The Captain, January 1906
deus ex machina.
T did not occur to Sheen immediately that his boat had actually gone. The full beauty of the situation was some moments in coming home to him. At first he merely thought that somebody had moved it to another part of the bank, as the authorities at the inn had done once or twice in the past, to make room for the boats of fresh visitors. Walking along the lawn in search of it, he came upon the stake to which Dunstable’s submerged craft was attached. He gave the rope a tentative pull, and was surprised to find that there was a heavy drag on the end of it.
Then suddenly the truth flashed across him. “Heavens!” he cried, “it’s sunk.”
Joe Bevan, who was with him, lent his aid to the pulling. The lost boat came out of the river like some huge fish, and finally rested on the bank, oozing water and drenching the grass in all directions.
Joe Bevan stooped down, and examined it in the dim light.
“What’s happened here, sir,” he said, “is that there’s a plank gone from the bottom. Smashed clean out, it is. Not started it isn’t. Smashed clean out. That’s what it is. Some one must have been here and done it.”
Sheen looked at the boat, and saw that he was right. A plank in the middle had been splintered. It looked as if somebody had driven some heavy instrument into it. As a matter of fact, Albert had effected the job with the butt-end of an oar.
The damage was not ruinous. A carpenter could put the thing right at no great expense. But it would take time. And meanwhile the minutes were flying, and lock-up was now little more than half an hour away.
“What’ll you do, sir?” asked Bevan.
That was just what Sheen was asking himself. What could he do? The road to the school twisted and turned to such an extent that, though the distance from the “Blue Boar” to Seymour’s was only a couple of miles as the crow flies, he would have to cover double that distance unless he took a short cut across the fields. And if he took a short cut in the dark he was certain to lose himself. It was a choice of evils. The “Blue Boar” possessed but one horse and trap, and he had seen that driven away to the station in charge of a fisherman’s luggage half an hour before.
“I shall have to walk,” he said.
“It’s a long way. You’ll be late, won’t you?” said Mr. Bevan.
“It can’t be helped. I suppose I shall. I wonder who smashed that boat,” he added after a pause.
Passing through the inn on his way to the road, he made inquiries. It appeared that two young gentlemen from the school had been there to tea. They had arrived in a boat and gone away in a boat. Nobody else had come into the inn. Suspicion obviously rested upon them.
“Do you remember anything about them?” asked Sheen.
Further details came out. One of the pair had worn a cap like Sheen’s. The other’s headgear, minutely described, showed him that its owner was a member of the school second eleven.
Sheen pursued the inquiry. He would be so late in any case that a minute or so more or less would make no material difference; and he was very anxious to find out, if possible, who it was that had placed him in this difficulty. He knew that he was unpopular in the school, but he had not looked for this sort of thing.
Then somebody suddenly remembered having heard one of the pair address the other by name.
“What name?” asked Sheen.
His informant was not sure. Would it be Lindon?
“Linton,” said Sheen.
That was it.
Sheen thanked him and departed, still puzzled. Linton, as he knew him, was not the sort of fellow to do a thing like that. And the other, the second eleven man, must be Dunstable. They were always about together. He did not know much about Dunstable, but he could hardly believe that this sort of thing was his form either. Well, he would have to think of that later. He must concentrate himself now on covering the distance to the school in the minimum of time. He looked at his watch. Twenty minutes more. If he hurried, he might not be so very late. He wished that somebody would come by in a cart, and give him a lift.
He stopped and listened. No sound of horse’s hoof broke the silence. He walked on again.
Then, faint at first, but growing stronger every instant, there came from some point in the road far behind him a steady droning sound. He almost shouted with joy. A motor! Even now he might do it.
But could he stop it? Would the motorist pay any attention to him, or would he flash past and leave him in the dust? From the rate at which the drone increased the car seemed to be travelling at a rare speed.
He moved to one side of the road, and waited. He could see the lights now, flying towards him.
Then, as the car hummed past, he recognised its driver, and put all he knew into a shout.
“Bruce!” he cried.
For a moment it seemed as if he had not been heard. The driver paid not the smallest attention, as far as he could see. He looked neither to the left nor to right. Then the car slowed down, and, backing, came slowly to where he stood.
“Hullo,” said the driver, “who’s that?”
Jack Bruce was alone in the car, muffled to the eyes in an overcoat. It was more by his general appearance than his face that Sheen had recognised him.
“It’s me, Sheen. I say, Bruce, I wish you’d give me a lift to Seymour’s, will you?”
