The Captain, February 1905
fenn hunts for himself.
OBODY knows for certain the feelings of the camel when his proprietor placed that last straw on his back. The incident happened so long ago. If it had occurred in modern times, he would probably have contributed a first-hand report to the Daily Mail. But it is very likely that he felt on that occasion exactly as Fenn felt when, after a night of unparalleled misadventure, he found that somebody had cut off his retreat by latching the window. After a gruelling race Fate had just beaten him on the tape.
There was no doubt about its being latched. The sash had not merely stuck. He put all he knew into the effort to raise it, but without a hint of success. After three attempts he climbed down again and, sitting on the garden-seat, began to review his position.
If one has an active mind and a fair degree of optimism, the effect of the “staggerers” administered by Fate passes off after a while. Fenn had both. The consequence was that, after ten minutes of grey despair, he was relieved by a faint hope that there might be some other way into the house than through his study. Anyhow, it would be worth while to investigate.
His study was at the side of the house. At the back were the kitchen, the scullery, and the dining-room, and above these more studies and a couple of dormitories. As a last resort he might fling rocks and other solids at the windows until he woke somebody up. But he did not feel like trying this plan until every other had failed. He had no desire to let a garrulous dormitory into the secret of his wanderings. What he hoped was that he might find one of the lower windows open.
And so he did.
As he turned the corner of the house he saw what he had been looking for. The very first window was wide open. His spirits shot up, and for the first time since he had left the theatre he was conscious of taking a pleasure in his adventurous career. Fate was with him after all. He could not help smiling as he remembered how he had felt during that ten minutes on the garden-seat, when the future seemed blank and devoid of any comfort whatsoever. And all the time he could have got in without an effort, if he had only thought of walking half a dozen yards.
Now that the way was open to him, he wasted no time. He climbed through into the dark room. He was not certain which room it was, in spite of his lengthy residence at Kay’s.
He let himself down softly till his foot touched the floor. After a moment’s pause he moved forward a step. Then another. At the third step his knee struck the leg of a table. He must be in the dining-room. If so, he was all right. He could find his way up to his room with his eyes shut. It was easy to find out for certain. The walls of the dining-room at Kay’s, as in the other houses, were covered with photographs. He walked gingerly in the direction in which he imagined the nearest wall to be, reached it, and passed his hand along it. Yes, there were photographs. Then all he had to do was to find the table again, make his way along it, and when he got to the end the door would be a yard or so to his left. The programme seemed simple and attractive. But it was added to in a manner which he had not foreseen. Feeling his way back to the table, he upset a chair. If he had upset a cart-load of coal on to a sheet of tin it could not, so it seemed to him in the disordered state of his nerves, have made more noise. It went down with an appalling crash, striking the table on its way. “This,” thought Fenn, savagely, as he waited, listening, “is where I get collared. What a fool I am to barge about like this.”
He felt that the echoes of that crash must have penetrated to every corner of the house. But no one came. Perhaps, after all, the noise had not been so great. He proceeded on his journey down the table, feeling every inch of the way. The place seemed one bristling mass of chairs. But, by the exercise of consummate caution, he upset no more and won through at last in safety to the door.
It was at this point that the really lively and exciting part of his adventure began. Compared with what was to follow, his evening had been up to the present dull and monotonous.
As he opened the door there was a sudden stir and crash at the other end of the room. Fenn had upset one chair and the noise had nearly deafened him. Now chairs seemed to be falling in dozens. Bang! Bang! Crash!! (two that time). And then somebody shot through the window like a harlequin and dashed away across the lawn. Fenn could hear his footsteps thudding on the soft turf. And at the same moment other footsteps made themselves heard.
Somebody was coming downstairs.
“Who is that? Is anybody there?”
It was Mr. Kay’s voice, unmistakably nervous. Fenn darted from the door and across the passage. At the other side was a boot-cupboard. It was his only refuge in that direction. What he ought to have done was to leave the dining-room by the opposite door, which led viâ a corridor to the junior dayroom. But he lost his head, and instead of bolting away from the enemy, went towards him.
