The Captain, June 1908
the match with downing’s.
T is the curious instinct which prompts most people to rub a thing in that makes the lot of the average convert an unhappy one. Only the very self-controlled can refrain from improving the occasion and scoring off the convert. Most leap at the opportunity.
It was so in Mike’s case. Mike was not a genuine convert, but to Mr. Downing he had the outward aspect of one. When you have been impressing upon a non-cricketing boy for nearly a month that (a) the school is above all a keen school, (b) that all members of it should play cricket, and (c) that by not playing cricket he is ruining his chances in this world and imperilling them in the next; and when, quite unexpectedly, you come upon this boy dressed in cricket flannels, wearing cricket boots and carrying a cricket bag, it seems only natural to assume that you have converted him, that the seeds of your eloquence have fallen on fruitful soil and sprouted.
Mr. Downing assumed it.
He was walking to the field with Adair and another member of his team when he came upon Mike.
“What!” he cried. “Our Jackson clad in suit of mail and armed for the fray!”
This was Mr. Downing’s No. 2 manner—the playful.
“This is indeed Saul among the prophets. Why this sudden enthusiasm for a game which I understood that you despised? Are our opponents so reduced?”
Psmith, who was with Mike, took charge of the affair with a languid grace which had maddened hundreds in its time, and which never failed to ruffle Mr. Downing.
“We are, above all, sir,” he said, “a keen house. Drones are not welcomed by us. We are essentially versatile. Jackson, the archæologist of yesterday, becomes the cricketer of to-day. It is the right spirit, sir,” said Psmith earnestly. “I like to see it.”
“Indeed, Smith? You are not playing yourself, I notice. Your enthusiasm has bounds.”
“In our house, sir, competition is fierce, and the Selection Committee unfortunately passed me over.”
There were a number of pitches dotted about over the field, for there was always a touch of the London Park about it on mid-term service day. Adair, as captain of cricket, had naturally selected the best for his own match. It was a good wicket, Mike saw. As a matter of fact the wickets at Sedleigh were nearly always good. Adair had infected the ground-man with some of his own keenness, with the result that that once-leisurely official now found himself sometimes, with a kind of mild surprise, working really hard. At the beginning of the previous season Sedleigh had played a scratch team from a neighbouring town on a wicket which, except for the creases, was absolutely undistinguishable from the surrounding turf, and behind the pavilion after the match Adair had spoken certain home truths to the ground-man. The latter’s reformation had dated from that moment.
Barnes, timidly jubilant, came up to Mike with the news that he had won the toss, and the request that Mike would go in first with him.
In stories of the “Not Really a Duffer” type, where the nervous new boy, who has been found crying in the boot-room over the photograph of his sister, contrives to get an innings in a game, nobody suspects that he is really a prodigy till he hits the Bully’s first ball out of the ground for six.
With Mike it was different. There was no pitying smile on Adair’s face as he started his run preparatory to sending down the first ball. Mike, on the cricket field, could not have looked anything but a cricketer if he had turned out in a tweed suit and hobnail boots. Cricketer was written all over him—in his walk, in the way he took guard, in his stand at the wickets. Adair started to bowl with the feeling that this was somebody who had more than a little knowledge of how to deal with good bowling and punish bad.
Mike started cautiously. He was more than usually anxious to make runs to-day, and he meant to take no risks till he could afford to do so. He had seen Adair bowl at the nets, and he knew that he was good.
The first over was a maiden, six dangerous balls beautifully played. The fieldsmen changed over.
The general interest had now settled on the match between Outwood’s and Downing’s. The fact in Mike’s case had gone round the field, and, as several of the other games had not yet begun, quite a large crowd had collected near the pavilion to watch. Mike’s masterly treatment of the opening over had impressed the spectators, and there was a popular desire to see how he would deal with Mr. Downing’s slows. It was generally anticipated that he would do something special with them.
Off the first ball of the master’s over a leg-bye was run.
Mike took guard.
Mr. Downing was a bowler with a style of his own. He took two short steps, two long steps, gave a jump, took three more short steps, and ended with a combination of step and jump, during which the ball emerged from behind his back and started on its slow career to the wicket. The whole business had some of the dignity of the old-fashioned minuet, subtly blended with the careless vigour of a cakewalk. The ball, when delivered, was billed to break from leg, but the programme was subject to alterations.
If the spectators had expected Mike to begin any firework effects with the first ball, they were disappointed. He played the over through with a grace worthy of his brother Joe. The last ball he turned to leg for a single.
His treatment of Adair’s next over was freer. He had got a sight of the ball now. Half-way through the over a beautiful square cut forced a passage through the crowd by the pavilion, and dashed up against the rails. He drove the sixth ball past cover for three.
The crowd was now reluctantly dispersing to its own games, but it stopped as Mr. Downing started his minuet-cakewalk, in the hope that it might see something more sensational.
This time the hope was fulfilled.
The ball was well up, slow, and off the wicket on the on-side. Perhaps if it had been allowed to pitch, it might have broken in and become quite dangerous. Mike went out at it, and hit it a couple of feet from the ground. The ball dropped with a thud and a spurting of dust in the road that ran along one side of the cricket field.
It was returned on the instalment system by helpers from other games, and the bowler began his manœuvres again. A half-volley this time. Mike slammed it back, and mid-on, whose heart was obviously not in the thing, failed to stop it.
