yes, that's a very relevant question. Well, he was a good deal fairer than Sir R—— R——, but about the same age, only with brown eyes, and he was a very nice little boy—young fellow, I mean."

"What was his name?"

"His name? Oh, well—" and here the Colonel, feeling with some taste that "Smith," or "Jones," or "Robinson" was out of place in a forest whose mediaeval character was palpable, and being quite unable at such short notice to recall any other English names, gained time by the following ingenious detail: "Oh, well, he lost his good name by being captured. And then—and then to his aid came the stalwart Sir R——, with his sword drawn, and his—er—"

"Revoller," suggested the listener.

"Yes, his revolver fixed to his chain-mail—"

In this strain the Colonel proceeded, wondering whether such abominable nonsense was interesting the child, whose gaze had now begun to reach out to sea. In reality Rupert was thrilled, and did not like to disturb the flow of a story so affecting. But the strength of his feelings was too much. He was obliged to suggest an amendment.

"Are you sure I didn't go upon a horse?" he asked.

"Why, of course, the unknown knight in question did, and the sheath of his sword clanked against his horse's side, as he dashed through the thicket."

"Had the fair-haired knight anything to eat all this time?"

This important problem was duly settled, and several others which were seen to be involved in such an intricate story; and a very happy conclusion was reached, when Mrs. Ray decided that it was time for Rupert to be taken home. She was about to lead him away, when the Colonel, who seldom spoke to her much, abruptly murmured:

"He has that Rupert's eyes."

For a moment she was quite taken aback, and then timorously replied: "Yes, they are very blue."

"Very blue," repeated the Colonel.

Mrs. Ray thereupon felt she must obviate an uncomfortable silence, and began with a nervous laugh:

"He was born when we were in Geneva, you know, and we used to call him 'our mountain boy,' saying that he had brought a speck of the mountain skies away in his eyes."

The Colonel conceded a smile, but addressed his reply to the child: "A mountain boy, is he?" and, placing his hand on Rupert's head, he turned the small face upward, and watched it break into a smile. "Well, well. A mountain boy, eh?—from the lake of Geneva. H'm. Il a dans les yeux un coin du lac."

At this happy description the tears of pleasure sprang to the foolish eyes of Mrs. Ray, while Rupert, thinking with much wisdom that all the conditions were favourable, gazed up into the Colonel's face, and fired his last shot.

"What really was the fair-haired knight's name?"

"Perhaps you will know some day," answered the Colonel, half playfully, half wearily.

Sec.2

In the course of the same summer Master Archibald Pennybet, of Wimbledon, celebrated his eighth birthday. He celebrated it by a riotous waking-up in the sleeping hours of dawn; he celebrated it by a breakfast which extended him so much that his skin became unbearably tight; and then, in a new white sailor-suit and brown stockings turned over at the calves to display a couple of magnificent knees, he celebrated some more of it in the garden. There on the summer lawn he stood, unconsciously deliberating how best to give new expression to the personality of Archibald Pennybet. He was dark, gloriously built, and possessed eyes that lazily drooped by reason of their heavy lashes; and, I am sorry to say, he evoked from a boudoir window the gurgling admiration of his fashionable mother, who, while her hair was being dressed, allowed her glance to swing from her hand-mirror, which framed a gratifying vision of herself, to the window, which framed a still more gratifying vision of her son. "He gets his good looks from me," she thought. And, having noticed the drooping of his eyelids, over-weighted with lashes, she brought her hand-mirror into play again. "He is lucky," she added, "to have inherited those lazy eyes from me."

Soon Archie retired in the direction of the kitchen-garden. The kitchen-garden, with its opportunities of occasional refreshment such as would not add uncomfortably to his present feeling of tightness, was the place for a roam. Five minutes later he was leaning against the wire-netting of the chicken-run, and offering an old cock, who asked most pointedly for bread, a stone. To know how to spend a morning was no easier on a birthday than on any ordinary day.

Suddenly, however, he overheard the gardener mentioning a murder which had been committed on Wimbledon Common, a fine tract of wild jungle and rolling prairie, that lay across the main road. Without waiting to prosecute inquiries which would have told him that, although the confession was only in the morning papers, the murder was twenty years old, he escaped unseen and set his little white figure on a walk through the common. He was out to see the blood.

But, for a birthday, it was a disappointing morning. He discovered for the first time that Wimbledon Common occupied an interminable expanse of country; and really there was nothing unusual this morning about its appearance, or about the looks of the people whom he passed. So he gave up his quest and returned homeward. Then it was that his lazy eyes looked down a narrow, leafy lane that ran along the high wall of his own garden. Now all Wimbledon suspects that this lane was designed by the Corporation as a walk for lovers. There is evidence of the care and calculation that one spends on a chicken-run. For the Corporation, knowing the practice of lovers, has placed in the shady recesses of the lane a seat where these comical people can intertwine. At the sight of the lane and the seat, Master Pennybet immediately decided how he would occupy his afternoon. He would move that seat along his garden wall, till it rested beneath some ample foliage where he could lie hidden. Then he would wait the romantic moments of the evening.

This idea proved so exciting that the luncheon of which he partook was (for a birthday) regrettably small. And no sooner was it finished than he rushed into the lane, and addressed his splendid muscles to removing the seat.

To begin with he tried pushing. This failed. The more he pushed the more his end of the seat went up into the air, while the other remained fast in the ground. The only time he succeeded in making the seat travel at all it went so fast that it laid him on his stomach in the lane. So he tried pulling from the other end. This was only partially successful. The seat moved towards him with jerks, at one time arriving most damnably on his shins, and at another throwing him into a sitting position on to the ground. And there is a portion of small boys which is very sensitive to stony ground. At these repeated checks the natural child in Mr. Pennybet caused his eyes to become moist, whereupon the strong and unconquerable man in him choked back a sob of temper, and pulled the seat with a passionate determination. I tell you, such indomitable grit will always get its way, and the seat was well lodged against Mr. Pennybet's wall and beneath his green fastness, before the afternoon blushed into the lovers' hour. He returned into his garden, and, climbing up the wall by means of the mantling ivy, reached his chosen observation-post. Through curtains of greenery he watched the arrival of a pair of lovers, and held his breath, as they seated themselves beneath him.

They were an even more ridiculous couple than their kind usually are. And, when the gentleman squeezed the lady, she laughed so foolishly that Archie Pennybet was within an ace of forgetting himself and heartily laughing too. It was worse still, when they began the pernicious practice of "rubbing noses." For the operation was so new and unexpected, and withal so congenial to Archie, that he risked discovery by craning forward to study it. He watched with jaws parted in a wide gape of amazement, and then said to himself: "Well, I'm damned!" There is but one step (I am told) from rubbing noses to the real business of the kiss. And it was when the gentleman brought the lady's lips into contact with his own, and the peculiar sound was heard in the lane, that Mr. Pennybet's moment had come.

"Hem! Hem! Oh, I say!" he suggested loudly, and sought safety by slipping rapidly down his side of the wall, scratching his hands and bare knees as he fell.

This fine triumph had been at a cost. Archie surveyed himself. His new suit was clearly disreputable. And, in his mother's eyes, the one crime punishable by whipping was to make a new suit disreputable. The more he studied the extent of the damage, the more he felt convinced that, in the expiation of this potty little offence, his body would be commandeered to play a painful and rather passive part.

His brain, therefore, worked rapidly and well. It was more than possible, thought he, that his mother's sympathy could be induced to exceed her indignation. She was really an affectionate woman; and this was the line to go upon. So he squeezed the scratches in his knees to expedite the issue of blood, and bravely entered the house.

