Fathers of Men/Chapter 8
LIKES AND DISLIKES
By the beginning of October there was a bite in the air, and either fives or football every afternoon; and before the middle of the month Jan began now and then to feel there might be worse places than a public school. He had learnt his way about. He could put a name to all his house and form. He was no longer strange; and on the whole he might have disliked things more than he did. There was much that he did dislike, instinctively and individually; but there was a good deal that he could not help enjoying, over and above the football and the fives. There was the complete freedom out of school, the complete privacy of the separate study, above all the amazing absence of anything in the way of espionage by the masters. These were all surprises to Jan; but they were counterbalanced by some others, such as the despotic powers of the præpostors, which only revived the spirit of sensitive antagonism in which he had come to school The præpostors wore straw hats, had fags, and wielded hunting-crops to keep the line at football matches. This was a thing that made Jan's blood boil; he marvelled that no one else seemed to take it as an indignity, or to resent the authority of these præpostors as he did. Then there were boys like Shockley whom he could cheerfully have attended on the scaffold. And there was one man he very soon detested more than any boy.
That man was Mr. Haigh, the master of the Middle Remove; and Jan's view of him was perhaps no fairer than his treatment of Jan. Haigh, when not passing more or less unworthy pleasantries, and laughing a great deal at very little indeed, was a serious and even passionate scholar. He had all the gifts of his profession except coolness and a right judgment of boys. His enthusiasm was splendid. The willing dullard caught fire in his form. The gifted idler was obliged to work for Haigh. He had hammered knowledge into all sorts and conditions of boys; but here was one who would get up and wring the sense out of a page of Virgil, and then calmly ask Haigh to believe him incapable of parsing a passage or of scanning a line of that page! Of course Haigh believed no such thing, and of course Jan would vouchsafe no explanation of his inconceivable deficiencies. Pressed for one, indeed, or on any other point arising from his outrageously unequal equipment, Jan invariably sulked, and Haigh invariably lost his temper and called Jan elaborate names. The more offensive they were, the better care Jan took to earn them. Sulky he was inclined to be by nature; sulkier he made himself when he found that it exasperated Haigh more than the original offence.
Loder, the captain of his house, was another object of Jan's dislike. Loder was not only a præpostor, who lashed your legs in public with a hunting-crop, but he was generally accounted a bit of a prig and a weakling into the bargain, and Jan thought he deserved his reputation. Loder had a great notion of keeping order in the house, but his actual tactics were to pounce upon friendless wretches like Chips or Jan, and not to interfere with stalwarts of the Shockley gang, or even with popular small boys like young Petrie. Nor was it necessary for Jan to be caught out of his study after lock-up, or throwing stones in the quad, in order to incur the noisy displeasure of the captain of the house. Loder heard of the daily trouble with Haigh; it was all over the house, thanks to Shockley & Co., whose lurid tales had the unforeseen effect of provoking a certain admiration for "the new man who didn't mind riling old Haigh." Indifference on such a point implied the courage of the matador—to all who had been gored aforetime in the Middle Remove—save and except the serious Loder. Passing Jan's door one day, this exemplary præpostor looked in to tell him he was disgracing the house, and stayed to inquire what on earth he meant by having such a filthy study. The epithet was inexact; but certainly the study was ankle-deep in books and papers, with bare walls still bristling with the last tenant's nails; and it was not improved by a haunting smell of sulphur and tallow, due to the recent firing of the shilling box of wax matches.
"It says nothing about untidy studies in the School Rules," said Jan, tilting his chair back from his table, and glowering at his interrupted imposition.
"Don't you give me any cheek!" cried Loder, looking dangerous for him.
"But it does say," continued Jan, quoting a characteristic canon with grim deliberation, "that 'a boy's study is his castle,' Loder!"
Jan had to pick himself up, and then his chair, with an ear that tingled no more than Jan deserved. But this was not one of the events that rankled in his mind. He had made a swaggering præpostor look the fool he was; no smack on the head could rob him of the recollection.