“Get to them, Jenkins,” said Mr. Downing irritably, as the ball came back from the boundary. “Get to them.”
“Sir, please, sir——”
“Don’t talk in the field, Jenkins.”
Having had a full-pitch hit for six and a half-volley for four, there was a strong probability that Mr. Downing would pitch his next ball short.
The expected happened. The third ball was a slow long-hop, and hit the road at about the same spot where the first had landed. A howl of untuneful applause rose from the watchers in the pavilion, and Mike, with the feeling that this sort of bowling was too good to be true, waited in position for number four.
There are moments when a sort of panic seizes a bowler. This happened now with Mr. Downing. He suddenly abandoned science and ran amok. His run lost its stateliness and increased its vigour. He charged up to the wicket as a wounded buffalo sometimes charges a gun. His whole idea now was to bowl fast.
When a slow bowler starts to bowl fast, it is usually as well to be batting, if you can manage it.
By the time the over was finished, Mike’s score had been increased by sixteen, and the total of his side, in addition, by three wides.
And a shrill, small voice from the neighbourhood of the pavilion uttered with painful distinctness the words, “Take him off!”
That was how the most sensational day’s cricket began that Sedleigh had known.
A description of the details of the morning’s play would be monotonous. It is enough to say that they ran on much the same lines as the third and fourth overs of the match. Mr. Downing bowled one more over, off which Mike helped himself to sixteen runs, and then retired moodily to cover-point, where, in Adair’s fifth over, he missed Barnes—the first occasion since the game began on which that mild batsman had attempted to score more than a single. Scared by this escape, Outwood’s captain shrank back into his shell, sat on the splice like a limpet, and, offering no more chances, was not out at lunch time with a score of eleven.
Mike had then made a hundred and three.
As Mike was taking off his pads in the pavilion, Adair came up.
“Why did you say you didn’t play cricket?” he asked abruptly.
When one has been bowling the whole morning, and bowling well, without the slightest success, one is inclined to be abrupt.
Mike finished unfastening an obstinate strap. Then he looked up.
“I didn’t say anything of the kind. I said I wasn’t going to play here. There’s a difference. As a matter of fact, I was in the Wrykyn team before I came here. Three years.”
Adair was silent for a moment.
“Will you play for us against the Old Sedleighans to-morrow?” he said at length.
Mike tossed his pads into his bag and got up.
There was a silence.
“Above it, I suppose?”
“Not a bit. Not up to it. I shall want a lot of coaching at that end net of yours before I’m fit to play for Sedleigh.”
There was another pause.
“Then you won’t play?” asked Adair.
“I’m not keeping you, am I?” said Mike politely.
It was remarkable what a number of members of Outwood’s house appeared to cherish a personal grudge against Mr. Downing. It had been that master’s somewhat injudicious practice for many years to treat his own house as a sort of Chosen People. Of all masters, the most unpopular is he who by the silent tribunal of a school is convicted of favouritism. And the dislike deepens if it is a house which he favours and not merely individuals. On occasions when boys in his own house and boys from other houses were accomplices and partners in wrong-doing, Mr. Downing distributed his thunderbolts unequally, and the school noticed it. The result was that not only he himself, but also—which was rather unfair—his house, too, had acquired a good deal of unpopularity.
The general consensus of opinion in Outwood’s during the luncheon interval was that, having got Downing’s up a tree, they would be fools not to make the most of the situation.
Barnes’s remark that he supposed, unless anything happened and wickets began to fall a bit faster, they had better think of declaring somewhere about half-past three or four, was met with a storm of opposition.
“Declare!” said Robinson. “Great Scott, what on earth are you talking about?”
“Declare!” Stone’s voice was almost a wail of indignation. “I never saw such a chump.”
“They’ll be rather sick if we don’t, won’t they?” suggested Barnes.
“Sick! I should think they would,” said Stone. “That’s just the gay idea. Can’t you see that by a miracle we’ve got a chance of getting a jolly good bit of our own back against those Downing’s ticks? What we’ve got to do is to jolly well keep them in the field all day if we can, and be jolly glad it’s so beastly hot. If they lose about a dozen pounds each through sweating about in the sun after Jackson’s drives, perhaps they’ll stick on less side about things in general in future. Besides, I want an innings against that bilge of old Downing’s, if I can get it.”
“So do I,” said Robinson.
“If you declare, I swear I won’t field. Nor will Robinson.”
“Well, I won’t then,” said Barnes unhappily. “Only you know they’re rather sick already.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” said Stone with a wide grin. “They’ll be a lot sicker before we’ve finished.”
And so it came about that that particular mid-term service-day match made history. Big scores had often been put up on mid-term service day. Games had frequently been one-sided. But it had never happened before in the annals of the school that one side, going in first early in the morning, had neither completed its innings nor declared it closed when stumps were drawn at 6.30. In no previous Sedleigh match, after a full day’s play, had the pathetic words “Did not bat” been written against the whole of one of the contending teams.
These are the things which mark epochs.
Play was resumed at 2.15. For a quarter of an hour Mike was comparatively quiet. Adair, fortified by food and rest, was bowling really well, and his first half-dozen overs had to be watched carefully. But the wicket was too good to give him a chance, and Mike, playing himself in again, proceeded to get to business once more. Bowlers came and went. Adair pounded away at one end with brief intervals between the attacks. Mr. Downing took a couple more overs, in one of which a horse, passing in the road, nearly had its useful life cut suddenly short. Change-bowlers of various actions and paces, each weirder and more futile than the last, tried their luck. But still the first-wicket stand continued.