"Mother," he called, introducing suitable pathos into his tones, "Mother, I've fallen all down the wall!"

This effective opening, should it seem successful, it was his intention to follow up with seasonable allusions to his birthday. But alas! one glimpse of Mrs. Pennybet's face when she saw his suit, showed him the folly of remaining on the scene, and with the speed of a fawn, he was out in the garden, and up an elm tree, swaying about like a crow's nest. And there, a minute later, was Mrs. Pennybet standing below, her skirts held up in one hand, a small cane in the other.

"Come down, Archie," she said. "Come down."

"Not a bit of it," replied her son. "You come up!"

* * * * *

At least Mrs. Pennybet, a vivacious raconteuse, always declared to me that such was his reply. I do not trust these mothers, however, and regard it as a piece of her base embroidery. At any rate, it is certain that her effort to secure Archie for punishment was quite unsuccessful. And, an hour afterwards, a small figure came quietly down the trunk of the tree, and, entering the room where his mother was, sat quickly in a big arm-chair, and held on tightly to its arms. This position prevented access to that particular area of Archie Pennybet, which, in the view of himself, his mother, and all sound conservatives, must be exposed, if corporal punishment is to be the standard thing. Mrs. Pennybet, good woman, admitted her defeat, and kissed him repeatedly, while he still held himself tight in his chair.

Such was Archie Pennybet, whom Mrs. Pennybet considered a remarkably fine boy, and the son of a remarkably fine woman. In this battle of wits he undoubtedly won. And it is a fact that throughout life he made a point of winning, as all shall see, who read Rupert Ray's story.

He was a mischievous, tumbling scamp, I suppose; but what are we to say? All young animals gambol, and are saucy. Only this morning I was watching a lamb butt its mother in the ribs, and roll in the grass, and dirty its wool—the graceless young rascal!

Sec.3

But come, we are keeping Edgar Gray Doe waiting.

If you have ever steamed up the Estuary of the Fal, that stately Cornish river, and gazed with rapture at the lofty and thick-wooded hills, through which the wide stream runs, you have probably seen on the eastern bank the splendid mansion of Graysroof. You have admired its doric facade and the deep, green groves that embrace it on every side. Perhaps it has been pointed out to you as the home of Sir Peter Gray, the once-famous Surrey bowler, and the parent of a whole herd of young cricketing Grays.

It was in this palatial dwelling that little Edgar Gray Doe awoke to a consciousness of himself, and of many other remarkable things; such things as the broad, silver mouth of the Fal; the green slopes, on which his house stood; the rather fearsome woods that surrounded it; and, above all, the very obvious fact that he was not as other boys. For instance, his cricketing cousins, these Gray boys, were sons with a visible mother and father, and, in being so, appeared to conform to a normal condition, while he was a nephew with an uncle and aunt. Again these fellows were blue-eyed and drab, and, as such, were decent and reasonable, while he was brown-eyed and preposterously fair-haired. To be sure, it was only his oval face that saved him from the horrible indignity of being called "Snowball."

One morning of that perfect summer, which was the sixth of Rupert Ray, and the eighth of Archie Pennybet, Edgar Gray Doe felt some elation at the prospect of a visit from a very imposing friend. This person was staying down the stream at Falmouth; and he and his mother had been invited by Lady Gray to spend the day at Graysroof. His name was Archie Pennybet. And the power of his personality lay in these remarkable qualities: first, he enjoyed the distinction of being two years older than Master Doe; secondly, he had a genius for games that thrilled, because they were clearly sin; and thirdly, his hair was dark and glossy, so he could legitimately twit other people with being albinos.

And to-day this exciting creature would have to devote himself entirely to Edgar Doe, as the Gray boys were safely billeted in public and preparatory schools, and there was thus no sickening possibility of his chasing after them, or going on to their side against Edgar.

Edgar Doe knew that Mrs. Pennybet and Archie were coming in a row-boat from Falmouth, and it was a breathless moment when he saw them stepping on to the Graysroof landing-stage, and Lady Gray walking down the sloping lawn to meet them.

"Hallo, kid," shouted Archie. "Mother, there's Edgar!"

Rather startled by this sudden notoriety, Edgar approached the new arrivals.

"Hallo, kid," repeated Master Pennybet; and then stopped, his supply of greetings being exhausted.

"Hallo," answered Edgar, slowly and rather shyly, for he was two years younger than anyone present.

"Welcome to the Fal," said Lady Gray to Mrs. Pennybet. "Archie, are you going to give me a kiss?"

"No," announced Archie firmly. "I don't kiss mother's friends now."

Lady Gray concealed the fact that she thought her guest's little boy a hateful child, and, having patted his head, sent him off with Edgar Doe to play in the Day-nursery.

Of course the Master of the Ceremonies in the Day-nursery was Master Pennybet. Master Doe was his devoted mate. The first game was a disgusting one, called "Spits." It consisted in the two combatants facing each other with open umbrellas, and endeavouring to register points by the method suggested in the title of the game; the umbrella was a shield, with which to intercept any good shooting. Luckily for their self-respect in later years, this difficult game soon yielded place to an original competition, known as "Fire and Water." You placed a foot-bath under that portable gas-stove which was in the Day-nursery; you lit all the trivets in the stove to represent a house on fire; and you had a pail, ready to be filled from the bathroom, which, need we say, was the fire-station. The rules provided that the winner was he who could extinguish the conflagration raging in the foot-bath in the shortest possible time, and with the least expenditure of water. But the natural desire to win and to record good times meant that you were apt, in the haste and enthusiasm of the moment, to miss the bath entirely, and to flood quite a different part of the nursery. It was this flaw in an otherwise simple game, which brought the play to an end. Intimations that an aquatic tourney of some sort was the feature in the Day-nursery began to leak through to the room below. The competitors were apprehended and brought for judgment before the ladies, who were sitting in the garden and watching the Fal as it streamed by to the sea.

"They had better go and play in the Beach Grove," sighed Lady Gray.

This ruling Archie did not veto or contest, for he had wearied of indoor amusements, and felt that the well-timbered groves would afford new avenues for play. So the boys departed like deer among the trunks of the trees.

It was a cosy conversation which the ladies enjoyed after this. Any conversation would be cosy that had been reared in the glory of such a garden, and in the comfort of those lazy chairs. Mrs. Pennybet began by declaring, as these shameless ladies do, that her hostess's fair-haired nephew was quite the most beautiful child she had ever seen; she could hug him all day; nay, she could eat him. And, thereupon Lady Gray told her the whole story of Edgar Gray Doe; how his mother had been Sir Peter's sister, and the loveliest woman in Western Cornwall; how she had paid with her life for Edgar's being; and how her husband, the chief of lovers, had quickly followed his young bride.

"They're an emotional lot, these Does," said Lady Gray. "As surely as they come fair-haired, they are brilliantly romantic and blindly adoring. And Edgar's every inch a Doe. Anybody can lead him into mischief. And anybody who likes will do so."

"Oh, I suppose he's troublesome like all boys," suggested Mrs. Pennybet, with a rapid mental survey of the existence of Archie. "He will grow into a fine man some day."

"Perhaps," said Lady Gray, staring over the tranquil water of the Fal, as though it represented the intervening years. "We shall see."

"And Archie," continued Mrs. Pennybet, "though he's a plague now, will be a brilliant and dominating man, I think. He's not easily mastered, and I don't believe adverse circumstances will ever beat him.... Isn't it funny to think that these restless boys are here to inherit the world? We old fogies"—Mrs. Pennybet laughed, for she didn't mean what she said—"are really done for and shelved. These boys are the interesting ones, whose tales have yet to be told."