There was never any waste of words about Jack Bruce. Of all the six hundred and thirty-four boys at Wrykyn he was probably the only one whose next remark in such circumstances would not have been a question. Bruce seldom asked questions—never, if they wasted time.
“Hop in,” he said.
Sheen consulted his watch again.
“Lock-up’s in a quarter of an hour,” he said, “but they give us ten minutes’ grace. That allows us plenty of time, doesn’t it?”
“Do it in seven minutes, if you like.”
“Don’t hurry,” said Sheen. “I’ve never been in a motor before, and I don’t want to cut the experience short. It’s awfully good of you to give me a lift.”
“That’s all right,” said Bruce.
“Were you going anywhere? Am I taking you out of your way?”
“No. I was just trying the car. It’s a new one. The pater’s just got it.”
“Do you do much of this?” said Sheen.
“Good bit. I’m going in for the motor business when I leave school.”
“So all this is training?”
There was a pause.
“You seemed to be going at a good pace just now,” said Sheen.
“About thirty miles an hour. She can move all right.”
“That’s faster than you’re allowed to go, isn’t it?”
“You’ve never been caught, have you?”
“Not yet. I want to see how much pace I can get out of her, because she’ll be useful when the election really comes on. Bringing voters to the poll, you know. That’s why the pater bought this new car. It’s a beauty. His other’s only a little runabout.”
“Doesn’t your father mind your motoring?”
“Likes it,” said Jack Bruce.
It seemed to Sheen that it was about time that he volunteered some information about himself, instead of plying his companion with questions. It was pleasant talking to a Wrykinian again; and Jack Bruce had apparently either not heard of the Albert incident, or else he was not influenced by it in any way.
“You’ve got me out of an awful hole, Bruce,” he began.
“That’s all right. Been out for a walk?”
“I’d been to the ‘Blue Boar.’ ”
“Oh?” said Bruce. He did not seem to wish to know why Sheen had been there.
Sheen proceeded to explain.
“I suppose you’ve heard all about me,” he said uncomfortably. “About the town, you know. That fight. Not joining in.”
“Heard something about it,” said Bruce.
“I went down town again after that,” said Sheen, “and met the same fellows who were fighting Linton and the others. They came for me, and I was getting awfully mauled when Joe Bevan turned up.”
“Oh, is Joe back again?”
“Do you know him?” asked Sheen in surprise.
“Oh yes. I used to go to the ‘Blue Boar’ to learn boxing from him all last summer holidays.”
“Did you really? Why, that’s what I’m doing now.”
“Good man,” said Bruce.
“Isn’t he a splendid teacher?”
“But I didn’t know you boxed, Bruce. You never went in for any of the School competitions.”
“I’m rather a rotten weight. Ten six. Too heavy for the light-weights and not heavy enough for the Middles. Besides, the competitions here are really inter-house. They don’t want day-boys going in for them. Are you going to box for Seymour’s?”
“That’s what I want to do. You see, it would be rather a score, wouldn’t it? After what’s happened, you know.”
“I suppose it would.”
“I should like to do something. It’s not very pleasant,” he added, with a forced laugh, “being considered a disgrace to the house, and cut by everyone.”
“The difficulty is Drummond. You see, we are both the same weight, and he’s much better than I am. I’m hoping that he’ll go in for the middles and let me take the light-weights. There’s nobody he couldn’t beat in the middles, though he would be giving away a stone.”
“Have you asked him?”
“Not yet. I want to keep it dark that I’m learning to box, just at present.”
“Spring it on them suddenly?”
“Yes. Of course, I can’t let it get about that I go to Joe Bevan, because I have to break bounds every time I do it.”
“The upper river’s out of bounds now for boarders, isn’t it?”
Jack Bruce sat in silence for a while, his gaze concentrated on the road in front of him.
“Why go by river at all?” he said at last. “If you like, I’ll run you to the ‘Blue Boar’ in the motor every day.”
“Oh, I say, that’s awfully decent of you,” said Sheen.
“I should like to see old Joe again. I think I’ll come and spar, too. If you’re learning, what you want more than anything is somebody your own size to box with.”
“That’s just what Joe was saying. Will you really? I should be awfully glad if you would. Boxing with Joe is all right, but you feel all the time he’s fooling with you. I should like to try how I got on with somebody else.”
“You’d better meet me here, then, as soon after school as you can.”
As he spoke, the car stopped.
“Where are we?” asked Sheen.
“Just at the corner of the road behind the houses.”