With such a temper it is no wonder that Jan remained practically friendless. Yet he might have made friends among the smaller fry below him in the house; and there was one unathletic boy of almost his own age, but really high up in the school, whose advances were summarily repulsed because they appeared to Jan to betray some curiosity about his people and his home. It was only human that the lad should be far too suspicious on all such points; the pity was that this often made him more forbidding and hostile in his manner than he was at heart. But in all his aversions and suspicions there was no longer a hard or a distrustful thought of Evan Devereux, though Jan and he had not spoken since that first Saturday, and though they often met upon the hill or in the street without exchanging look or nod.
Otherwise his likes were not so strong as his dislikes, or at any rate not so ready; and yet in his heart even Jan soon found himself admiring a number of fellows to whom he never dreamt of speaking before they spoke to him. Head and chief of these was Cave major, who was already in the Eleven, and who got his football colours after the first match. How the whole house clapped him in hall that night at tea! The only notice he had ever taken of Jan was to relieve him of Carpenter's yellow-back novel, which the great man read and passed on to another member of the Fifteen in another house. To the owner of the book that honour was sufficient solace; but neither new boy had ever encountered quite so heroic a figure as the great Charles Cave. Then there was Sprawson—Mother Sprawson, to Cave and Loder—reputed a tremendous runner, but seen to be several things besides. Sprawson amused Jan immensely by carrying an empty spirit-flask in his pocket, and sometimes behaving as though he had just emptied it; he was rather a bully, but more of a humorist, who would administer a whole box of pills prescribed for himself to some unfortunate urchin in no need of them; and yet when he drew Jan in the house fives, and was consequently knocked out in the first round, nobody could have taken a defeat or treated a partner better. Then there were Stratten and Jellicoe. Stratten seemed a very perfect gentleman, and Jellicoe a distinct though fiery one; they were always about arm-in-arm together, or playing fives on the inner court; and Jan enjoyed watching them when he could not get a game himself on the outer. At closer range he developed a more intimate appreciation of Joyce, with his bad language and his good heart, and of Bingley and his joyous interest in violent crime.
As for old Bob Heriot, he completely upset all Jan's ideas about schoolmasters. He was never in the least angry, yet even Cave major looked less dashing in his presence, and the likes of Shockley ludicrously small. Not that his house saw too much of Heriot. He was not the kind of master who is continually in and out of his own quad. His sway was felt rather than enforced. But he had a brisk and cheery word with the flower of the house most nights after prayers, and somehow Jan and others of his size generally lingered in the background to hear what he had to say; he never embarrassed them by taking too much notice of them before their betters, and seldom chilled them by taking none at all. The Shockley fraternity, however, had not a good word to say for poor Mr. Heriot. And that was not the least of his merits in Jan's eyes.
On Sunday evenings between tea and prayers it was Heriot's practice to make a round of the studies, staying for a few minutes' chat in each; and on the second Sunday of the term he gave Jan rather more than his time allowance. But he seemed to notice neither the stark ugliness of the uncovered walls, nor the heavy fall of waste paper; and though he did speak of Jan's difficulties in form, he treated them also in a very different manner from that employed by the captain of his house. The truth was that Haigh had said a good deal about the matter to Heriot, and Heriot very little to Haigh, whose tongue was as intemperate out of school as it was in form. But to Jan he spoke plainly on this second Sunday evening of the term.
"It's obvious that you were placed a form too high. Such mistakes will occur; there's no way of avoiding them altogether; the question is, shall we try to rectify this one? It's rather late in the day, but I've known it done; the Head Master might allow it again. It would rest with him, so you had better not speak of it for the present. I mean, of course, that he might allow you to come down to Mr. Walrond's form, or even into mine."
At which Jan displayed some momentary excitement, and then sat stolidly embarrassed.