The stairs down which Mr. Kay was approaching were at the end of the passage. To reach the dining-room one turned to the right. Beyond the stairs on the left the passage ended in a wall, so that Mr. Kay was bound to take the right direction in the search. Fenn wondered if he had a pistol. Not that he cared very much. If the house-master was going to find him, it would be very little extra discomfort to be shot at. And Mr. Kay’s talents as a marksman were in all probability limited to picking off sitting haystacks. The important point was that he had a candle. A faint yellow glow preceded him down the stairs. Playing hide-and-seek with him in the dark, Fenn might have slipped past in safety; but the candle made that impossible.
He found the boot-room door and slipped through just as Mr. Kay turned the corner. With a thrill of pleasure he found that there was a key inside. He turned it as quietly as he could, but nevertheless it grated. Having done this, and seeing nothing else that he could do except await developments, he sat down on the floor among the boots. It was not a dignified position for a man who had played for his county while still at school, but just then he would not have exchanged it for a throne—if the throne had been placed in the passage or the dining-room.
The only question was—had he been seen or heard? He thought not; but his heart began to beat furiously as the footsteps stopped outside the cupboard door and unseen fingers rattled the handle.
Twice Mr. Kay tried the handle, but, finding the cupboard locked, passed on into the dining-room. The light of the candle ceased to shine under the door, and Fenn was once more in inky darkness.
He listened intently. A minute later he had made his second mistake. Instead of waiting, as he should have done, until Mr. Kay had retired for good, he unlocked the door directly he had passed, and when a muffled crash told him that the house-master was in the dining-room among the chairs, out he came and fled softly upstairs towards his bedroom. He thought that Mr. Kay might possibly take it into his head to go round the dormitories to make certain that all the members of his house were in. In which case all would be discovered.
When he reached his room he began to fling off his clothes with feverish haste. Once in bed all would be well.
He had got out of his boots, his coat, and his waistcoat, and was beginning to feel that electric sensation of triumph which only comes to the man who just pulls through, when he heard Mr. Kay coming down the corridor towards his room. The burglar-hunter, returning from the dining-room in the full belief that the miscreant had escaped through the open window, had had all his ardour for the chase redoubled by the sight of the cupboard door, which Fenn in his hurry had not remembered to close. Mr. Kay had made certain by two separate trials that that door had been locked. And now it was wide open. Ergo, the apostle of the jemmy and the skeleton key must still be in the house. Mr. Kay, secure in the recollection that burglars never show fight if they can possibly help it, determined to search the house.
Fenn made up his mind swiftly. There was no time to finish dressing. Mr. Kay, peering round, might note the absence of the rest of his clothes from their accustomed pegs if he got into bed as he was. There was only one thing to be done. He threw back the bed-clothes, ruffled the sheets till the bed looked as if it had been slept in, and opened the door just as Mr. Kay reached the threshold.
“Anything the matter, sir?” asked Fenn, promptly. “I heard a noise downstairs. Can I help you?”
Mr. Kay looked carefully at the ex-head of his house. Fenn was a finely-developed youth. He stood six feet, and all of him that was not bone was muscle. A useful colleague to have by one in a hunt for a possibly ferocious burglar.
So thought Mr. Kay.
“So you heard the noise?” he said. “Well, perhaps you had better come with me. There is no doubt that a burglar has entered the house to-night, in spite of the fact that I locked all the windows myself. Your study window was unlocked, Fenn. It was extremely careless of you to leave it in such a condition, and I hope you will be more careful in future. Why, somebody might have got in through it.”
Fenn thought it was not at all unlikely.
“Come along, then. I am sure the man is still in the house. He was hiding in the cupboard by the dining-room. I know it. I am sure he is still in the house.”
But, in spite of the fact that Fenn was equally sure, half an hour’s search failed to discover any lurking evil-doer.
“You had better go to bed, Fenn,” said Mr. Kay, disgustedly, at the end of that period. “He must have got back in some extraordinary manner.”
“Yes, sir,” agreed Fenn.