“Oh, I know. Hullo, there goes the lock-up bell. I shall do it comfortably.”
He jumped down.
“I say, Bruce,” he said, “I really am most awfully obliged for the lift. Something went wrong with my boat, and I couldn’t get back in it. I should have been frightfully in the cart if you hadn’t come by.”
“That’s all right,” said Jack Bruce. “I say, Sheen!”
“Are you going to practise in the music-room after morning school to-morrow?”
“I think I’ll turn up.”
“I wish you would.”
“What’s that thing that goes like this? I forget most of it.”
He whistled a few bars.
“That’s a thing of Grieg’s,” said Sheen.
“You might play it to-morrow,” said Bruce.
“Rather. Of course I will.”
“Thanks,” said Jack Bruce. “Good-night.”
He turned the car, and vanished down the road. From the sound Sheen judged that he was once more travelling at a higher rate of speed than the local police would have approved.
PON consideration Sheen determined to see Linton about that small matter of the boat without delay. After prayers that night he went to his study.
“Can I speak to you for a minute, Linton?” he said.
Linton was surprised. He disapproved of this intrusion. When a fellow is being cut by the house, he ought, by all the laws of school etiquette, to behave as such, and not speak till he is spoken to.
“What do you want?” asked Linton.
“I shan’t keep you long. Do you think you could put away that book for a minute, and listen?”
Linton hesitated, then shut the book.
“Hurry up, then,” he said.
“I was going to,” said Sheen. “I simply came in to tell you that I know perfectly well who sunk my boat this afternoon.”
He felt at once that he had now got Linton’s undivided attention.
“Your boat!” said Linton. “You don’t mean to say that was yours! What on earth were you doing at the place?”
“I don’t think that’s any business of yours, is it, Linton?”
“How did you get back?”
“I don’t think that’s any business of yours, either. I daresay you’re disappointed, but I did manage to get back. In time for lock-up, too.”
“But I don’t understand. Do you mean to say that that was your boat we took?”
“Sunk,” corrected Sheen.
“Don’t be a fool, Sheen. What the dickens should we want to sink your boat for? What happened was this. Albert—you remember Albert?—followed us up to the inn, and smashed our boat while we were having tea. When we got out and found it sunk, we bagged the only other one we could see. We hadn’t a notion it was yours. We thought it belonged to some fisherman chap.”
“Then you didn’t sink my boat?”
“Of course we didn’t. What do you take us for?”
“Sorry,” said Sheen. “I thought it was a queer thing for you to have done. I’m glad it wasn’t you. Good-night.”
“But look here,” said Linton, “don’t go. It must have landed you in a frightful hole, didn’t it?”
“A little. But it doesn’t matter. Good-night.”
“But half a second, Sheen——”
Sheen had disappeared.
Linton sat on till lights were turned off, ruminating. He had a very tender conscience where other members of the school were concerned, though it was tougher as regarded masters; and he was full of remorse at the thought of how nearly he had got Sheen into trouble by borrowing his boat that afternoon. It seemed to him that it was his duty to make it up to him in some way.
It was characteristic of Linton that the episode did not, in any way, alter his attitude towards Sheen. Another boy in a similar position might have become effusively friendly. Linton looked on the affair in a calm, judicial spirit. He had done Sheen a bad turn, but that was no reason why he should fling himself on his neck and swear eternal friendship. His demeanour on the occasions when they came in contact with each other remained the same. He did not speak to him, and he did not seem to see him. But all the while he was remembering that somehow or other he must do him a good turn of some sort, by way of levelling things up again. When that good turn had been done, he might dismiss him from his thoughts altogether.
Sheen, for his part, made no attempt to trade on the matter of the boat. He seemed as little anxious to be friendly with Linton as Linton was to be friendly with him. For this Linton was grateful, and continued to keep his eyes open in the hope of finding some opportunity of squaring up matters between them.
His chance was not long in coming. The feeling in the house against Sheen, caused by the story of his encounter with Attell, had not diminished. Stanning had fostered it in various little ways. It was not difficult. When a house of the standing in the school which Seymour’s possessed exhibits a weak spot, the rest of the school do not require a great deal of encouragement to go on prodding that weak spot. In short, the school rotted Seymour’s about Sheen, and Seymour’s raged impotently. Fags of other houses expended much crude satire on Seymour’s fags, and even the seniors of the house came in for their share of the baiting. Most of the houses at Wrykyn were jealous of Seymour’s, and this struck them as an admirable opportunity of getting something of their own back.
