Part 4 out of 8
It is an interesting point that it was the gardener rather than the
schoolmaster in Mr. Appleby that first awoke to action. It was not the
idea of a boy breaking out of his house at night that occurred to him
first as particularly heinous; it was the fact that the boy had broken
out _via_ his herbaceous border. In four strides he was on the
scene of the outrage, examining, on hands and knees, with the aid of
the moonlight, the extent of the damage done.
As far as he could see, it was not serious. By a happy accident
Wyatt's boots had gone home to right and left of precious plants but
not on them. With a sigh of relief Mr. Appleby smoothed over the
cavities, and rose to his feet.
At this point it began to strike him that the episode affected him as
a schoolmaster also.
In that startled moment when Wyatt had suddenly crossed his line of
vision, he had recognised him. The moon had shone full on his face as
he left the flowerbed. There was no doubt in his mind as to the
identity of the intruder.
He paused, wondering how he should act. It was not an easy question.
There was nothing of the spy about Mr. Appleby. He went his way
openly, liked and respected by boys and masters. He always played the
game. The difficulty here was to say exactly what the game was.
Sentiment, of course, bade him forget the episode, treat it as if it
had never happened. That was the simple way out of the difficulty.
There was nothing unsporting about Mr. Appleby. He knew that there
were times when a master might, without blame, close his eyes or look
the other way. If he had met Wyatt out of bounds in the day-time, and
it had been possible to convey the impression that he had not seen
him, he would have done so. To be out of bounds is not a particularly
deadly sin. A master must check it if it occurs too frequently, but he
may use his discretion.
Breaking out at night, however, was a different thing altogether. It
was on another plane. There are times when a master must waive
sentiment, and remember that he is in a position of trust, and owes a
duty directly to his headmaster, and indirectly, through the
headmaster, to the parents. He receives a salary for doing this duty,
and, if he feels that sentiment is too strong for him, he should
resign in favour of some one of tougher fibre.
This was the conclusion to which Mr. Appleby came over his relighted
pipe. He could not let the matter rest where it was.
In ordinary circumstances it would have been his duty to report the
affair to the headmaster but in the present case he thought that a
slightly different course might be pursued. He would lay the whole
thing before Mr. Wain, and leave him to deal with it as he thought
best. It was one of the few cases where it was possible for an
assistant master to fulfil his duty to a parent directly, instead of
through the agency of the headmaster.
* * * * *
Knocking out the ashes of his pipe against a tree, he folded his
deck-chair and went into the house. The examination papers were
spread invitingly on the table, but they would have to wait. He
turned down his lamp, and walked round to Wain's.
There was a light in one of the ground-floor windows. He tapped on the
window, and the sound of a chair being pushed back told him that he
had been heard. The blind shot up, and he had a view of a room
littered with books and papers, in the middle of which stood Mr. Wain,
like a sea-beast among rocks.
Mr. Wain recognised his visitor and opened the window. Mr. Appleby
could not help feeling how like Wain it was to work on a warm summer's
night in a hermetically sealed room. There was always something queer
and eccentric about Wyatt's step-father.
"Can I have a word with you, Wain?" he said.
"Appleby! Is there anything the matter? I was startled when you
tapped. Exceedingly so."
"Sorry," said Mr. Appleby. "Wouldn't have disturbed you, only it's
something important. I'll climb in through here, shall I? No need to
unlock the door." And, greatly to Mr. Wain's surprise and rather to
his disapproval, Mr. Appleby vaulted on to the window-sill, and
squeezed through into the room.
"Got some rather bad news for you, I'm afraid," began Mr. Appleby.
"I'll smoke, if you don't mind. About Wyatt."
"I was sitting in my garden a few minutes ago, having a pipe before
finishing the rest of my papers, and Wyatt dropped from the wall on to
my herbaceous border."
Mr. Appleby said this with a tinge of bitterness. The thing still
"James! In your garden! Impossible. Why, it is not a quarter of an
hour since I left him in his dormitory."
"He's not there now."
"You astound me, Appleby. I am astonished."
"So was I."
"How is such a thing possible? His window is heavily barred."
"Bars can be removed."
"You must have been mistaken."
"Possibly," said Mr. Appleby, a little nettled. Gaping astonishment is
always apt to be irritating. "Let's leave it at that, then. Sorry to
have disturbed you."
"No, sit down, Appleby. Dear me, this is most extraordinary.
Exceedingly so. You are certain it was James?"
"Perfectly. It's like daylight out of doors."
Mr. Wain drummed on the table with his fingers.
"What shall I do?"
Mr. Appleby offered no suggestion.
"I ought to report it to the headmaster. That is certainly the course
I should pursue."
"I don't see why. It isn't like an ordinary case. You're the parent.
You can deal with the thing directly. If you come to think of it, a
headmaster's only a sort of middleman between boys and parents. He
plays substitute for the parent in his absence. I don't see why you
should drag in the master at all here."
