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The Hill - A Romance of Friendship
by Horace Annesley Vachell
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ALSO BY HORACE A. VACHELL

QUINNEYS'



THE HILL

A ROMANCE OF FRIENDSHIP



HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL



LONDON JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET



FIRST EDITION April, 1905

Fortieth Impression Jan., 1950



Transcriber's Note:

Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Greek text has been transliterated and is shown between {braces}.



To GEORGE W. E. RUSSELL

I dedicate this Romance of Friendship to you with the sincerest pleasure and affection. You were the first to suggest that I should write a book about contemporary life at Harrow; you gave me the principal idea; you have furnished me with notes innumerable; you have revised every page of the manuscript; and you are a peculiarly keen Harrovian.

In making this public declaration of my obligations to you, I take the opportunity of stating that the characters in "The Hill," whether masters or boys, are not portraits, although they may be called, truthfully enough, composite photographs; and that the episodes of Drinking and Gambling are founded on isolated incidents, not on habitual practices. Moreover, in attempting to reproduce the curious admixture of "strenuousness and sentiment"—your own phrase—which animates so vitally Harrow life, I have been obliged to select the less common types of Harrovian. Only the elect are capable of such friendship as John Verney entertained for Henry Desmond; and few boys, happily, are possessed of such powers as Scaife is shown to exercise. But that there are such boys as Verney and Scaife, nobody knows better than yourself.

Believe me, Yours most gratefully, HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL

BEECHWOOD, February 22, 1905



CONTENTS

CHAP. PAGE

I. THE MANOR 1 II. CAESAR 19 III. KRAIPALE 35 IV. TORPIDS 58 V. FELLOWSHIP 70 VI. A REVELATION 92 VII. REFORM 107 VIII. VERNEY BOSCOBEL 123 IX. BLACK SPOTS 140 X. DECAPITATION 158 XI. SELF-QUESTIONING 173 XII. "LORD'S" 189 XIII. "IF I PERISH, I PERISH" 211 XIV. GOOD NIGHT 230



CHAPTER I

The Manor

"Five hundred faces, and all so strange! Life in front of me—home behind, I felt like a waif before the wind Tossed on an ocean of shock and change.

"Chorus. Yet the time may come, as the years go by, When your heart will thrill At the thought of the Hill, And the day that you came so strange and shy."

The train slid slowly out of Harrow station.

Five minutes before, a man and a boy had been walking up and down the long platform. The boy wondered why the man, his uncle, was so strangely silent. Then, suddenly, the elder John Verney had placed his hands upon the shoulders of the younger John, looking down into eyes as grey and as steady as his own.

"You'll find plenty of fellows abusing Harrow," he said quietly; "but take it from me, that the fault lies not in Harrow, but in them. Such boys, as a rule, do not come out of the top drawer. Don't look so solemn. You're about to take a header into a big river. In it are rocks and rapids; but you know how to swim, and after the first plunge you'll enjoy it, as I did, amazingly."

"Ra—ther," said John.

In the New Forest, where John had spent most of his life at his uncle's place of Verney Boscobel, this uncle, his dead father's only brother, was worshipped as a hero. Indeed he filled so large a space in the boy's imagination, that others were cramped for room. John Verney in India, in Burmah, in Africa (he took continents in his stride), moved colossal. And when uncle and nephew met, behold, the great traveller stood not much taller than John himself! That first moment, the instant shattering of a precious delusion, held anguish. But now, as the train whirled away the silent, thin, little man, he began to expand again. John saw him scaling heights, cutting a path through impenetrable forests, wading across dismal swamps, an ever-moving figure, seeking the hitherto unknowable and irreclaimable, introducing order where chaos reigned supreme, a world-famous pioneer.

How good to think that John Verney was his uncle, blood of his blood, his, his, his—for all time!

And, long ago, John, senior, had come to Harrow; had felt what John, junior, felt to the core—the dull, grinding wrench of separation, the sense, not yet to be analysed by a boy, of standing alone upon the edge of a river, indeed, into which he must plunge headlong in a few minutes. Well, Uncle John had taken his "header" with a stout heart—who dared to doubt that? Surely he had not waited, shivering and hesitating, at the jumping-off place.

The train was now out of sight. John slipped the uncle's tip into his purse, and walked out of the station and on to the road beyond, the road which led to the top of the Hill.

The Hill.

Presently, the boy reached some iron palings and a wicket-gate. His uncle had pointed out this gate and the steep path beyond which led to the top of the Hill, to the churchyard, to the Peachey tomb on which Byron dreamed,[1] to the High Street—and to the Manor. It was pleasant to remember that he was going to board at the Manor, with its traditions, its triumphs, its record. In his uncle's day the Manor ranked first among the boarding-houses. Not a doubt disturbed John's conviction that it ranked first still.

The boy stared upwards with a keen gaze. Had the mother seen her son at that moment, she might have discerned a subtle likeness between uncle and nephew, not the likeness of the flesh, but of the spirit.

September rains, followed by a day of warm sunshine, had lured from the earth a soft haze which obscured the big fields at the foot of the Hill. John could make out fences, poplars, elms, Scotch firs, and spectral houses. But, above, everything was clear. The school-buildings, such as he could see, stood out boldly against a cloudless sky, and above these soared the spire of Harrow Church, pointing an inexorable finger upwards.

Afterwards this spot became dear to John Verney, because here, where mists were chill and blinding, he had been impelled to leave the broad high-road and take a path which led into a shadowy future. In obedience to an impulse stronger than himself he had taken the short cut to what awaited him.

For a few minutes he stood outside the palings, trying to choke down an abominable lump in his throat. This was not his first visit to Harrow. At the end of the previous term, he had ascended the Hill to pass the entrance examination. A master from his preparatory school accompanied him, an Etonian, who had stared rather superciliously—so John thought—at buildings less venerable than those which Henry VI raised near Windsor. John, who had perceptions, was elusively conscious that his companion, too much of a gentleman to give his thoughts words, might be contrasting a yeoman's work with a king's; and when the Etonian, gazing across the plains below to where Windsor lay, a soft shadow upon the horizon, said abruptly, "I wish Eton had been built upon a hill," John replied effusively: "Oh, sir, it is decent of you to say that." The examination, however, distracted his attention from all things save the papers. To his delight he found these easy, and, as soon as he left the examination-room, he was popped into a cab and taken back to town. Coming down the flight of steps, he had seen a few boys hurrying up or down the road. At these the Etonian cocked a twinkling eye.

"Queer kit you Harrow boys wear," he said.

John, inordinately grateful at this recognition of himself as an Harrovian, forgave the gibe. It had struck him, also, that the shallow straw hat, the swallow-tail coat, did look queer, but he regarded them reverently as the uniform of a crack corps.

To-day, standing by the iron palings, John reviewed the events of the last hour. The view was blurred by unshed tears. His uncle and he had driven together to the Manor. Here, the explorer had exercised his peculiar personal magnetism upon the house-master, a tall, burly man of truculent aspect and speech. John realized proudly that his uncle was the bigger of the two, and the giant acknowledged, perhaps grudgingly, the dwarf's superiority. The talk, short enough, had wandered into Darkest Africa. His uncle, as usual, said little, replying almost in monosyllables to the questions of his host; but John junior told himself exultantly that it was not necessary for Uncle John to talk; the wide world knew what he had done.

Then his house-master, Rutford, had told John where to buy his first straw hat.

"You can get one without an order at the beginning of each term," said he, in a thick, rasping voice. "But you must ask me for an order if you want a second."

Then he had shown John his room, to be shared with two other boys, and had told him the hour of lock-up. And then, after tea, came the walk down the hill, the tip, the firm grasp of the sinewy hand, and a final—"God bless you."

Coming to the end of these reflections, confronted by the inexorable future, and the necessity, no less inexorable, of stepping into it, John passed through the gate. His heart fluttered furiously, and the lump in the throat swelled inconveniently. John, however, had provided himself with a "cure-all." Plunging his hand into his pocket, he pulled out a cartridge, an unused twenty-bore gun cartridge. Looking at this, John smiled. When he smiled he became good-looking. The face, too long, plain, but full of sense and humour, rounded itself into the gracious curves of youth; the serious grey eyes sparkled; the lips, too firmly compressed, parted, revealing admirable teeth, small and squarely set; into the cheeks, brown rather than pink, flowed a warm stream of colour.

The cartridge stood for so much. Only a week before, Uncle John, on his arrival from Manchuria, had handed his nephew a small leather case and a key. The case held a double-barrelled, hammerless, ejector, twenty-bore gun, with a great name upon its polished blue barrels.

The sight of the cartridge justified John's expectations. He put it back into his pocket, and strode forward and upward.

* * * * *

Close to the School Chapel, John remarked a curly-headed young gentleman of wonderfully prepossessing appearance, from whom emanated an air, an atmosphere, of genial enjoyment which diffused itself. The bricks of the school-buildings seemed redder and warmer, as if they were basking in this sunny smile. The youth was smiling now, smiling—at John. For several hours John had been miserably aware that surprises awaited him, but not smiles. He knew no Harrovians; at his school, a small one, his fellows were labelled Winchester, Eton, Wellington; none, curiously enough, Harrow. And already he had passed half a dozen boys, the first-comers, some strangers, like himself, and in each face he had read indifference. Not one had taken the trouble to say, "Hullo! Who are you?" after the rough and ready fashion of the private school.

And now this smiling, fascinating person was actually about to address him, and in the old familiar style——

"Hullo!"

"Hullo!"

"I met your governor the other day."

"Did you?" John replied. His father had died when John was seven. Obviously, a blunder in identity had created this genial smile. John wished that his father had not died.

"Yes," pursued the smiling one, "I met him—partridge-shooting at home—and he asked me to be on the look-out for you. It's queer you should turn up at once, isn't it?"

"Yes," said John.

"Your governor looked awfully fit."

"Did he?" Then John added solemnly, "My governor died when I was a kid."

The other gasped; then he threw back his curly head and laughed.

"I say, I beg your pardon. I didn't mean to laugh. If you're not Hardacre, who are you?"

"Verney. I've just come."

"Verney? That's a great Harrow name. Are you any relation to the explorer?"