One afternoon, not long after Sheen’s conversation with Linton, Stanning came into Seymour’s senior day-room and sat down on the table. The senior day-room objected to members of other houses coming and sitting on their table as if they had bought that rickety piece of furniture; but Stanning’s reputation as a bruiser kept their resentment within bounds.
“Hullo, you chaps,” said Stanning.
The members of the senior day-room made no reply, but continued, as Mr. Kipling has it, to persecute their vocations. Most of them were brewing. They went on brewing with the earnest concentration of chefs.
“You’re a cheery lot,” said Stanning. “But I don’t wonder you’ve got the hump. I should be a bit sick if we’d got a skunk like that in our house. Heard the latest?”
Some lunatic said, “No. What?” thereby delivering the day-room bound into the hands of the enemy.
“Sheen’s apologised to Attell.”
There was a sensation in the senior day-room, as Stanning had expected. He knew his men. He was perfectly aware that any story which centred round Sheen’s cowardice would be believed by them, so he had not troubled to invent a lie which it would be difficult to disprove. He knew that in the present state of feeling in the house Sheen would not be given a hearing.
“No!” shouted the senior day-room.
This was the last straw. The fellow seemed to go out of his way to lower the prestige of the house.
“Fact,” said Stanning. “I thought you knew.”
He continued to sit on the table, swinging his legs, while the full horror of his story sunk into the senior day-room mind.
“I wonder you don’t do something about it. Why don’t you touch him up? He’s not a prefect.”
But they were not prepared to go to that length. The senior day-room had a great respect both for Drummond’s word and his skill with his hands. He had said he would slay any one who touched Sheen, and they were of opinion that he would do it.
“He isn’t in,” said one of the brewers, looking up from his toasting-fork. “His study door was open when I passed.”
“I say, why not rag his study?” suggested another thickly, through a mouthful of toast.
“Good idea,” he said.
It struck him that some small upheaval of Sheen’s study furniture, coupled with the burning of one or two books, might check to some extent that student’s work for the Gotford. And if Sheen could be stopped working for the Gotford, he, Stanning, would romp home. In the matter of brilliance there was no comparison between them. It was Sheen’s painful habit of work which made him dangerous.
Linton had been listening to this conversation in silence. He had come to the senior day-room to borrow a book. He now slipped out, and made his way to Drummond’s study.
Drummond was in. Linton proceeded to business.
“I say, Drummond.”
“That man Stanning has come in. He’s getting the senior day-room to rag Sheen’s study.”
Linton repeated his statement.
“Does the man think he owns the house?” said Drummond. “Where is he?”
“Coming up now. I hear them. What are you going to do? Stop them?”
“What do you think? Of course I am. I’m not going to have any of Appleby’s crew coming into Seymour’s and ragging studies.”
“This ought to be worth seeing,” said Linton. “Look on me as ‘Charles, his friend’. I’ll help if you want me, but it’s your scene.”
Drummond opened his door just as Stanning and his myrmidons were passing it.
“Hullo, Stanning,” he said.
Stanning turned. The punitive expedition stopped.
“Do you want anything?” inquired Drummond politely.
The members of the senior day-room who were with Stanning rallied round, silent and interested. This dramatic situation appealed to them. They had a passion for rows, and this looked distinctly promising.
There was a pause. Stanning looked carefully at Drummond. Drummond looked carefully at Stanning.
“I was going to see Sheen,” said Stanning at length.
“He isn’t in.”
“Was it anything special?” inquired Drummond pleasantly.
The expedition edged a little forward.
“No. Oh, no. Nothing special,” said Stanning.
The expedition looked disappointed.
“Any message I can give him?” asked Drummond.
“No, thanks,” said Stanning.
“I don’t think it’s worth while your waiting. He may not be in for some time.”
“No, perhaps not. Thanks. So long.”
Stanning turned on his heel, and walked away down the passage. Drummond went back into his study, and shut the door.
The expedition, deprived of its commander-in-chief, paused irresolutely outside. Then it followed its leader’s example.
There was peace in the passage.
the rout at ripton.
N the Saturday following this episode, the first fifteen travelled to Ripton to play the return match with that school on its own ground. Of the two Ripton matches, the one played at Wrykyn was always the big event of the football year; but the other came next in importance, and the telegram which was despatched to the school shop at the close of the game was always awaited with anxiety. This year Wrykyn looked forward to the return match with a certain amount of apathy, due partly to the fact that the school was in a slack, unpatriotic state, and partly to the hammering the team had received in the previous term, when the Ripton centre three-quarters had run through and scored with monotonous regularity. “We’re bound to get sat on,” was the general verdict of the school.