The speaker dropped her voice, as she found herself moralising; and Lady Gray perceived that an atmosphere of tender speculation had risen around their conversation. She turned her face away, and looked over that part of the inheritable world which met her gaze. From her feet perfect lawns sloped down to a gracious waterway, which shuddered occasionally in a gentle wind; on every side pleasing trees were massed into shady and grateful woods; overhead the noonday sun lit up a deep-blue sky. Perhaps the sublimity of the scene played upon her softer emotions. Perhaps all intense beauty is pathetic, and makes one think of poor illusions and unavailing dreams. Lady Gray wondered why she could not feel, on this serene morning, the same confidence in Edgar Doe's future, as her friend felt in Archie's; why she should rather be conscious of a romantic foreboding. But she only murmured:

"Yes, we must bow before sovereign youth."

And that was the last word uttered, till the sound of hearty boys' voices, coming from the trunks of the trees, prompted Mrs. Pennybet to say cheerfully:

"Here they come, the heirs to the world."

As she spoke, Archie Pennybet, dark and dictatorial, and Edgar Doe, fair and enthusiastic, came into view.

"Yes," replied Lady Gray, "but only two of them. There are others they must share it with. Shall we go indoors?"

And indoors or out-of-doors, that was a very delightful day spent at Graysroof. And, when the sun's rays began to grow ruddy, there came the pleasant journey down the Estuary to Falmouth Town. Mrs. Pennybet and her son were rowed homeward by Baptist, that sombre boatman employed at Graysroof, in Master Doe's own particular boat. "The Lady Fal," men called it, from the dainty conceit that it was the spouse of the lordly Estuary. Edgar Doe accompanied them, as the master of his craft.

Nobody talked much during the voyage. Baptist was always too solemn for speech. Master Doe, on these occasions, liked to dream with one hand trailing in the water. Master Pennybet, in the common way of tired children, finished the day in listless woolgathering. And his mother, recalling the conversation in the stately garden up the stream, fell to wondering whither these boys were tending.

So the passage down the full and slumbery Fal seemed nearly a soundless thing. But all the real river-noises were there; the birds were singing endlessly in the groves; the gulls with their hoarse language were flying seawards from the mud-flats of Truro; the water was gently lapping the sides of the boat; and voices could be heard from the distances higher up and lower down the stream. And behind all this prattle of the Estuary hung the murmur of the sea.

It was a very quiet boat that unladed the Pennybets on the steps of a stone pier at Falmouth, and then swung round and carried Edgar up its own wake. Baptist was a glorious hand with the paddles, and, as the Lady Fal swept easily over the glassy water, Edgar gazed at the familiar things coming into view. There, at last, was the huge house of Graysroof, belittled by the loftiness of the quilted hill, on whose slope it stood, and by the extent of its surrounding woods. And there in the water lay mirrored a reflection of house and trees and hillside. Baptist rested on his oars, and, turning round on his seat, drank in the loveliness of England and the Fal. His oars remained motionless for a long time, till he suddenly commented:

"H'm."

This encouraging remark Master Doe interpreted as a willingness to converse, and he let escape a burst of confidence.

"You know, I like Archie Pennybet very much indeed. In fack, I think I like him better than anyone else in the world, 'septing of course my relations."

Watching his hearer nervously to see how he would receive this important avowal, Master Doe flushed when he saw no signs of emotion on Baptist's countenance. He didn't like thinking he had made himself look a fool. Probably Baptist perceived this, for he felt he must contrive a reply, and, abandoning "H'm" as too uncouth and too unflavoured with sympathy, gave of his best, muttering:

"Ah, he's one of we."

Then, realising that the sun had gone in a blaze of glory, and that he must waste no further time in prolonged gossip, he dipped his blade into the still water, and turned the head of the boat for the Graysroof bank; and for the things that should be.



BOOK I FIVE GAY YEARS OF SCHOOL

Part I: Tidal Reaches

CHAPTER I

RUPERT RAY BEGINS HIS STORY

Sec.1

"I'm the best-looking person in this room," said Archibald Pennybet. "Ray's face looks as though somebody had trodden on it, and Doe's—well, Doe's would be better if it had been trodden on."

It was an early morning of the Kensingtowe Summer Term, and the three of us, Archie Pennybet, Edgar Gray Doe, and I, Rupert Ray, were waiting in the Junior Preparation Room at Bramhall House, till the bell should summon us over the playing fields to morning school. Kensingtowe, of course, is the finest school in England, and Bramhall its best house. Now, Pennybet, though not himself courteous, always insisted that Doe and I should treat him with proper respect, so, since he was senior and thus magnificent, I'll begin by describing him.

He was right in saying that he was the handsomest. He was a tall boy of fifteen years, with long limbs that were saved from any unlovely slimness by their full-fleshed curves and perfect straightness. His face, whose skin was as smooth as that of a bathed and anointed Greek, was crowned by dark hair, and made striking by a pair of those long-lashed eyes that are always brown. And in character he was the most remarkable. Though two years our senior, he deliberately lagged behind the boys of his own age, and remained the oldest member of our form. Thoughtless masters called him a dunce, but abler ones knew him to be only idle. And Pennybet cared little for either opinion. He had schemed to remain in a low form; and that was enough. It was better to be a field-marshal among the "kids" than a ranker among his peers. Like Satan, for whom he probably felt a certain admiration, he found it better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.

The personal attendants of this splendid sultan consisted of Edgar Doe and myself. We were not allowed by him to forget that, if he could total fifteen years, we could only scrape together a bare thirteen. We were mere children. Doe and I, being thirteen and an exact number of days, were twins, or we would have been, had it not been for the divergence of our parentage. We often expressed a wish that this divergence were capable of remedy. It involved minor differences. For instance, while Doe's eyes were brown, mine were blue; and while Doe's hair was very fair, mine was a tedious drab that had once been gold. Moreover, in place of my wide mouth, Doe possessed lips that were always parted like those of a pretty girl. Indeed, if Archie Pennybet was the handsomest of us three, it is certain that Edgar Gray Doe was the prettiest.

We came to be discussing our looks this morning, because Pennybet, having discovered that among other accomplishments he was a fine ethnologist, was about to determine the race and tribe of each of us by an examination of our features and colouring.

"I'm a Norman," he decided, and threw himself back on his chair, putting his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat, as though that were a comely Norman attitude, "a pure Norman, but I don't know how my hair got so dark, and my eyes such a spiffing brown."

"What am I?" I interrupted, as introducing a subject of more immediate interest.

"You, Ray? Oh, you're a Saxon. Your name's Rupert, you see, and you've blue eyes and a fair skin, and all that rot."

I was quite satisfied with being a pure Saxon, and left Doe to his examination.

"What am I?" he eagerly asked, offering his oval face and parted lips for scrutiny.

"You? Oh, Saxon, with a dash of Southern blood. Brown eyes, you see, and that sloppy milk-and-coffee skin. And there's a dash of Viking in you—that's your fair hair. Adulterated Saxon you are."

At this Doe loudly protested that he was a pure Saxon, a perfect Cornish Saxon from the banks of the Fal.

Penny always discouraged precocious criticism, so he replied:

"I'm not arguing with you, my child."

"You? Who are you?"

Penny let his thumbs go further into his armholes, and assured us with majestic suavity:

"I? I'm Me."

"No, you're not," snapped Doe. "You're not me. I'm me."

"Well, you're neither of you me," interrupted the third fool in the room. "I'm me. So sucks!"

"Now you two boys," began our stately patron, "don't you begin dictating to me. Once and for all, Doe is Doe, Ray is Ray, and I'm Me. Why, by Jove! Doe-Ray-Me! It's a joke; and I'm a gifted person."