He himself had certainly got back in a very extraordinary manner.
However, he had got back, which was the main point.
a vain quest.
FTER all he had gone through that night, it disturbed Fenn very little to find on the following morning that the professional cracksman had gone off with one of the cups in his study. Certainly, it was not as bad as it might have been, for he had only abstracted one out of the half dozen that decorated the room. Fenn was a fine runner, and had won the “sprint” events at the sports for two years now.
The news of the burglary at Kay’s soon spread about the school. Mr. Kay mentioned it to Mr. Mulholland, and Mr. Mulholland discussed it at lunch with the prefects of his house. The juniors of Kay’s were among the last to hear of it, but when they did, they made the most of it, to the disgust of the School House fags, to whom the episode seemed in the nature of an infringement of copyright. Several spirited by-battles took place that day owing to this, and at the lower end of the table of Kay’s dining-room at tea that evening there could be seen many swollen countenances. All, however, wore pleased smiles. They had proved to the School House their right to have a burglary of their own if they liked. It was the first occasion since Kennedy had become head of the house that Kay’s had united in a common and patriotic cause.
Directly afternoon school was over that day, Fenn started for the town. The only thing that caused him any anxiety now was the fear lest the cap which he had left in the house in the High Street might rise up as evidence against him later on. Except for that, he was safe. The headmaster had evidently not remembered his absence from the festive board, or he would have spoken to him on the subject before now. If he could but recover the lost cap, all would be right with the world. Give him back that cap, and he would turn over a new leaf with a rapidity and emphasis which would lower the world’s record for that performance. He would be a reformed character. He would even go to the extent of calling a truce with Mr. Kay, climbing down to Kennedy, and offering him his services in his attempt to lick the house into shape.
As a matter of fact, he had had this idea before. Jimmy Silver, who was in the position—common at school—of being very friendly with two people who were not on speaking terms, had been at him on the topic.
“It’s rot,” James had said, with perfect truth, “to see two chaps like you making idiots of themselves over a house like Kay’s. And it’s all your fault, too,” he had added frankly. “You know jolly well you aren’t playing the game. You ought to be backing Kennedy up all the time. Instead of which, you go about trying to look like a Christian martyr——”
“I don’t,” said Fenn, indignantly.
“Well, like a stuffed frog, then—it’s all the same to me. It’s perfect rot. If I’m walking with Kennedy, you stalk past as if we’d both got the plague or something. And if I’m with you, Kennedy suddenly remembers an appointment, and dashes off at a gallop in the opposite direction. If I had to award the bronze medal for drivelling lunacy in this place, you would get it by a narrow margin, and Kennedy would be proxime, and honourably mentioned. Silly idiots!”
“Don’t stop, Jimmy. Keep it up,” said Fenn, settling himself in his chair. The dialogue was taking place in Silver’s study.
“My dear chap, you didn’t think I’d finished, surely! I was only trying to find some description that would suit you. But it’s no good. I can’t. Look here, take my advice—the advice,” he added, in the melodramatic voice he was in the habit of using whenever he wished to conceal the fact that he was speaking seriously, “of an old man who wishes ye both well. Go to Kennedy, fling yourself on his chest, and say, ‘We have done those things which we ought not to have done—— No. As you were! Compn’y, ’shun! Say J. Silver says that I am a rotter. I am a worm. I have made an ass of myself. But I will be good. Shake, pard!’ That’s what you’ve got to do. Come in.”
And in had come Kennedy. The attractions of Kay’s were small, and he usually looked in on Jimmy Silver in the afternoons.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, as he saw Fenn. “I thought you were alone, Jimmy.”
“I was just going,” said Fenn, politely.
“Oh, don’t let me disturb you,” protested Kennedy, with winning courtesy.
“Not at all,” said Fenn.
“Oh, if you really were——”
“Oh, yes, really.”
“Get out, then,” growled Jimmy, who had been listening in speechless disgust to the beautifully polite conversation just recorded. “I’ll forward that bronze medal to you, Fenn.”