The bowling of a house team is all head and no body. The first pair probably have some idea of length and break. The first-change pair are poor. And the rest, the small change, are simply the sort of things one sees in dreams after a heavy supper, or when one is out without one’s gun.
Time, mercifully, generally breaks up a big stand at cricket before the field has suffered too much, and that is what happened now. At four o’clock, when the score stood at two hundred and fifty-five for no wicket, Barnes, greatly daring, smote lustily at a rather wide half-volley, and was caught at a short-slip for thirty-three. He retired blushfully to the pavilion, amidst applause, and Stone came out.
As Mike had then made a hundred and eighty-seven, it was assumed by the field, that directly he had topped his second century, the closure would be applied and their ordeal finished. There was almost a sigh of relief when frantic cheering from the crowd told that the feat had been accomplished. The fieldsmen clapped in quite an indulgent sort of way, as who should say, “Capital, capital. And now let’s start our innings.” Some even began to edge towards the pavilion.
But the next ball was bowled, and the next over, and the next after that, and still Barnes made no sign. (The conscience-stricken captain of Outwood’s was, as a matter of fact, being practically held down by Robinson and other ruffians by force.)
A grey dismay settled on the field.
The bowling had now become almost unbelievably bad. Lobs were being tried, and Stone, nearly weeping with pure joy, was playing an innings of the How-to-brighten-cricket type. He had an unorthodox style, but an excellent eye, and the road at this period of the game became absolutely unsafe for pedestrians and traffic.
Mike’s pace had become slower, as was only natural, but his score, too, was mounting steadily.
“This is foolery,” snapped Mr. Downing, as the three hundred and fifty went up on the board. “Barnes!” he called.
There was no reply. A committee of three was at that moment engaged in sitting on Barnes’s head in the first eleven changing-room, in order to correct a more than usually feverish attack of conscience.
“Please, sir,” said Stone, some species of telepathy telling him what was detaining his captain, “I think Barnes must have left the field. He has probably gone over to the house to fetch something.”
“This is absurd. You must declare your innings closed. The game has become a farce.”
“Declare! Sir, we can’t unless Barnes does. He might be awfully annoyed if we did anything like that without consulting him.”
“He’s very touchy, sir.”
“It is perfect foolery.”
“I think Jenkins is just going to bowl, sir.”
Mr. Downing walked moodily to his place.
In a neat wooden frame in the senior
day-room at Outwood’s, just above the mantelpiece,
there was on view, a week later, a slip of paper.
The writing on it was as follows:
Outwood’s v. Downing’s.
Outwood’s. First Innings.
|J. P. Barnes, c. Hammond, b. Hassall . .||33|
|M. Jackson, not out . . . . .||277|
|W. J. Stone, not out . . . . .||124|
|Extras . . . . . .||37|
|Total (for one wicket) .||471|
Downing’s did not bat.
the singular behaviour of jellicoe.
UTWOOD’S rollicked considerably that night. Mike, if he had cared to take the part, could have been the Petted Hero. But a cordial invitation from the senior day-room to be the guest of the evening at about the biggest rag of the century had been refused on the plea of fatigue. One does not make two hundred and seventy-seven runs on a hot day without feeling the effects, even if one has scored mainly by the medium of boundaries; and Mike, as he lay back in Psmith’s deck-chair, felt that all he wanted was to go to bed and stay there for a week. His hands and arms burned as if they were red-hot, and his eyes were so tired that he could not keep them open.
Psmith, leaning against the mantelpiece, discoursed in a desultory way on the day’s happenings—the score off Mr. Downing, the undeniable annoyance of that battered bowler, and the probability of his venting his annoyance on Mike next day.
“In theory,” said he, “the manly what-d’you-call-it of cricket and all that sort of thing ought to make him fall on your neck to-morrow and weep over you as a foeman worthy of his steel. But I am prepared to bet a reasonable sum that he will give no Jiu-jitsu exhibition of this kind. In fact, from what I have seen of our bright little friend, I should say that, in a small way, he will do his best to make it distinctly hot for you, here and there.”
“I don’t care,” murmured Mike, shifting his aching limbs in the chair.
“In an ordinary way, I suppose, a man can put up with having his bowling hit a little. But your performance was cruelty to animals. Twenty-eight off one over, not to mention three wides, would have made Job foam at the mouth. You will probably get sacked. On the other hand, it’s worth it. You have lit a candle this day which can never be blown out. You have shown the lads of the village how Comrade Downing’s bowling ought to be treated. I don’t suppose he’ll ever take another wicket.”
“He doesn’t deserve to.”
Psmith smoothed his hair at the glass and turned round again.
“The only blot on this day of mirth and good-will is,” he said, “the singular conduct of our friend Jellicoe. When all the place was ringing with song and merriment, Comrade Jellicoe crept to my side, and, slipping his little hand in mine, touched me for three quid.”
This interested Mike, fagged as he was.
“What! Three quid!”
“Three jingling, clinking sovereigns. He wanted four.”
“But the man must be living at the rate of I don’t know what. It was only yesterday that he borrowed a quid from me!”