This discovery of the adaptability of our names was so startling that I exclaimed:

"Good Lord! How mad!"

Penny only shrugged his shoulders, and generally plumed himself on his little success. And Doe said:

"Has that only just dawned on you?"

"Observe," sneered Penny. "The Gray Doe is jealous. He would like the fame of having made this fine jest. So he pretends he thought of it long ago. He bags it."

"Not worth bagging," suggested Doe, who was pulling a lock of his pale hair over his forehead, and trying with elevated eye-brows to survey it critically. His feet were resting on a seat in front of him, and his trousers were well pulled up, so as to show a certain tract of decent sock. Penny scanned him as though his very appearance were nauseating.

"Well, why did you bag it?"

"I didn't."

"I say, you're a bit of a liar, aren't you?"

"Well, if I'm a bit of a liar, you're a lot of one."

"My dear little boy," said Penny, with intent to hurt, "we all know the reputation for lying you had at your last school."

As we had all been at Kensingtowe's Preparatory School together, I was in a position to know that this was rather wild, and remonstrated with him.

"I say, that's a bit sticky, isn't it?"

The nobility of my interference impressed me as I made it. Meanwhile the angry blood mounted to Doe's face, but he carelessly replied:

"You show what a horrible liar you are by your last remark. I never said your beastly idea was mine; and because you accused me of doing so, and I said I didn't, you call me a liar: which is a dirty lie, if you like. But of course one expects lies from you."

"That may be," rejoined Pennybet. "But you know you don't wash."

Doe parried this thrust with a sarcastic acquiescence.

"No, I know I don't—never did—don't believe in washing."

Now Penny was out to hurt. A mere youngster had presumed to argue and be cheeky with him: and discipline must be maintained. To this end there must be punishment; and punishment, to be effective, must hurt. So he adopted a new line, and with his clever strategy strove to enlist my support by deigning to couple my name with his.

"At any rate," he drawled, "Ray and I don't toady to Radley."

This poisonous little remark requires some explanation. Mr. Radley, the assistant house-master at Bramhall House, was a hard master, who would have been hated for his insufferable conceptions of discipline, had he not been the finest bat in the Middlesex team. Just about this time there was a libel current that he made a favourite of Edgar Doe because he was pretty. "Doe," I had once said, "Radley's rather keen on you, isn't he?" And Doe had turned red and scoffed: "How absolutely silly—but, I say, do you really think so?" Seeing that he found pleasure in the insinuation, I had followed it up with chaff, upon which he had suddenly cut up rough, and left me in a pique.

This morning, as Penny pricked him with this poisoned fang, Doe began to feel that for the moment he was alone amongst us three; and odd-man-out. He put a tentative question to me, designed to see whether I were siding with him or with the foe.

"Now, Ray, isn't that the dirtiest lie he's told so far?"

"No," I said. I was still under the glamour of having been appealed to by the forceful personality of Pennybet; and, besides, it certainly wasn't.

"Oh, of course you'd agree with anything Penny said, if he asked you to. But you know you don't really believe I ever sucked up to Radley."

This rejoinder was bad tactics, for by its blow at my face it forced me to take sides against him in the quarrel. So I answered:

"Rather! Why, you always do."

"Dir-dirty liar!"

"Ha-ha!" laughed Penny. He saw that he had been successful in his latest thrust, and set himself to push home the advantage. The dominance of his position must be secured at all costs. He let down his heavy-lashed eyelids, as though, for his part, he only desired a peaceful sleep, and said: "Ha-ha! Ray, that friend of yours is losing his temper. He's terribly vicious. Mind he doesn't scratch."

Doe's parted lips came suddenly together, his face got red, and he moved impatiently as he sat. But he said nothing, either because the words would not come, or lest something more unmanly should.

"Ray," pursued the tormentor, "I think that friend of yours is going to blub."

Doe left his seat, and stood upon his feet, his lips set in one firm line. He tossed his hair off his forehead, and, keeping his face averted from our gaze lest we should detect any moisture about the eyes, opened a desk, and selected the books he would require. They were books over which he had scrawled with flourishes:

"Mr. Edgar Gray Doe, Esq.," "E. Gray Doe, M.A.," "Rev. Edgar G. Doe, D.D.," "E. G. Doe, Physician and Surgeon,"

and, when he had placed them on his arm, he walked towards the door with his face still turned away from us.

"Oh, don't go, Doe. Don't be a sloppy ass," I said, feeling that I had been fairly trapped into deserting a fellow-victim, and backing our common tyrant.

My appeal Doe treated as though he had not heard it; and Penny, certain that his victory was won, and that he had no further need of my support, kicked it away with the sneer: "Hit Doe, and Ray's bruised! What a David and Jonathan we're going to be! How we agree like steak and kidney!... Rather a nice expression, that."

Penny's commentary was thus turned inwards upon himself, in an affectionate criticism of his vocabulary, to show the utter detachment of his interest from the pathetic exit of Edgar Doe. For now Doe had reached the door, which he opened, passed, and slammed. In a twinkling I had opened it again, and was looking down the corridor. There was no sign of my friend anywhere. The moment he had slammed the door he must have run.

I returned to the preparation room, and Penny sighed, as much as to say: "What a pity little boys are so petulant and quarrelsome." But the victory was his, as it always was, and he could think of other things. There was a clock on the wall behind him, but, too comfortable to turn his head, he asked me:

"What's the beastly?"

I glanced at the clock, and intimated, sulkily enough, that the beastly was twenty minutes past nine. He groaned.

"Oh! Ah! An hour's sweat with Radley. Oh, hang! Blow! Damn!"

He stood up, stretched himself, yawned, apologised, got his books, and occasionally tossed a remark to me, as if he were quite unaware that I was not only trying to sulk, but also badly wanted him to know it. As I looked for my books, I sought for the rudest and most painful insult I could offer him. My duty to Doe demanded that it should be something quite uncommon. And from a really fine selection I had just chosen: "You're the biggest liar I've ever met, and, for all I know, you're as big a thief," when I turned round and found he was gone. Pennybet always left the field as its master.

Sec.2

Within Radley's spacious class-room some twenty of us took our way to our desks. Radley mounted his low platform, and, resting his knuckles on his writing-table, gazed down upon us. He was a man of over six feet, with the shoulders, chest, and waist of a forcing batsman. His neck, perhaps, was a little too big, the fault of a powerful frame; and the wrist that came below his cuff was such that it made us wonder what was the size of his forearm. His mouth was hard, and set above a squaring chin, so that you thought him relentless, till his grey eyes shook your judgment.

"Let me see," he said, as he stood, looking down upon us, "you should come to me for both periods this morning. Well, I shall probably be away all the second period. You will come to this class-room as usual, and Herr Reinhardt will take you in French."

"Oh, joy!" I muttered. Boys whom Radley could not see flipped their fingers to express delight. Others lifted up the lids of their desks, and behind these screens went through a pantomime that suggested pleasure at good news. The fact was that the announcement that we were to have second period with the German, Reinhardt, was as good as promising us a holiday. Nay, it was rather better; for, in an unexpected holiday, we might have been at a loss what to do, whereas under Reinhardt we had no doubt—we played the fool.

"And now get on with your work," concluded Radley.

We got on with it, knowing that it was only for a short time that we need work that morning.