"Nephew," said John, blushing.

"Ah—you ought to have been here last Speecher.[2] We cheered him, I can tell you. And the song was sung: the one with his name in it."

"Yes," said John. Then he added nervously, "All the same, I don't know a soul at Harrow."

Desmond smiled. The smile assured John that his name would secure him a cordial welcome. Desmond added abruptly, "My name, Desmond, is a Harrow name. My father, my grandfather, my uncles, and three brothers were here. It does make a difference. What's your house?"

"The Manor," said John, proudly.

"Dirty Dick's!" Then, seeing consternation writ large upon John's face, he added quickly, "We call him Dirty Dick, you know; but the house is—er—one of the oldest and biggest—er—houses." He continued hurriedly: "I'm going into Damer's next term. Damer's is always chock-a-block, you know."

"Why is Rutford called 'Dirty Dick'?" John asked nervously. "He doesn't look dirty."

"Oh, we've licked him into a sort of shape," said Desmond. "I believe he toshes now—once a month or so."

"Toshes?"

"Tubs, you know. We call a tub a 'tosh.' When Dirty Dick came here he was unclean. He told his form—oh! the cheek of it!—that in his filthy mind one bath a week was plenty," unconsciously the boy mimicked the thick, rasping tones—"two, luxury, and three—superfluity! After that he was called Dirty Dick. There's another story. They say that years ago he went to a Turkish bath, and after a rare good scraping the man who was scraping him—nasty job that!—found something which Dirty Dick recognized as a beastly flannel shirt he had lost when he was at the 'Varsity. But only the Fourth Form boys swallow that. Hullo! There's a pal of mine. See you again."

He ran off gaily. John walked to the shop where straw hats were sold. Here he met other new boys, who regarded him curiously, but said nothing. John put on his hat, and gave Rutford's name to the young man who waited on him. He had an absurd feeling that the young man would say, "Oh yes—Dirty Dick's!" One very nice-looking pink-cheeked boy said to another boy that he was at Damer's. John could have sworn that the hatter's assistant regarded the pink youth with increased deference. Why had Uncle John sent him to Dirty Dick's? He hurried out of the shop, fuming. Then he remembered the hammerless gun. After all, the Manor had been the house once, and it might be the house again.

By this time the boys were arriving. Groups were forming. Snatches of chatter reached John's ears. "Yes, I shot a stag, a nine-pointer. My governor is going to have it set up for me—— What? Walked up your grouse with dogs! We drive ours—— I had some ripping cricket, made a century in one match—— By Jove! Did you really?——"

John passed on. These were "bloods," tremendous swells, grown men with a titillating flavour of the world about their distinguished persons.

A minute later he was staring disconsolately at a group of his fellows just in front of Dir——of Rutford's side door. An impulse seized him to turn and flee. What would Uncle John say to that? So he advanced. The boys made way politely, asking no questions. As he passed through he caught a few eager words. "I was hoping that the brute had gone. It is a sickener, and no mistake!"

John ascended the battered, worn-out staircase, wondering who the "brute" was. Perhaps a sort of Flashman. John knew his Tom Brown; but some one had told him that bullying had ceased to be. Great emphasis had been laid on the "brute," whoever he might be.

Upon the second-floor passage, he found his room and one of its tenants, who nodded carelessly as John crossed the threshold.

"I'm Scaife," he said. "Are you the Lord, or the Commoner?" He laughed, indicating a large portmanteau, labelled, "Lord Esme Kinloch."

"I'm Verney," said John.

"I've bagged the best bed," said Scaife, after a pause, "and I advise you to bag the next best one, over there. It was mine last term."

"I don't see the beds," said John, staring about him.

Scaife pointed out what appeared to be three tall, narrow wardrobes. The rest of the furniture included three much-battered washstands and chests of drawers, four Windsor chairs, and a square table, covered with innumerable inkstains and roughly-carved names.

"The beds let down," Scaife said, "and during the first school the maids make them, and shut them up again. It is considered a joke to crawl into another fellow's room at night, and shut him up. You find yourself standing upon your head in the dark, choking. It is a joke—for the other fellow."

"Did some one do that to you?" asked John.

"Yes; a big lout in the Third Fifth," Scaife smiled grimly.

"And what did you do?"

"I waited for him next day with a cricket stump. There was an awful row, because I let him have it a bit too hard; but I've not been shut up since. That bed is a beast. It collapses." He chuckled. "Young Kinloch won't find it quite as soft as the ones at White Ladies. Well, like the rest of us, he'll have to take Dirty Dick's as he finds it."

The bolt had fallen.

John asked in a quavering voice, "Then it is called that?"

"Called what?"

"This house. Dirty Dick's!"

Scaife smiled cynically. He looked about a year older than John, but he had the air and manners of a man of the world—so John thought. Also, he was very good-looking, handsomer than Desmond, and in striking contrast to that smiling, genial youth, being dark, almost swarthy of complexion, with strongly-marked features and rather coarse hands and feet.

"Everybody here calls it Dirty Dick's," he replied curtly.

John stared helplessly.

"But," he muttered, "I heard, I was told, that the Manor was the best house in the school."

"It used to be," Scaife answered. "To-day, it comes jolly near being the worst. The fellows in other houses are decent; they don't rub it in; but, between ourselves, the Manor has gone to pot ever since Dirty Dick took hold of it. Damer's is the swell house now."

John began to unstrap his portmanteau. Scaife puzzled him. For instance, he displayed no curiosity. He did not put the questions always asked at a Preparatory School. Without turning his thought into words, John divined that at Harrow it was bad form to ask questions. As he wanted to ask a question, a very important question, this enforced silence became exasperating.

Presently Scaife said, "I suppose you are one of the Claydon lot."

"No; my home is in the New Forest. My uncle is Verney of Verney Boscobel."

"Oh! his name is on the panels at the head of the staircase; and it's carved on a bed in the next room."

"Crikey! I must go and look at it."

"You can look at the panels, of course; but don't say 'Crikey!' and don't go into the next room. Two Fifth Form fellows have it. It would be infernal cheek."

John hoped that Scaife would offer to accompany him to the panels. Then he went alone. It being now within half an hour of lock-up, the passages were swarming with boys. Soon John would see them assembled in Hall, where their names would be called over by Rutford. Everybody—John had been told—was expected to be present at this first call-over, except a few boys who might be coming from a distance. John worked his way along the upper passage, and down the second flight of stairs till he came to the first landing. Here, close to the house notice-board, were some oak panels covered with names and dates, all carved—so John learned later—by a famous Harrow character, Sam Hoare, once "Custos" of the School. The boy glanced eagerly, ardently, up and down the panels. Ah, yes, here was his father's name, and here—his uncle's. And then out of the dull, finely-grained oak, shone other names familiar to all who love the Hill and its traditions. John's heart grew warm again with pride in the house that had held such men. The name of the great statesman and below it a mighty warrior's made him thrill and tremble. They were Old Harrovians, these fellows, men whom his uncle had known, men of whom his dear mother, wise soul! had spoken a thousand times. The landing and the passages were roaring with the life of the present moment. Boys, big and small, were chaffing each other loudly. Under some circumstances, this new-comer, a stranger, ignored entirely, might have felt desolate and forlorn in the heart of such a crowd; but John was tingling with delight and pleasure.

Suddenly, the noise moderated. John, looking up, saw a big fellow slowly approaching, exchanging greetings with everybody. John turned to a boy close to him.

"Who is it?" he whispered.

The other boy answered curtly, "Lawrence, the Head of the House."

The big fellow suddenly caught John's eyes. What he read there—admiration, respect, envy—brought a slight smile to his lips.

"Your name?" he demanded.

"Verney."

Lawrence held out his hand, simply and yet with a certain dignity.

"I heard you were coming," he said, keenly examining John's face. "We can't have too many Verneys. If I can do anything for you, let me know."

He nodded, and strode on. John saw that several boys were staring with a new interest. None, however, spoke to him; and he returned to his room with a blushing face. Scaife had unpacked his clothes and put them away; he was now surveying the bare walls with undisguised contempt.

"Isn't this a beastly hole?" he remarked.

John, always interested in people rather than things, examined the room carefully. Passing down the passage he had caught glimpses of other rooms: some charmingly furnished, gay with chintz, embellished with pictures, Japanese fans, silver cups, and other trophies. Comparing these with his own apartment, John said shyly—

"It's not very beefy."

"Beefy? You smell of a private school, Verney. Now, is it worth doing up? You see, I shall be in a two-room next term. If we all chip in——" he paused.

"I've brought back two quid," said John.

Scaife's smile indicated neither approval nor the reverse. John's ingenuous confidence provoked none in return.

"We'll talk about it when Kinloch arrives. I wonder why his people sent him here."

John had studied some books, but not the Peerage. The great name of Kinloch was new to him, not new to Scaife, who, for a boy, knew his "Burke" too odiously well.

"Why shouldn't his people send him here?" he asked.

"Because," Scaife's tone was contemptuous, "because the Kinlochs—they're a great cricketing family—go to Eton. The duke must have some reason."

"The duke?"

"Hang it, surely you have heard of the Duke of Trent?"

"Yes," said John, humbly. "And this is his son?" He glanced at the label on the new portmanteau.

"Whose son should he be?" said Scaife. "Well, it's queer. Dukes[3] and dukes' sons come to Harrow—all the Hamiltons were here, and the FitzRoys, and the St. Maurs—but the Kinlochs, as I say, have gone to Eton. It's a rum thing—very. And why the deuce hasn't he turned up?"

The clanging of a bell brought both boys to their feet.

"Lock-up, and call-over," said Scaife. "Come on!"

They pushed their way down the passage. Several boys addressed Scaife.

"Hullo, Demon!—Here's the old Demon!—Demon, I thought you were going to be sacked!"

To these and other sallies Scaife replied with his slightly ironical smile. John perceived that his companion was popular and at the same time peculiar; quite different from any boy he had yet met.

They filed into a big room—the dining-room of the house—a square, lofty hall, with three long tables in it. On the walls hung some portraits of famous Old Harrovians. As a room it was disappointing at first sight, almost commonplace. But in it, John soon found out, everything for weal or woe which concerned the Manor had taken place or had been discussed. There were two fireplaces and two large doors. The boys passed through one door; upon the threshold of the other stood the butler, holding a silver salver, with a sheet of paper on it.