And as the door closed he had turned to rend Kennedy as he had rent Fenn; while Fenn walked back to Kay’s feeling that there was a good deal in what Jimmy had said.
So that when he went down town that afternoon in search of his cap, he pondered as he walked over the advisability of making a fresh start. It would not be a bad idea. But first he must concentrate his energies on recovering what he had lost.
He found the house in the High Street without a great deal of difficulty, for he had marked the spot carefully as far as that had been possible in the fog.
The door was opened to him, not by the old man with whom he had exchanged amenities on the previous night, but by a short, thick fellow, who looked exactly like a picture of a loafer from the pages of a comic journal. He eyed Fenn with what might have been meant for an inquiring look. To Fenn it seemed merely menacing.
“Wodyer want?” he asked, abruptly.
Eckleton was not a great distance from London, and, as a consequence, many of London’s choicest blackguards migrated there from time to time. During the hopping season and while the local races were on, one might meet with two Cockney twangs for every country accent.
“I want to see the old gentleman who lives here,” said Fenn.
“Wot old gentleman?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know his name. Is this a home for old gentlemen? If you’ll bring out all you’ve got, I’ll find my one.”
“Wodyer want see the old gentleman for?”
“To ask for my cap. I left it here last night.”
“Oh, yer left it ’ere last night! Well, yer cawn’t see ’im.”
“Not from here, no,” agreed Fenn. “Being only eyes, you see,” he quoted happily, “my wision’s limited. But if you wouldn’t mind moving out of the way——?”
“Yer cawn’t see ’im. Blimey, ’ow much more of it, I should like to know? Gerroutovit, cawn’t yer! You and yer caps.”
And he added a searching expletive by way of concluding the sentence fittingly. After which he slipped back and slammed the door, leaving Fenn waiting outside like the Peri at the gate of Paradise.
His resemblance to the Peri ceased after the first quarter of a minute. That lady, we read, took her expulsion lying down. Fenn was more vigorous. He seized the knocker, and banged lustily on the door. He had given up all hope of getting back the cap. All he wanted was to get the doorkeeper out into the open again, when he would proceed to show him, to the best of his ability, what was what. It would not be the first time he had taken on a gentleman of the same class and a similar type of conversation.
But the man refused to be drawn. For all the reply Fenn’s knocking produced, the house might have been empty. At last, having tired his wrist and collected a small crowd of Young Eckleton, who looked as if they expected him to proceed to further efforts for their amusement, he gave it up, and retired down the High Street with what dignity he could command—which, as he was followed for the first fifty yards by the silent but obviously expectant youths, was not a great deal.
They left him, disappointed, near the Town Hall, and Fenn continued on his way alone. The window of the grocer’s shop, with its tins of preserved apricots and pots of jam, recalled to his mind what he had forgotten, that the food at Kay’s, though it might be wholesome (which he doubted), was undeniably plain, and, secondly, that he had run out of jam. Now that he was here he might as well supply that deficiency.
Now it chanced that Master Wren, of Kay’s, was down town—without leave, as was his habit—on an errand of a very similar nature. Walton had found that he, like Fenn, lacked those luxuries of life which are so much more necessary than necessities, and, being unable to go himself, owing to the unfortunate accident of being kept in by his form-master, had asked Wren to go for him. Wren’s visit to the grocer’s was just ending when Fenn’s began.
They met in the doorway.
Wren looked embarrassed, and nearly dropped a pot of honey, which he secured low down after the manner of a catch in the slips. Fenn, on the other hand, took no notice of his fellow-Kayite, but walked on into the shop and began to inspect the tins of biscuits which were stacked on the floor by the counter.
the guile of wren.
REN did not quite know what to make of this. Why had not Fenn said a word to him? There were one or two prefects in the school whom he might have met even at such close quarters and yet have cherished a hope that they had not seen him. Once he had run right into Drew, of the School House, and escaped unrecognised. But with Fenn it was different. Compared to Fenn, lynxes were astigmatic. He must have spotted him.