"It would be a desperate remedy, Rutter; it would mean your being a fag, after first escaping fagging altogether; in fact, it would be starting all over again. I don't say it wouldn't make your work easier for you during the whole time you're here. But I shall quite understand it if you prefer the evils that you know."
"It isn't the fagging. It isn't that I shouldn't like being in your form, sir," Jan blurted out. "But I don't want to run away from Mr. Haigh!" he mumbled through his teeth.
"Well, you'd only have to fight another day, if you did," said Heriot, with a laugh. And so the matter went no further; and not another boy or master in the school ever knew that it had gone so far.
But the being of whom Jan saw most, and the only one to whom he spoke his odd mind freely, was the other new man, Carpenter, now Chips to all the house. And Chips was another oddity in his way; but it was not Jan's way at any single point. Chips had always been intended for a public school. But in some respects he was far less fit for one than Jan. To be at this school was to realise the dream of his life; but it was not the dream that it had been before it came true, and the dreamer took this extraordinary circumstance to heart, though he had the character to keep it to himself. Jan was the last person to whom he would have admitted it; he still stood up for the school in all their talks, and gloried in being where he was; but it was none the less obvious that he was not so happy as he tried to appear.
Chips's troubles, to be sure, were not in form; they were almost entirely out of school, just where Jan got on best. Chips's skin was thinner; the least taunt hurt his feelings, and he hid them less successfully than Jan could hide his. He was altogether more squeamish; lying and low talk were equally abhorrent to him; he would not smile, and had the courage to confess his repugnance under pressure, but not the force of personality to render a protest other than ineffectual. Such things ran like water from off Jan's broader back; he was not particularly attracted or repelled.
One bad half-hour that the pair spent together almost daily was that between breakfast and second school. It was the recognised custom for fellows in the same house and form to prepare their construe together; this took Carpenter and Rutter most mornings into Shockley's study, where Buggins and Eyre major completed the symposium. On a Virgil morning there would be interludes in which poor Chips felt himself a worm for sitting still; even when Thucydides claimed closer attention there was a lot of parenthetical swearing. But Chips—whose Greek was his weak point—endured it all as long as the work itself was fairly done.
One morning, however, as Jan was about to join the rest, Chips burst in upon him, out of breath, and stood with his back to Jan's bare wall.
"They've gone and got a crib!" he gasped.
"And a jolly good job!" said Jan.
Chips looked as though he distrusted his ears.
"You don't mean to say you'll use it, Tiger?"
"It's so—at least I mean it seems to me—so jolly unfair!"
Chips had stronger epithets on the tip of his tongue; but that of "" had been freely applied to himself; and it rankled in spite of all his principles.
"Not so unfair as sending you to a hole like this against your will," retorted Jan, "and putting you two forms too high when you get here."
"That's another thing," said Chips, for once without standing up for the "hole," perhaps because he knew that Jan had called it one for his benefit.
"No; it's all the same thing. Is that beast Haigh fair to me?"
"I don't say he is——"
"Then I'm blowed if I see why I should be fair to him."
"I wasn't thinking of Haigh," said Chips. "I was thinking of the rest of the form who don't use a crib, Tiger."
"That's their look-out," said the Tiger, opening his door with the little red volume of Thucydides in his other hand.
"Then you're going to Shockley's study just the same?"
"Rather! Aren't you?"
"I've been. I came out again."
"Because of the crib?"
"Did you tell them so, Chips?"
"I had to; and—and of course they heaved me out, Tiger! And I'll never do another line with the brutes!"
He turned away; he was quite husky. Jan watched him with a shrug and a groan, hesitated, and then slammed his door.
"Aren't you going, Tiger?" cried Chips, face about at the sound. "Don't mind me, you know! I can sweat it out by myself."
"Well you're not going to," growled Jan, flinging the little red book upon the table. "I'd rather work with an old ass like you, Chips, than a great brute like Shockley!"