“He must be saving money fast. There appear to be the makings of a financier about Comrade Jellicoe. Well, I hope, when he’s collected enough for his needs, he’ll pay me back a bit. I’m pretty well cleaned out.”
“I got some from my brother at Oxford.”
“Perhaps he’s saving up to get married. We may be helping towards furnishing the home. There was a Siamese prince fellow at my dame’s at Eton who had four wives when he arrived, and gathered in a fifth during his first summer holidays. It was done on the correspondence system. His Prime Minister fixed it up at the other end, and sent him the glad news on a picture postcard. I think an eye ought to be kept on Comrade Jellicoe.”
Mike tumbled into bed that night like a log, but he could not sleep. He ached all over. Psmith chatted for a time on human affairs in general, and then dropped gently off. Jellicoe, who appeared to be wrapped in gloom, contributed nothing to the conversation.
After Psmith had gone to sleep, Mike lay for some time running over in his mind, as the best substitute for sleep, the various points of his innings that day. He felt very hot and uncomfortable.
Just as he was wondering whether it would not be a good idea to get up and have a cold bath, a voice spoke from the darkness at his side.
“Are you asleep, Jackson?”
“Me—Jellicoe. I can’t get to sleep.”
“Nor can I. I’m stiff all over.”
“I’ll come over and sit on your bed.”
There was a creaking, and then a weight descended in the neighbourhood of Mike’s toes.
Jellicoe was apparently not in conversational mood. He uttered no word for quite three minutes. At the end of which time he gave a sound midway between a snort and a sigh.
“I say, Jackson!” he said.
“Have you—oh, nothing.”
“I say, what would your people say if you got sacked?”
“All sorts of things. Especially my pater. Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know. So would mine.”
“Everybody’s would, I expect.”
The bed creaked, as Jellicoe digested these great thoughts. Then he spoke again.
“It would be a jolly beastly thing to get sacked.”
Mike was too tired to give his mind to the subject. He was not really listening. Jellicoe droned on in a depressed sort of way.
“You’d get home in the middle of the afternoon, I suppose, and you’d drive up to the house, and the servant would open the door, and you’d go in. They might all be out, and then you’d have to hang about, and wait; and presently you’d hear them come in, and you’d go out into the passage, and they’d say ‘Hullo!’ ”
Jellicoe, in order to give verisimilitude, as it were, to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative, flung so much agitated surprise into the last word that it woke Mike from a troubled doze into which he had fallen.
“Hullo?” he said. “What’s up?”
“Then you’d say ‘Hullo!’ And then they’d say, ‘What are you doing here?’ And you’d say——”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“About what would happen.”
“When you got home. After being sacked, you know.”
“Who’s been sacked?” Mike’s mind was still under a cloud.
“Nobody. But if you were, I meant. And then I suppose there’d be an awful row and general sickness, and all that. And then you’d be sent into a bank, or to Australia, or something.”
Mike dozed off again.
“My pater would be frightfully sick. My mater would be sick. My sister would be jolly sick, too. Have you got any sisters, Jackson? I say, Jackson!”
“Hullo! What’s the matter? Who’s that?”
“I asked you if you’d got any sisters.”
“Yours. I asked if you’d got any.”
“What about them?”
The conversation was becoming too intricate for Jellicoe. He changed the subject.
“I say, Jackson!”
“I say, you don’t know any one who could lend me a pound, do you?”
“What!” cried Mike, sitting up in bed and staring through the darkness in the direction whence the numismatist’s voice was proceeding. “Do what?”
“I say, look out. You’ll wake Smith.”
“Did you say you wanted some one to lend you a quid?”
“Yes,” said Jellicoe eagerly. “Do you know any one?”
Mike’s head throbbed. This thing was too much. The human brain could not be expected to cope with it. Here was a youth who had borrowed a pound from one friend the day before, and three pounds from another friend that very afternoon, already looking about him for further loans. Was it a hobby, or was he saving up to buy an aeroplane?
“What on earth do you want a pound for?”
“I don’t want to tell anybody. But it’s jolly serious. I shall get sacked if I don’t get it.”
Those who have followed Mike’s career as set forth by the present historian will have realised by this time that he was a good long way from being perfect. As the Blue-Eyed Hero he would have been a rank failure. Except on the cricket field, where he was a natural genius, he was just ordinary. He resembled ninety per cent. of other members of English public schools. He had some virtues and a good many defects. He was as obstinate as a mule, though people whom he liked could do as they pleased with him. He was good-natured as a general thing, but on occasion his temper could be of the worst, and had, in his childhood, been the subject of much adverse comment among his aunts. He was rigidly truthful, where the issue concerned only himself. Where it was a case of saving a friend, he was prepared to act in a manner reminiscent of an American expert witness.
He had, in addition, one good quality without any defect to balance it. He was always ready to help people. And when he set himself to do this, he was never put off by discomfort or risk. He went at the thing with a singleness of purpose that asked no questions.
Bob’s postal order, which had arrived that evening, was reposing in the breast-pocket of his coat.
It was a wrench, but, if the situation was so serious with Jellicoe, it had to be done.
Two minutes later the night was being made hideous by Jellicoe’s almost tearful protestations of gratitude, and the postal order had moved from one side of the dormitory to the other.
jellicoe goes on the sick-list.
