The Captain, October 1904
mainly about fenn.
HEN we get licked to-morrow by half-a-dozen wickets,” said Jimmy Silver, tilting his chair until the back touched the wall, “don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you fellows take down what I say from time to time in note-books, as you ought to do, you’ll remember that I offered to give anyone odds that Kay’s would out us in the final. I always said that a really hot man like Fenn was more good to a side than half-a-dozen ordinary men. He can do all the bowling and all the batting. All the fielding, too, in the slips.”
Tea was just over at Blackburn’s, and the bulk of the house had gone across to preparation in the school buildings. The prefects, as was their custom, lingered on to finish the meal at their leisure. These after-tea conversations were quite an institution at Blackburn’s. The labours of the day were over, and the time for preparation for the morrow had not yet come. It would be time to be thinking of that in another hour. Meanwhile, a little relaxation might be enjoyed. Especially so as this was the last day but two of the summer term, and all necessity for working after tea had ceased with the arrival of the last lap of the examinations.
Silver was head of the house, and captain of its cricket team, which was nearing the end of its last match, the final for the inter-house cup, and—on paper—getting decidedly the worst of it. After riding in triumph over the School House, Bedell’s, and Mulholland’s, Blackburn’s had met its next door neighbour, Kay’s, in the final, and, to the surprise of the great majority of the school, was showing up badly. The match was affording one more example of how a team of average merit all through may sometimes fall before a one-man side. Blackburn’s had the three last men on the list of the first eleven, Silver, Kennedy, and Challis, and at least nine of its representatives had the reputation of being able to knock up a useful twenty or thirty at any time. Kay’s, on the other hand, had one man, Fenn. After him the tail started. But Fenn was such an exceptional all-round man that, as Silver had said, he was as good as half-a-dozen of the Blackburn’s team, equally formidable whether batting or bowling—he headed the school averages at both. He was one of those batsmen who seem to know exactly what sort of ball you are going to bowl before it leaves your hand, and he could hit like another Jessop. As for his bowling, he bowled left hand—always a puzzling eccentricity to an undeveloped batsman—and could send them down very fast or very slow, as he thought best, and it was hard to see which particular brand he was going to serve up before it was actually in mid-air.
But it is not necessary to enlarge on his abilities. The figures against his name in Wisden prove a good deal. The fact that he had steered Kay’s through into the last round of the house-matches proves still more. It was perfectly obvious to everyone that, if only you could get Fenn out for under ten, Kay’s total for that innings would be nearer twenty than forty. They were an appalling side. But then no house bowler had as yet succeeded in getting Fenn out for under ten. In the six innings he had played in the competition up to date, he had made four centuries, an eighty, and a seventy.
Kennedy, the second prefect at Blackburn’s, paused in the act of grappling with the remnant of a pot of jam belonging to some person unknown, to reply to Silver’s remarks.
“We aren’t beaten yet,” he said, in his solid way. Kennedy’s chief characteristics were solidity, and an infinite capacity for taking pains. Nothing seemed to tire or discourage him. He kept pegging away till he arrived. The ordinary person, for instance, would have considered the jam-pot, on which he was then engaged, an empty jam-pot. Kennedy saw that there was still a strawberry (or it may have been a section of a strawberry) at the extreme end, and he meant to have that coy vegetable if he had to squeeze the pot to get at it. To take another instance, all the afternoon of the previous day he had bowled patiently at Fenn while the latter lifted every other ball into space. He had been taken off three times, and at every fresh attack he had plodded on doggedly, until at last, as he had expected, the batsman had misjudged a straight one, and he had bowled him all over his wicket. Kennedy generally managed to get there sooner or later.
“It’s no good chucking the game up simply because we’re in a tight place,” he said, bringing the spoon to the surface at last with the section of strawberry adhering to the end of it. “That sort of thing’s awfully feeble.”
“He calls me feeble!” shouted Jimmy Silver. “By James, I’ve put a man to sleep for less.”
It was one of his amusements to express himself from time to time in a melodramatic fashion, sometimes accompanying his words with suitable gestures. It was on one of these occasions—when he had assumed at a moment’s notice the rôle of the “Baffled Despot,” in an argument with Kennedy in his study on the subject of the house football team—that he broke what Mr. Blackburn considered a valuable door with a poker. Since then he had moderated his transports.
“They’ve got to make seventy-nine,” said Kennedy.
Challis, the other first eleven man, was reading a green scoring book.
“I don’t think Kay’s ought to have the face to stick the cup up in their dining-room,” he said, “considering the little they’ve done to win it. If they do win it, that is. Still, as they made two hundred first innings, they ought to be able to knock off seventy-nine. But I was saying that the pot ought to go to Fenn. Lot the rest of the team had to do with it. Blackburn’s, first innings, hundred and fifty-one; Fenn, eight for forty-nine. Kay’s, two hundred and one; Fenn, a hundred and sixty-four not out. Second innings, Blackburn’s hundred and twenty-eight; Fenn ten for eighty. Bit thick, isn’t it? I suppose that’s what you’d call a one-man team.”
Williams, one of the other prefects, who had just sat down at the piano for the purpose of playing his one tune—a cake-walk, of which, through constant practice, he had mastered the rudiments—spoke over his shoulder to Silver.
“I tell you what, Jimmy,” he said, “you’ve probably lost us the pot by getting your people to send brother Billy to Kay’s. If he hadn’t kept up his wicket yesterday, Fenn wouldn’t have made half as many.”