So that alliance was cemented, and Chips at any rate was Jan's friend for life. But Jan was slower to reciprocate so strong a feeling; his nature was much less demonstrative and emotional; moreover, the term he had applied to Carpenter was by no means one of mere endearment. There was in fact a good deal about Chips that appealed to Jan as little as to the other small boys in the house. He was indubitably "pi"; he thought too much of his study; he took in all kinds of magazines, and went in for the competitions, being mad about many things including cricket, but no earthly good at fives, and not allowed to play football. He had some bronchial affection that prevented him from running, and often kept him out of first school. "Sloper" and "sham" were neither of them quite the name for him; but both became unpleasantly familiar in the ears of Carpenter during the first half of his first term; and there was just enough excuse for them to keep such a lusty specimen as Jan rather out of sympathy with a fellow who neither got up in the morning nor played games like everybody else.
Nevertheless, they could hardly have seen more of each other than they did. They went up and down the hill together, for Chips was always at Jan's elbow after school, and never sooner than when Jan had made a special fool of himself in form. Chips was as little to be deterred by the gibes of the rest on the way back, as by the sullen silence in which the Tiger treated his loyalty and their scorn. If Rutter had recovered tone enough to play fives after twelve, Carpenter was certain to be seen looking over the back wall; and as sure as Jan went up to football in the afternoon, Chips went with him in his top-coat, and followed the game wistfully at a distance. Down they would come together when the game was over, as twilight settled on the long stone street, and tired players shod in mud tramped heavily along either pavement. Now was Chips's chance for the daily papers before the roaring fire in hall, while Jan changed with the rest in the lavatory; and as long as either had a tizzy there was just time for cocoa and buns at the nearest confectioner's before third school.
The nearest confectioner's was not the fashionable school resort, but it was quite good enough for the rank and file of the lower forms. The cocoa was coarse and thick, and the buns not always fresh; but the boys had dined at half-past one; tea in hall was not till half-past six; and even then there was only bread-and-butter to eat unless a fellow had his own supplies. Jan had not been provided with a hamper at the beginning of the term, or with very many shillings by way of pocket-money; he would have starved rather than write for either, for it was seldom enough that he received so much as a letter from his new home. But it did strike him as a strange thing that a public-school boy should habitually go hungrier to bed than a coachman's son at work about his father's stables.
Milk and "dog-rocks" were indeed provided last thing at night and first thing in the morning; but if you chose to get up late there was hardly time for a mouthful as you sped out of the quad and along the street to prayers, buttoning your waistcoat as you ran. This was not often Jan's case, but it was on the morning after the match between his house and another in the first round of the Under Sixteen. Heriot's had won an exciting game, and Jan was conscious of having done his share in the bully. He was distinctly muscular for his age, and had grown perceptibly in even these few weeks at school. His sleep was haunted by an intoxicating roar of "Reds!" (his side's colour for the nonce) and stinging counter cries of "Whites!" Once at least he had actually heard his own nickname shouted in approval by some big fellow of his house; and he heard it all again as he dressed and dashed out, on a particularly empty stomach, into a dark and misty morning, with the last bell flagging as if it must stop with every stroke; he heard it above his own palpitations all through prayers; on his knees he was down in another bully, smelling the muddy ball, thirsting to feel it at his feet again.
It chanced to be a mathematical morning, and Jan felt thankful as he went his way after prayers; for he was not in Haigh's mathematical, but in the Spook's; and the Spook was a peculiarly innocuous master, who had a class-room in his quarters in the town, but not a house.
"The Thirteenth Proposition of the First Book of Euclid," sighed the Spook, exactly as though he were giving out a text in Chapel. "Many of you seem to have found so much difficulty over this that I propose to run over it again, if you will kindly hold your tongues. Hold your tongue, Kingdon! Another word from you, Pedley, and you'll have whipping in front of you—or rather behind you!"