IKE woke next morning with a confused memory of having listened to a great deal of incoherent conversation from Jellicoe, and a painfully vivid recollection of handing over the bulk of his worldly wealth to him. The thought depressed him, though it seemed to please Jellicoe, for the latter carolled in a gay undertone as he dressed, till Psmith, who had a sensitive ear, asked as a favour that these farm-yard imitations might cease until he was out of the room.
There were other things to make Mike low-spirited that morning. To begin with, he was in detention, which in itself is enough to spoil a day. It was a particularly fine day, which made the matter worse. In addition to this, he had never felt stiffer in his life. It seemed to him that the creaking of his joints as he walked must be audible to every one within a radius of several yards. Finally, there was the interview with Mr. Downing to come. That would probably be unpleasant. As Psmith had said, Mr. Downing was the sort of master who would be likely to make trouble. The great match had not been an ordinary match. Mr. Downing was a curious man in many ways, but he did not make a fuss on ordinary occasions when his bowling proved expensive. Yesterday’s performance, however, stood in a class by itself. It stood forth without disguise as a deliberate rag. One side does not keep another in the field the whole day in a one-day match except as a grisly kind of practical joke. And Mr. Downing and his house realised this. The house’s way of signifying its comprehension of the fact was to be cold and distant as far as the seniors were concerned, and abusive and pugnacious as regards the juniors. Young blood had been shed overnight, and more flowed during the eleven o’clock interval that morning to avenge the insult.
Mr. Downing’s methods of retaliation would have to be, of necessity, more elusive; but Mike did not doubt that in some way or other his form-master would endeavour to get a bit of his own back.
As events turned out, he was perfectly right. When a master has got his knife into a boy, especially a master who allows himself to be influenced by his likes and dislikes, he is inclined to single him out in times of stress, and savage him as if he were the official representative of the evildoers. Just as, at sea, the skipper, when he has trouble with the crew, works it off on the boy.
Mr. Downing was in a sarcastic mood when he met Mike. That is to say, he began in a sarcastic strain. But this sort of thing is difficult to keep up. By the time he had reached his peroration, the rapier had given place to the bludgeon. For sarcasm to be effective, the user of it must be met half-way. His hearer must appear to be conscious of the sarcasm and moved by it. Mike, when masters waxed sarcastic towards him, always assumed an air of stolid stupidity, which was as a suit of mail against satire.
So Mr. Downing came down from the heights with a run, and began to express himself with a simple strength which it did his form good to listen to. Veterans who had been in the form for terms said afterwards that there had been nothing to touch it, in their experience of the orator, since the glorious day when Dunster, that prince of raggers, who had left at Christmas to go to a crammer’s, had introduced three lively grass-snakes into the room during a Latin lesson.
“You are surrounded,” concluded Mr. Downing, snapping his pencil in two in his emotion, “by an impenetrable mass of conceit and vanity and selfishness. It does not occur to you to admit your capabilities as a cricketer in an open, straightforward way and place them at the disposal of the school. No, that would not be dramatic enough for you. It would be too commonplace altogether. Far too commonplace!” Mr. Downing laughed bitterly. “No, you must conceal your capabilities. You must act a lie. You must—who is that shuffling his feet? I will not have it, I will have silence—you must hang back in order to make a more effective entrance, like some wretched actor who—I will not have this shuffling. I have spoken of this before. Macpherson, are you shuffling your feet?”
“Sir, no, sir.”
“I think it’s the noise of the draught under the door, sir.”
Instant departure of Parsons for the outer regions. And, in the excitement of this side-issue, the speaker lost his inspiration, and abruptly concluded his remarks by putting Mike on to translate in Cicero. Which Mike, who happened to have prepared the first half-page, did with much success.
The Old Boys’ match was timed to begin shortly after eleven o’clock. During the interval most of the school walked across the field to look at the pitch. One or two of the Old Boys had already changed and were practising in front of the pavilion.
It was through one of these batsmen that an accident occurred which had a good deal of influence on Mike’s affairs.
Mike had strolled out by himself. Half-way across the field Jellicoe joined him. Jellicoe was cheerful, and rather embarrassingly grateful. He was just in the middle of his harangue when the accident happened.
To their left, as they crossed the field, a long youth, with the faint beginnings of a moustache and a blazer that lit up the surrounding landscape like a glowing beacon, was lashing out recklessly at a friend’s bowling. Already he had gone within an ace of slaying a small boy. As Mike and Jellicoe proceeded on their way, there was a shout of “Heads!”
The almost universal habit of batsmen of shouting “Heads!” at whatever height from the ground the ball may be, is not a little confusing. The average person, on hearing the shout, puts his hands over his skull, crouches down and trusts to luck. This is an excellent plan if the ball is falling, but is not much protection against a skimming drive along the ground.
When “Heads!” was called on the present occasion, Mike and Jellicoe instantly assumed the crouching attitude.
Jellicoe was the first to abandon it. He uttered a yell and sprang into the air. After which he sat down and began to nurse his ankle.
The bright-blazered youth walked up.
“Awfully sorry, you know, man. Hurt?”
Jellicoe was pressing the injured spot tenderly with his finger-tips, uttering sharp howls whenever, zeal outrunning discretion, he prodded himself too energetically.
“Silly ass, Dunster,” he groaned, “slamming about like that.”
“Awfully sorry. But I did yell.”