When his young brother had been sent to Eckleton two terms before, Jimmy Silver had strongly urged upon his father the necessity of placing him in some house other than Blackburn’s. He felt that a head of a house, even of so orderly and perfect a house as Blackburn’s, has enough worries without being saddled with a small brother. And on the previous afternoon young Billy Silver, going in eighth wicket for Kay’s, had put a solid bat in front of everything for the space of one hour, in the course of which he made ten runs and Fenn sixty. By scoring odd numbers off the last ball of each over, Fenn had managed to secure the majority of the bowling in the most masterly way.
“These things will happen,” said Silver, resignedly. “We Silvers, you know, can’t help making runs. Come on, Williams, let’s have that tune, and get it over.”
Williams obliged. It was a classic piece called “The Coon Band Contest,” remarkable partly for a taking melody, partly for the vast possibilities of noise which it afforded. Williams made up for his failure to do justice to the former by a keen appreciation of the latter. He played the piece through again, in order to correct the mistakes he had made at his first rendering of it. Then he played it for the third time to correct a new batch of errors.
“I should like to hear Fenn play that,” said Challis. “You’re awfully good, you know, Williams, but he might do it better still.”
“Get him to play it as an encore at the concert,” said Williams, starting for the fourth time.
Fenn’s abilities included music. He was not a genius at the piano, as he was at cricket, but he was a sufficiently sound performer for his age, considering that he had not made a special study of it. He was to play at the school concert on the following day.
“I believe Fenn has an awful time at Kay’s,” said Jimmy Silver. “It must be a fair sort of hole, judging from the specimens you see crawling about in Kay caps. I wish I’d known my people were sending young Billy there. I’d have warned them. I only told them not to sling him in here. I had no idea they’d have picked Kay’s.”
“Fenn was telling me the other day,” said Kennedy, “that being in Kay’s had spoiled his whole time at the school. He always wanted to come to Blackburn’s, only there wasn’t room that particular term. Bad luck, wasn’t it? I don’t think he found it so bad before he became head of the house. He didn’t come into contact with Kay so much. But now he finds that he can’t do a thing without Kay buzzing round and interfering.”
“I wonder,” said Jimmy Silver, thoughtfully, “if that’s why he bowls so fast. To work it off, you know.”
In the course of a beautiful innings of fifty-three that afternoon, the captain of Blackburn’s had received two of Fenn’s speediest on the same spot just above the pad in rapid succession, and he now hobbled painfully when he moved about.
The conversation that evening had dealt so largely with Fenn—the whole school, indeed, was talking of nothing but his great attempt to win the cricket cup single-handed—that Kennedy, going out into the road for a breather before the rest of the boarders returned from preparation, made his way to Kay’s to see if Fenn was imitating his example, and taking the air too.
He found him at Kay’s gate, and they strolled towards the school buildings together. Fenn was unusually silent.
“Well?” said Kennedy, after a minute had passed without a remark.
Fenn laughed what novelists are fond of calling a mirthless laugh.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said; “I’m sick of this place.”
Kennedy inspected his friend’s face anxiously by the light of the lamp over the school gate. There was no mistake about it. Fenn certainly did look bad. His face always looked lean and craggy, but to-night there was a difference. He looked used up.
“Fagged?” asked Kennedy.
“Everything. I wish you could come into Kay’s for a bit just to see what it’s like. Then you’d understand. At present I don’t suppose you’ve an idea of it. I’d like to write a book on ‘Kay Day by Day’. I’d have plenty to put in it.”
“What’s he been doing?”
“Oh, nothing out of the ordinary run. It’s the fact that he’s always at it that does me. You get a houseful of—well, you know the sort of chap the average Kayite is. They’d keep me busy even if I were allowed a free hand. But I’m not. Whenever I try and keep order and stop things a bit, out springs the man Kay from nowhere, and takes the job out of my hands, makes a ghastly mess of everything, and retires purring. Once in every three times, or thereabouts, he slangs me in front of the kids for not keeping order. I’m glad this is the end of the term. I couldn’t stand it much longer. Hullo, here come the chaps from prep. We’d better be getting back.”
an evening at kay’s.
HEY turned, and began to walk towards the houses. Kennedy felt miserable. He never allowed himself to be put out to any great extent by his own worries, which, indeed, had not been very numerous up to the present, but the misfortunes of his friends always troubled him exceedingly. When anything happened to him personally he found the discomfort of being in a tight place largely counterbalanced by the excitement of trying to find a way out. But the impossibility of helping Fenn in any way depressed him.
“It must be awful,” he said, breaking the silence.
“It is,” said Fenn, briefly.
“But haven’t the house matches made any difference? Blackburn’s always frightfully bucked when the house does anything. You can do anything you like with him if you lift a cup. I should have thought Kay would have been all right when he saw you knocking up centuries, and getting into the final, and all that sort of thing.”
“Kay!” he said. “My dear man, he doesn’t know. I don’t suppose he’s got the remotest idea that we are in the final at all, or, if he has, he doesn’t understand what being in the final means.”
“But surely he’ll be glad if you lick us to-morrow?” asked Kennedy. Such indifference on the part of a housemaster respecting the fortunes of his house seemed to him, having before him the bright example of Mr. Blackburn, almost incredible.
“I don’t suppose so,” said Fenn. “Or if he is, I’ll bet he doesn’t show it. He’s not like Blackburn. I wish he was. Here he comes, so perhaps we’d better talk about something else.”
The vanguard of the boys returning from preparation had passed them, and they were now standing at the gate of the house. As Fenn spoke, a little, restless-looking man in cap and gown came up. His clean-shaven face wore an expression of extreme alertness—the sort of look a ferret wears as he slips in at the mouth of a rabbit-hole. A doctor, called upon to sum up Mr. Kay at a glance, would probably have said that he suffered from nerves. Which would have been a perfectly correct diagnosis, though none of the members of his house put his manners and customs down to that cause. They considered that the methods he pursued in the management of the house were the outcome of a naturally malignant disposition. This was, however, not the case. There is no reason to suppose that Mr. Kay did not mean well. But there is no doubt that he was extremely fussy. And fussiness—with the possible exceptions of homicidal mania and a taste for arson—is quite the worst characteristic it is possible for a housemaster to possess.
He caught sight of Fenn and Kennedy at the gate, and stopped in his stride.
“What are you doing here, Fenn?” he asked, with an abruptness which brought a flush to the latter’s face, “why are you outside the house?”
Kennedy began to understand why it was that his friend felt so strongly on the subject of his housemaster. If this was the sort of thing that happened every day, no wonder that there was dissension in the house of Kay. He tried to imagine Blackburn speaking in that way to Jimmy Silver or himself, but his imagination was unequal to the task. Between Mr. Blackburn and his prefects there existed a perfect understanding. He relied on them to see that order was kept, and they acted accordingly. Fenn, by the exercise of considerable self-control, had always been scrupulously polite to Mr. Kay.
“I came out to get some fresh air before lock-up, sir,” he replied.
“Well, go in. Go in at once. I cannot allow you to be outside the house at this hour. Go indoors directly.”
Kennedy expected a scene, but Fenn took it quite quietly.
“Good night, Kennedy,” he said.
“So long,” said Kennedy.
Fenn caught his eye, and smiled painfully. Then he turned and went into the house.
Mr. Kay’s zeal for reform was apparently still unsatisfied. He directed his batteries towards Kennedy.
“Go to your house at once, Kennedy. You have no business out here at this time.”
This, thought Kennedy, was getting a bit too warm. Mr. Kay might do as he pleased with his own house, but he was hanged if he was going to trample on him.
“Mr. Blackburn is my house-master, sir,” he said with great respect.
Mr. Kay stared.
“My house-master,” continued Kennedy with gusto, slightly emphasising the first word, “knows that I always go out just before lock-up, and he has no objection.”
And, to emphasise this point, he walked towards the school buildings again. For a moment it seemed as if Mr. Kay intended to call him back, but he thought better of it. Mr. Blackburn, in normal circumstances a pacific man, had one touchy point—his house. He resented any interference with its management, and was in the habit of saying so. Mr. Kay remembered one painful scene in the Masters’ Common Room when he had ventured to let fall a few well-meant hints as to how a house should be ruled. Really, he had thought Blackburn would have choked. Better, perhaps, to leave him to look after his own affairs.
So Mr. Kay followed Fenn indoors, and Kennedy, having watched him vanish, made his way to Blackburn’s.
Quietly as Fenn had taken the incident at the gate, it nevertheless rankled. He read prayers that night in a distinctly unprayerful mood. It seemed to him that it would be lucky if he could get through to the end of the term before Mr. Kay applied that last straw which does not break the backs of camels only. Eight weeks’ holiday, with plenty of cricket, would brace him up for another term. And he had been invited to play for the county against Middlesex four days after the holidays began. That should have been a soothing thought. But it really seemed to make matters worse. It was hard that a man who on Monday would be bowling against Warner and Beldam, or standing up to Trott and Hearne, should on the preceding Tuesday be sent indoors like a naughty child by a man who stood five-feet-one in his boots, and was devoid of any sort of merit whatever.
It seemed to him that it would help him to sleep peacefully that night if he worked off a little of his just indignation upon somebody. There was a noise going on in the fags’ room. There always was at Kay’s. It was not a particularly noisy noise—considering; but it had better be stopped. Badly as Kay had treated him, he remembered that he was head of the house, and as such it behoved him to keep order in the house.
He went downstairs, and, on arriving on the scene of action, found that the fags were engaged upon spirited festivities, partly in honour of the near approach of the summer holidays, partly because—miracles barred—the house was going on the morrow to lift the cricket-cup. There were a good many books flying about, and not a few slippers. There was a confused mass rolling in combat on the floor, and the table was occupied by a scarlet-faced individual, who passed the time by kicking violently at certain hands, which were endeavouring to drag him from his post, and shrieking frenzied abuse at the owners of the said hands. It was an animated scene, and to a deaf man might have been most enjoyable.
Fenn’s appearance was the signal for a temporary suspension of hostilities.
“What the dickens is all this row about?” he inquired.
No one seemed ready at the moment with a concise explanation. There was an awkward silence. One or two of the weaker spirits even went so far as to sit down and begin to read. All would have been well but for a bright idea which struck some undiscovered youth at the back of the room.
“Three cheers for Fenn!” observed this genial spirit in no uncertain voice.
The idea caught on. It was just what was wanted to give a finish to the evening’s festivities. Fenn had done well by the house. He had scored four centuries and an eighty, and was going to knock off the runs against Blackburn’s to-morrow off his own bat. Also, he had taken eighteen wickets in the final house-match. Obviously Fenn was a person deserving of all encouragement. It would be a pity to let him think that his effort had passed unnoticed by the fags’ room. Happy thought! Three cheers and one more, and then “He’s a jolly good fellow,” to wind up with.
It was while those familiar words, “It’s a way we have in the public scho-o-o-o-l-s,” were echoing through the room in various keys, that a small and energetic form brushed past Fenn as he stood in the doorway, vainly trying to stop the fags’ choral efforts.
It was Mr. Kay.
The singing ceased gradually, very gradually. It was some time before Mr. Kay could make himself heard. But after a couple of minutes there was a lull, and the house-master’s address began to be audible.
“ . . . unendurable noise. What is the meaning of it? I will not have it. Do you hear? It is disgraceful. Every boy in this room will write me two hundred lines by to-morrow evening. It is abominable. Fenn.” He wheeled round towards the head of the house. “Fenn, I am surprised at you standing here and allowing such a disgraceful disturbance to go on. Really, if you cannot keep order better—It is disgraceful, disgraceful.”
Mr. Kay shot out of the room. Fenn followed in his wake, and the procession made its way to the house-masters’ study. It had been a near thing, but the last straw had arrived before the holidays.
Mr. Kay wheeled round as he reached his study door.
Fenn said nothing.
“Have you anything you wish to say, Fenn?”
“I thought you might have something to say to me, sir.”
“I do not understand you, Fenn.”
“I thought you might wish to apologise for slanging me in front of the fags.”
It is wonderful what a difference the last straw will make in one’s demeanour to a person.
“Apologise! I think you forget whom it is you are speaking to.”
When a master makes this well-worn remark, the wise youth realises that the time has come to close the conversation. All Fenn’s prudence, however, had gone to the four winds.
“If you wanted to tell me I was not fit to be head of the house, you needn’t have done it before a roomful of fags. How do you think I can keep order in the house if you do that sort of thing?”
Mr. Kay overcame his impulse to end the interview abruptly in order to put in a thrust.
“You do not keep order in the house, Fenn,” he said acidly.
“I do when I am not interfered with.”
“You will be good enough to say ‘sir’ when you speak to me, Fenn,” said Mr. Kay, thereby scoring another point. In the stress of the moment, Fenn had not noticed the omission.
He was silenced. And before he could recover himself, Mr. Kay was in his study, and there was a closed, forbidding door between them.
And as he stared at it, it began slowly to dawn upon Fenn that he had not shown up to advantage in the recent interview. To put it crisply, he had made a fool of himself.
the final house-match.
LACKBURN’S took the field at three punctually on the following afternoon, to play out the last act of the final house-match. They were not without some small hope of victory, for curious things happen at cricket, especially in the fourth innings of a match. And runs are admitted to be easier saved than made. Yet seventy-nine seemed an absurdly small score to try and dismiss a team for, and in view of the fact that that team contained a batsman like Fenn, it seemed smaller still. But Jimmy Silver, resolutely as he had declared victory impossible to his intimate friends, was not the man to depress his team by letting it become generally known that he considered Blackburn’s chances small.
“You must work like niggers in the field,” he said; “don’t give away a run. Seventy-nine isn’t much to make, but if we get Fenn out for a few, they won’t come near it.”
He did not add that in his opinion Fenn would take very good care that he did not get out for a few. It was far more likely that he would make that seventy-nine off his own bat in a dozen overs.
“You’d better begin, Kennedy,” he continued, “from the top end. Place your men where you want ’em. I should have an extra man in the deep, if I were you. That’s where Fenn kept putting them last innings. And you’ll want a short leg, only for goodness sake keep them off the leg-side if you can. It’s a safe four to Fenn every time if you don’t. Look out, you chaps. Man in.”
Kay’s first pair were coming down the Pavilion steps.
Challis, going to his place at short slip, called Silver’s attention to a remarkable fact.
“Hullo,” he said, “why isn’t Fenn coming in first?”
“What! By Jove, nor he is. That’s queer. All the better for us. You might get a bit finer, Challis, in case they snick ’em.”
Wayburn, who had accompanied Fenn to the wicket at the beginning of Kay’s first innings, had now for his partner one Walton, a large, unpleasant-looking youth, said to be a bit of a bruiser, and known to be a black sheep. He was one of those who made life at Kay’s so close an imitation of an Inferno. His cricket was of a rustic order. He hit hard and high. When allowed to do so he hit often. But, as a rule, he left early, a prey to the slips or deep fields. To-day was no exception to that rule.
Kennedy’s first ball was straight and medium-paced. It was a little too short, however, and Walton, letting go at it with a semi-circular sweep like the drive of a golfer, sent it soaring over mid-on’s head and over the boundary. Cheers from the pavilion.
Kennedy bowled his second ball with the same purposeful air, and Walton swept at it as before. There was a click, and Jimmy Silver, who was keeping wicket, took the ball comfortably on a level with his chin.
The umpire’s hand went up, and Walton went out—reluctantly, murmuring legends of how he had not gone within a yard of the thing.
It was only when the next batsman who emerged from the pavilion turned out to be his young brother and not Fenn, that Silver began to see that something was wrong. It was conceivable that Fenn might have chosen to go in first wicket down instead of opening the batting, but not that he should go in second wicket. If Kay’s were to win it was essential that he should begin to bat as soon as possible. Otherwise there might be no time for him to knock off the runs. However good a batsman is, he can do little if no one can stay with him.
There was no time to question the newcomer. He must control his curiosity until the fall of the next wicket.
“Man in,” he said.
Billy Silver was in many ways a miniature edition of his brother, and he carried the resemblance into his batting. The head of Blackburn’s was stylish, and took no risks. His brother had not yet developed a style, but he was very settled in his mind on the subject of risks. There was no tempting him with half-volleys and long-hops. His motto was defence, not defiance. He placed a straight bat in the path of every ball, and seemed to consider his duty done if he stopped it.
The remainder of the over was, therefore, quiet. Billy played Kennedy’s fastest like a book, and left the more tempting ones alone.
Challis’s first over realised a single, Wayburn snicking him to leg. The first ball of Kennedy’s second over saw him caught at the wicket, as Walton had been.
“Every time a cocoanut,” said Jimmy Silver complacently, as he walked to the other end. “We’re a powerful combination, Kennedy. Where’s Fenn? Does anybody know? Why doesn’t he come in?”
Billy Silver, seated on the grass by the side of the crease, fastening the top strap of one of his pads, gave tongue with the eagerness of the well-informed man.
“What, don’t you know?” he said. “Why, there’s been an awful row. Fenn won’t be able to play till four o’clock. I believe he and Kay had a row last night, and he cheeked Kay, and the old man’s given him a sort of extra. I saw him going over to the School House, and I heard him tell Wayburn that he wouldn’t be able to play till four.”
The effect produced by this communication would be most fittingly expressed by the word “sensation” in brackets. It came as a complete surprise to everyone. It seemed to knock the bottom out of the whole match. Without Fenn the thing would be a farce. Kay’s would have no chance.
“What a worm that man is,” said Kennedy. “Do you know, I had a sort of idea Fenn wouldn’t last out much longer. Kay’s been ragging him all the term. I went round to see him last night, and Kay behaved like a bounder then. I expect Fenn had it out with him when they got indoors. What a beastly shame, though.”
“Beastly,” agreed Jimmy Silver. “Still, it can’t be helped. The sins of the house-master are visited on the house. I’m afraid it will be our painful duty to wipe the floor with Kay’s this day. Speaking at a venture, I should say that we have got them where the hair’s short. Yea. Even on toast, if I may be allowed to use the expression. Who is this coming forth now? Curtis, or me old eyes deceive me. And is not Curtis’s record score three, marred by ten chances? Indeed yes. A fastish yorker should settle Curtis’s young hash. Try one.”
Kennedy followed the recipe. A ball later the middle and leg stumps were lying in picturesque attitudes some yards behind the crease, and Curtis was beginning that “sad, unending walk to the pavilion,” thinking, with the poet,
“Thou wast not made to play, infernal ball!”
Blackburn’s non-combatants, dotted round the boundary, shrieked their applause. Three wickets had fallen for five runs, and life was worth living. Kay’s were silent and gloomy.
Billy Silver continued to occupy one end in an immovable manner, but at the other there was no monotony. Man after man came in, padded and gloved and looking capable of mighty things. They took guard, patted the ground lustily, as if to make it plain that they were going to stand no nonsense, settled their caps over their eyes, and prepared to receive the ball. When it came it usually took a stump or two with it before it stopped. It was a procession such as the school grounds had not often seen. As the tenth man walked from the pavilion, four sounded from the clock over the Great Hall, and five minutes later the weary eyes of the supporters of Kay’s were refreshed by the sight of Fenn making his way to the arena from the direction of the School House.
Just as he arrived on the scene, Billy Silver’s defence broke down. One of Challis’s slows, which he had left alone with the idea that it was going to break away to the off, came in quickly instead, and removed a bail. Billy Silver had only made eight; but, as the full score, including one bye, was only eighteen, this was above the average, and deserved the applause it received.
Fenn came in in the unusual position of eleventh man, with an expression on his face that seemed to suggest that he meant business. He was curiously garbed. Owing to the shortness of the interval allowed him for changing, he had only managed to extend his cricket costume as far as white buckskin boots. He wore no pads or gloves. But even in the face of these sartorial deficiencies, he looked like a cricketer. The field spread out respectfully, and Jimmy Silver moved a man from the slips into the country.
There were three more balls of Challis’s over, for Billy Silver’s collapse had occurred at the third delivery. Fenn mistimed the first. Two hours writing indoors does not improve the eye. The ball missed the leg stump by an inch.
About the fifth ball he made no mistake. He got the full face of the bat to it, and it hummed past coverpoint to the boundary. The last of the over he put to leg for three.
A remarkable last-wicket partnership now took place, remarkable not so much for tall scoring as for the fact that one of the partners did not receive a single ball from beginning to end of it, with the exception of the one that bowled him. Fenn seemed to be able to do what he pleased with the bowling. Kennedy he played with a shade more respect than the others, but he never failed to score a three or a single off the last ball of each of his overs. The figures on the telegraph-board rose from twenty to thirty, from thirty to forty, from forty to fifty. Williams went on at the lower end instead of Challis, and Fenn made twelve off his first over. The pavilion was filled with howling enthusiasts, who cheered every hit in a frenzy.
Jimmy Silver began to look worried. He held a hasty consultation with Kennedy. The telegraph-board now showed the figures 60—9—8.
“This won’t do,” said Silver. “It would be too foul to get licked after having nine of them out for eighteen. Can’t you manage to keep Fenn from scoring odd figures off the last ball of your over? If only that kid at the other end would get some of the bowling, we should do it.”
“I’ll try,” said Kennedy, and walked back to begin his over.
Fenn reached his fifty off the third ball. Seventy went up on the board. Ten more and Kay’s would have the cup. The fourth ball was too good to hit. Fenn let it pass. The fifth he drove to the on. It was a big hit, but there was a fieldsman in the neighbourhood. Still, it was an easy two. But to Kennedy’s surprise Fenn sent his partner back after they had run a single. Even the umpire was surprised. Fenn’s policy was so obvious that it was strange to see him thus deliberately allow his partner to take a ball.
“That’s not over, you know, Fenn,” said the umpire—Lang, of the School House, a member of the first eleven.
Fenn looked annoyed. He had miscounted the balls, and now his partner, who had no pretensions to be considered a bat, would have to face Kennedy.
That mistake lost Kay’s the match.
Impossible as he had found it to defeat Fenn, Kennedy had never lost his head or his length. He was bowling fully as well as he had done at the beginning of the innings.
The last ball of the over beat the batsman all the way. He scooped blindly forward, missed it by a foot, and the next moment the off stump lay flat. Blackburn’s had won by seven runs.
harmony and discord.
HAT might be described as a mixed reception awaited the players as they left the field. The pavilion and the parts about the pavilion rails were always packed on the last day of a final house-match, and even in normal circumstances there was apt to be a little sparring between the juniors of the two houses which had been playing for the cup. In the present case, therefore, it was not surprising that Kay’s fags took the defeat badly. The thought that Fenn’s presence at the beginning of the innings, instead of at the end, would have made all the difference between a loss and a victory, maddened them. The crowd that seethed in front of the pavilion was a turbulent one.
For a time the operation of chairing Fenn up the steps occupied the active minds of the Kayites. When he had disappeared into the first eleven room, they turned their attention in other directions. Caustic and uncomplimentary remarks began to fly to and fro between the representatives of Kay’s and Blackburn’s. It is not known who actually administered the first blow. But, when Fenn came out of the pavilion with Kennedy and Silver, he found a stirring battle in progress. The members of the other houses who had come to look on at the match stood in knots, and gazed with approval at the efforts of Kay’s and Blackburn’s juniors to wipe each other off the face of the earth. The air was full of shrill battle-cries, varied now and then by a smack or a thud, as some young but strenuous fist found a billet. The fortune of war seemed to be distributed equally so far, and the combatants were just warming to their work.
“Look here,” said Kennedy, “we ought to stop this.”
“What’s the good,” said Fenn, without interest. “It pleases them, and doesn’t hurt anybody else.”
“All the same,” observed Jimmy Silver, moving towards the nearest group of combatants, “free fights aren’t quite the thing, somehow. For, children, you should never let your angry passions rise: your little hands were never made to tear each other’s eyes. Dr. Watts, ‘Advice to Young Pugilists.’ Drop it, you little beasts.”
He separated two heated youths who were just beginning a fourth round. The rest of the warriors, seeing Silver and the others, called a truce, and Silver, having read a sort of Riot Act, moved on. The juniors of the beaten house, deciding that it would be better not to resume hostilities, consoled themselves by giving three groans for Mr. Kay.
“What happened after I left you last night, Fenn?” asked Kennedy.
“Oh, I had one of my usual rows with Kay, only rather worse than usual. I said one or two things he didn’t like, and to-day the old man sent for me and told me to come to his room from two till four. Kay had run me in for being ‘grossly rude.’ Listen to those kids. What a row they’re making!”
“It’s a beastly shame,” said Kennedy despondently.
At the school shop Morrell, of Mulholland’s, met them. He had been spending the afternoon with a rug and a novel on the hills at the back of the school, and he wanted to know how the final house-match had gone. Blackburn’s had beaten Mulholland’s in one of the early rounds. Kennedy explained what had happened.
“We should have lost if Fenn had turned up earlier,” he said. “He had a row with Kay, and Kay gave him a sort of extra between two and four.”
Fenn, busily occupied with an ice, added no comment of his own to this plain tale.
“Rough luck,” said Morrell. “What’s all that row out in the field?”
“That’s Kay’s kids giving three groans for Kay,” explained Silver. “At least, they started with the idea of giving three groans. They’ve got up to about three hundred by this time. It seems to have fascinated them. They won’t leave off. There’s no school rule against groaning in the grounds, and they mean to groan till the end of the term. Personally, I like the sound. But then, I’m fond of music.”
Morrell’s face beamed with sudden pleasure. “I knew there was something I wanted to tell you,” he said, “only I couldn’t remember what. Your saying you’re fond of music reminds me. Mulholland’s crocked himself, and won’t be able to turn out for the concert.”
“What!” cried Kennedy. “How did it happen? What’s he done?”
Mr. Mulholland was the master who looked after the music of the school, a fine cricketer and keen sportsman. Had nothing gone wrong, he would have conducted at the concert that night.
“I heard it from the matron at our place,” said Morrell. “She’s full of it. Mulholland was batting at the middle net, and somebody else—I forget who—was at the one next to it on the right. The bowler sent down a long-hop to leg, and this Johnny had a smack at it, and sent it slap through the net, and it got Mulholland on the side of the head. He was stunned for a bit, but he’s getting all right again now. But he won’t be able to conduct to-night. Rather bad luck on the man, especially as he’s so keen on the concert.”
“Who’s going to sub. for him?” asked Silver.
“Perhaps they’ll scratch the show,” suggested Kennedy.
“Oh, no,” said Morrell, “it’s all right. Kay is going to conduct. He’s often done it at choir practices when Mulholland couldn’t turn up.”
Fenn put down his empty saucer with an emphatic crack on the counter.
“If Kay’s going to run the show, I’m hanged if I turn up,” he said.
“My dear chap, you can’t get out of it now,” said Kennedy anxiously. He did not want to see Fenn plunging into any more strife with the authorities this term.
“Think of the crowned heads who are coming to hear you,” pleaded Jimmy Silver. “Think of the nobility and gentry. Think of me. You must play.”
“Ah, there you are, Fenn.”
Mr. Kay had bustled in in his energetic way.
Fenn said nothing. He was there. It was idle to deny it.
“I thought I should find you here. Yes, I wanted to see you about the concert to-night. Mr. Mulholland has met with an unfortunate accident, and I am looking after the entertainment in his place. Come with me and play over your piece. I should like to see that you are perfect in it. Dear me, dear me, what a noise those boys are making. Why are they behaving in that extraordinary way, I wonder!”
Kay’s juniors had left the pavilion, and were trooping back to their house. At the present moment they were passing the school shop, and their tuneful voices floated in through the open window.
“This is very unusual. Why, they seem to be boys in my house. They are groaning.”
“I think they are a little upset at the result of the match, sir,” said Jimmy Silver suavely. “Fenn did not arrive for some reason till the end of the innings, so Mr. Blackburn’s won. The wicket was good, but a little fiery.”
“Thank you, Silver,” replied Mr. Kay with asperity. “When I require explanations I will ask for them.”
He darted out of the shop, and a moment later they heard him pouring out a flood of recriminations on the groaning fags.
“There was once a man who snubbed me,” said Jimmy Silver. “They buried him at Brookwood. Well, what are you going to do, Fenn? Going to play to-night? Harkee, boy. Say but the word, and I will beard this tyrant to his face.”
“Yes,” he said briefly, “I shall play. You’d better turn up. I think you’ll enjoy it.”
Silver said that no human power should keep him away.
The School concert was always one of the events of the Summer term. There was a concert at the end of the Winter term, too, but it was not so important. To a great many of those present the Summer concert marked, as it were, the last flutter of their school life. On the morrow they would be Old Boys, and it behoved them to extract as much enjoyment from the function as they could. Under Mr. Mullholland’s rule the concert had become a very flourishing institution. He aimed at a high standard, and reached it. There was more than a touch of the austere about the music. A glance at the programme was enough to show the lover of airs of the trashy, clashy order that this was no place for him. Most of the items were serious. When it was thought necessary to introduce a lighter touch, some staidly rollicking number was inserted, some song that was saved—in spite of a catchy tune—by a halo of antiquity. Anything modern was taboo, unless it were the work of Gotsuchakoff, Thingummyowsky, or some other eminent foreigner. Foreign origin made it just possible.
The school prefects lurked during the performance at the doors and at the foot of the broad stone steps that led to the Great Hall. It was their duty to supply visitors with programmes.
Jimmy Silver had foregathered with Kennedy, Challis, and Williams at the junior door. The Hall was full now, and their labours consequently at an end.
“Pretty good ‘gate,’ ” said Silver, looking in through the open door. “It must be warm up in the gallery.”
Across the further end of the Hall a daïs had been erected. On this the bulk of the school sat, leaving the body of the hall to the crowned heads, nobility, and gentry to whom Silver had referred in his conversation with Fenn.
“It always is warm in the gallery,” said Challis. “I lost about two stone there every concert when I was a kid. We simply used to sit and melt.”
“And I tell you what,” broke in Silver, “it’s going to get warmer before the end of the show. Do you notice that all Kay’s house are sitting in a lump at the back. I bet they’re simply spoiling for a row. Especially now Kay’s running the concert. There’s going to be a hot time in the old town to-night—you see if there isn’t. Hark at ’em.”
The choir had just come to the end of a little thing of Handel’s. There was no reason to suppose that the gallery appreciated Handel. Nevertheless, they were making a deafening noise. Clouds of dust rose from the rhythmical stamping of many feet. The noise was loudest and the dust thickest by the big window, beneath which sat the men from Kay’s. Things were warming up.
The gallery, with one last stamp which nearly caused the daïs to collapse, quieted down. The masters in the audience looked serious. One or two of the visitors glanced over their shoulders with a smile. How excited the dear boys were at the prospect of holidays! Young blood! Young blood! Boys would be boys.
The concert continued. Half-way through the programme there was a ten minutes’ interval. Fenn’s pianoforte solo was the second item of the second half.
He mounted the platform amidst howls of delight from the gallery. Applause at the Eckleton concerts was granted more for services in the playing-fields than merit as a musician. Kubelik or Paderewski would have been welcomed with a few polite handclaps. A man in the eleven or fifteen was certain of two minutes’ unceasing cheers.
“Evidently one of their heroes, my dear,” said Paterfamilias to Materfamilias. “I suppose he has won a scholarship at the University.”
Paterfamilias’ mind was accustomed to run somewhat upon scholarships at the University. What the school wanted was a batting average of forty odd or a bowling analysis in single figures.
Fenn played the “Moonlight Sonata.” A trained musical critic would probably have found much to cavil at in his rendering of the piece, but it was undoubtedly good for a public school player. Of course he was encored. The gallery would have encored him if he had played with one finger, three mistakes to every bar.
“I told Fenn,” said Jimmy Silver, “if he got an encore, that he ought to play the——My aunt! He is!”
Three runs and half-a-dozen crashes, and there was no further room for doubt. Fenn was playing the “Coon Band Contest.”
“He’s gone mad,” gasped Kennedy.
Whether he had or not, it is certain that the gallery had. All the evening they had been stewing in an atmosphere like that of the inner room of a Turkish bath, and they were ready for anything. It needed but a trifle to set them off. The lilt of that unspeakable Yankee melody supplied that trifle. Kay’s malcontents, huddled in their seats by the window, were the first to break out. Feet began to stamp in time to the music—softly at first, then more loudly. The wooden daïs gave out the sound like a drum.
Other rioters joined in from the right. The noise spread through the gallery as a fire spreads through gorse. Soon three hundred pairs of well-shod feet were rising and falling. Somebody began to whistle. Everybody whistled. Mr. Kay was on his feet, gesticulating wildly. His words were lost in the uproar.
For five minutes the din prevailed. Then, with a final crash, Fenn finished. He got up from the music-stool, bowed, and walked back to his place by the senior door. The musical efforts of the gallery changed to a storm of cheering and clapping.
The choir rose to begin the next piece.
Still the noise continued.
People began to leave the Hall—in ones and twos first, then in a steady stream which blocked the doorways. It was plain to the dullest intelligence that if there was going to be any more concert, it would have to be performed in dumb show. Mr. Kay flung down his bâton.
The visitors had left by now, and the gallery was beginning to follow their example, howling as it went.
“Well,” said Jimmy Silver cheerfully, as he went with Kennedy down the steps, “I think we may call that a record. By my halidom, there’ll be a row about this later on.”
(To be continued.)
Jessop: Gilbert Jessop (1874–1955), English cricketer, legendary for hitting hard and scoring points rapidly; Wisden Cricketer of the Year for 1898.
one-man team: Norman Murphy (in A Wodehouse Handbook and Phrases and Notes) cites PGW’s use of this phrase in his notebooks referring to N. A. Knox, a younger Dulwich cricketer who made the first eleven during Wodehouse’s last year, along with other incidents and notes suggesting that Fenn is based in part on Knox. [Thanks to Karen Shotting for pointing this out.]
A Coon Band Contest: Arthur Pryor’s popular 1899 piece can be found online as sheet music. Maurice Levi’s 1909 recording is not the best-known band arrangement but is more faithful to the piano score than the widely available 1917 Earl Fuller performance (several copies on YouTube, for instance).
Warner: Pelham “Plum” Warner (1873–1963) played for Middlesex 1894–1920 and for England 1899–1912, captaining them in 1905–06. Wisden Cricketer of the Year for 1904 and 1921. Notably for Wodehouse’s contemporary readers, Plum Warner became Athletic Editor of The Captain in February 1905, so his first two “Athletic Corner” columns for the magazine appeared along with the last two episodes of The Head of Kay’s. Warner replaced the great C. B. Fry (who had founded his own monthly magazine) as Athletic Editor, and the fact that these two eminent athletes could be recruited for such a post gives some indication of the reputation and quality of the magazine.
Beldam: George Beldam (1868–1937), first-class cricketer for Middlesex, M.C.C., and London County from 1900 to 1907.
Trott: Albert Trott (1873–1914), Australian-born cricketer, representing his native country in 1895 against England, then relocated to England, playing for Middlesex from 1898 to 1910 among other teams. One of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year for 1899.
Hearne: J. T. Hearne (1867–1944), a leading bowler for Middlesex from 1888 to 1923, with a medium-fast delivery and a vigorous off-break; a Wisden Cricketer of the Year for 1892.
Thou wast not made to play, infernal ball! evokes Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale: “Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!”
Dr. Watts: Isaac Watts (1674–1748), English minister and hymn writer; the quoted stanza is from “Against Quarreling and Fighting” (“Let dogs delight to bark and bite”) in Divine Songs . . . for the Use of Children (1715).
Brookwood Cemetery, also known as the London Necropolis, was established in 1852 as a burial ground to serve the city of London; it is still the largest cemetery in the United Kingdom.
a hot time in the old town to-night: from the refrain of the American ragtime song “A Hot Time in the Old Town” (1896) by Theodore A. Metz and Joe Hayden. Online links: sheet music; a 1904 recording by the Sousa Band.
Kubelik: Jan Kubelik (1880–1940), Czech violinist and composer.
Paderewski: Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941), Polish pianist, composer, and statesman.
Moonlight Sonata: Norman Murphy recounts (in A Wodehouse Handbook, vol. 1, ch. 3) that Wodehouse’s older brother Ernest Armine came back to Dulwich to play the Moonlight Sonata at the 1899 school concert. [Thanks to Karen Shotting for pointing this out.]
Feet began to stamp in time to the music: Once again, Norman Murphy has found that this is based on real life: the gallery boys disrupted the 1900 Dulwich concert in just this way.