"What cheek!" murmured Scaife.

"Eh?" said John.

"Dirty Dick isn't here. Just like him, the slacker! And when he does come over on our side of the House, he slimes about in carpet slippers—the beast!"

Lawrence entered as Scaife spoke. John saw that his strongly-marked eyebrows went up, when he perceived the butler. He approached, and took the sheet of paper. The butler said impressively—

"Mr. Rutford is busy. Will you call over, sir?"

At any rate, the butler, Dumbleton, was worthy of the best traditions of the Manor. He had a shrewd, clean-shaven face, and the deportment of an archbishop. The Head of the House took the paper, and began to call over the names. Each boy, as his name was called, said, "Here," or, if he wished to be funny, "Here, sir!"

"Verney?"

The name rang out crisply.

"Here, sir," said John.

The Head of the House eyed him sharply.

"Kinloch?"

No answer.

"Kinloch?"

Scaife answered dryly: "Kinloch's portmanteau has come." Then Dumbleton said in his smooth, bland voice, "His lordship is in the drawing-room with Mr. Rutford."

The boys exchanged knowing glances. Scaife looked contemptuous. The next moment the last name had been called, and the boys scurried into the passages. Lawrence was the first to leave the hall. Impulsively, John rushed up to him.

"I didn't mean to be funny, I didn't really," he panted.

"Quite right. It doesn't pay," Lawrence smiled grimly, "for new boys to be funny. I saw you didn't mean it."

Lawrence spoke in a loud voice. John realized that he had so spoken purposely, trying to wipe out a new boy's first blunder.

"Thanks awfully," said John.

He reached his room to find three other boys busily engaged in abusing their house-master. They took no notice of John, who leaned against the wall.

"His lordship is in the drawing-room with Mr. Rutford."

A freckle-faced, red-headed youth, with a big elastic mouth had imitated Dumbleton admirably.

"What a snob Dick is!" drawled a very tall, very thin, aristocratic-looking boy.

"And a fool," added Scaife. "This sort of thing makes him loathed."

"It is a sell his being here."

All three fell to talking. The question still festering in John's mind was answered within a minute. The "brute" was Rutford. Towards the end of the previous term gossip had it that the master of the Manor had been offered an appointment elsewhere. Whereat the worthier spirits in the ancient house rejoiced. Now the joy was turned into wailing and gnashing of teeth.

"Is he a beast to us?" said John.

The freckle-faced boy answered affably, "That depends. His Imperial Highness"—he kicked the new portmanteau hard—"will not find Mr. Richard Rutford a beast. Far from it. And he's civil to the Demon, because his papa is a man of many shekels. But to mere outsiders, like myself, a beast of beasts; ay, the very king of beasts, is—Dirty Dick."

And then—oh, horrors!—the door of No. 15 opened, and Rutford appeared, followed by a seemingly young and very fashionably dressed lady. The boys jumped to their feet. All, except Scaife, looked preternaturally solemn. The house-master nodded carelessly.

"This is Scaife, Duchess," he said in his thick, rasping tones. "Scaife and Verney, let me present you to the Duchess of Trent."

He mouthed the illustrious name, as if it were a large and ripe greengage.

The duchess advanced, smiling graciously. "These"—Rutford named the other boys—"are Egerton, Lovell, and—er—Duff."

Scaife, alone of those present, appreciated the order in which his schoolfellows had been named. Egerton—known as the Caterpillar—was the son of a Guardsman; Lovell's father was a judge; Duff's father an obscure parson.

The duchess shook hands with each boy. "Your father and I are old friends," she said to Egerton; "and I have had the pleasure of meeting your uncle," she smiled at John.

Duff looked unhappy and ill at ease, because it was almost certain that his last sentence had been overheard by the house-master. The duchess asked a few questions and then took her leave. She and her son were dining with the Head Master. Rutford accompanied her.

"Did the blighter hear?" said Duff.

"How could he help it with his enormous asses' ears?" said the tall, thin Egerton.

Duff, an optimist, like all red-headed, freckled boys, appealed to the others, each in turn. The verdict was unanimous.

"He hates me like poison," said Duff. "I shall catch it hot. What an unlucky beggar I am!"

"Pooh!" said Scaife. "He knows jolly well that the whole school calls him Dirty Dick."

But whatever hopes Duff may have entertained of his house-master's deafness were speedily laid in the dust. Within five minutes Rutford reappeared. He stood in the doorway, glaring.

"Just now, Duff," said he, "I happened to overhear your voice, which is singularly, I may say vulgarly, penetrating. You were speaking of me, your house-master, as 'Dick.' But you used an adjective before it. What was it?"

Duff writhed. "I don't—remember."

"Oh yes, you do. Why lie, Duff?"

John's brown face grew pale.

"The adjective you used," continued Rutford, "was 'dirty.' You spoke of me as 'Dirty Dick,' and I fancy I caught the word 'beast.' You will write out, if you please, one hundred Greek lines, accents and stops, and bring them to me, or leave them with Dumbleton, twenty-five lines at a time, every alternate half hour during the afternoon of the next half holiday. Good night to you."

"Good night, sir," said all the boys, save John and Scaife.

"Good night, Verney."

Master and pupil confronted each other. John's face looked impassive; and Rutford turned from the new boy to Scaife.

"Good night, Scaife."

Scaife drew himself up, and, in a quiet, cool voice, replied—

"Good night, sir."

Duff waited till Rutford's heavy step was no longer heard; then he rushed at John.

"I say," he spluttered, "you're a good sort—ain't he, Demon? Refusing to say 'Good night' to the beast because he was ragging me. But he'll never forgive you—never!"

"Oh yes, he will," said Scaife. "It won't be difficult for Dirty Dick to forgive the future Verney of Verney Boscobel."

John stared. "Verney Boscobel?" he repeated. "Why, that belongs to my uncle. Mother and I hope he'll marry and have a lot of jolly kids of his own."

"You hope he'll marry? Well, I'm——"

John's jaw stuck out. The emphasis on the "hope" and the upraised eyebrow smote hard.

"You don't mean to say," he began hotly, "you don't think that——"

"I can think what I please," said Scaife, curtly; "and so can you." He laughed derisively. "Thinking what they please is about the only liberty allowed to new boys. Even the Duffer learned to hold his tongue during his first term."

The Caterpillar—the tall, thin, aristocratic boy—spoke solemnly. He was a dandy, the understudy—as John soon discovered—of one of the "Bloods"; a "Junior Blood," or "Would-be," a tremendous authority on "swagger," a stickler for tradition, who had been nearly three years in the school.

"The Demon is right," said he. "A new boy can't be too careful, Verney. Your being funny in hall just now made a dev'lish bad impression."

"But I didn't mean to be funny. I told Lawrence so directly after call-over."

The Caterpillar pulled down his cuffs.

"If you didn't mean to be funny," he concluded, "you must be an ass."

Duff, however, remembered that John was nephew to an explorer.

"I say," he jogged John's elbow, "do you think you could get me your uncle's autograph?"

"Why, of course," said John.

"Thanks. I've not a bad collection," the Duffer murmured modestly.

"And the gem of it," said Scaife, "is Billington's, the hangman! The Duffer shivers whenever he looks at it."

"Yes, I do," said Duff, grinning horribly.

After supper and Prayers, John went to bed, but not to sleep for at least an hour. He lay awake, thinking over the events of this memorable day. Whenever he closed his eyes he beheld two objects: the spire of Harrow Church and the vivid, laughing face of Desmond. He told himself that he liked Desmond most awfully. And Scaife too, the Demon, had been kind. But somehow John did not like Scaife. Then, in a curious half-dreamy condition, not yet asleep and assuredly not quite awake, he seemed to see the figure of Scaife expanding, assuming terrific proportions, impending over Desmond, standing between him and the spire, obscuring part of the spire at first, and then, bit by bit, overshadowing the whole.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Byron, writing to John Murray, May 26, 1822, and giving directions for the burial of poor little Allegra's body, says—

"I wish it to be buried in Harrow Church. There is a spot in the churchyard, near the footpath, on the brow of the hill looking towards Windsor, and a tomb under a large tree (bearing the name of Peachie, or Peachey), where I used to sit for hours and hours as a boy: this was my favourite spot; but, as I wish to erect a tablet to her memory, the body had better be deposited in the church."

See also "Lines written beneath an elm in the churchyard of Harrow," in "Hours of Idleness."

[2] "Speecher"—i.e. Speech-Day. At Harrow "er" is a favourite termination of many substantives. "Harder," for hard-ball racquets, "Footer," "Ducker," etc.

[3] The Duke of Dorset was Byron's fag. Cf.

"Though the harsh custom of our youthful band Bade thee obey, and gave me to command." Hours of Idleness.



CHAPTER II

Caesar

"You come here where your brothers came, To the old school years ago, A young new face, and a Harrow name, 'Mid a crowd of strangers? No! You may not fancy yourself alone, You who are memory's heir, When even the names in the graven stone Will greet you with 'Who goes there— You?— Pass, Friend—All's well.'"

John never forgot that memorable morning when he learned for the first time what place he had taken in the school. He sat with the other new-comers, staring, open-eyed, at nearly six hundred boys, big and small, assembled together in the Speech-room. So engrossed was he that he scarcely heard the Head Master's opening prayers. John was obsessed, inebriated, with the number of Harrovians, each of whom had once felt strange and shy like himself. From his place close to the great organ, he could look up and up, seeing row after row of faces, knowing that amongst them sat his future friends and foes.

Suddenly, a neighbour nudged him. The Head Master was reading from a list in his hand the school-removes, and the names and places taken by new boys. He began at the lowest form with the name of a small urchin sitting near John. The urchin blinked and blushed as he realized that he was "lag of the school." John knew that he had answered fairly well the questions set by the examiners; he had no fear of finding himself pilloried in the Third Fourth; still, as form after form did not include his name, he grew restless and excited. Had he taken a higher place than the Middle Shell? Yes; no Verney in the Middle Shell. The Head Master began the removes of the top Shell. Now, now it must be coming. No; the clear, penetrating tones slowly articulated name after name, but not his.