“It’s swelling up rather,” said Mike. “You’d better get over to the house and have it looked at. Can you walk?”
Jellicoe tried, but sat down again with a loud “Ow!” At that moment the bell rang.
“I shall have to be going in,” said Mike, “or I’d have helped you over.”
“I’ll give you a hand,” said Dunster.
He helped the sufferer to his feet and they staggered off together, Jellicoe hopping, Dunster advancing with a sort of polka step. Mike watched them start and then turned to go in.
mike receives a commission.
HERE is only one thing to be said in favour of detention on a fine summer’s afternoon, and that is that it is very pleasant to come out of. The sun never seems so bright or the turf so green as during the first five minutes after one has come out of the detention-room. One feels as if one were entering a new and very delightful world. There is also a touch of the Rip van Winkle feeling. Everything seems to have gone on and left one behind. Mike, as he walked to the cricket field, felt very much behind the times.
Arriving on the field he found the Old Boys batting. He stopped and watched an over of Adair’s. The fifth ball bowled a man. Mike made his way towards the pavilion.
Before he got there he heard his name called, and turning, found Psmith seated under a tree with the bright-blazered Dunster.
“Return of the exile,” said Psmith. “A joyful occasion tinged with melancholy. Have a cherry?—take one or two. These little acts of unremembered kindness are what one needs after a couple of hours in extra pupil-room. Restore your tissues, Comrade Jackson, and when you have finished those, apply again.”
“Is your name Jackson?” inquired Dunster, “because Jellicoe wants to see you.”
“Alas, poor Jellicoe!” said Psmith. “He is now prone on his bed in the dormitory—there a sheer hulk lies poor Tom Jellicoe, the darling of the crew, faithful below he did his duty, but Comrade Dunster has broached him to. I have just been hearing the melancholy details.”
“Old Smith and I,” said Dunster, “were at a private school together. I’d no idea I should find him here.”
“It was a wonderfully stirring sight when we met,” said Psmith; “not unlike the meeting of Ulysses and the hound Argos, of whom you have doubtless read in the course of your dabblings in the classics. I was Ulysses; Dunster gave a life-like representation of the faithful dawg.”
“You still jaw as much as ever, I notice,” said the animal delineator, fondling the beginnings of his moustache.
“More,” sighed Psmith, “more. Is anything irritating you?” he added, eyeing the other’s manœuvres with interest.
“You needn’t be a funny ass, man,” said Dunster, pained; “heaps of people tell me I ought to have it waxed.”
“What it really wants is top-dressing with guano. Hullo! another man out. Adair’s bowling better to-day than he did yesterday.”
“I heard about yesterday,” said Dunster. “It must have been a rag! Couldn’t we work off some other rag on somebody before I go? I shall be stopping here till Monday in the village. Well hit, sir—Adair’s bowling is perfectly simple if you go out to it.”
“Comrade Dunster went out to it first ball,” said Psmith to Mike.
“Oh! chuck it, man; the sun was in my eyes. I hear Adair’s got a match on with the M.C.C. at last.”
“Has he?” said Psmith; “I hadn’t heard. Archæology claims so much of my time that I have little leisure for listening to cricket chit-chat.”
“What was it Jellicoe wanted?” asked Mike; “was it anything important?”
“He seemed to think so—he kept telling me to tell you to go and see him.”
“I fear Comrade Jellicoe is a bit of a weak-minded blitherer——”
“Did you ever hear of a rag we worked off on Jellicoe once?” asked Dunster. “The man has absolutely no sense of humour—can’t see when he’s being rotted. Well, it was like this—Hullo! We’re all out—I shall have to be going out to field again, I suppose, dash it! I’ll tell you when I see you again.”
“I shall count the minutes,” said Psmith.
Mike stretched himself; the sun was very soothing after his two hours in the detention-room; he felt disinclined for exertion.
“I don’t suppose it’s anything special about Jellicoe, do you?” he said. “I mean, it’ll keep till tea-time; it’s no catch having to sweat across to the house now.”
“Don’t dream of moving,” said Psmith. “I have several rather profound observations on life to make and I can’t make them without an audience. Soliloquy is a knack. Hamlet had got it, but probably only after years of patient practice. Personally, I need some one to listen when I talk. I like to feel that I am doing good. You stay where you are—don’t interrupt too much.”
Mike tilted his hat over his eyes and abandoned Jellicoe.
It was not until the lock-up bell rang that he remembered him. He went over to the house and made his way to the dormitory, where he found the injured one in a parlous state, not so much physical as mental. The doctor had seen his ankle and reported that it would be on the active list in a couple of days. It was Jellicoe’s mind that needed attention now.
Mike found him in a condition bordering on collapse.
“I say, you might have come before!” said Jellicoe.
“What’s up? I didn’t know there was such a hurry about it—what did you want?”
“It’s no good now,” said Jellicoe gloomily; “it’s too late, I shall get sacked.”
“What on earth are you talking about? What’s the row?”
“It’s about that money.”
“What about it?”
“I had to pay it to a man to-day, or he said he’d write to the head—then of course I should get sacked. I was going to take the money to him this afternoon, only I got crocked, so I couldn’t move. I wanted to get hold of you to ask you to take it for me—it’s too late now!”