There was a vein of philosophy in Wren’s composition. He felt that he might just as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. In other words, having been caught down town without leave, he might as well stay there and enjoy himself a little while longer before going back to be executed. So he strolled off down the High Street, bought a few things at a stationer’s, and wound up with an excellent tea at the confectioner’s by the post-office.
It was as he was going to this meal that Kennedy caught sight of him. Kennedy had come down town to visit the local photographer, to whom he had entrusted a fortnight before the pleasant task of taking his photograph. As he had heard nothing from him since, he was now coming to investigate. He entered the High Street as Wren was turning into the confectioner’s, saw him, and made a note of it for future reference.
When Wren returned to the house just before lock-up he sought counsel of Walton.
“I say,” he said, as he handed over the honey he had saved so neatly from destruction, “what would you do? Just as I was coming out of the shop, I barged into Fenn. He must have twigged me.”
“Didn’t he say anything?”
“Not a word. I couldn’t make it out, because he must have seen me. We weren’t a yard away from one another.”
“It’s dark in the shop,” suggested Walton.
“Not at the door; which is where we met.”
Before Walton could find anything to say in reply to this, their conversation was interrupted by Spencer.
“Kennedy wants you, Wren,” said Spencer. “You’d better buck up; he’s in an awful wax.”
Next to Walton, the vindictive Spencer objected most to Wren, and he did not attempt to conceal the pleasure he felt in being the bearer of this ominous summons.
The group broke up. Wren went disconsolately upstairs to Kennedy’s study; Walton smacked Spencer’s head—more as a matter of form than because he had done anything special to annoy him—and retired to the senior dayroom; while Spencer, muttering darkly to himself, avoided a second smack and took cover in the junior room, where he consoled himself by toasting a piece of india-rubber in the gas till it made the atmosphere painful to breathe in, and recalling with pleasure the condition Walton’s face had been in for the day or two following his encounter with Kennedy in the dormitory.
Kennedy was working when Wren knocked at his door.
He had not much time to spare on a bounds-breaking fag; and his manner was curt.
“I saw you going into Rose’s, in the High Street, this afternoon, Wren,” he said, looking up from his Greek prose. “I didn’t give you leave. Come up here after prayers to-night. Shut the door.”
Wren went down to consult Walton again. His attitude with regard to a licking from the head of the house was much like that of the other fags. Custom had, to a certain extent, inured him to these painful interviews, but still, if it was possible, he preferred to keep out of them. Under Fenn’s rule he had often found a tolerably thin excuse serve his need. Fenn had so many other things to do that he was not unwilling to forego an occasional licking, if the excuse was good enough. And he never took the trouble to find out whether the ingenious stories Wren was wont to serve up to him were true or not. Kennedy, Wren reflected uncomfortably, had given signs that this easy-going method would not do for him. Still, it might be possible to hunt up some story that would meet the case. Walton had a gift in that direction.
“He says I’m to go to his study after prayers,” reported Wren. “Can’t you think of any excuse that would do?”
“Can’t understand Fenn running you in,” said Walton. “I thought he never spoke to Kennedy.”
“It wasn’t Fenn who ran me in. Kennedy was down town, too, and twigged me going into Rose’s. I went there and had tea after I got your things at the grocer’s.”
“Oh, he spotted you himself, did he?” said Walton. “And he doesn’t know Fenn saw you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then I’ve got a ripping idea. When he has you up to-night, swear that you got leave from Fenn to go down town.”
“But he’ll ask him.”
“The odds are that he won’t. He and Fenn had a row at the beginning of term, and never speak to one another if they can help it. It’s ten to one that he will prefer taking your yarn to going and asking Fenn if it’s true or not. Then he’s bound to let you off.”
Wren admitted that the scheme was sound.
At the conclusion of prayers, therefore, he went up again to Kennedy’s study, with a more hopeful air than he had worn on his previous visit.
“Come in,” said Kennedy, reaching for the swagger-stick which he was accustomed to use at these ceremonies.
“Please, Kennedy,” said Wren, glibly. “I did get leave to go down town this afternoon.”
Wren repeated the assertion.