It was writing work I know, for, after a while, I had a note surreptitiously passed to me between folded blotting-paper. The note bore in Doe's ambitiously ornate writing the alarming statement: "I shall never like you so much after what you said this morning Yours Edgar Gray Doe." There was room for me to pen an answer, and in my great round characters I wrote: "I never really meant anything and after you left I tried to be rude to Penny but he'd gone and will you still be my chum Yours S. Ray." (My real name was Rupert, but I was sometimes nicknamed "Sonny Ray" from the sensational news, which had leaked out, that my mother so called me, and I took pleasure in signing myself "S. Ray.") My handsome apology was passed back to the offended party, and in due course the paper returned to me, bearing his reply: "I don't know We must talk it over, but don't tell anyone Yours Edgar Gray Doe." That was the last sentence destined to be written on this human document, for Radley, without looking up from the exercise he was correcting, said quietly:

"In the space of the last five minutes Doe has twice corresponded with Ray, and Ray has once replied to Doe. Now both Ray and Doe will come up here with the letters."

To the accompaniment of a titter or two, Ray and Doe came up, I trying to look defiantly indifferent to the fact that he was going to read my silly remarks, and Doe with his lips firmly together, and his fair hair the fairer for the blush upon his forehead and cheeks.

Radley left us standing by his desk, while at his leisure he finished his correcting; then, still without looking up, he ordered:

"Hand over the letters."

A little doggedly I passed over the single sheet of paper feeling some absurd satisfaction that, since he evidently thought there were several sheets involved, his uncanny knowledge was at least wrong in one particular. Doe, on my right hand, turned redder and redder to see the paper going beneath the master's eye, and made a few nervous grimaces. Radley read the correspondence pitilessly; and, with his hard mouth unrelaxed, turned first on Doe, as though sizing him up, and then on me. He stared at my face till I felt fidgety, and my mind, which always in moments of excitement ran down most ridiculous avenues, framed the sentence: "Don't stare, because it's rude," at which involuntary thought I scarcely restrained a nervous titter. After this critical inspection, Radley murmured:

"Yes, talk your quarrel over. The bands of friendship mustn't snap at a breath."

As he said this, Doe edged closer to me, and I wondered if Radley was a decent chap.

"But why do you sign yourself 'S. Ray'?"

Now my blush outclassed anything Doe had yet produced, and I looked in dumb confusion towards my friend. Radley refrained from forcing the question, but pursued with brutal humour:

"Well, there's nothing like suffering together to cement a friendship. Doe, put out your knuckles."

Radley was ever a man of surprises. This was the first time he had invited the use of our knuckles for his punitive practices. Doe proffered four of those on the back of his narrow, cream-coloured right hand. He did it readily enough, but trembled a little, and the blush that had disappeared returned at a rush to his neck. Radley took his ruler, and struck the knuckles with a very sharp rap. Doe's lips snapped together and remained together,—and that was all.

"And Ray," invited Radley.

I offered the back of my right hand, and, copying my friend, kept my lips well closed. My eyes had shut themselves nervously, when I heard a clatter, and realised that Radley had dropped his ruler. Leaving my right hand extended for punishment, I stooped down, picked up the ruler with my left, and gave it back to Radley. Perhaps the blood that now coloured my face was partly due to this stooping. Radley smiled. It was his habit to become suddenly gentle after being hard. One second, his hard mouth would frame hard things; another second, and his grey eyes would redress the balance.

"Ray, you disarm me," he said. "Go to your seats, both of you."

Back we walked abreast to our places, Doe palpably annoyed that he had not been the one to pick up the ruler. He was a romantic youth and would have liked to occupy my picturesque and rather heroic position.

"Why didn't you let me pick up the ruler?" he whispered. "You knew I wanted to."

This utterly senseless remark I had no opportunity of answering, so I determined to sulk with Doe, as soon as the interval should arrive. When, however, the bell rang for that ten-minutes' excitement, I forgot everything in the glee of thinking that the second period would be spent with Herr Reinhardt. Ten minutes to go, and then—and then, Mr. Caesar!

Sec.3

In the long corridor, on to which Radley's class-room opened, gathered our elated form, awaiting the arrival of Herr Reinhardt. He was late. He always was: and it was a mistake to be so, for it gave us the opportunity, when he drew near, of asking one another the time in French: "Kell er eight eel? Onze er ay dammy. Wee, wee."

Caesar Reinhardt, the German, remains upon my mind chiefly as being utterly unlike a German: he was a long man, very deaf, with drooping English moustaches, and such obviously weak eyes that now, whenever Leah's little eye-trouble is read in Genesis, I always think of Reinhardt. But I think of him as "Mr. Caesar." Why "Mr. Caesar" and not purely "Caesar" I cannot explain, but the "Mr." was inseparable from the nickname. Good Mr. Caesar was misplaced in his profession. Had he not been obliged to spend his working life in the position of one who has just been made to look a fool, he would have been an attractive and lovable person. He had the most beautiful tenor voice, which, when he spoke was like liquid silver, and, when he sang elaborate opera passages, made one see glorious wrought-steel gateways of heavenly palaces. This inefficient master owed his position to the great vogue enjoyed by his books: "Reinhardt's German Conversation," "Reinhardt's French Pieces," and others. But the boys, by common consent, decided not to identify this "Caesar Reinhardt, Modern Language Master at Kensingtowe School" with their own dear Mr. Caesar. Thus, you see, in their ignorance, they were able to bring up the Reinhardt works to Mr. Caesar, and say with worried brows: "Here, sir. This bally book's all wrong"; "I could write a better book than this myself, sir"; "The Johnny who wrote this book, sir—well, st. st." Pennybet, however, used to tremble on the brink of identification, when he made the idiotic mistake of saying: "Shall I bring up my Caesar, sir,—I mean, my Reinhardt?"

The jubilation of our class, as we lolled or clog-danced in the corridor, had need to be organised into some systematic fooling; and for once in a way, the boys accepted a suggestion of mine.

"Let's all hum 'God Save the King' exactly at twelve o'clock. Mr. Caesar won't hear; he's too deaf."

Immediately several boys started to sing the popular air in question, and others went for a slide along the corridor, both of which performances are generally construed as meaning: "Right-ho!"

"It's crude," commented Penny, "but I'll not interfere. I might even help you—who knows? And here comes Mr. Caesar. Ah, wee, wee."

It was our custom to race in a body along the corridor to meet Mr. Caesar, and to arrive breathless at his side, where we would fight to walk, one on his right hand, and another on his left. In the course of a brilliant struggle several boys would be prostrated, not unwillingly. We would then escort him in triumph to his door, and all offer to turn the lock, crying: "Let me have the key, sir." "Do let me, sir." "You never let me, sir—dashed unfair." When someone had secured the key, he would fling wide the door, as though to usher in all the kings of Asia, but promptly spoil this courtly action by racing after the door ere it banged against the wall, holding it in an iron grip like a runaway horse, and panting horribly at the strain. This morning I was honoured with the key. I examined it and saw that it was stuffed up with dirt and there would be some delay outside the class-room door while the key underwent alterations and repairs.

"Has any boy," I asked, "a pin?"

None had; but Pennybet offered to go to Bramhall House in search of one. He could do it in twenty minutes, he said.

"Dear me, how annoying!" I shook the key, I hammered it, I blew down it till it gave forth a shrill whistle, and Penny said: "Off side." And then I giggled into the key.

Don't think Mr. Caesar tolerated all this without a mild protest. I distinctly remember his saying in his silvery voice: "Give it to me, Ray. I'll do it," and my replying, as I looked up into his delicate eyes: "No, it's all right, sir. You leave it to me, sir."

In due course I threw open the door with a triumphant "There!" The door hit the side-wall with a bang that upset the nervous systems of neighbouring boys, who felt a little faint, had hysterics, and recovered. Mr. Caesar, feeling that the class was a trifle unpunctual in starting, hurriedly entered.