Mike’s face fell. “Oh, hang it!” he said, “I’m awfully sorry. I’d no idea it was anything like that—what a fool I was! Dunster did say he thought it was something important, only like an ass I thought it would do if I came over at lock-up.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Jellicoe miserably; “it can’t be helped.”
“Yes, it can,” said Mike. “I know what I’ll do—it’s all right. I’ll get out of the house after lights-out.”
Jellicoe sat up. “You can’t! You’d get sacked if you were caught.”
“Who would catch me? There was a chap at Wrykyn I knew who used to break out every night nearly and go and pot at cats with an air-pistol; it’s as easy as anything.”
The toad-under-the-harrow expression began to fade from Jellicoe’s face. “I say, do you think you could, really?”
“Of course I can! It’ll be rather a rag.”
“I say, it’s frightfully decent of you.”
“What absolute rot!”
“But, look here, are you certain——”
“I shall be all right. Where do you want me to go?”
“It’s a place about a mile or two from here, called Lower Borlock.”
“Yes, do you know it?”
“Rather! I’ve been playing cricket for them all the term.”
“I say, have you? Do you know a man called Barley?”
“Barley? Rather—he runs the ‘White Boar.’ ”
“He’s the chap I owe the money to.”
Mike knew the landlord of the “White Boar” well; he was the wag of the village team. Every village team, for some mysterious reason, has its comic man. In the Lower Borlock eleven Mr. Barley filled the post. He was a large, stout man, with a red and cheerful face, who looked exactly like the jovial inn-keeper of melodrama. He was the last man Mike would have expected to do the “money by Monday-week or I write to the head-master” business.
But he reflected that he had only seen him in his leisure moments, when he might naturally be expected to unbend and be full of the milk of human kindness. Probably in business hours he was quite different. After all, pleasure is one thing and business another.
Besides, five pounds is a large sum of money, and if Jellicoe owed it, there was nothing strange in Mr. Barley’s doing everything he could to recover it.
He wondered a little what Jellicoe could have been doing to run up a bill as big as that, but it did not occur to him to ask, which was unfortunate, as it might have saved him a good deal of inconvenience. It seemed to him that it was none of his business to inquire into Jellicoe’s private affairs. He took the envelope containing the money without question.
“I shall bike there, I think,” he said, “if I can get into the shed.”
The school’s bicycles were stored in a shed by the pavilion.
“You can manage that,” said Jellicoe; “it’s locked up at night, but I had a key made to fit it last summer, because I used to go out in the early morning sometimes before it was opened.”
“Got it on you?”
“Smith’s got it.”
“I’ll get it from him.”
“Don’t tell Smith why you want it, will you? I don’t want anybody to know—if a thing once starts getting about it’s all over the place in no time.”
“All right, I won’t tell him.”
“I say, thanks most awfully! I don’t know what I should have done, I——”
“Oh, chuck it!” said Mike.
and fulfils it.
IKE started on his ride to Lower Borlock with mixed feelings. It is pleasant to be out on a fine night in summer, but the pleasure is to a certain extent modified when one feels that to be detected will mean expulsion.
Mike did not want to be expelled, for many reasons. Now that he had grown used to the place he was enjoying himself at Sedleigh to a certain extent. He still harboured a feeling of resentment against the school in general and Adair in particular, but it was pleasant in Outwood’s now that he had got to know some of the members of the house, and he liked playing cricket for Lower Borlock; also, he was fairly certain that his father would not let him go to Cambridge if he were expelled from Sedleigh. Mr. Jackson was easy-going with his family, but occasionally his foot came down like a steam-hammer, as witness the Wrykyn school report affair.
So Mike pedalled along rapidly, being wishful to get the job done without delay.
Psmith had yielded up the key, but his inquiries as to why it was needed had been embarrassing. Mike’s statement that he wanted to get up early and have a ride had been received by Psmith, with whom early rising was not a hobby, with honest amazement and a flood of advice and warning on the subject.
“One of the Georges,” said Psmith, “I forget which, once said that a certain number of hours’ sleep a day—I cannot recall for the moment how many—made a man something, which for the time being has slipped my memory. However, there you are. I’ve given you the main idea of the thing; and a German doctor says that early rising causes insanity. Still, if you’re bent on it——” After which he had handed over the key.
Mike wished he could have taken Psmith into his confidence. Probably he would have volunteered to come, too; Mike would have been glad of a companion.
It did not take him long to reach Lower Borlock. The “White Boar” stood at the far end of the village, by the cricket field. He rode past the church—standing out black and mysterious against the light sky—and the rows of silent cottages, until he came to the inn.
The place was shut, of course, and all the lights were out—it was some time past eleven.
The advantage an inn has over a private house, from the point of view of the person who wants to get into it when it has been locked up, is that a nocturnal visit is not so unexpected in the case of the former. Preparations have been made to meet such an emergency. Where with a private house you would probably have to wander round heaving rocks and end by climbing up a water-spout, when you want to get into an inn you simply ring the night-bell, which, communicating with the Boots’ room, has that hard-worked menial up and doing in no time.
After Mike had waited for a few minutes there was a rattling of chains and a shooting of bolts and the door opened.
“Yes, sir?” said the Boots, appearing in his shirt-sleeves. “Why, ’ullo! Mr. Jackson, sir!”
Mike was well known to all dwellers in Lower Borlock, his scores being the chief topic of conversation when the day’s labours were over.