The little joke was a stock felicity of the Spook's, and it was received in the usual fashion. At first there was a little titter, but nothing more until the Spook himself was seen to wear a sickly smile; thereupon the titter grew into a roar, and the roar rose into a bellow, and the bellow into one prolonged and insolent guffaw which the cadaverous but smiling Spook seemed to enjoy as much as the smallest boy in his mathematical. Jan alone did not join in the derisive chorus; to him it sounded almost as though it were in another room; and the figure of the Spook, standing before his blackboard, holding up a piece of chalk for silence, had become a strangely nebulous and wavering figure.
"'The angles that one straight line makes with another straight line,'" began the Spook at last, in a voice that Jan could hardly hear, "'are together equal . . . together equal . . . together equal . . .'"
Jan wondered how many more times he was to hear those two words; his head swam with them; the Spook had paused, and was staring at him with fixed eyes and open mouth; and yet the words went on ringing in the swimming head, fainter and fainter, and further and further away, as Jan fell headlong into the unfathomable pit of insensibility.
He came to earth and life on a dilapidated couch in the Spook's study, where the Spook himself was in the act of laying him down, and of muttering in sepulchral tones, "A little faint, I fear!"
Jan had never fainted before, and in his heart he was rather proud of the achievement; but he was thankful that he had chosen the one first school of the week that was given over to mathematics. He would have been very sorry to have come to himself in the arms of Haigh. The Spook was a man who had obviously mistaken his vocation; but it was least obvious when mere kindness and goodness were required of him. Jan was detained in his study half the morning, and regaled with tea and toast and things to read. Heriot also looked in before second school, but was rather brusque and unsympathetic (after the Spook) until Jan ventured to say he hoped he would be allowed to play football that afternoon, as he had never felt better in his life. Heriot said that was a question for the doctor, who would be in to see Jan during the forenoon.
The doctor came, and Jan could not remember the last time a doctor had been to see him. This one sat over him with a long face, felt his pulse, peered into his eyes, looked as wise as an owl at the other end of his stethoscope, and then began asking questions in a way that put Jan very much on his guard.
"So you've been playing football for your house?"
"I suppose you played football before you came here?"
"No, sir," said Jan, beginning to feel uncomfortable.
"Weren't you allowed?"
This question came quickly, but Jan took his time over it as coolly as he could. Obviously the doctor little dreamt that this was his first school. On no account must he suspect it now. And it was true, as it happened, that his father had once and for all forbidden Jan to play football with Master Evan, because he played so roughly.
"You were not allowed?"
"Do you know why?"
"Well, I think I do," said the doctor, rising. "And you mustn't play here, either, at any rate for the present."
Jan shot upright on the sofa.
"Your heart isn't strong enough," said the doctor.
"My heart's all right!" cried Jan, indignantly.
"Perhaps you'll allow me to be the best judge of that," returned the doctor. "You may go back to your house, and I shall send a line to Mr. Heriot. There's no reason why you should lie up; this is Saturday, you'll be quite fit for school on Monday; but no football, mind, until I give you leave."
Jan tried to speak, but he had tied his own tongue. He could not explain to the doctor, he could not explain to Heriot. He did not know why he had fainted for the first time in his life that morning; he only knew that it was not his heart, that he had never felt better than after yesterday's match. And now he was to be deprived of the one thing he liked at school, the one thing he was by way of getting good at, his one chance of showing what was in him to those who seemed to think there was nothing at all! And another Under Sixteen house-match would be played next week, perhaps against Haigh, who had also won their tie. And all he would be able to do would be to stand by yelling "Reds!" and having his shins lashed by some beastly præpostor, and hearing himself bracketed with Chips as a "sham" and a "sloper"—and knowing it was true!
That was the worst of it. His heart was all right. It was all a complete misunderstanding and mistake. It was a mistake that Jan knew he could have set right by going to Heriot and explaining why he had never played football before, and why it was barely true to say that he had not been allowed.
But Jan was not going to anybody to say anything of the kind.