"There is certainly something in what you say," said Mr. Wain on
"A good deal. Tackle the boy when he comes in, and have it out with
him. Remember that it must mean expulsion if you report him to the
headmaster. He would have no choice. Everybody who has ever broken out
of his house here and been caught has been expelled. I should strongly
advise you to deal with the thing yourself."
"I will. Yes. You are quite right, Appleby. That is a very good idea
of yours. You are not going?"
"Must. Got a pile of examination papers to look over. Good-night."
Mr. Appleby made his way out of the window and through the gate into
his own territory in a pensive frame of mind. He was wondering what
would happen. He had taken the only possible course, and, if only Wain
kept his head and did not let the matter get through officially to the
headmaster, things might not be so bad for Wyatt after all. He hoped
they would not. He liked Wyatt. It would be a thousand pities, he
felt, if he were to be expelled. What would Wain do? What would
_he_ do in a similar case? It was difficult to say. Probably talk
violently for as long as he could keep it up, and then consider the
episode closed. He doubted whether Wain would have the common sense to
do this. Altogether it was very painful and disturbing, and he was
taking a rather gloomy view of the assistant master's lot as he sat
down to finish off the rest of his examination papers. It was not all
roses, the life of an assistant master at a public school. He had
continually to be sinking his own individual sympathies in the claims
of his duty. Mr. Appleby was the last man who would willingly have
reported a boy for enjoying a midnight ramble. But he was the last man
to shirk the duty of reporting him, merely because it was one
decidedly not to his taste.
Mr. Wain sat on for some minutes after his companion had left,
pondering over the news he had heard. Even now he clung to the idea
that Appleby had made some extraordinary mistake. Gradually he began
to convince himself of this. He had seen Wyatt actually in bed a
quarter of an hour before--not asleep, it was true, but apparently on
the verge of dropping off. And the bars across the window had looked
so solid.... Could Appleby have been dreaming? Something of the kind
might easily have happened. He had been working hard, and the night
Then it occurred to him that he could easily prove or disprove the
truth of his colleague's statement by going to the dormitory and
seeing if Wyatt were there or not. If he had gone out, he would hardly
have returned yet.
He took a candle, and walked quietly upstairs.
Arrived at his step-son's dormitory, he turned the door-handle softly
and went in. The light of the candle fell on both beds. Mike was
there, asleep. He grunted, and turned over with his face to the wall
as the light shone on his eyes. But the other bed was empty. Appleby
had been right.
If further proof had been needed, one of the bars was missing from the
window. The moon shone in through the empty space.
The house-master sat down quietly on the vacant bed. He blew the
candle out, and waited there in the semi-darkness, thinking. For years
he and Wyatt had lived in a state of armed neutrality, broken by
various small encounters. Lately, by silent but mutual agreement, they
had kept out of each other's way as much as possible, and it had
become rare for the house-master to have to find fault officially with
his step-son. But there had never been anything even remotely
approaching friendship between them. Mr. Wain was not a man who
inspired affection readily, least of all in those many years younger
than himself. Nor did he easily grow fond of others. Wyatt he had
regarded, from the moment when the threads of their lives became
entangled, as a complete nuisance.
It was not, therefore, a sorrowful, so much as an exasperated, vigil
that he kept in the dormitory. There was nothing of the sorrowing
father about his frame of mind. He was the house-master about to deal
with a mutineer, and nothing else.
This breaking-out, he reflected wrathfully, was the last straw.
Wyatt's presence had been a nervous inconvenience to him for years.
The time had come to put an end to it. It was with a comfortable
feeling of magnanimity that he resolved not to report the breach of
discipline to the headmaster. Wyatt should not be expelled. But he
should leave, and that immediately. He would write to the bank before
he went to bed, asking them to receive his step-son at once; and the
letter should go by the first post next day. The discipline of the
bank would be salutary and steadying. And--this was a particularly
grateful reflection--a fortnight annually was the limit of the holiday
allowed by the management to its junior employees.
Mr. Wain had arrived at this conclusion, and was beginning to feel a
little cramped, when Mike Jackson suddenly sat up.
"Hullo!" said Mike.
"Go to sleep, Jackson, immediately," snapped the house-master.
Mike had often heard and read of people's hearts leaping to their
mouths, but he had never before experienced that sensation of
something hot and dry springing in the throat, which is what really
happens to us on receipt of a bad shock. A sickening feeling that the
game was up beyond all hope of salvation came to him. He lay down
again without a word.
What a frightful thing to happen! How on earth had this come about?
What in the world had brought Wain to the dormitory at that hour? Poor
old Wyatt! If it had upset _him_ (Mike) to see the house-master
in the room, what would be the effect of such a sight on Wyatt,
returning from the revels at Neville-Smith's!
And what could he do? Nothing. There was literally no way out. His
mind went back to the night when he had saved Wyatt by a brilliant
_coup_. The most brilliant of _coups_ could effect nothing now.
Absolutely and entirely the game was up.