“I want to see Mr. Barley, Jack.”
“He’s bin in bed this half-hour back, Mr. Jackson.”
“I must see him. Can you get him down?”
The Boots looked doubtful. “Roust the guv’nor outer bed?” he said.
Mike quite admitted the gravity of the task. The landlord of the “White Boar” was one of those men who need a beauty sleep.
“I wish you would—it’s a thing that can’t wait. I’ve got some money to give to him.”
“Oh, if it’s that——” said the boots.
Five minutes later mine host appeared in person, looking more than usually portly in a check dressing-gown and red bedroom slippers of the Dreadnought type.
“You can pop off, Jack.”
Exit Boots to his slumbers once more.
“Well, Mr. Jackson, what’s it all about?”
“Jellicoe asked me to come and bring you the money.”
“The money? What money?”
“What he owes you; the five pounds, of course.”
“The five——” Mr. Barley stared open-mouthed at Mike for a moment; then he broke into a roar of laughter which shook the sporting prints on the wall and drew barks from dogs in some distant part of the house. He staggered about laughing and coughing till Mike began to expect a fit of some kind. Then he collapsed into a chair, which creaked under him, and wiped his eyes.
“Oh dear!” he said, “oh dear! the five pounds!”
Mike was not always abreast of the rustic idea of humour, and now he felt particularly fogged. For the life of him he could not see what there was to amuse any one so much in the fact that a person who owed five pounds was ready to pay it back. It was an occasion for rejoicing, perhaps, but rather for a solemn, thankful, eyes-raised-to-heaven kind of rejoicing.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“You might tell us the joke.”
Mr. Barley opened the letter, read it, and had another attack; when this was finished he handed the letter to Mike, who was waiting patiently by, hoping for light, and requested him to read it.
“Dear, dear!” chuckled Mr. Barley, “five pounds! They may teach you young gentlemen to talk Latin and Greek and what not at your school, but it ’ud do a lot more good if they’d teach you how many beans make five; it ’ud do a lot more good if they’d teach you to come in when it rained, it ’ud do——”
Mike was reading the letter.
“Dear Mr. Barley,” it ran.—“I send the £5, which I could not get before. I hope it is in time, because I don’t want you to write to the head-master. I am sorry Jane and John ate your wife’s hat and the chicken and broke the vase.”
There was some more to the same effect; it was signed “T. G. Jellicoe.”
“What on earth’s it all about?” said Mike, finishing this curious document.
Mr. Barley slapped his leg. “Why, Mr. Jellicoe keeps two dogs here; I keep ’em for him till the young gentlemen go home for their holidays. Aberdeen terriers, they are, and as sharp as mustard. Mischief! I believe you, but, love us! they don’t do no harm! Bite up an old shoe sometimes and such sort of things. The other day, last Wednesday it were, about ’ar parse five, Jane—she’s the worst of the two, always up to it, she is—she got hold of my old hat and had it in bits before you could say knife. John upset a china vase in one of the bedrooms chasing a mouse, and they got on the coffee-room table and ate half a cold chicken what had been left there. So I says to myself, ‘I’ll have a game with Mr. Jellicoe over this,’ and I sits down and writes off saying the little dogs have eaten a valuable hat and a chicken and what not, and the damage’ll be five pounds, and will he kindly remit same by Saturday night at the latest or I write to his head-master. Love us!” Mr. Barley slapped his thigh, “he took it all in, every word—and here’s the five pounds in cash in this envelope here! I haven’t had such a laugh since we got old Tom Raxley out of bed at twelve of a winter’s night by telling him his house was a-fire.”
It is not always easy to appreciate a joke of the practical order if one has been made even merely part victim of it. Mike, as he reflected that he had been dragged out of his house in the middle of the night, in contravention of all school rules and discipline, simply in order to satisfy Mr. Barley’s sense of humour, was more inclined to be abusive than mirthful. Running risks is all very well when they are necessary, or if one chooses to run them for one’s own amusement, but to be placed in a dangerous position, a position imperilling one’s chance of going to the ’Varsity, is another matter altogether.
But it is impossible to abuse the Barley type of man. Barley’s enjoyment of the whole thing was so honest and child-like. Probably it had given him the happiest quarter of an hour he had known for years, since, in fact, the affair of old Tom Raxley. It would have been cruel to damp the man.
So Mike laughed perfunctorily, took back the envelope with the five pounds, accepted a stone ginger beer and a plateful of biscuits, and rode off on his return journey.
Mention has been made above of the difference which exists between getting into an inn after lock-up and into a private house. Mike was to find this out for himself.
His first act on arriving at Sedleigh was to replace his bicycle in the shed. This he accomplished with success. It was pitch-dark in the shed, and as he wheeled his machine in, his foot touched something on the floor. Without waiting to discover what this might be, he leaned his bicycle against the wall, went out, and locked the door, after which he ran across to Outwood’s.
Fortune had favoured his undertaking by decreeing that a stout drain-pipe should pass up the wall within a few inches of his and Psmith’s study. On the first day of term, it may be remembered, he had wrenched away the wooden bar which bisected the window-frame, thus rendering exit and entrance almost as simple as they had been for Wyatt during Mike’s first term at Wrykyn.
He proceeded to scale this water-pipe.
He had got about half-way up when a voice from somewhere below cried, “Who’s that?”
(To be continued.)