Then Pennybet distinguished himself. He laid his books unconcernedly on the master's desk, and walked with a dandy's dignity to the window. Having surveyed the view with a critical air, he faced round and addressed Mr. Caesar courteously: "May I shut the window for you, sir?" adding in a lower tone that he was always willing to oblige. Without waiting for the permission to be granted, he turned round again and, pulling up each sleeve that his cuffs might not be soiled in the operation, proceeded to turn the handle, by means of which the lofty window was closed.

Now there were four long windows in a row, and they all needed shutting—this beautiful summer morning. None of us was to be outdone in politeness by Penny; and all rushed to the coveted handles so as to be first in shutting the remaining windows. The element of competition and the steeplechasing methods necessary, if we were to surmount the intervening desks, made it all rather exciting. Several boys, converging from different directions, arrived at the handles at the same time. It was natural, then, that a certain amount of discussion should follow as to whose right it was to shut the windows, and that the various little assemblies debating the point should go and refer the question simultaneously to Mr. Caesar.

Mr. Caesar gave his answer with some emphasis:

"Will—you—all—sit—down?"

This rhetorical question being in the nature of a command, we sullenly complied, tossing our heads to show our sense of the indignity to which we had been submitted. Pennybet, meanwhile, continued to turn his handle in a leisurely fashion and touch his forehead like an organ-grinder.

Mr. Caesar looked at him angrily and pathetically, conscious of his powerlessness.

"Que faites vous, Pennybet? Asseyez vous toute suite!"

"Yes, sir," answered Penny, who had no sympathy with German, French, or any of these ludicrous languages. "Yes, sir, we had two, and one died."

"Que voulez vous dire? Allez a votre place!"

"It's all right, sir, if you cross your fingers," suggested Penny.

Poor Mr. Caesar made a movement, as though he would go and push the mutineer to his place.

"You will go to your seat immediately, Pennybet," he ordered.

Penny cocked his head on one side. "Oh, sir," said he reproachfully.

Our friend always expressed his sense of injustice with this sad "Oh, sir," and, as he generally detected a vein of injustice in any demand made upon him, the expression was of frequent occurrence.

Mr. Caesar first moved his lips incompetently, and then, with a studied slowness that was meant to sound imperious, began:

"When I say 'Sit'—"

"You mean 'Sit,'" explained Penny promptly.

"That's impertinence."

But Penny had his head thrown back, and was gazing out of eyes, curtained by the fall of heavy-fringed lids, at the ceiling.

"Pennybet," cried his master, his very voice apprehensive, "will you have the goodness to attend?"

"Oh, ah, yes, sir," agreed Penny, awaking from his reverie.

"You haven't the manners of a savage, boy."

"Oh, sir."

Mr. Caesar bit his lip, and his silver voice would scarcely come.

"Or of a pig!"

"Would a pig have manners, sir?" corrected Penny.

"That's consummate impudence!"

"Oh, is it, sir?" Penny's tone suggested that he was grateful for the enlightenment. Henceforth he would not be in two minds on the subject.

Mr. Caesar, repulsed again by the more powerful character of the boy, tried to cover the feebleness of his position by sounding as threatening as possible.

"Go to your seat at once! The impudence of this class is insufferable!"

Loud murmurs of dissent from twenty boys greeted this aspersion. The class resolved itself into an Opposition, inspired by one object, which was to repudiate aspersions. Penny excellently voiced their resentment.

"Oh, sir." (Opposition cheers.)

Mr. Caesar hurled his chair behind him, and approached very close to Penny.

"Will you go to your seat at once?"

Penny, with all his power, was still a boy; and for a moment the child in him flinched before the exceedingly close approach of Mr. Caesar. But the next minute he looked up at the still open window; shivered, and shuddered; rubbed his cold hands (this beautiful summer morning); buttoned himself up warmly; went to the master's desk for his books; dropped them one after another; blew on his numbed fingers to infuse a little warmth into them, contriving a whistle, and all the time looking most rebukingly at his tyrannical master; picked up four books and dropped two of them; picked up those and dropped one more; walked to his seat in high sorrow, and banged the whole lot of the books down upon the desk and floor in an appalling cataract, as the full cruelty of Mr. Caesar's treatment came suddenly home to him.

When we recovered from this shattering explosion of Penny's books, a little quiet work would have begun, had not Doe, with his romantic imagination lit by the glow of Penny's audacity, started to crave the notoriety of being likewise a leader of men. He rose from his desk, approached Mr. Caesar, and extended his hand with a belated "Good morning, sir."

Poor Mr. Caesar, in the kindliness of his heart, was touched by Doe's graceful action, and grasped the proffered hand, saying: "Good morning, Doe." By this time the whole class was arranged in a tolerably straight line behind Doe, and waiting to go through the ceremony of shaking hands.

Work commenced at about twenty minutes to twelve, and, when twelve should come, we were to render, according to programme, "God Save the King," with some delicate humming. For want of something better to do, I wrote a clause of the exercise set. Mr. Caesar's back was now turned and he was studying a wall-map.

"Shall I?"

"Yes, rather!"

These two whispered sentences I heard from behind me. Inquisitively I turned round to see what simmered there.

"Keep working, you fool!" hissed my neighbour.

Events of some moment were happening in the rear. It had occurred to several that the hands of the clock might be encouraged with a slight push to hasten their journey over the next few minutes. Doe, half anxious to be the daring one to do it, half nervous of the consequences, had whispered: "Shall I?" And his advisers had answered: "Yes, rather!" He threw down a piece of blotting paper, and tip-toed towards it, as though to pick it up. Seeing with a side-glance that Mr. Caesar's back was still turned, he mounted a form, and pushed on the clock's hands. Then, hurriedly getting down, he flew back nervously to his seat, where he pretended to be rapidly writing.

Hearing these slithy and suggestive movements, I declined to remain any longer ignorant of their meaning. After all, I had suggested the "whole bally business," and was entitled to know the means selected for its conduct. So round went my inquisitive head. Then I shook in my glee. Someone had pushed on the hands of the clock, and it was three minutes to twelve. There was a rustle of excitement in the room. The silence of expectancy followed. "Two-minutes-to" narrowed into "One-minute-to"; and after a premonitory click, which produced sufficient excitement to interfere with our breath, the clock struck twelve.

Inasmuch as I occupied a very favourable position, I got up to conduct proceedings. I faced the class, stretched out my right hand, which held a pen by way of a baton, and whispered: "One. Two. Three."

It began. I have often wondered since how I could have been so wrong in my calculations. I had estimated that, if we all hummed, there would result a gentle murmur. I never dreamt that each of the twenty boys would respond so splendidly to my appeal. Instead of a gentle murmur, the National Hymn was opened with extraordinary volume and spirit.

My first instinct was the low one of self-preservation. Feeling no desire to play a leading part in this terrible outbreak, I hastily sat down with a view to resuming my studies. Unfortunately I sat down too heavily, and there was the noise of a bump, which served to bring the performance to an effective conclusion. My books clattered to the floor, and Mr. Caesar turned on me with a cry of wrath.

"Ray, what are you doing?"

It was a sudden and awkward question; and, for a second, I was at a loss for words to express to my satisfaction what I was doing. Penny seemed disappointed at my declension into disgrace, and murmured reproachfully: "O Rupert, my little Rupert, st. st." I saw that the game was up. Mr. Caesar had inquired what I was doing; and a survey of what I was doing showed me that, between some antecedent movements and some subsequent effects, my central procedure was a conducting of the class. So, very red but trying to be impudent, I said as much, after first turning round and making an unpleasant face at Penny.

"Conducting, sir," I explained, as though nothing could be more natural at twelve o'clock.