Allardyce, while thoroughly agreeing with this opinion, did his best to conceal the fact from the rest of the team. He had certainly done his duty by them. Every day for the past fortnight the forwards and outsides had turned out to run and pass, and on the Saturdays there had been matches with Corpus, Oxford, and the Cambridge Old Wrykinians. In both games the school had been beaten. In fact, it seemed as if they could only perform really well when they had no opponents. To see the three-quarters racing down the field (at practice) and scoring innumerable (imaginary) tries, one was apt to be misled into considering them a fine quartette. But when there was a match, all the beautiful dash and precision of the passing faded away, and the last thing they did was to run straight. Barry was the only one of the four who played the game properly.
But, as regarded condition, there was nothing wrong with the team. Even Trevor could not have made them train harder; and Allardyce in his more sanguine moments had a shadowy hope that the Ripton score might, with care, be kept in the teens.
Barry had bought a Sportsman at the station, and he unfolded it as the train began to move. Searching the left-hand column of the middle page, as we all do when we buy the Sportsman on Saturday—to see how our names look in print, and what sort of a team the enemy has got—he made a remarkable discovery. At the same moment Drummond, on the other side of the carriage, did the same.
“I say,” he said, “they must have had a big clear-out at Ripton. Have you seen the team they’ve got out to-day?”
“I was just looking at it,” said Barry.
“What’s up with it?” inquired Allardyce. “Let’s have a look.”
“They’ve only got about half their proper team. They’ve got a different back—Grey isn’t playing.”
“Both their centres are, though,” said Drummond.
“More fun for us, Drum., old chap,” said Attell. “I’m going home again. Stop the train.”
Drummond said nothing. He hated Attell most when he tried to be facetious.
“Dunn isn’t playing, nor is Waite,” said Barry, “so they haven’t got either of their proper halves. I say, we might have a chance of doing something to-day.”
“Of course we shall,” said Allardyce. “You’ve only got to buck up and we’ve got them on toast.”
The atmosphere in the carriage became charged with optimism. It seemed a simple thing to defeat a side which was practically a Ripton “A” team. The centre three-quarters were there still, it was true, but Allardyce and Drummond ought to be able to prevent the halves ever getting the ball out to them. The team looked on those two unknown halves as timid novices, who would lose their heads at the kick-off. As a matter of fact, the system of football teaching at Ripton was so perfect, and the keenness so great, that the second fifteen was nearly as good as the first every year. But the Wrykyn team did not know this, with the exception of Allardyce, who kept his knowledge to himself; and they arrived at Ripton jaunty and confident.
Keith, the Ripton captain, who was one of the centre three-quarters who had made so many holes in the Wrykyn defence in the previous term, met the team at the station, and walked up to the school with them, carrying Allardyce’s bag.
“You seem to have lost a good many men at Christmas,” said Allardyce. “We were reading the Sportsman in the train. Apparently, you’ve only got ten of your last term’s lot. Have they all left?”
The Ripton captain grinned ruefully.
“Not much,” he replied. “They’re all here. All except Dunn. You remember Dunn? Little thick-set chap who played half. He always had his hair quite tidy and parted exactly in the middle all through the game.”
“Oh, yes, I remember Dunn. What’s he doing now?”
“Gone to Cooper’s Hill. Rot, his not going to the ’Varsity. He’d have walked into his blue.”
Allardyce agreed. He had marked Dunn in the match of the previous term, and that immaculate sportsman had made things not a little warm for him.
“Where are all the others, then?” he asked. “Where’s that other half of yours? And the rest of the forwards?”
“Mumps,” said Keith.
“It’s a fact. Rot, isn’t it? We’ve had a regular bout of it. Twenty fellows got it altogether. Naturally, four of those were in the team. That’s the way things happen. I only wonder the whole scrum didn’t have it.”
“What beastly luck,” said Allardyce. “We had measles like that a couple of years ago in the summer term, and had to play the Incogs and Zingari with a sort of second eleven. We got mopped.”
“That’s what we shall get this afternoon, I’m afraid,” said Keith.
“Oh no,” said Allardyce. “Of course you won’t.”
And, as events turned out, that was one of the truest remarks he had ever made in his life.