“Who gave you leave?”
The thing did not seem to be working properly. When he said the word “Fenn,” Wren expected to see Kennedy retire baffled, conscious that there was nothing more to be said or done. Instead of this, the remark appeared to infuriate him.
“It’s just like your beastly cheek,” he said, glaring at the red-headed delinquent, “to ask Fenn for leave instead of me. You know perfectly well that only the head of the house can give leave to go down town. I don’t know how often you and the rest of the junior dayroom have played this game, but it’s going to stop now. You’d better remember another time when you want to go to Rose’s that I’ve got to be consulted first.”
With which he proceeded to ensure to the best of his ability that the memory of Master Wren should not again prove treacherous in this respect.
“How did it work?” asked Walton, when Wren returned.
“It didn’t,” said Wren, briefly.
Walton expressed an opinion that Kennedy was a cad; which, however sound in itself, did little to improve the condition of Wren.
Having disposed of Wren, Kennedy sat down seriously to consider this new development of a difficult situation. Hitherto he had imagined Fenn to be merely a sort of passive resister who confined himself to the Achilles-in-his-tent business, and was only a nuisance because he refused to back him up. To find him actually aiding and abetting the house in its opposition to its head was something of a shock. And yet, if he had given Wren leave to go down town, he had probably done the same kind office by others. It irritated Kennedy more than the most overt act of enmity would have done. It was not good form. It was hitting below the belt. There was, of course, the chance that Wren’s story had not been true. But he did not build much on that. He did not yet know his Wren well, and believed that such an audacious lie would be beyond the daring of a fag. But it would be worth while to make inquiries. He went down the passage to Fenn’s study. Fenn, however, had gone to bed, so he resolved to approach him on the subject next day. There was no hurry.
He went to his dormitory, feeling very bitter towards Fenn, and rehearsing home truths with which to confound him on the morrow.
jimmy the peacemaker.
N these hustling times it is not always easy to get ten minutes’ conversation with an acquaintance in private. There was drill in the dinner hour next day for the corps, to which Kennedy had to go directly after lunch. It did not end till afternoon school began. When afternoon school was over he had to turn out and practise scrummaging with the first fifteen, in view of an important school match which was coming off on the following Saturday. Kennedy had not yet received his cap, but he was playing regularly for the first fifteen, and was generally looked upon as a certainty for one of the last places in the team. Fenn, being a three-quarter, had not to participate in this practice. While the forwards were scrummaging on the second fifteen ground, the outsides ran and passed on the first fifteen ground over at the other end of the field. Fenn’s training for the day finished earlier than Kennedy’s, the captain of the Eckleton fifteen, who led the scrum, not being satisfied with the way in which the forwards wheeled. He kept them for a quarter of an hour after the outsides had done their day’s work, and when Kennedy got back to the house and went to Fenn’s study, the latter was not there. He had evidently changed and gone out again, for his football clothes were lying in a heap in a corner of the room. Going back to his own study, he met Spencer.
“Have you seen Fenn?” he asked.
“No,” said the fag. “He hasn’t come in.”
“He’s come in all right, but he’s gone out again. Go and ask Taylor if he knows where he is.”
Taylor was Fenn’s fag.
Spencer went to the junior dayroom, and returned with the information that Taylor did not know.
“Oh, all right, then—it doesn’t matter,” said Kennedy, and went into his study to change.
He had completed this operation, and was thinking of putting his kettle on for tea, when there was a knock at the door.
It was Baker, Jimmy Silver’s fag.
“Oh, Kennedy,” he said, “Silver says if you aren’t doing anything special will you go over to his study to tea?”
“Why, is there anything on?”
It struck him as curious that Jimmy should take the trouble to send his fag over to Kay’s with a formal invitation. As a rule the head of Blackburn’s kept open house. His friends were given to understand that they could drop in whenever they liked. Kennedy looked in for tea three times a week on an average.
“I don’t think so,” said Baker.
“Who else is going to be there?”