"Conducting!" said Mr. Caesar. "Well, you may be able to conduct the class, but you certainly cannot conduct yourself."

This resembling a joke, the class expressed its appreciation in a prolonged and uproarious laugh. It was a stupendous laugh. It had fine crescendo and diminuendo passages, and only died hard, after a chain of intermittent "Ha-ha's." Then it had a glorious resurrection, but faded at last into the distance, a few stray "Ha-ha's" from Pennybet bringing up the rear.

Mr. Caesar trembled with impotent passion, his weak eyes eloquent with anger and suffering.

"Are you responsible for this outrage, Ray?"

I looked down and muttered: "It was my suggestion, sir."

"Then you shall suffer for it. Who has tampered with the clock?"

There was no answer, and every boy looked at the remainder of the class to show his ignorance of the whole matter. Doe glanced from one to another for instructions. Some by facial movements suggested an avowal of his part, but he whispered: "Not yet," and waited, blushing.

"Then the whole class shall do two hours' extra work."

The words were scarcely out of Mr. Caesar's mouth, before every boy was protesting. I caught above the confusion such complaints as: "Oh, sir!" "But really, sir," or a more sullen: "I never touched the beastly clock!" or even a frank: "I won't do it." I observed that Penny was taking advantage of the noise to deliver an emotional sermon, which he accompanied with passionate gestures and concluded by turning eastward and profanely repeating the ascription: "And now to God the Father—"

A sudden silence, and every boy sits awkwardly in his place. Radley's tall figure stood in the room: and the door was being shut by his hand. I kept my eyes fixed on him. I was changed. I no longer felt disorderly nor impudent: for disorderliness and impudence in me were but unnatural efforts to copy Pennybet, that master-fool. I dropped into my natural self, a thing of shyness and diffidence. I was not conscious of any ill-will towards Radley for returning to his class-room, when he was not expected; it was just a piece of bad fortune for me. I was about to be "whacked," I knew; and, though I did not move, I felt strange emotions within me. Certainly I was a little afraid, for Radley whacked harder than they all.

And then, as usual, my brain ran down a wildly irrelevant course. I reflected that the height of my ambition would be reached, if I could grow into as tall a man as Radley. My frame, at present, gave no promise of developing into that of a very tall man; but henceforth I would do regular physical exercises of a stretching character, and eschew all evils that retarded the growth. In the enthusiasm of a new aim, towards which I would start this very day, I almost forgot my present embarrassing position. Hasty calculations followed as to how much I would have to grow each year. Let me see, how old was I? Just thirteen. How many years to grow in?

"Who is the ringleader of this?" asked Radley..

I stood up and whispered: "Me, sir."

Somehow a ready acknowledgment seemed to agree with my latest ambition.

"Then come and stand out here. You know you ought to be caned, so you'll thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, being a decent boy, you'd be miserable without it."

Here Mr. Caesar, who bore no grudge against Radley for assuming the reins of command, whispered to him; and Radley asked the class:

"Who touched the clock?"

"I did, sir."

It was Doe's voice.

"Why didn't you say so before?"

"I was just going to when you came in."

Radley looked straight into the brown eyes of the boy who was supposed to be his favourite, and Doe looked back unshiftingly; he had heard those condemned, who did not look people straight in the face, and I fancy he rather exaggerated his steady return gaze.

"I'm sure you were," said Radley.

Then the foreman of the other boys got up.

"Some of us suggested it to Doe, sir."

"Very well, you will have the punishment of seeing him suffer for it."

And thereupon, without waiting to be told, Doe left his desk, and came and stood by me. It was a theatrical action, such as only he would have done, and our master concealed his surprise, if he felt any, by an impassive face.

"I shall now cane these two boys," he said with cold-blooded directness.

"Certainly," whispered Penny.

Both corners of my mouth went down in a grim resignation. Doe's lips pressed themselves firmly together, and his eyelids trembled. Mr. Caesar, ever generous, looked through the window over green lawns and flower-beds. Radley went to his cupboard, and took out a cane.

"Bend over, Ray."

"Certainly," muttered Penny again. "Bend over."

I bent over, resting my hands on my knees. Radley was a cricketer with a big reputation for cutting and driving; and three drives, right in the middle of the cane, convinced me what a first-class hitter he was. At the fourth, an especially resounding one, Penny whistled a soft and prolonged whistle of amazement, and murmured: "Well, that's a boundary, anyway." And I heard suppressed giggles, and knew that my class-fellows were enjoying the exquisite agony of forcing back their laughter.

When my performance was over, the second victim, Edgar Doe, with the steel calm of a French aristocrat, which he affected under punishment, walked to the spot where I had been operated on. He bent over (again without being told to do so), and only spoiled his proud submission by telegraphing to Radley one uncontrolled look of pathetic appeal like the glance of a faithful dog. Radley, not noticing these unnerving actions, or possibly a little annoyed by them, administered justice severely enough for Doe, proud as he was, to wince slightly at every cut. Then he put his cane away, and issued, as before, his little ration of gentleness.

"You're two plucky boys," he said.

Sec.4

That night I measured my barefoot height against the dormitory wall, and made a deep pencil-mark thereon: which done, I reached up to a great height, and made a mark to represent Radley. After these preliminaries there was nothing to do but to wait developments. One practice which aided growth was to lie full-length in bed instead of curled up. So, after I had cut with nail-scissors the few fair hairs from my breast and calves, in an endeavour to encourage a plentiful crop like that which added manliness to Pennybet's darker form—after this delicate, operation, I got between the sheets, and straightened out my limbs with a considerable effort of the will. Later on I forced them down again, when I found that my knees had once more strayed up to my chin.

Our dormitory at Bramhall House was a long many-windowed room, containing thirty beds, Edgar Doe's being on my left. He suddenly made reference to our punishment of the morning.

"I wonder why he gave me a worse dose than you."

"Yes, he did let into you," I said cheerfully.

Doe flushed, and continued talking so as to be heard only by me.

"If it had been any other master, I'd have been mad with him. Fancy, practically two whackings in a morning; one on the knuckles and one on the—and the other. But you can't hate Radley, can you?"

"Oh, I don't know," I said, with grave doubts.

There was a pause. But a desire to tell confidences had been begotten of warm bed and darkness, and my friend soon proceeded:

"It's funny, Rupert, but I like talking to you better than to any of the other chaps. I feel I can tell you things I wouldn't tell anybody else. Do you know, I really think I like Radley better than anyone else in the world. I simply loved being whacked by him."

I pulled the clothes off my head that I might see the extraordinary creature that was talking to me. A dim light always burned near our beds, and by it I was able to see that Doe was very red and clearly wishing he had not made his last remark. My immediate desire, on witnessing his discomfiture, was to put him at his ease by pretending that I saw nothing unusual in the words. So I quickly evolved a very casual question.

"What! Better than your father and mother?"

"Well, you see—" and he shifted uneasily—"you know perfectly well that my father and mother are dead."

"O law!" I said.

Awkwardly the conversation dropped. And, as I lay upon my pillow, down went my brain along a line of wandering thoughts. Doe's remark, I reflected, was like that of a school-girl who adored her mistress. Perhaps Doe was a girl. After all, I had no certain knowledge that he wasn't a girl with his hair cut short. I pictured him, then, with his hair, paler than straw, reaching down beneath his shoulders, and with his brown eyes and parted lips wearing a feminine appearance. As I produced this strange figure, I began to feel, somewhere in the region of my waist, motions of calf-love for the girl Doe that I had created. But, as Doe's prowess at cricket asserted itself upon my mind, his gender became conclusively established, and—ah, well, I was half asleep.