"Verney."

At last. Many eyes were staring at him, some enviously, a few superciliously. John had taken the Lower Remove, the highest form but one open to new boys. He was sipping the wine called Success.

Moreover, Desmond of the frank, laughing face and sparkling blue eyes, and Scaife and Egerton were also in the Lower Remove.

After this, John sat in a blissful dream, hardly conscious of his surroundings, seeing his mother's face, hearing her sigh of pleasure when she learned that already her son was halfway up the school.

* * * * *

You may be sure those first forty-eight hours were brim-full of excitements. First, John bought his books, stout leather-tipped, leather-backed volumes, on which his name will be duly stamped on fly-leaf and across the edges of the pages. And he bought also, from "Judy" Stephens,[4] a "squash" racquet, "squash" balls, and a yard ball. From the school Custos—"Titchy"—a noble supply of stationery was procured. Moreover, young Kinloch announced that his mother had given him three pounds to spend upon the decoration of No. 15, so Scaife declared his intention of spending a similar sum, and in consequence No. 15 became a gorgeous apartment, the cynosure of every eye that passed. The characters of the three boys were revealed plainly enough by their simple furnishings. Scaife bought sporting prints, a couple of Detaille's lithographs, and an easy-chair, known to dwellers upon the Hill as a "frowst"; Kinloch hung upon his side of the wall four pretty reproductions of French engravings, and with the help of three yards of velveteen and some cheap lace he made a very passable imitation of the mantel-cover in his mother's London boudoir; John scorned velveteen, lace, "frowsts," and French engravings. He put his money into a pair of red curtains, and one excellent photogravure of Landseer's "Children of the Mist." Having a few shillings to spare, he bought half a dozen ferns, which were placed in a box by the window, and watered so diligently that they died prematurely.

Secondly, John played in a house-game at football, and learned the difference between a scrimmage at a small preparatory school and the genuine thing at Harrow. Lawrence insisted that all new boys should play, and the Caterpillar informed him that he would have to learn the rules of Harrow "footer" by heart, and pass a stiff examination in them before the House Eleven, with the penalty of being forced to sing them in Hall if he failed to satisfy his examiners. The Duffer lent him a House-shirt of green and white stripes, and a pair of white duck shorts, and with what pride John put them on, thinking of the far distant day when he would wear a "fez"[5] instead of the commonplace house-cap! Lawrence said a few words.

"You'll have to play the compulsory games, Verney, which begin after the Goose Match,[6] but I want to see you playing as hard as ever you can in the house-games. You'll be knocked about a bit; but a Verney won't mind that—eh?"

"Rather not," said John, feeling very valiant.

Thirdly, there was the first Sunday, and the first sermon of the Head Master, with its plain teaching about the opportunities and perils of Public School life. John found himself mightily affected by the singing, and the absence of shrill treble voices. The booming basses and baritones of the big fellows made him shiver with a curious bitter-sweet sensation never experienced before.

Lastly, the pleasant discovery that his Form treated him with courtesy and kindness. Desmond, in particular, welcomed him quite warmly. And then and there John's heart was filled with a wild and unreasonable yearning for this boy's friendship. But Desmond—he was called "Caesar," because his Christian names were Henry Julius—seemed to be very popular, a bright particular star, far beyond John's reach although for ever in his sight. Caesar never offered to walk with him: and he refused John's timid invitation to have food at the "Tudor Creameries."[7] Was it possible that a boy about to enter Damer's would not be seen walking and talking with a fellow out of Dirty Dick's? This possibility festered, till one morning John saw his idol walking up and down the School Yard with Scaife. That evening he said to Scaife—

"Do you like Desmond?"

"Yes," Scaife replied decisively. "I like him better than any fellow at Harrow. You know that his father is Charles Desmond—the Cabinet Minister and a Governor of the school?"

"I didn't know it. I suppose Caesar Desmond likes you—awfully."

"Do you? I doubt it."

No more was said. John told himself that Caesar—he liked to think of Desmond as Caesar—could pick and choose a pal out of at least three hundred boys, half the school. How extremely unlikely that he, John, would be chosen! But every night he lay awake for half an hour longer than he ought to have done, wondering how, by hook or crook, he could do a service to Caesar which must challenge interest and provoke, ultimately, friendship.

Meantime, he was slowly initiated by the Caterpillar into Harrow ways and customs. Fagging, which began after the first fortnight, he found a not unpleasant duty. After first and fourth schools the other fags and he would stand not far from the pantry, and yell out "Breakfast," or "Tea," as it might be, "for Number So-and-So." Perhaps one had to nip up to the Creameries to get a slice of salmon, or cutlets, or sausages. Fagging at Harrow—which varies slightly in different houses—is hard or easy according to the taste and fancy of the fag's master. Some of the Sixth Form at the Manor made their fags unlace their dirty football boots. Kinloch, who since he left the nursery had been waited upon by powdered footmen six feet high, now found, to his disgust, that he had to varnish Trieve's patent-leathers for Sunday. Trieve was second in command, and had been known as "Miss" Trieve. John would have gladly done this and more for Lawrence, his fag-master; but Lawrence, a manly youth, scorned sybaritic services. The Caterpillar taught John to carry his umbrella unfolded, to wear his "straw" straight (a slight list to port was allowed to "Bloods" only), not to walk in the middle of the road, and so forth. How he used to envy the members of the Elevens as they rolled arm-in-arm down the High Street! How often he wondered if the day would ever dawn when Caesar and he, outwardly and inwardly linked together, would stroll up and down the middle-walk below the Chapel Terrace: that sunny walk, whence, on a fair day, you can see the insatiable monster, London, filling the horizon and stretching red, reeking hands into the sweet country—the middle-walk, from which all but Bloods were rigidly excluded.

Much to his annoyance—an annoyance, be it said, which he managed to hide—John seemed to attract young Kinloch almost as magnetically as he himself was attracted to Caesar. John had not the heart to shake off the frail, delicate child, who was christened "Fluff" after his first appearance in public. Fluff had taken the First Fourth and ingenuously confessed to any one who cared to listen that he ought to have gone to Eton. A beast of a doctor prescribed the Hill. And even the almighty duke failed to get him into Damer's, another grievance. He had been entered since birth at the crack house at Eton; and now to be pitchforked into Dirty Dick's at Harrow——! The Duffer kicked him, feeling an unspeakable cad when poor Fluff burst into tears.

"Sorry," said the Duffer. "Only you mustn't slang Harrow. And you'd better get it into your silly head that it's the best school in this or any other world—isn't it, Demon?"

"I'm sure the Verneys, and the Egertons, and the Duffs have always thought so."

"But it isn't really," whimpered poor Fluff. "You fellows know that everybody talks of Eton and Harrow. Who ever heard of Harrow and Eton? People say—I've heard my eldest brother, Strathpeffer, say it again and again—'Eton and Harrow,' just as they say 'Gentlemen and Players.'"

"Oh," said the Caterpillar. "The Etonians are the gentlemen—eh? Well, Fluff, after their performance at Lord's last year, you couldn't expect us to admit that they're—players."

The Duffer chuckled.

"I say, Caterpillar, that was a good 'un."

"Not mine," said the Caterpillar, solemnly; "my governor's, you know."

The Duffer continued: "Now, Fluff, I won't touch your body, because you might tumble to pieces, but if I hear you slanging the school or our house, I'll pull out handfuls of fluff. D'ye hear?"

"Yes," said Fluff, meekly.

"Say 'Floreat Herga' on your bended knees!"

Fluff obeyed.

"And remember," said the Duffer, impressively, "that we've had a king here, haven't we, Caterpillar?"

"Yes," said the Caterpillar.

"I never believed it," said Scaife.

"He was a Spaniard,[8] or an Italian, you know," the Duffer explained. "The duke of something or t'other; and an ambassador came down and offered the beggar the Spanish crown, when he was in the First Fourth, and of course he gobbled it—who wouldn't? And then Victor Emmanuel interfered. That's all true, you can take your Bible oath, because my governor told me so, and he—well, he's a parson."

"Then it must be true," said Scaife. "Now, young Fluff, don't forget that Harrow is a school fit for a king and nearer to Heaven than Eton by at least six hundred feet."

So saying, the Demon marched out of the room, followed by Fluff, slightly limping.

"Sorry I turfed[9] that little ass so hard," said the Duffer to John. "I say, Verney, the Demon is rather a rum 'un, ain't he? Sometimes I can't quite make him out. He's frightfully clever and all that, but I had a sort of beastly feeling just now that he didn't—eh?—quite mean what he said. Was he laughin' at us, pullin' our legs—what?"

John's brain worked slowly, as he had found out to his cost under a form-master who maintained that it was no use having a fact stored in the head unless it slipped readily out of the mouth. The Duffer, who never thought, because speaking was so much easier, grew impatient at John's silence.

"Well, you needn't look like an owl, Verney. You know that Scaife's grandfather was a navvy."

"I don't know," John replied.

"And I don't care," said the Duffer. "Let's go and have some food at the Creameries."

* * * * *

Looking back afterwards, John often wondered whether, unconsciously, the Duffer had sown a grain of mustard-seed destined to grow into a large tree. Or, had the intuition that Scaife was other than what he seemed furnished the fertile soil into which the seed fell? In any case, from the end of this first week began to increase the suspicion, which eventually became conviction, that the Demon, keen at games, popular in his house, clever at work—clever, indeed! inasmuch as he never achieved more or less than was necessary—generous with his money, handsome and well-mannered, blessed, in fine, with so many gifts of the gods, yet lacked a soul.

This, of course, is putting into words the vague speculations and reasonings of a boy not yet fourteen. If an Olympian—one of the masters, for instance, or the Head of the House—had said, "Verney, has the Demon a soul?" John would have answered promptly, "Ra—ther! He's been awfully decent to Fluff and me. We'd have had a hot time if it hadn't been for him," and so forth.... And, indeed, to doubt Scaife's sincerity and goodness seemed at times gross disloyalty, because he stood, firm as a rock, between the two urchins in his room and the turbulent crowd outside. This defence of the weak, this guarding of green fruit from the maw of Lower School boys, afforded Scaife an opportunity of exercising power. He had the instincts of the potter, inherited, no doubt; and he moulded the clay ready to his hand with the delight of a master-workman. Nobody else knew what the man of millions had said to his boy when he despatched him to Harrow; but the Demon remembered every word. He had reason to respect and fear his sire.

"I'm sending you to Harrow to study, not books nor games, but boys, who will be men when you are a man. And, above all, study their weaknesses. Look for the flaws. Teach yourself to recognize at a glance the liar, the humbug, the fool, the egotist, and the mule. Make friends with as many as are likely to help you in after life, and don't forget that one enemy may inflict a greater injury than twenty friends can repair. Spend money freely; dress well; swim with the tide, not against it."

A year at Harrow confirmed Scaife's confidence in his father's worldly wisdom. Big for his age, strong, with his grandsire's muscles, tough as hickory, he had become the leader of the Lower School boys at the Manor. The Fifth were civil to him, recognizing, perhaps, the expediency of leaving him alone ever since the incident of the cricket stump. The Sixth found him the quickest of the fags and uncommonly obliging. His house-master signed reports which neither praised nor blamed. To Dirty Dick the boy was the son of a man who could write a cheque for a million.

* * * * *

Two things worthy of record happened within a month; the one of lesser importance can be set down first. Charles Desmond, Caesar's father, came down to Harrow and gave a luncheon at the King's Head. From time immemorial the Desmonds had been educated on the Hill. The family had produced some famous soldiers, a Lord Chancellor, and a Prime Minister. In the Fourth Form Room the stranger may read their names carved in oak, and they are carved also in the hearts of all ardent Harrovians. Mr. Desmond, though a Cabinet Minister, found time to visit Harrow once at least in each term. He always chose a whole holiday, and after attending eleven-o'clock Bill[10] in the Yard, would carry off his son and his son's friends. The School knew him and loved him. To the thoughtful he stood for the illustrious past, the epitome of what John Lyon's[11] boys had fought for and accomplished. Four sons had he—Harrovians all. Of these Caesar was youngest and last. Each had distinguished himself on the Hill either in work or play, or in both.

Charles Desmond stood upon the step just above the master who was calling Bill.

"That's Caesar's father," said Scaife. "I'm going to lunch with him. Isn't he a topper?"

John's eyes were popping out of his face. He had never seen any man like this resplendent, stately personage, smiling and nodding to the biggest fellows in the school.

"And my governor says," Scaife added, "that he's not a rich man, nothing much to speak of in the way of income over and above his screw as a Cabinet Minister."

Scaife moved away, and John could hear him say to another boy, in an easy, friendly tone, "Mr. Desmond told Caesar that he wanted to meet me—very civil of him—eh?"

Presently John was in line waiting to pass by the steps.

"Verney?"

"Here, sir."

He was hurrying by, with a backward glance at the great man. Suddenly Caesar's father beckoned, nodding cheerily. John ascended the steps, to feel the grasp of a strong hand, to hear a ringing voice.

"You're John Verney's nephew. Just so. I think I should have spotted you, even if Harry had not told me you were in his form. You must lunch with us. Cut along, now."

So John was dismissed, brim-full of happiness, which almost overflowed when Caesar met him with an eager—

"I'm so glad, Verney. I say, the governor's a nailer at picking out the old names, isn't he?"

So John ate his luncheon in distinguished company, and felt himself for the first time to be somebody. As the youngest guest present, to him was accorded the place of honour, next the most charming host in Christendom, who put him at ease in a jiffy. How good the cutlets and the pheasant tasted! And how the talk warmed the cockles of his heart! The brand of the Crossed Arrows shone upon all topics. Who could expect, or desire, aught else! Caesar's governor seemed to know what every Harrovian had done worth the doing. Easily, fluently, he discoursed of triumphs won at home, abroad, in the camp, on the hustings, at the bar, in the pulpit. And his anecdotes, which illustrated every phase of life, how pat to the moment they were! One boy complained ruefully of having spent three terms under a form-master who had "ragged" him. Charles Desmond sympathized—

"Bless my soul," said he, "don't I remember being three terms in the Third Fifth when that tartar old Heriot had it? I dare swear I got no more than my deserts. I was an idle vagabond, but Heriot made my life such a burden to me that I entreated my people to take me away from Harrow. And then my governor urged me to put my back into the work and get a remove. And I did. And would you believe it, upon the first day of the next term I wired to my people, 'You must take me away. I've got my remove all right—and so has Heriot.'"

How gaily the speaker led the laugh which followed this recital! And the chaff! Was it possible that Caesar dared to chaff a man who was supposed to have the peace of Europe in his keeping? And, by Jove! Caesar could hold his own.

So the minutes flew. But John noticed, with surprise, that the Demon didn't score. In fact, John and he were the only guests that contributed nothing to the feast save hearty appetites. It was strange that the Demon, the wit of his house and form, never opened his mouth except to fill it with food. He answered, it is true, and very modestly, the questions addressed to him by his host; but then, as John reflected, any silly fool in the Fourth Form could do that.

After luncheon, the boys were dismissed, each with a hearty word of encouragement and half a sovereign. John was passing the plate-glass splendours of the Creameries, when the Demon overtook him, and they walked down the winding High Street together. Scaife had never walked with John before.

"That was worth while," Scaife said quietly. John could not interpret this speech, save in its obvious meaning.

"Rather," he replied.

"Why?" said Scaife, very sharply.

"Eh?"

"Why was it worth while?"

John stammered out something about good food and jolly talk.

"Pooh!" said Scaife, contemptuously. "I thought you had brains, Verney." He glanced at him keenly. "Now, speak out. What's in that head of yours? You can be cheeky, if you like."

John wondered how Scaife had divined that he wished to be cheeky. His mentor had said so much to Fluff and him about the propriety of not putting on "lift" or "side" in the presence of an older boy, that he had choked back a retort which occurred to him.

"You're thinking," continued the Demon, in his clear voice, "that I didn't use my brains just now, but, my blooming innocent, I can assure you I did. Very much so. I played 'possum. Put that into your little pipe and smoke it."

At four-o'clock Bill, John noticed Caesar's absence: a fact accounted for by the presence of a mail-phaeton, which, he knew, belonged to Mr. Desmond, drawn up—oddly enough—opposite the Manor. What a joke to think that Caesar was drinking tea with Dirty Dick!

After Bill, having nothing better to do, John and Fluff went for a walk on the Sudbury road. They had played football before Bill, and each had realized his own awkwardness and insignificance. Poor Fluff, almost reduced to tears, with a big black bruise upon his white forehead, confessed that he preferred peaceful games—like croquet, and intended to apply for a doctor's certificate of exemption. Demanding sympathy, he received a slating.

"I play nearly as rotten a game as you do, Fluff," John said; "but Scaife expects us to be Torpids,[12] so we jolly well have to buck up. That bruise over your eye has taken off your painted-doll look. Now, if you're going to blub, you'd better get behind that hedge."

Fluff exploded.

"This is a beastly hole," he cried. "And I loathe it. I'm going to write to my father and beg him to take me away."

"You ought to be at a girls' school."

"I hate everything and everybody. I thought you were my friend, the only friend I had."

John was somewhat mollified.

"I am your friend, but not when you talk rot."

"Verney, look here, if you'll be decent to me, I will try to stick it out. I wish I was like you; I do indeed. I wish I was like Scaife. Why, I'd sooner be the Duffer, freckles and all, than myself."

John looked down upon the delicately-tinted face, the small, regular, girlish features, the red, quivering mouth. Suddenly he grasped that this was an appeal from weakness to strength, and that he, no older and but a little bigger than Fluff, had strength to spare, strength to shoulder burdens other than his own.

"All right," he said stiffly; "don't make such a fuss!"

"You'll have me for a friend, Verney?"

"Yes; but I ain't going to kiss your forehead to make it well, you know."

"May I call you John, when we're alone? And I wish you'd call me Esme, instead of that horrid 'Fluff.'"

John pondered deeply.

"Look here," he said. "You can call me John, and I'll call you Esme, when we're Torpids. And now, you'd better cut back to the house. I must think this all out, and I can't think straight when I look at you."

"May I call you John once?"

"You are the silliest idiot I ever met, bar none. Call me 'John,' or 'Tom Fool,' or anything; but hook it afterwards!"

"Yes, John, I will. You're the only boy I ever met whom I really wanted for a friend." He displayed a radiant face, turned suddenly, and ran off. John watched him, frowning, because Fluff was a good little chap, and yet, at times, such a bore!

He walked on alone, chewing the cud of a delightful experience; trying, not unsuccessfully, to recall some of Mr. Desmond's anecdotes. How proud Caesar was of his father! And the father, obviously, was just as proud of his son. What a pair! And if only Caesar were his friend! By Jove! It was rather a rum go, but John was as mad keen to call Caesar friend as poor Fluff to call John friend. Serious food for thought, this. "But I would never bother him," said John to himself, "as Fluff has bothered me, never!"

"Hullo, Verney!"

"Hullo!" said John.

Coincidence had thrust Caesar out of his thought and on to the narrow path in front of him.

"I'm not a ghost," said Caesar.

John hesitated.

"I was thinking of you," he confessed; "and then I heard your voice and saw you. It gave me a start. I say, it was good of your governor to ask me."

"Hang my governor! He's the——"

Caesar closed his lips firmly, as if he feared that terrible adjectives might burst from them. John missed the sparkling smile, the gay glance of the eyes.

"What's up?" he demanded.

Caesar hesitated; looked at John, read, perhaps, the sympathy, the honest interest, possibly the affection, in the grey orbs which met his own so steadily.

"What's up?" he repeated. "Why, I'm not going into Damer's, after all."

"Oh!" said John.

"My governor has just told me. I came down here to curse and swear."

"Not going into Damer's? What rot—for you!"

"It is sickening. Look here, Verney; I feel like telling you about it. I know you won't go bleating all over the shop. No. I said to myself, 'Mum's the word,' but——"

John's heart beat, his body glowed, his grey eyes sparkled.

"It's like this," continued Caesar, after a slight pause. "Damer told the governor that two fellows he had expected to leave at the end of this term were staying on. The governor hinted that Damer added something about straining a point, and letting me in ahead of three other fellows; but the governor wouldn't listen to that——"

"Jolly decent of him," said John.

"Was it? In my opinion he ought to have thought of me first. All my brothers have been at Damer's. And he knew I'd set my heart on going there. Look how civil the fellows are to me. I've been in and out of the house like a tame cat. Confound it! if Damer did want to strain a point, why shouldn't he? The governor played his own game, not mine. What right has he to be so precious unselfish at my expense? I argued with him; but he can put his foot down. Let's cut all that. Of course, I don't want to stop in a beastly Small House for ever, and, if Damer's is closed to me, I should like Brown's, but Brown's is full too. And there are other good houses. But where—where do you think I am going?"

"Reeds?"

"I don't call Reed's so bad. No; I'm going to Dirty Dick's. I'm coming to you."

"Oh, I say."

"Why, dash it all, you're grinning. I don't want to be a cad—Dirty Dick's is your house—but—after Damer's! O Lord!"

The grin faded out of John's face. Caesar's loss outweighed his own gain.

"Your governor was a Manorite," he said slowly.

"Yes, in its best days; and he's always had a sneaking liking for it; but he knows, he knows, I say, that now it's rotten, and yet he sends me there. Why?"

"Ask another," said John.

"I asked him another, and what do you think he said, in that peculiar voice of his which always dries me up? 'Harry,' said he, 'when you're a little older and a good deal wiser, you'll be able to answer that question yourself.'"

John's face brightened. A glimmering of the truth shone out of the darkness. He tried to advance nearer to it, gropingly.

"I dare say——"

"Well, go on!"

"Your governor may feel that we want a fellow like you."

John was blushing because he remembered what the Head of the House had said about the Verneys. Desmond glanced at him keenly. He detested flattery laid on too thick. But this was a genuine tribute. For the first time he smiled.

"Thank you, Verney," he said, more genially. "What you say is utter rot; but it was decent of you to say it, and I'm glad that you and I are going to be in the same house."

For his life John could not help adding, "And Scaife, you forget Scaife?" Jealousy pierced him as Scaife's name slipped out.

"Yes, there's the Demon. I always liked him."

"And he likes you."

"Does he? Good old Demon! I like to be liked. That's the Irish in me. I'm half Irish, you know. I want fellows to be friendly to me. I'd forgotten Scaife. That's rum too, because he's not the sort one forgets, is he? No, I wonder if I could get into the Demon's room next term?"

"I'm in his room. It's a three-room."

"A two-room is much jollier."

"Our room is not bad."

Caesar was hardly listening. John caught a murmur: "The old Demon and I would get along capitally."

FOOTNOTES:

[4] The racquet Professional.

[5] The cap of honour worn by the House Football Eleven.

[6] The Goose Match, the last cricket-match of the year, played between the Eleven and Old Boys, on the nearest half-holiday to Michaelmas Day.

[7] A fashionable "tuck"-shop.

[8] H.R.H. Prince Thomas of Savoy, Duke of Genoa, was elected King by the Cortes of Spain, October 3, 1869, while he was a boy at Harrow. The crown was finally declined January 1, 1870. The Prince was nick-named "King Tom."

[9] To "turf," i.e. to kick.

[10] Calling over.

[11] John Lyon founded Harrow School, 1571.

[12] Boys who have not been more than two years in the school are eligible as "Torpids;" out of each house a Torpid football Eleven is chosen.



CHAPTER III

Kraipale[13]

"Life is mostly froth and bubble; Two things stand like stone— Kindness in another's trouble, Courage in your own."

Some five years afterwards John Verney learned what had passed between Cabinet Minister and Head Master upon that eventful day which sent Caesar to curse and swear upon the Sudbury road. The Head Master was not an Harrovian, and on that account was the better able to perceive time-honoured abuses. At Harrow the dominant chord among masters and boys is a harmony of strenuousness and sentiment. Inevitably, the sentiment becomes, at times, sentimental; and then strenuousness pushes it into a corner. When honoured veterans are wearing out, loyalty, gratitude for past service, reluctance to inflict pain, keep them in positions of responsibility which mentally and physically they are unfit to administer. It is almost as difficult to turn an Eton or Harrow master out of his house, as to turn a parson of the Church of England out of his pulpit. More, in selecting a house-master as in selecting a parson, a man's claims to preferment are too often determined by scholarship, by length of former service, by interest with authority, rather than by ability to govern a body of boys made up of widely different parts. A capable form-master may prove an incapable house-master. Richard Rutford, to give a concrete example, came to Harrow knowing nothing about Public Schools, and caring as little for the traditions of the Hill, but with the prestige of being a Senior Classic. Nobody questioned his ability to teach Greek. In his own line, and not an inch beyond, the Governors were assured that Rutford was a success. In due time he accepted a Small House, so small that its autocrat's incapacity as an administrator escaped notice. Rutford waited patiently for a big morsel. He wrote a couple of text-books; he married a wife with money and influence; he entertained handsomely. It is true he became popular neither with masters nor boys, but his wine was as sound as his scholarship, and his wife had a peer for a second cousin. Eventually he accepted the Manor. Within a month, those in authority suspected that a blunder had been made; within a year they knew it. The house began to go down. Leaven lay in the lump, but not enough to make it rise, because the baker refused to stir the dough. First and last, Rutford disliked boys, misunderstood them, insulted them, ignored those who lacked influential connections, toadied and pampered the "swells."

Just before John Verney came to Harrow, the Manor was showing unmistakable signs of decay. A new Head Master, recognizing "dry-rot," realizing the necessity of cutting it out, was confronted with that bristling obstacle—Tradition. He possessed enough moral courage to have told Rutford to resign, because in a thousand indescribable ways the man had neglected his duty; but, so said the Tories, such a step might provoke a public scandal, and if Rutford refused to go—what then? Nothing definite could be proved against the man. His sins had been of omission. Dismayed, not defeated, the Head Master considered other methods of regenerating the Manor. Very quietly he made his appeal to the Old Harrovians, many of whom were sending their sons and nephews to other houses. He invited co-operation. John Verney, the Rev. Septimus Duff, Colonel Egerton—half a dozen enthusiastic Manorites—stepped forward. Lastly, for Charles Desmond the Head Master baited his hook.

"The reform which we have at heart," said he, "must come from within and from below. The house wants a Desmond in it. I was not allowed to wield the axe; but, after all, there are more modern methods of decapitation. And, believe me, I am not asking any man more than I am prepared to do myself. My own nephew goes to the Manor after next holidays."

"Um!" said Mr. Desmond, stroking his chin.

"Lawrence, the Head of the House, is a tower of strength, like all the Lawrences."

"How did you beguile the Duke of Trent?"

"Fortune gave me that weapon. The duke"—he laughed genially——

"Yes?"

"Will turn scales which my heaviest arguments won't budge. A bit of luck! The duke wanted to send his son, a delicate lad, to Harrow, and I did mention to him that Rutford had a vacancy."

"O Ulysses! And Scaife? How did you handle that large bale of bank-notes?"

"Rutford captured Scaife."

"Handsome boy—his son. Lunched with us this morning. Well, well, you have persuaded me. But what an unpleasant quarter of an hour I shall have with Harry!"

* * * * *

As a new boy, John slaved at "footer," and displayed a curious inaptitude for squash racquets. At all games Caesar and Scaife were precociously proficient. John's clumsiness annoyed them. Often the Caterpillar joined him and Fluff, giving them to understand that this must be regarded as an act of grace and condescension which might be suitably acknowledged at the Tudor Creameries.

The Caterpillar mightily impressed the two small boys. He had acquired his nick-name from the very leisurely pace at which he advanced up the school. He wore "Charity tails," as they were called, the swallow-tail coat of the Upper School mercifully given to boys of the Lower School who are too tall to wear with decency the short Eton jacket; he possessed a trouser-press; and his "bags" were perfectly creased and quite spotless. From tip to toe, at all seasons and in all weathers, he looked conspicuously spick and span. Chaff provoked the solemn retort: "One should be well groomed." He spoke impersonally, considering it bad form to use for first person singular. Amongst the small boys he ranked as the Petronius of the Lower School.

One day the Caterpillar said grandiloquently, "You kids will oblige me by not shouting and yelling when you speak to me. I've a bit of a head."

"What's wrong with it?" said Fluff.

"It looks splendid outside," said John, in his serious voice.

The Caterpillar, detecting no cheek, answered gravely—

"Some of us had a wet night of it, last night."

"Wet?" exclaimed the innocent Fluff. "Why, all the stars were shining."

"Your brothers at Eton know what a 'wet night' means," said the Caterpillar. "I was talking with one of the Fifth, when a fellow came in with a flask. A gentleman ought to be able to carry a few glasses of wine, but one is not accustomed to spirits."

"Spirits?"

"Whisky, not prussic acid, you know."

"But where do they get the whisky?" demanded John.

"Comparing it with my father's old Scotch, I should say at the grocer's," replied the Caterpillar. "There's some drinking going on in our house, and—and other things. One mentions it to you kids as a warning."

"Thanks," said John.

"Not at all; you're rather decent little beggars. They" (the Fifth Form was indicated), "they've let you alone so far, but you may have trouble next term, so look out! And if you want advice, come to me."

Beneath his absurd pompous manner beat a kindly heart, and the small boys divined this and were grateful. None the less the word "spirits" frightened them. Next day John happened to find himself alone with Caesar. Very nervously he asked the question—

"I say, do any of the big fellows at Damer's drink?"

"Drink? Drink—what?"

"Well, spirits."

Caesar snorted an indignant denial. The fellows at Damer's were above that sort of thing. The house prided itself upon its tone. Tone constituted Damer's glory, and was the secret of its success. John nodded, but two days afterwards the Demon took him by the arm, twisted it sharply, and said—

"What the deuce did you mean by telling Caesar that the Manorites drink?"

"Oh, Scaife—I didn't."

"You gave us away."

"Us?" John's eyes opened. "You don't drink with 'em?" he faltered.

"Don't bother your head about what I do, or don't do." Scaife answered roughly; "and because you took the Lower Remove don't think for an instant that you are on a par with Caesar and me, or even the old Caterpillar—for you ain't."

"I know that," said John, humbly.

"Don't forget it, or there may be ructions."

"I shan't forget it."

"That's right. And, by the way, you're getting into the habit of hanging about Caesar, which bores him to death. Stop it."

But to this John made no reply. He read dislike in Scaife's bold eyes, detected it in his clear, peremptory voice, felt it in the cruel twist of the arm. And he had brains enough to know that Scaife was not the boy to dislike any one without reason. John crawled to the conclusion that Scaife had become jealous of his increasing intimacy with Desmond.

However, when the three boys were preparing their Greek for First School, Scaife seemed his old self, friendly, amusing, and cool as a cucumber. Long ago he had initiated John into Manorite methods of work.

"Our object is," he explained to the new boy, "to get through the 'swat' with as little squandering of valuable time as possible. It doesn't pay to be skewed. We must mug up our 'cons' well enough to scrape along without 'puns' and extra school."

The three co-operated. Out of forty lines of Vergil, Scaife would be fifteen, John fifteen, and the Caterpillar ten; ten, because, as he pointed out, he had been nearly three years in the school. Then each fellow in turn construed his lines for the benefit of the others. A difficult passage was taken by Scaife to a clever friend in the Fifth. Sometimes Scaife would be absent twenty minutes, returning flushed of face, and slightly excited. John wondered if he had been drinking, and wondered also what Caesar would say if he knew. About this time fear possessed his soul that Caesar would come into the Manor and be taught by Scaife to drink. An occasional nightmare took the form of a desperate struggle between himself and Scaife, in which Scaife, by virtue of superior strength and skill, had the mastery, dragging off the beloved Caesar, to plunge with him into fathomless pools of Scotch whisky. Somehow in these horrid dreams, Caesar played an impressive part. Scaife and John fought for his body, while he looked on, an absurd state of affairs, never—as John reflected in his waking hours—likely to happen in real life. Of all boys Caesar seemed to be the best equipped to fight his own battles, and to take, as he would have put it, "jolly good care of himself."

After the first of the football house-matches, Scaife got his "fez" from Lawrence, the captain of the House Eleven, and the only member of the School Eleven in Dirty Dick's. Some of the big fellows in the Fifth seized this opportunity to "celebrate," as they called it. Scaife was popular with the Fifth because—as John discovered later—he cheerfully lent money to some of them and never pressed for repayment. And Scaife's getting his "fez" before he was fifteen might be reckoned an achievement. Caesar, in particular, could talk of nothing else. He predicted that the Demon would be Captain of both Elevens, school racquet-player, and bloom into a second C. B. Fry.

John, upon this eventful evening, soon became aware of a shindy. It happened that Rutford was giving a dinner-party, and extremely unlikely to leave the private side of the house. John heard snatches of song, howls, and cheers. Ordinarily Lawrence (in whose passage the shindy was taking place) would have stopped this hullabaloo; but Lawrence was dining with his house-master, and Trieve, an undersized, weakly stripling, lacked the moral courage to interfere. John was getting a "con" from Trieve when an unusually piercing howl penetrated the august seclusion.

"What are they doing?" asked Trieve, irritably.

John hesitated. "It's the Fifth," he blurted out. "They've got Scaife in there, you know."

"Oh, indeed! Scaife is an excuse, is he, for this fiendish row? Go and tell Scaife I want to see him."

John looked rather frightened. He felt like a spaniel about to retrieve a lion. And scurrying along the passage he ran headlong into the Duffer, to whom he explained his errand.

"Phew-w-w!" said that young gentleman. "I'd sooner it was you than me, Verney. They're pretty well ginned-up, I can tell you."

John tapped timidly at the door of the room whence the songs and laughter proceeded. Then he tapped again, and again. Finally, summoning his courage, he rapped hard. Instantly there was silence, and then a furtive rustling of papers, followed by a constrained "Come in!"

John entered.

Most of the boys—there were about six of them—gazed at him in stupefaction. Scaife, very red in the face, burst into shrill shouts of laughter. Somehow the laughter disconcerted John. He forgot to deliver his message, but stood staring at Scaife, quaking with a young boy's terror of the unknown. Upon the table were some siphons, syrups, and the remains of a "spread."

"What the blazes do you want?" said Lovell, the owner of the room.

"I want Scaife," said John. "I mean that Trieve wants Scaife."

"Oh, Miss Trieve wants Master Scaife, does she? Well, young 'un, you tell Trieve, with my compliments, that Scaife can't come. See? Now—hook it!"

But John still stared at Scaife. The boy's dishevelled appearance, his wild eyes, his shrill laughter, revealed another Scaife.

"You'd better come, Scaife," he faltered.

"Not I," said Scaife. He spoke in a curiously high-pitched voice, quite unlike his usual cool, quiet tone. "Wait a mo'—I'm not Trieve's fag. I'm nobody's fag now, am I?"

He appealed to the crowd. It was an unwritten rule at the Manor that members of the House cricket or football Elevens were exempt from fagging. But the common law of fagging at Harrow holds that any lower boy is bound to obey the Monitors, provided such obedience is not contrary to the rules of the school. In practice, however, no boy is fagged outside his own house, except for cricket-fagging in the summer term.

"Fag? Not you? Tell Miss Trieve to mind her own business."

John departed, feeling that an older and wiser boy might have tact to cope with this situation. For him, no course of action presented itself except delivering what amounted to a declaration of war.

"Won't come? Is he mad?"

"'Can't come,' they said."

"Oh, can't come? Has he hurt himself—sprained anything?"

John was truthful (more of a habit than some people believe). He told the truth, just as some boys quibble and prevaricate, simply and naturally. But now, he hesitated. If he hinted—a hint would suffice—that Scaife had hurt himself—and what more likely after the furious bit of playing which had secured his "fez"?—Trieve, probably, would do nothing. John felt in his bones that Trieve would be glad of an excuse to do—nothing.

"No; he hasn't sprained himself."

"Then why don't he come?"

"I—I——" Then he burst into excited speech. "He looks as if he was a little mad. Oh, Trieve, won't you leave him alone? Please do! They must stop before prayers, and then Lawrence will be here."

O unhappy John—thou art not a diplomatist! Why lug in Lawrence, who has inspired mordant jealousy and envy in the heart of his second in command?

"Tell Scaife to come here at once," said Trieve, eyeing a couple of canes in the corner. "And if he should happen to ask what I want him for, say that I mean to whop him."

John fled.

"Whop him?"

The Fifth howled rage and remonstrance. Scaife fiercely announced his intention of not taking a whopping from Trieve. None the less, the announcement had a sobering effect upon the elder boys. The consequence of a refusal must prove serious. Sooner or later Scaife would be whopped, probably by Lawrence, no ha'penny matter that!

"You'd better go, Demon," said Lovell. "Trieve can't hurt you. I'd speak to the idiot, only he hates me so poisonously, just as I hate him."

"I'll go," said the Caterpillar.

John had not noticed the Caterpillar before. He stood up, spick and span, carefully adjusting his coat, pulling down his immaculate cuffs.

"Good old Caterpillar," said somebody. "By Jove, he really thinks that Trieve will listen to—him!"

"Any one who has been nearly three years in this house," said the Caterpillar, "has the right to tell Miss Trieve that she is—er—not behaving like a lady."

"And he'll tell you you're screwed, you old fool."

"I am not screwed," replied the Caterpillar, solemnly. "Whisky and potass does not agree with everybody; but I am not screwed, not at all." So speaking he sat down rather suddenly.

Lovell shrugged his shoulders, glanced at the Caterpillar and Scaife, and left the room. Within two minutes he returned, chapfallen and frowning.

"I knew it would be useless. Look here, Demon, you must grin and bear it."

"No," said Scaife, "not from Miss Trieve."

He laughed as before. The Fifth exchanged glances. Then Scaife said thickly, "Give me another drink, I want a drink; so does young Verney. Look at him!"

John was white about the gills and trembling, but not for himself.

"Do go, Scaife!" he entreated.

The Fifth formed a group; holding a council of war, engrossed in trying to find a way out of a wood which of a sudden had turned into a tangled thicket. And so what each would have strenuously prevented came to pass. Scaife pulled a bottle from under a sofa-cushion, and put it to his lips—John, standing at the door, could not see what was taking place.

When the bottle was torn from Scaife's hands, the mischief had been done. The boy had swallowed a quantity of raw spirit. Till now the whisky had been much diluted with mineral water.

"I'm going to him," yelled Scaife, struggling with his friends. "And I'm going to take a cricket stump with me. Le'me go—le'me go!"

The Caterpillar surveyed him with disgust. After a brief struggle Scaife succumbed, helpless and senseless.

"One is reminded sometimes," said the Caterpillar, solemnly, "that the poor Demon is the son of a Liverpool merchant, bred in or about the Docks."

Nobody, however, paid any attention to Egerton, who, to do him justice, was the only boy present absolutely unmindful of his own peril. Expulsion loomed imminent. The window was flung wide open, eau de Cologne liberally applied. Scaife lay like a log.

And then, in the middle of the confusion, Trieve walked in.

"Scaife has had a sort of fit," explained an accomplished liar. "You know what his temper is, Trieve? And when he heard that you meant to 'whop' him, he went stark, staring mad."

This explanation was so near the truth that Trieve accepted it, probably with mental reservations.

"You had better send for Mrs. Puttick," he replied coldly.

The Caterpillar was despatched for the matron; but before that worthy woman panted upstairs, Scaife had been carried to his own room, hastily undressed and put into bed, where he lay breathing stertorously. The matron, good, easy soul, accepted the boys' story unhesitatingly. A fit, of course, poor dear child! Mr. Rutford must be summoned.

With the optimism of youth, those present began to hope that dust might be thrown into the eyes of Dirty Dick. And, with a little discreet delay, the Demon might recover, when he could be relied upon to play his part with adroitness and ability. Accordingly, the matron was urged to try her ministering hand first, amid the chaff, which, even in emergencies, slips so easily out of boys' mouths.