Jimmy Silver sometimes took it into his head to entertain weird beings from other houses whose brothers or cousins he had met in the holidays. On such occasions he liked to have some trusty friend by him to help the conversation along. It struck Kennedy that this might be one of those occasions. If so, he would send back a polite but firm refusal of the invitation. Last time he had gone to help Jimmy entertain a guest of this kind, conversation had come to a dead standstill a quarter of an hour after his arrival, the guest refusing to do anything except eat prodigiously, and reply “Yes,” or “No,” as the question might demand, when spoken to. Also he had declined to stir from his seat till a quarter to seven. Kennedy was not going to be let in for another orgy of that nature if he knew it.
“Who’s with Silver?” he asked.
“Only Fenn,” said Baker.
Kennedy pondered for a moment.
“All right,” he said, at last, “tell him I’ll be round in a few minutes.”
He sat thinking the thing over after Baker had gone back to Blackburn’s with the message. He saw Silver’s game, of course. Jimmy had made no secret for some time of his disgust at the coolness between Kennedy and Fenn. Not knowing all the circumstances, he considered it absolute folly. If only he could get the two together over a quiet pot of tea, he imagined that it would not be a difficult task to act effectively as a peacemaker.
Kennedy was sorry for Jimmy. He appreciated his feelings in the matter. He would not have liked it himself if his two best friends had been at daggers drawn. Still, he could not bring himself to treat Fenn as if nothing had happened, simply to oblige Silver. There had been a time when he might have done it, but now that Fenn had started a deliberate campaign against him by giving Wren—and probably, thought Kennedy, half the other fags in the house—leave down town when he ought to have sent them on to him, things had gone too far. However, he could do no harm by going over to Jimmy’s to tea, even if Fenn was there. He had not looked to interview Fenn before an audience, but if that audience consisted only of Jimmy, it would not matter so much.
His advent surprised Fenn. The astute James, fancying that if he mentioned that he was expecting Kennedy to tea, Fenn would make a bolt for it, had said nothing about it.
When Kennedy arrived there was one of those awkward pauses which are so difficult to fill up in a satisfactory manner.
“Now you’re up, Fenn,” said Jimmy, as the latter rose, evidently with the intention of leaving the study, “you might as well reach down that toasting-fork and make some toast.”
“I’m afraid I must be off now, Jimmy,” said Fenn.
“No you aren’t,” said Silver. “You bustle about and make yourself useful, and don’t talk rot. You’ll find your cup on that shelf over there, Kennedy. It’ll want a wipe round. Better use the table-cloth.”
There was silence in the study until tea was ready. Then Jimmy Silver spoke.
“Long time since we three had tea together,” he said, addressing the remark to the teapot.
“Kennedy’s a busy man,” said Fenn, suavely. “He’s got a house to look after.”
“And I’m going to look after it,” said Kennedy, “as you’ll find.”
Jimmy Silver put in a plaintive protest.
“I wish you two men wouldn’t talk shop,” he said. “It’s bad enough having Kay’s next door to one, without your dragging it into the conversation. How were the forwards this evening, Kennedy?”
“Not bad,” said Kennedy, shortly.
“I wonder if we shall lick Tuppenham on Saturday?”
“I don’t know,” said Kennedy; and there was silence again.
“Look here, Jimmy,” said Kennedy, after a long pause, during which the head of Blackburn’s tried to fill up the blank in the conversation by toasting a piece of bread in a way which was intended to suggest that if he were not so busy, the talk would be unchecked and animated, “it’s no good. We must have it out some time, so it may as well be here as anywhere else. I’ve been looking for Fenn all day.”
“Sorry to give you all that trouble,” said Fenn, with a sneer. “Got something important to say?”
“Go ahead, then.”
Jimmy Silver stood between them with the toasting-fork in his hand, as if he meant to plunge it into the one who first showed symptoms of flying at the other’s throat. He was unhappy. His peace-making tea-party was not proving a success.
“I wanted to ask you,” said Kennedy, quietly, “what you meant by giving the fags leave down town when you knew that they ought to come to me?”