One of the drawbacks to playing Ripton on its own ground was the crowd. Another was the fact that one generally got beaten. But your sportsman can put up with defeat. What he does not like is a crowd that regards him as a subtle blend of incompetent idiot and malicious scoundrel and says so very loud and clear. It was not, of course, the school that did this. They spent their time blushing for the shouters. It was the patriotic inhabitants of Ripton town who made the school wish that they could be saved from their friends. The football ground at Ripton was at the edge of the school fields, separated from the road by narrow iron railings; and along these railings the choicest spirits of the town would line up, and smoke and yell and spit and yell again. As Wordsworth wrote, “There are two voices.” They were on something like the following lines.
Inside the railings: “Sch-oo-oo-oo-oo-l! Buck up Sch-oo-oo-oo-oo-l!! Get it out, Schoo-oo-oo-oo-l!!!”
Outside the railings: “Gow it, Ripton! That’s the way, Ripton! Twist his good-old-English-adjectived neck, Ripton! Sit on his forcibly described head, Ripton! Gow it, Ripton! Haw, Haw, Haw! They ain’t no use, ripton! Kick ’im in the eye, Ripton! Haw, Haw, Haw!”
The bursts of merriment signalised the violent downfall of some dangerous opponent.
The school loathed these humble supporters, and occasionally fastidious juniors would go the length of throwing chunks of mud at them through the railings. But nothing discouraged them or abated their fervid desire to see the school win. Every year they seemed to increase in zeal, and they were always in great form at the Wrykyn match.
It would be charitable to ascribe to this reason the gruesome happenings of that afternoon. They needed some explaining away.
Allardyce won the toss, and chose to start downhill, with the wind in his favour. It is always best to get these advantages at the beginning of the game. If one starts against the wind, it usually changes ends at half-time. Amidst a roar from both touch-lines and a volley of howls from the road, a Ripton forward kicked off. The ball flew in the direction of Stanning, on the right wing. A storm of laughter arose from the road as he dropped it. The first scrum was formed on the Wrykyn twenty-five line.
The Ripton forwards got the ball, and heeled with their usual neatness. The Ripton half who was taking the scrum gathered it cleanly, and passed to his colleague. He was a sturdy youth with a dark, rather forbidding face, in which the acute observer might have read signs of the savage. He was of the breed which is vaguely described at public schools as “nigger,” a term covering every variety of shade from ebony to light lemon. As a matter of fact he was a half-caste, sent home to England to be educated. Drummond recognised him as he dived forward to tackle him. The last place where they had met had been the roped ring at Aldershot. It was his opponent in the final of the Feathers.
He reached him as he swerved, and they fell together. The ball bounded forward.
“Hullo, Peteiro,” he said. “Thought you’d left.”
The other grinned recognition.
“Going up to Aldershot this year?”
“Yes. Light weight.”
“So am I.”
The scrum had formed by now, and further conversation was impossible. Drummond looked a little thoughtful as he put the ball in. He had been told that Peteiro was leaving Ripton at Christmas. It was a nuisance his being still at school. Drummond was not afraid of him—he would have fought a champion of the world if the school had expected him to—but he could not help remembering that it was only by the very narrowest margin, and after a terrific three rounds, that he had beaten him in the Feathers the year before. It would be too awful for words if the decision were to be reversed in the coming competition.
But he was not allowed much leisure for pondering on the future. The present was too full of incident and excitement. The withdrawal of the four invalids and the departure of Dunn had not reduced the Ripton team to that wreck of its former self which the Wrykyn fifteen had looked for. On the contrary, their play seemed, if anything, a shade better than it had been in the former match. There was all the old aggressiveness, and Peteiro and his partner, so far from being timid novices and losing their heads, eclipsed the exhibition given at Wrykyn by Waite and Dunn. Play had only been in progress six minutes when Keith, taking a pass on the twenty-five line, slipped past Attell, ran round the back, and scored between the posts. Three minutes later the other Ripton centre scored. At the end of twenty minutes the Wrykyn line had been crossed five times, and each of the tries had been converted.
“Can’t you fellows get that ball in the scrum?” demanded Allardyce plaintively, as the team began for the fifth time the old familiar walk to the half-way line. “Pack tight, and get the first shove.”
The result of this address was to increase the Ripton lead by four points. In his anxiety to get the ball, one of the Wrykyn forwards started heeling before it was in, and the referee promptly gave a free kick to Ripton for “foot up.” As this event took place within easy reach of the Wrykyn goal, and immediately in front of the same, Keith had no difficulty in bringing off the penalty.
By half-time the crowd in the road, hoarse with laughter, had exhausted all their adjectives and were repeating themselves. The Ripton score was six goals, a penalty goal, and two tries to nil, and the Wrykyn team was a demoralised rabble.
The fact that the rate of scoring slackened somewhat after the interval may be attributed to the disinclination of the Riptonians to exert themselves unduly. They ceased playing in the stern and scientific spirit in which they had started; and, instead of adhering to an orthodox game, began to enjoy themselves. The forwards no longer heeled like a machine. They broke through ambitiously, and tried to score on their own account. When the outsides got as far as the back, they did not pass. They tried to drop goals. In this way only twenty-two points were scored after half-time. Allardyce and Drummond battled on nobly, but with their pack hopelessly outclassed it was impossible for them to do anything of material use. Barry, on the wing, tackled his man whenever the latter got the ball, but, as a rule, the centres did not pass, but attacked by themselves. At last, by way of a fitting conclusion to the rout, the Ripton back, catching a high punt, ran instead of kicking, and, to the huge delight of the town contingent, scored. With this incident the visiting team drained the last dregs of the bitter cup. Humiliation could go no further. Almost immediately afterwards the referee blew his whistle for “No side.”
“Three cheers for Wrykyn,” said Keith.
To the fifteen victims it sounded ironical.
drummond goes into retirement.
HE return journey of a school team after a crushing defeat in a foreign match is never a very exhilarating business. Those members of the side who have not yet received their colours are wondering which of them is to be sacrificed to popular indignation and “chucked”: the rest, who have managed to get their caps, are feeling that even now two-thirds of the school will be saying that they are not worth a place in the third fifteen; while the captain, brooding apart, is becoming soured at the thought that Posterity will forget what little good he may have done, and remember only that it was in his year that the school got so many points taken off them by So-and-So. Conversation does not ripple and sparkle during these home-comings. The Wrykyn team made the journey in almost unbroken silence. They were all stiff and sore, and their feelings were such as to unfit them for talking to people.
The school took the thing very philosophically—a bad sign. When a school is in a healthy, normal condition, it should be stirred up by a bad defeat by another school, like a disturbed wasps’ nest. Wrykyn made one or two remarks about people who could not play footer for toffee, and then let the thing drop.
Sheen was too busy with his work and his boxing to have much leisure for mourning over this latest example of the present inefficiency of the school. The examination for the Gotford was to come off in two days, and the inter-house boxing was fixed for the following Wednesday. In five days, therefore, he would get his chance of retrieving his lost place in the school. He was certain that he could, at any rate make a very good show against anyone in the school, even Drummond. Joe Bevan was delighted with his progress, and quoted Shakespeare volubly in his admiration. Jack Bruce and Francis added their tribute, and the knife and boot boy paid him the neatest compliment of all by refusing point-blank to have any more dealings with him whatsoever. His professional duties, explained the knife and boot boy, did not include being punched in the heye by blokes, and he did not intend to be put upon.
“You’ll do all right,” said Jack Bruce, as they were motoring home, “if they’ll let you go in for it all. But how do you know they will? Have they chosen the men yet?”
“Not yet. They don’t do it till the day before. But there won’t be any difficulty about that. Drummond will let me have a shot if he thinks I’m good enough.”
“Oh, you’re good enough,” said Bruce.
And when, on the Monday evening, Francis, on receipt of no fewer than four blows in a single round—a record, shook him by the hand and said that if ever he happened to want a leetle darg that was a perfect bag of tricks and had got a pedigree, mind you, he, Francis, would be proud to supply that animal, Sheen felt that the moment had come to approach Drummond on the subject of the house boxing. It would be a little awkward at first, and conversation would probably run somewhat stiffly; but all would be well once he had explained himself.
But things had been happening in his absence which complicated the situation. Allardyce was having tea with Drummond, who had been stopping in with a sore throat. He had come principally to make arrangements for the match between his house and Seymour’s in the semi-final round of the competition.
“You’re looking bad,” he said, taking a seat.
“I’m feeling bad,” said Drummond. For the past few days he had been very much out of sorts. He put it down to a chill caught after the Ripton match. He had never mustered up sufficient courage to sponge himself with cold water after soaking in a hot bath, and he occasionally suffered for it.
“What’s up?” inquired Allardyce.
“Oh, I don’t know. Sort of beastly feeling. Sore throat. Nothing much. Only it makes you feel rather rotten.”
Allardyce looked interested.
“I say,” he said, “it looks as if—I wonder. I hope you haven’t.”
“Mumps. It sounds jolly like it.”
“Mumps! Of course I’ve not. Why should I?”
Allardyce produced a letter from his pocket. “I got this from Keith, the Ripton captain, this morning. You know they’ve had a lot of the thing there. Oh, didn’t you? That was why they had such a bad team out.”
“Bad team!” murmured Drummond.
“Well, I mean not their best team. They had four of their men down with mumps. Here’s what Keith says. Listen. Bit about hoping we got back all right, and so on, first. Then he says—here it is, ‘Another of our fellows has got the mumps. One of the forwards; rather a long man who was good out of touch. He developed it a couple of days after the match. It’s lucky that all our card games are over. We beat John’s, Oxford, last Wednesday, and that finished the card. But it’ll rather rot up the House matches. We should have walked the cup, but there’s no knowing what will happen now. I hope none of your lot caught the mumps from Browning during the game. It’s quite likely, of course. Browning ought not to have been playing, but I had no notion that there was anything wrong with him. He never said he felt bad.’ You’ve got it, Drummond. That’s what’s the matter with you.”
“Oh, rot,” said Drummond. “It’s only a chill.”
But the school doctor, who had looked in at the house to dose a small Seymourite who had indulged too heartily in the pleasures of the table, had other views, and before lockup Drummond was hurried off to the infirmary.
Sheen went to Drummond’s study after preparation had begun, and was surprised to find him out. Not being on speaking terms with a single member of the house, he was always out-of-date as regarded items of school news. As a rule he had to wait until Jack Bruce told him before learning of any occurrence of interest. He had no notion that mumps was the cause of Drummond’s absence, and he sat and waited patiently for him in his study till the bell rang for prayers. The only possible explanation that occurred to him was that Drummond was in somebody else’s study, and he could not put his theory to the test by going and looking. It was only when Drummond did not put in an appearance at prayers that Sheen began to suspect that something might have happened.
It was maddening not to be able to make inquiries. He had almost decided to go and ask Linton, and risk whatever might be the consequences of such a step, when he remembered that the matron must know. He went to her, and was told that Drummond was in the infirmary.
He could not help seeing that this made his position a great deal more difficult. In ten minutes he could have explained matters to Drummond if he had found him in his study. But it would be a more difficult task to put the thing clearly in a letter.
Meanwhile, it was bed-time, and he soon found his hands too full with his dormitory to enable him to think out the phrasing of that letter. The dormitory, which was recruited entirely from the junior day-room, had heard of Drummond’s departure with rejoicings. They liked Drummond, but he was a good deal too fond of the iron hand for their tastes. A night with Sheen in charge should prove a welcome change.
A deafening uproar was going on when Sheen arrived, and as he came into the room somebody turned the gas out. He found some matches on the chest of drawers, and lit it again just in time to see a sportive youth tearing the clothes off his bed and piling them on the floor. A month before he would not have known how to grapple with such a situation, but his evenings with Joe Bevan had given him the habit of making up his mind and acting rapidly. Drummond was wont to keep a swagger-stick by his bedside for the better observance of law and order. Sheen possessed himself of this swagger-stick, and reasoned with the sportive youth. The rest of the dormitory looked on in interested silence. It was a critical moment, and on his handling of it depended Sheen’s victory or defeat. If he did not keep his head he was lost. A dormitory is merciless to a prefect whose weakness they have discovered.
Sheen kept his head. In a quiet, pleasant voice, fingering the swagger-stick, as he spoke, in an absent manner, he requested his young friend to re-make the bed—rapidly and completely. For the space of five minutes no sound broke the silence except the rustle of sheets and blankets. At the end of that period the bed looked as good as new.
“Thanks,” said Sheen gratefully. “That’s very kind of you.”
He turned to the rest of the dormitory.
“Don’t let me detain you,” he said politely. “Get into bed as soon as you like.”
The dormitory got into bed sooner than they liked. For some reason the colossal rag they had planned had fizzled out. They were thoughtful as they crept between the sheets. Could these things be?
After much deliberation Sheen sent his letter to Drummond on the following day. It was not a long letter, but it was carefully worded. It explained that he had taken up boxing of late, and ended with a request that he might be allowed to act as Drummond’s understudy in the House competitions.
It was late that evening when the infirmary attendant came over with the answer.
Like the original letter, the answer was brief.
“Dear Sheen,” wrote Drummond, “thanks for the offer. I am afraid I can’t accept it. We must have the best man. Linton is going to box for the House in the light weights.”
(To be continued.)