"Mrs. Puttick, you're better than any doctor—Scaife is all right, really. We knew that he was subject to fits—Rather! Some one was telling me that one of his aunts died in a fit"—"Shut up, you silly fool," this in a whisper, emphasized by a kick; "do you want to send her out of this with a hornets' nest tied to her back hair?—That's a lie, Mrs. Puttick. He's humbugging you. Scaife told me that his fits were nothing. Yes; he had a slight sun-stroke when he was a kid, you know, and the least bit of excitement affects him."

"Perhaps I'd better fetch a drop of brandy," said Mrs. Puttick, staring anxiously at Scaife. "He looks very bad."

"Yes, please do, Mrs. Puttick."

She bustled away.

"Now we must bring him to," said the Fifth Form.

Everything was tried, even to the expedient of flicking Scaife's body with a wet towel; but the body lay motionless, his face horribly red against the white pillow, his heavy breathing growing more laboured and louder. And despite the perfume of the eau de Cologne which had drenched pillow and pyjamas, the smell of whisky spread terror to the crowd. If Rutford came in, he would swoop on the truth.

"We'll souse the brandy all over him," said the Caterpillar; "and then no one can guess."

"How about burnt feathers?" suggested Lovell. He had seen a fainting housemaid treated with this family restorative.

Mrs. Puttick appeared with the brandy, which Lovell administered externally. Still, Scaife remained unconscious. Then a pillow was ripped open, and enough feathers burned to restore—as the Caterpillar put it afterwards—a ruined cathedral. The stench filled the passage and brought to No. 15 a chattering crowd of Lower Boys. And then the conviction seized everybody that Scaife was going to die.

"Make way, make way, please!"

It was Rutford, who, followed by Lawrence, strode down the passage into No. 15, and up to the bed.

"If you please, sir," said Lovell, "Scaife has had a fit."

"It looks like a fit," said Rutford, gravely. "I have telephoned for the doctor. You've tried," he sniffed the air, "all the wrong remedies, of course. Feathers—phaugh!—perfume—brandy! The boy must be propped up and the blood drawn from his head by applying hot water to his feet."

The Fifth exchanged glances. Why had this not occurred to them? What a fool Mrs. Puttick was!

"A rush of blood to the head!" Rutford liked to hold forth, and he had been told that he was a capital after-dinner speaker. He had just risen from an excellent dinner; he was not much alarmed; and his audience listened with flattering attention. Scaife was lifted into a chair; ice was applied to his head; his feet were thrust into a "tosh" filled with steaming water.

"Note the effect," said Rutford. Already a slight change might be perceived; the breathing became easier, the face less red. Rutford continued in his best manner: "Mark the vis medicatrix naturae. Nature, assisted by hot water, gently accomplishes her task. Very simple, and not one of you had the wit to think of a remedy close at hand, and so easy to administer. The breathing is becoming normal. In a few minutes I predict that we shall have the satisfaction of seeing the poor dear fellow open his eyes, and he will tell us that he is but little the worse. Yes, yes, a rush of blood to the head producing cerebral disturbance."

He smiled blandly, receiving the homage of the Fifth.

"And now, Lovell, what do you know about this? Did this fit take place here?"

"In my room, sir."

"In your room—eh? What was Scaife, a Lower Boy, doing in your room?"

"Lawrence gave him his 'fez' to-day, sir."

Lawrence nodded.

"Ah! And Scaife was excited, perhaps unduly excited—eh?"

The Fifth joined in a chorus of, "Yes, sir—Oh, yes, sir—awfully excited, sir—never saw a boy so excited, sir."

"That will do. Now, Lovell, go on!"

"We had some siphons in our room, sir." A stroke of genius this—for the siphons were still on the table and the syrups, and the debris of cakes and meringues. Rutford would be sure to examine the scene of the catastrophe; and the whisky bottle was carefully hidden. "We were having a spread, sir, and we asked Scaife to join us. His play to-day made him one of us."

The other boys gazed admiringly at Lovell. What a cool, knowing hand!

"Yes, yes, I see nothing objectionable about that."

"Well, sir—we were rather noisy——"

"Go on."

"To speak the exact truth, sir, I fear we were very noisy; and Trieve, it seems, heard us. Instead of sending for me, sir, he sent Verney for Scaife——"

"Ah!"

Lovell's hesitation at this point was really worthy of Coquelin cadet.

"Of course you know, sir, that Scaife's getting his 'fez' releases him from house-fagging. We thought Trieve had forgotten that, sir; and that it would be rather fun—I'm not excusing myself, sir—we thought it would be a harmless joke if we persuaded Scaife not to go."

"Um!"

"We were very foolish, sir. And then Trieve sent another message saying that Scaife was to go to his room at once to be—whopped."

"To be whopped. Um! Rather drastic that, very drastic under the circumstances."

"So we thought, sir; and I went to represent the facts to Trieve——"

"Well?"

"I'm not much of a peacemaker, I fear, sir. Trieve refused to listen to me. He insisted upon whopping Scaife for what he called disobedience and impudence. Upon my honour, sir, I tried, we all tried, to persuade Scaife to take his whopping quietly, but he seemed to go quite mad. He has a violent temper, sir——"

"Yes, yes."

"A very violent temper. He—he——"

"Frothed at the mouth," put in a bystander. "I particularly noticed that."

"Really, really——"

"Yes," said Lovell, nodding his head reflectively. "He frothed at the mouth, and then——"

"Grew quite black in the face," interpolated a third boy, who was determined that Lovell should not carry off all the honours.

"I should say—purple," amended Lovell. "And then he gave——"

"A beastly gurgle——"

"A sort of snort, and fell flat on his face. I'm not sure that he didn't strike the edge of the table as he fell."

"He did," said one of the boys. "I saw that."

At this moment Scaife moved in his chair, drawing all eyes to his face. John, peering from behind the circle of big boys, could see the first signs of returning consciousness, a flicker of the eyelids, a convulsive tremor of the limbs. Rutford bent down.

"Well, my dear Scaife, how are you? We've been a little anxious, all of us, but, I ventured to predict, without cause. Tell us, my poor boy, how do you feel?"

Scaife opened his eyes. Then he groaned dismally. Rutford was standing to the right of the chair and foot-bath. The Fifth were facing Scaife. He met their anxious, admonishing glances, unable to interpret them.

Lovell senior repeated the house-master's question—

"How are you, old chap?"

But, in his anxiety to convey a warning, he came too near, obscuring Rutford's massive figure. Scaife groaned again, putting his hand to his head.

"How am I?" he repeated thickly. "Why, why, I'm jolly well screwed, Lovell; that's how I am! Jolly well screwed—hay? Ugh! how screwed I am. Ugh!"

The groans fell on a terrifying silence. Rutford glanced keenly from face to face. Then he said slowly—

"The wretched boy is—drunk!"

At the sound of his house-master's voice, Scaife relapsed into an insensibility which no one at the moment cared to pronounce counterfeit or genuine. Rutford glared at Lovell.

"Who was in your room, Lovell?"

Without waiting for Lovell to answer, the other boys, each in turn, said, "I, sir," or "Me, sir." John came last.

"Anybody else, Lovell?"

A discreet master would not have asked this question, but Dirty Dick was the last man to waive an advantage. Now, the Caterpillar had quietly left No. 15, as soon as Rutford entered it. Not from any cowardly motive, but—as he put it afterwards—"because one makes a point of retiring whenever a rank outsider appears. One ought to be particular about the company one keeps." It says something for the boy's character, that this statement was accepted by the house as unvarnished truth. Lovell glanced at the other Fifth Form boys, as Rutford repeated the question.

"Anybody else, Lovell? Be careful how you answer me!"

"Nobody else," said Lovell.

"On your honour, sir?"

"On my honour, sir."

And, later, all Manorites declared that Lovell had lied like a gentleman. Rutford and he stared at each other, the boy pale, but self-possessed, the big, burly man flushed and ill at ease.

"You will all go to my study. A word with you, Lawrence."

The boys filed quietly out. Rutford looked at John and Fluff. Large, fat tears were trickling down Fluff's cheeks. Somehow he felt convinced that John was involved in a frightful row.

"Run away, Kinloch," said his house-master. "I wish to speak with Lawrence and Verney."

He turned to Lawrence as he spoke. John glanced at Scaife. His eyes were open. Silently, Scaife placed a trembling finger upon his lips. The action, the expression in the eyes, were unmistakable. John understood, as plainly as if Scaife had spoken, that silence, where expulsion impended, was not only expedient but imperative. Kinloch crept out of the room. Rutford examined Scaife, who feigned insensibility. Then he addressed Lawrence.

"Go to Lovell's room, Lawrence, and institute a thorough search. If you find wine or spirits, let me know at once."

Lawrence left the room.

"Now, Verney, I am going to ask you a few questions." He assumed his rasping, truculent tone. "And don't you dare to tell me lies, sir!"

John was about to repudiate warmly his house-master's brutal injunction, when the habit of thinking before he spoke closed his half-opened lips. Immediately, his face assumed the obstinate, expressionless look which made those who searched no deeper than the surface pronounce him a dull boy. Rutford, for instance, interpreted this stolidity as unintelligence and lack of perception. John, meantime, was struggling with a thought which shaped itself slowly into a plan of action. He had just heard Lovell lie to save the Caterpillar. John knew well enough that he might be called upon to lie also, to save not himself, but Scaife. If he held his tongue and refused to answer questions, Rutford would assume, and with reason, that Scaife had been made drunk by the Fifth Form fellows.

Then John said quietly, "I am not a liar, sir."

"Certainly, I have never detected you in a lie," said Rutford.

"All the same," continued John, in a hesitating manner, "I would lie, if I thought a lie might save a friend's life."

Rutford was so unprepared for this deliberate statement, that he could only reply—

"Oh, you would, would you?"

"Yes," said John; then he added, "Any decent boy or man would."

"Oh! Oh, indeed! This is very interesting. Go on, Verney."

"Scaife said he felt as if he was jolly well screwed, sir; but he isn't. I'm quite sure he isn't. He may feel like it; but he isn't."

John could see Scaife's eyes, slightly blood-shot, but sparkling with a sort of diabolical sobriety. At that moment, one thing alone seemed certain, Scaife had regained full possession of his faculties. Rutford stared at John, frowning.

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