The gentle and intelligent reader will remember (though that miserable worm, the vapid and irreflective reader, will have forgotten) that at the beginning of the term the fags of Kay’s had endeavoured to show their approval of Fenn and their disapproval of Kennedy by applying to the former for leave when they wished to go to the town; and that Fenn had received them in the most ungrateful manner with blows instead of exeats. Strong in this recollection, he was not disturbed by Kennedy’s question. Indeed, it gave him a comfortable feeling of rectitude. There is nothing more pleasant than to be accused to your face of something which you can deny on the spot with an easy conscience. It is like getting a very loose ball at cricket. Fenn felt almost friendly towards Kennedy.
“I meant nothing,” he replied, “for the simple reason that I didn’t do it.”
“I caught Wren down town yesterday, and he said you had given him leave.”
“Then he lied, and I hope you licked him.”
“There you are, you see,” broke in Jimmy Silver triumphantly, “it’s all a misunderstanding. You two have got no right to be cutting one another. Why on earth can’t you stop all this rot, and behave like decent members of society again?”
“As a matter of fact,” said Fenn, “they did try it on earlier in the term. I wasted a lot of valuable time pointing out to them with a swagger-stick—that I was the wrong person to come to. I’m sorry you should have thought I could play it as low down as that.”
Kennedy hesitated. It is not very pleasant to have to climb down after starting a conversation in a stormy and wrathful vein. But it had to be done.
“I’m sorry, Fenn,” he said; “I was an idiot.”
Jimmy Silver cut in again.
“You were,” he said, with enthusiasm. “You both were. I used to think Fenn was a bigger idiot than you, but now I’m inclined to call it a dead heat. What’s the good of going on trying to see which of you can make the bigger fool of himself? You’ve both lowered all previous records.”
“I suppose we have,” said Fenn. “At least, I have.”
“No, I have,” said Kennedy.
“You both have,” said Jimmy Silver. “Another cup of tea, anybody? Say when.”
Fenn and Kennedy walked back to Kay’s together, and tea-d together in Fenn’s study on the following afternoon, to the amazement—and even scandal—of Master Spencer, who discovered them at it. Spencer liked excitement; and with the two leaders of the house at logger-heads, things could never be really dull. If, as appearances seemed to suggest, they had agreed to settle their differences, life would become monotonous again—possibly even unpleasant.
This thought flashed through Spencer’s brain (as he called it) when he opened Fenn’s door and found him helping Kennedy to tea.
“Oh, the Headmaster wants to see you, please, Fenn,” said Spencer, recovering from his amazement, “and told me to give you this.”
“This” was a prefect’s cap. Fenn recognised it without difficulty. It was the cap he had left in the sitting-room of the house in the High Street.
(To be concluded.)
We have done those things which we ought not to have done: From the General Confession in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
“being only eyes . . . my wision’s limited”: quoting Sam Weller from Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers, chapter 34.
Peri at the gate of Paradise: Thomas Moore (1779–1852), “Paradise and the Peri” from Lalla Rookh.
passive resister: At this time in British politics, this had nothing to do with military service, but referred to those of Nonconformist religious beliefs or anti-established-church philosophy who protested against paying taxes that might support Church of England doctrinal teaching in public schools.
Achilles in his tent: At the beginning of Homer’s Iliad, the hero Achilles falls out with Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces, over a girl; he sulks in his tent rather than fighting during a battle, and the Greek army suffers as a result of his refusal to fight. More of the story is at historyworld.net.
vapid and irreflective reader: Thomas De Quincey commented on a volume of poems by James Payn in 1853, saying that it “contains thoughts of great beauty, too likely to escape the vapid and irreflective reader,” and this phrase was quoted in advertisements for the book by Payn’s publisher. Payn told (in “Some Literary Recollections” in the Cornhill Magazine, 1884) how his fellow students at Trinity applied the epithet to Payn himself. We know Wodehouse enjoyed Payn (Charteris recommends his books to Tony Graham in “The Manœuvres of Charteris”), so there can be little doubt that the use of this phrase here is in homage to Payn.