But, so strange were the processes of my childish mind that this feeling of love at first sight for the girl Doe, who never existed, I count as one of the strongest forces that helped to create my later affection for the real Edgar Gray Doe.

"I think you and I must have been intended to come together, Rupert," I heard him saying later on, as I was fast dozing off. "I s'pose that's why we were called Doe and Ray."

"Er," I dreamily assented from beneath the bedclothes.

And still later a voice said:

"It was rather fun being whacked side by side, being twins."

From a great distance I heard it, as I listened upon the frontier of sleep. And, recalling without any effort Radley's words: "There's nothing like suffering together to cement a friendship," I crossed the frontier. All coiled up again, my knees nearly touching my chin, I passed into the country of dreams.



CHAPTER II

RUPERT OPENS A GREAT WAR

Sec.1

Poor Mr. Caesar, with the weak eyes! He had left his class-room door unlocked. Golly, so he had! And since the bell had only just ceased to echo, and Mr. Caesar would certainly be some minutes late, what was to stop us from conducting a few operations within the class-room? Under the command of Pennybet, we entered the room and with due respect lifted the master's large writing-desk from its little platform, and carried it to the further end of the room. We left him his armchair, decently disposed upon the platform, thinking it would be ungenerous to keep him standing through an hour's lesson.

Then we guiltily stole out of the class-room, closed the door, and lined up in the corridor, as smartly as a squad of regulars. Aided by Penny's hand, we right-dressed. We kept our eyes front, heads erect, and heels together. We braced ourselves up still better when Mr. Caesar appeared at the end of the corridor. None of us spoke nor moved. A few fools like myself giggled nasally, and were promptly subdued: "Don't spoil it all, you stinking fish!"

On came the gallant Mr. Caesar, his eyes mutely inquiring the reason for this ominous quiet. He reached the door with no sign from any of us that we were aware of a new arrival. He tried the lock with his key and, after an expression of surprise to find it already turned, opened the door and walked in. Immediately, in accordance with a pre-arranged code of signals, Penny dropped one book. We right-turned. We did it in faultless time, turning as one man, and each of us bringing his left foot with a brisk stamp on the floor. Then, a suitable silence having ensued, Penny dropped two books. Instantly we obeyed. In single file, our left feet stamping rhythmically, with heads erect and eyes front, we marched after Mr. Caesar, and gradually diverged from one another till each man stood marking time at his particular desk. At this point Penny tripped over his left heel, and in an unfortunate accident flung all his books on to the floor. Abruptly, and like machines, we sat down. The room shook.

It was difficult for our master to know what to do; as there was no real reason to associate our military movements with Penny's series of little accidents, and there was certainly no fault to find with our orderly entry into the class-room. So he did nothing beyond sadly sweeping us with his eyes. And then he inquired:

"Where's my desk?"

Goodness gracious, where could his great desk be? We got out of our seats, foreseeing a long search. We began by opening our own desks and looking inside. Certain high lockers that stood against the wall we opened. It was in none of them. We pulled ourselves up and looked along the top of these lockers. It was not there. Penny did three or four of these "pull-ups" by way of extending his biceps. We looked along the walls and under the forms. Penny created a little excitement by declaring that "he thought he saw it then." And Doe opened the door and looked up and down the corridor.

"It's not anywhere in the corridor," said he. The whole class felt he might be mistaken, and went to the door to satisfy themselves.

Mr. Caesar affected a little sarcasm.

"Is not that it at the other end of the room?"

We turned round and gazed down the direction in which he was looking. Yes, there was surely something there. Penny flung up his hand and cried:

"Please, teacher, I've found it."

"Well," began Mr. Caesar, "if one or two of you would bring the desk up here—"

If one or two of us would! Why, we all would—all twenty of us. We took off our coats and, folding them carefully, laid them on the desks. We rolled up our shirt-sleeves above the elbows, disclosing a lot of white, childish forearms. We spat on our hands and rubbed them together. We did a little spitting on one another's hands. Then we hustled and crowded round the desk. We lifted it off the ground, brought it a foot or two, and dropped it heavily. Phew! it was hard work. We took out our handkerchiefs, and wiped the sweat from our brows. Anyone who had no handkerchief borrowed from someone who had finished with his. Returning to our task, we carried the desk a little nearer and dropped it. Doe got a serious splinter in his hand, and we all pulled it out for him. Puffing and groaning as we dragged the unwieldy desk, we approached the dais on which it must be placed. We all stepped upon the dais (slightly incommoding Mr. Caesar, who was standing there), and lifted up one end of the desk so that the pens and pencils rattled inside. One pull, my lads, and the desk was half on the platform and half on the floor. Leaving it in this inclined position, we stepped down to the floor again, and three of us placed our shoulders against the lower end, while the rest scrummed down, Rugby fashion, in row upon row behind one another. A good co-operative shove, accompanied by murmurs of "Coming on your right, forwards; heel it out, whites; break away, forwards!" and up she went, a diagonal route into the air. Unfortunately, we all raised our heads at the same time to see how much further she had to go, and back she tobogganed again on to the shins of the boys in the front row. They declared they were henceforth incapacitated for life.

We got it on to the platform at last with a good run, but the enthusiasm of the back row of scrummers, who apparently thought the task could not be completed till they were off the floor and on the platform, was so strong that the desk was pushed much too far, and toppled over the further side of the platform.

This was too much. My suppressed giggling burst like a grenade into uncontrolled laughter. Then I said: "I'm sorry, sir."

Sec.2

But this disorder is a strong dish, and we've talked about quite as much as is good for us. So let us change the hour and visit another class-room, where there are no rebellions, but nevertheless arithmetic and trouble—and Ray and Doe and Pennybet. And here is a dear little master in charge. It is Mr. Fillet, the housemaster of Bramhall House, where, as you know, we were paying guests—a fat little man with a bald pate, a soft red face, a pretty little chestnut beard, and an ugly little stutter in his speech. Bless him, the dear little man, we called him Carpet Slippers. This was because one of his two chief attributes was to be always in carpet slippers. The other attribute was to be always round a corner.

Fillet, or Carpet Slippers, disliked his young boarder, Rupert Ray. The reason is soon told. One night, when I was out of my bed and gambolling in pyjamas about the first story of his house, I looked up the well of the staircase and saw the little shadow of someone parading the landing above. Thinking it to be a boy, I called out in a stage-whisper: "Is that old pig, Carpet Slippers, up there?" And a dear little chestnut beard and a smile came over the balusters, accompanied by a voice: "Yes, h-h-here he is. Wh-what do you want with him?"

It was Fillet, in carpet slippers, and round a corner.

And then in his class-room, this day, I got a sum wrong. I deduced that in a certain battle "point 64" of a soldier remained wounded on the field, while "point 36" escaped with the retreating army unhurt. This did not seem a satisfactory conclusion either to the sum or to the soldier, and I was not surprised, on looking up the answer, to find that I was wrong. There were two methods of detecting the error: one was to work through the sum again, the other was to submit it to Fillet for revision. The latter seemed the less irksome scheme, and in a sinister moment—heavens! how pregnant with consequences it was—I left my desk, approached Carpet Slippers, and laid the trouble before him.

Now Fillet was in the worst of tempers, having been just incensed by a boy who had declared that two gills equalled one pint, two pints one quart, and two quarts one rod, pole, or perch. So, when I brought my sum up and giggled at the answer, he looked at me as if he neither liked me nor desired that I should ever like him. Then he indulged in cheap sarcasms. This he was wont to do, and, after emitting them through his silky beard, he would draw in his breath through parted teeth, as a child does when it has the taste of peppermint in its mouth.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse