Fathers of Men/Chapter 19
FAME AND FORTUNE
There was really only one bowler in that year's Eleven, and Chips Carpenter was his prophet. There were others who took turns at the other end, who even captured a few wickets between them in the course of the season; but "the mainstay of our attack was Rutter," as the Mag. found more than one occasion to remark. That organ betrayed a marked belief in the new bowler, from his very first appearance, with the black school cap of previous obscurity pulled down behind his prominent ears. Its rather too pointed praises were widely attributed to the new Editor, none other than Jan's old Crabtree, now a præpostor and captain of Heriot's house. The fact was, however, that Crabtree employed Carpenter as cricket scribe and occasional poetaster, and had to edit him severely both in prose and verse, but especially in those very remarks which found disfavour in other houses.
Old Crabtree, who had suddenly grown into a young man, made by far the best captain the house ever had in Jan's time. But he was a terrible martinet. You had to shut yourself up in your study to breathe the mildest expletive with any safety, and it cost you sixpence to cast the smallest stone in the quad. Crabtree was not precisely popular; but he was respected for his scornful courage and his caustic tongue. It was his distinction to rule by dint of personality unaided by athletic prowess, and during his four terms of authority there can have been few better houses than Heriot's in any school. Shockley likened it to a nunnery without the nuns, and left in disgust for reasons best known to himself and Crabtree. Buggins and the portly Eyre grew into comparatively harmless and even useful members of the community. And the fluent and versatile Chips learnt a lesson or so for the term of his literary life.
"I wish you'd write of people by their names, instead of 'the latter' and 'the former'!" said Crabtree, coming into Chips's study with a proof. "And I say, look here! I'm blowed if I have 'The Promise of May' dragged in because we happen to have lost a match in June! And we won't butter Rutter more than twice in four lines, if you don't mind, Chips."
But Crabtree was not cricketer enough to perceive the quality of the butter apart from the quantity, and some sad samples escaped detection. They still disfigure certain back numbers to be found upon the shelves of the new school library. "Rutter took out his bat for a steadily-played five," for instance; and "the third ball—a beauty—bowled Rutter for a well-earned eight." They were certainly Jan's two longest scores for the team, for he was no batsman, but even on firmer ground the partial historian went much too far. "Better bowling than Rutter's in this match it would be impossible to imagine. His length was only surpassed by his break, and many of his deliveries were simply unplayable." Jan really had taken six wickets on the occasion of this eulogy, but at no inconsiderable cost, and the writer was unable to maintain his own note in the concluding paragraph of the report; "At the end of the first day's play I. T. Rutter received his first XI colours, which it is needless to say, were thoroughly well merited."
Jan's best performance, however, was in the match of the season, against the Old Boys on Founder's Day. Repton and Haileybury it was good to meet, and better to defeat, especially on the home ground with a partisan crowd applauding every stroke. Yet for the maintenance of high excitement the whole of the rival school should have been there as well; on the other hand, it cannot be contended that even the Old Boys' Match was necessarily exciting from a cricket point of view. It had other qualities less dependent on the glorious uncertainty of the game. It was the most popular feature of the prime festival in the school year. It afforded the rising generation an inspiring glimpse of famous forerunners, and it enabled those judges of the game to gauge the prowess of posterity. The Old Boys' Match had proved itself the cradle of many a reputation, and the early grave of one or two.
This year the Old Boys came down in force. There was old Boots Ommaney, the apple of the late professional's eye, who had played for England time and again at both ends of the earth. There was A. G. Swallow, for some seasons the best bowler, and still the finest all-round player, the school had ever turned out. There was the inevitable Swiller Wilman, a younger cricketer of less exalted class, who nevertheless compiled an almost annual century in the match, and was the cheeriest creature in either team. In all there were six former captains of the Eleven, and four old University Blues. But Jan had seven of them in the first innings—five clean bowled—on a wicket just less than fast but as true as steel.
"Well bowled again!" said Dudley Relton in the pavilion. "Don't be disappointed if you don't do quite as well next innings, or even next year. But on that wicket you might run through the best side in England—for the first time of asking."
"It's the break that does it," replied Jan, modestly; "and I don't even know how I put it on."
"It's that break when they're expecting the other. Most left-handers break away from you; it's expected of them, and you do the unexpected, therefore you can bowl. Your break is the easier to play, once they're ready for it. If you only had 'em both, with your length and pace off the pitch, there'd be no holding you in any state of life. You're coming to the Conversazione, of course?"
"I don't think so, sir," answered Jan, blushing furiously.
"But you've got your colours, and all the team came last year. It's the school songs from the choir, and ices and things for all hands, you know."
"I know, sir."
"Then why aren't you coming?"
Jan looked right and left to see that no inquisitive ear was cocked above the collar of contiguous blazer. And then for a second he contemplated the characteristic person of Dudley Relton, as dapper and well-groomed and unlike a pedagogue as Jan knew him to be in grain.
"I haven't got a dress-suit; that's why, sir!" he whispered bitterly.
"What infernal luck!" Relton looked as indignant as Jan felt—and then lit up. "I say, though, we're much the same build, aren't we? I suppose you wouldn't let me see if I can fix you up, Jan?"
Had it been possible to strengthen the peculiar bond already existing between man and boy, these words and their successful sequel would have achieved that result. But indeed the last and least of the words counted for more with Jan than anything that came of them. It was the first time that Dudley Relton had called him by his Christian name. True, it was a school tradition that the Eleven went by theirs among their peers. But as yet the Eleven had not treated Jan precisely as one of themselves. He was younger than any of them, and lower in the school than most. In moments of excitement, such as occur in every match, there was still an unfortunate breadth about his vowels; and when he pulled even his Eleven cap tight over his head, making his ears stick out more than ever, and parting his back hair horizontally to the skin, there was sometimes a wink or a grin behind his back, though the little trick was not seldom the prelude to a wicket. It was characteristic, at all events, and as quickly noted by the many on the rugs as by the rest of the side in the field.
"Don't hustle," you would hear some fellow say; "the Tiger's got his cap pulled down, and I want to watch."
The saying was to acquire almost proverbial value. It proclaimed an omen as sinister in its way as the cloth on Table Mountain, or the sticking out of Bob Heriot's beard. But Crabtree censored an allusion to it in his cricket scribe's account of the Old Boys' Match.
That was a halcyon term for Jan, and to crown all he was still in Dudley Relton's form, and treated with cynical indulgence by that uncompromising specialist. Relton was there to uphold a cricketing tradition, to bridge a gap that could not be filled, and he would not have upset his best bowler even if there had been no other tie between them. The other tie never passed the lips of either, but the memory of it sweetened the bowler's triumph, and very likely that of the coach as well.
Heriot, moreover, was delighted to see a colleague obtain precisely that hold over Jan which a rare delicacy had rendered difficult in his own case. There was no flaw of jealousy or narrowness in Robert Heriot. He was a staunch champion of the much younger man, whose methods and temperament scarcely commended themselves to such hardened schoolmasters as Mr. Haigh and the notorious but insensible Spook. But then Heriot himself was having a very good term. His house was indeed in order under the incomparable Crabtree, nor was Rutter the only fellow in it playing for the Eleven. Stratten had got in for wicket-keeping, and Jellicoe was almost certain of his colours. The trio provided a bit of the best of everything for the house eleven; it was already carrying all before it in the All Ages competition; and Haigh had not spoken to Heriot for two whole days after the hill house went down before "the most obstinate blockhead that ever cumbered my hall."
Jan enjoyed that match; but it must be confessed that he showed far less enjoyment of all his triumphs than did Chips Carpenter on his behalf. Chips Carpenter, not content with singing his praises in print, was now prepared to talk about his friend by the hour together, and became so vociferous during the match in question as to have it straight from Mr. Haigh that he was "behaving like a private-school cad." His own house-master, on the other hand, had never thought so much of him; he knew what the mere enthusiast would have given to be a practical exponent of the game he had to talk and write about instead.
And Heriot liked Jan no less for sticking to his first friend as he did, and would have given something to have overheard one of the Sunday evening chats which the pair still had by weekly permission in Chips's study, because it was the only one of the two fit to sit in. Jan had not grown less indifferent to his immediate surroundings; he had still no soul for plush or Oxford frames; not only had the grease-spots multiplied on the green table-cloth foisted upon him by Shockley, but the papers on the floor were transparent with blots of oil from his bat. Carpenter, on the contrary, had made a miniature museum of his tiny den, and his lucubrations were promoted by the wise glass eyes of a moulting owl, purchased as a relic at Charles Cave's auction.
"I hope you're keeping the scores of all your matches," said he one night. "You ought to stick 'em in a book; if you won't I'll do it for you."
"What's the good?" inquired Jan, with the genial indolence of an athlete on his day off.
"Good? Well, for one thing, it'll be jolly interesting for your kids some day."
Chips had not smiled, but Jan grinned from ear to ear.
"Steady on! It's like you to look a hundred years ahead."
"Well, but surely your people would take an interest in them?"
Chips knew it was a sore subject. He knew more about it than he ever intended to betray; but he had committed his blunder, and it would have made bad worse to try to retrieve it by a suspicious silence or an incontinent change of topic. Besides, a part of his knowledge came from Jan's own deliverances on the sort of time he had in Norfolk.
"But surely they're jolly proud of your being in the Eleven?"
"My uncle might be. But he's in India."
"And I suppose the old people don't know what it means?"
"They might. I haven't told them, if you want to know."
Chips looked as though he could hardly believe his ears. Comment was impossible now; he shifted his ground to the sporting personal interest of such records as he would have treasured in Jan's place.
"You'll bowl for the Gentlemen before you've done," said Chips, "and then you'll be sorry you haven't got the first chapter in black and white. You should see the book A. G. Swallow keeps! I saw it once, when he came to stay at my private school. He's even got his Leave to be in the Eleven, signed by Jerry; but upon my Sam if I were you I'd have that in a frame!"
It was a characteristic enactment that nobody could obtain his Eleven or Fifteen colours without a permit signed and countersigned by house-master and form-master, and finally endorsed by Mr. Thrale himself, whose autograph was seldom added without a cordial word of congratulation.
"I believe I have got that," said Jan, "somewhere or other."
And Chips eventually discovered it among the Greek and Latin litter on the floor.
"What a chap you are!" he cried. "I'm going to keep this for you until one or other of us leaves, Tiger. You're—I won't say you're not fit to be in the Eleven—nobody was ever more so—but I'm blowed if you deserve to own a precious document like this!"
Yet there was another missive, and souvenir of his success, which Jan had already under lock and key, except when he took it out to read once more. Chips never saw or heard of this one; but he would have recognised the fluent writing at a glance, and Jan knew what sort of glance it would have been.
This was the little note, word for word:—
"Dear old Jan,
"I can never tell you how I rejoice at your tremendous success. Heaps of congratulations! I'm proud of you, so will they all be at home.
"School is awful for dividing old friends unless you're in the same house or form. You know that's all it is or ever was! Will you forgive me and come for a walk after second chapel on Sunday? Always your old friend,
Chips knew nothing until the Sunday, when he said he supposed Jan was coming out after second chapel as usual, and Jan answered very off-hand that he was awfully sorry he was engaged. "One of the Eleven, I suppose?" says Chips, not in the least disposed to grudge him to them. Then Jan told the truth aggressively, and Chips made a tactless comment, whereupon Jan told him he could get somebody else to sit in his study that night. It was the first break in an arrangement which had lasted since their first term. Jan was sorry, and not only because it was so open to misconstruction; he was man enough to go in after all as though nothing had happened. And silly old Chips nearly wept with delight. But nothing was said about the afternoon walk and talk, which Jan had enjoyed more than any since the affair of the haunted house.
It was just as well that Carpenter had been left out of it this time. Two is not only company, but to drag in a third is to invite the critics, and Chips would not have found Evan Devereux improved. Indeed he saw quite enough of Devereux in school to have a strong opinion as to that already; but they never fraternised in the least, and it is in his intimate moments that a boy is at his best or worst.
Evan was at once as intimate with Jan as though they had been at different schools for the last year and here was another reunion of which they must make the most. He took Jan's arm outside the chapel, and off they went together like old inseparables. Evan seemed a good deal more than a year older; his voice had settled in a fine rich key; his reddish hair was something crisper and perhaps less red. But he was still short for his age, and by way of acquiring the cock-sparrow strut of some short men. His conversation strutted deliriously. It would have made Carpenter roar—afterwards—but grind his teeth at the time. Of course it was cricket conversation, but Evan soon turned it from Jan's department of the game. Jan followed him in all humility. Evan had been a bit of a batsman all his life. True, in old days the stable lad had usually been able to bowl him out at will, but he had always wished that he could bat as well himself. He said so now, and Evan, who was going to get into the third eleven with luck, was full of sympathy with the best bowler in the school.
"It must be beastly always going in last," said Evan. "I expect you're jolly glad when you don't get a ball. But you don't have to walk back alone—that's one thing!"
"I'm always afraid I may have to go in when a few are wanted to win the match, and some good bat well set at the other end. That's the only thing I should mind," said Jan.
"You remember the Pinchington ground?" said Evan abruptly, as though he had not been listening.
"I do that!" cried Jan, and Evan looked round at him. As small boys they had played at least one match together on the ground in question; and Jan still wondered what he would not have given to be in flannels then like Master Evan, instead of in his Sunday shirt and trousers; but Evan was thinking that the school bowler had spoken exactly like the stable lad.
"I got up a match there," he continued, "at the end of last holidays, and I'm going to get up two or three this August. It's an awful hustle! We play the Pinchington Juniors—awful chaps—but so are some of mine. My best bowler's learning to drive a hearse. We've a new under-gardener who can hit like smoke. I'd have got a lot myself if it had been a decent wicket, but I mean to have one next holidays."
"Does old Crutchy still bowl?" asked Jan, grinning allusively.
"Rather! Hobbles up to the wicket, clumps down his crutch and slings 'em in like a demon. He would be jam on a decent pitch! I was going to say, I got 48 one day last summer holidays. It wasn't against the Juniors—it was a boys' match at Woodyatt Hall—but I did give 'em stick!"
"Well done!" said Jan, quite impressed. "I never made anything like that in my life. You're playing for your house, aren't you?"
"Rather! I should hope so. I got 19 not out the other day against the United—including two fours to leg off Whitfield major."
And so forth with copious details. Whitfield major was the hard hitter of the Eleven, and as bad a fast bowler as ever took an occasional wicket. Jan, who always preferred doing a thing to talking about it, and who wanted to know a lot of things that he did not like to ask, made sundry attempts to change the conversation. He asked after the horses, and was both sorry and embarrassed to gather that the stable had been reduced. He tried Evan's friends, the Miss Christies, as a safer topic; he had always admired them himself, at the tremendous distance of old days; but this time he called them "the Christies," and it was Evan who perhaps inadvertently supplied the "Miss" in answering.
No; cricket was the only talk. And as they wandered back towards the thin church spire with the golden cock atop, looking rather like an inverted note of exclamation on a sheet of pale blue paper, it was made more and more plain to Jan that he was not to regard himself as the only cricketer. But he had no desire to do so, and nothing could have been heartier than his attitude on the point implied.
"You'll get your colours next year, Evan, and then we'll be in the same game every day of our lives!"
"I have my hopes, I must say; but it's not so easy to get in as a bat."
"No; you may get a trial and not come off, but a bowler's bound to if he's any good. Anyhow you're in a jolly strong house, and that's always a help."
"We ought to be in the final this year," said Evan, thoughtfully.
"And so ought we," said Jan.
They were both right; and the last match of the term on the Upper was the decisive tussle between their two houses. It was also Evan's first appearance in the very middle of that august stage, and a few days before the event he told Jan that his people were coming down to see it. Jan could not conceal his nervousness at the prospect. But it left him more than ever determined that Heriot's should have the cup. He had some flannels specially done up at the last moment, and his hair cut the day before the match.
But he pulled his cap down further than ever when he took the ball, and it gashed his back hair the more conspicuously to the scalp. In one word, and in spite of his spotless flannels, he looked dreadfully like the rather palpable "pro." of those days, and his bowling only fostered the suggestion. There was a regularity about the short quick run, an amount of character in the twiddling fore-arm action, a precision of length and a flick off the pitch that set a professional stamp upon his least deadly delivery. Above all there was that naturally unnatural break which Jan only lost when he began to think about it, or when the ground was a great deal harder than he was fortunate enough to find it in the final house-match.
It was just the least bit dead that day—a heart-breaking wicket for most bowlers—but one that might have been specially prepared for Jan. He had the mysterious power of making his own pace off such a pitch, and the fact that the ball only rose stump-high simply enabled him to bowl bailer after bailer, one and all with that uncanny turn from the off. Variety was lacking; a first-class batsman would have taken the measure of the attack in about an over; but there was scarcely the makings of one such in the Lodge team, and great was the fall of that strong house. Statistics would be a shame. Suffice it that Heriot's lost the toss, but won a low-scoring match by an innings in the course of the afternoon. Jan had fifteen wickets in all, including Evan's twice over. The first time he was assisted by a snap-catch in the slips, and Evan's nought might fairly be accounted hard lines. But in the second innings it was a complex moment for Jan when Evan strutted in with all the air of a saviour of situations. Jan did not want him to fail again, and yet he did because Evan's people were looking on! He felt mean and yet exalted as he led off with a trimmer, and the leg-bail hit Stratten in the face.
Then Jan showed want of tact.
"I'm awfully sorry!" he stammered out, but Evan passed him in a flame, without look or sign of having heard.
Mr. Devereux, however, could afford to treat the whole affair differently. And he did.
He was a fine-looking man of the florid type, with a light grey bowler, a flower in his coat, and a boisterous self-confidence which made him almost too conspicuous on the unequal field. Mr. Devereux was far from grudging Jan his great success; on the contrary, he seemed only too inclined to transfer his paternal pride to his old coachman's son, and in reality was sorely tempted to boast of him in that relationship. Some saving sense of fitness, abetted by an early hint (but nothing more) from Heriot, sealed his itching lips; but in talking to the lad himself, Mr. Devereux naturally saw no necessity for restraint.
"I remember when you used to bowl to my son in front of your father's—ah—in front of those cottages of mine—with a solid india-rubber ball! We never thought of all this then, did we? But I congratulate you, my lad, and very glad I am to have the opportunity."
"Thank you very much, sir," said Jan, in a grateful glow from head to heel.
"I'll tell them all about you down there; and some day you must come and stay with us, as a guest, you know, and play a match or two for Evan and his friends at Pinchington. You'll be one too many for the village lads. Quite a hero, you'll find yourself!"
Jan was not so sure what to say to that; and he could only be as fervid as before when Mr. Devereux slipped a sovereign into his hand, though it was the first that he had received all at once in all his schooldays.