* * * * *
Every minute that passed seemed like an hour to Mike. Dead silence
reigned in the dormitory, broken every now and then by the creak of
the other bed, as the house-master shifted his position. Twelve boomed
across the field from the school clock. Mike could not help thinking
what a perfect night it must be for him to be able to hear the strokes
so plainly. He strained his ears for any indication of Wyatt's
approach, but could hear nothing. Then a very faint scraping noise
broke the stillness, and presently the patch of moonlight on the floor
At that moment Mr. Wain relit his candle.
The unexpected glare took Wyatt momentarily aback. Mike saw him start.
Then he seemed to recover himself. In a calm and leisurely manner he
climbed into the room.
"James!" said Mr. Wain. His voice sounded ominously hollow.
Wyatt dusted his knees, and rubbed his hands together. "Hullo, is that
you, father!" he said pleasantly.
A silence followed. To Mike, lying in bed, holding his breath, it
seemed a long silence. As a matter of fact it lasted for perhaps ten
seconds. Then Mr. Wain spoke.
"You have been out, James?"
It is curious how in the more dramatic moments of life the inane
remark is the first that comes to us.
"Yes, sir," said Wyatt.
"I am astonished. Exceedingly astonished."
"I got a bit of a start myself," said Wyatt.
"I shall talk to you in my study. Follow me there."
He left the room, and Wyatt suddenly began to chuckle.
"I say, Wyatt!" said Mike, completely thrown off his balance by the
events of the night.
Wyatt continued to giggle helplessly. He flung himself down on his
bed, rolling with laughter. Mike began to get alarmed.
"It's all right," said Wyatt at last, speaking with difficulty. "But,
I say, how long had he been sitting there?"
"It seemed hours. About an hour, I suppose, really."
"It's the funniest thing I've ever struck. Me sweating to get in
quietly, and all the time him camping out on my bed!"
"But look here, what'll happen?"
Wyatt sat up.
"That reminds me. Suppose I'd better go down."
"What'll he do, do you think?"
"Ah, now, what!"
"But, I say, it's awful. What'll happen?"
"That's for him to decide. Speaking at a venture, I should say----"
"You don't think----?"
"The boot. The swift and sudden boot. I shall be sorry to part with
you, but I'm afraid it's a case of 'Au revoir, my little Hyacinth.' We
shall meet at Philippi. This is my Moscow. To-morrow I shall go out
into the night with one long, choking sob. Years hence a white-haired
bank-clerk will tap at your door when you're a prosperous professional
cricketer with your photograph in _Wisden_. That'll be me. Well,
I suppose I'd better go down. We'd better all get to bed _some_
time to-night. Don't go to sleep."
"I'll tell you all the latest news when I come back. Where are me
slippers? Ha, 'tis well! Lead on, then, minions. I follow."
* * * * *
In the study Mr. Wain was fumbling restlessly with his papers when
"Sit down, James," he said.
Wyatt sat down. One of his slippers fell off with a clatter. Mr. Wain
"Only my slipper," explained Wyatt. "It slipped."
Mr. Wain took up a pen, and began to tap the table.
Wyatt said nothing.
"I should be glad to hear your explanation of this disgraceful
"The fact is----" said Wyatt.
"I haven't one, sir."
"What were you doing out of your dormitory, out of the house, at that
"I went for a walk, sir."
"And, may I inquire, are you in the habit of violating the strictest
school rules by absenting yourself from the house during the night?"
"This is an exceedingly serious matter."
Wyatt nodded agreement with this view.
The pen rose and fell with the rapidity of the cylinder of a
motor-car. Wyatt, watching it, became suddenly aware that the
thing was hypnotising him. In a minute or two he would be asleep.
"I wish you wouldn't do that, father. Tap like that, I mean. It's
sending me to sleep."
"It's like a woodpecker."
"I'm very sorry. Only it _was_ sending me off."
Mr. Wain suspended tapping operations, and resumed the thread of his
"I am sorry, exceedingly, to see this attitude in you, James. It is
not fitting. It is in keeping with your behaviour throughout. Your
conduct has been lax and reckless in the extreme. It is possible that
you imagine that the peculiar circumstances of our relationship secure
you from the penalties to which the ordinary boy----"
"I need hardly say," continued Mr. Wain, ignoring the interruption,
"that I shall treat you exactly as I should treat any other member of
my house whom I had detected in the same misdemeanour."
"Of course," said Wyatt, approvingly.
"I must ask you not to interrupt me when I am speaking to you, James.
I say that your punishment will be no whit less severe than would be
that of any other boy. You have repeatedly proved yourself lacking in
ballast and a respect for discipline in smaller ways, but this is a
far more serious matter. Exceedingly so. It is impossible for me to
overlook it, even were I disposed to do so. You are aware of the
penalty for such an action as yours?"
"The sack," said Wyatt laconically.
"It is expulsion. You must leave the school. At once."
"As you know, I have already secured a nomination for you in the
London and Oriental Bank. I shall write to-morrow to the manager
asking him to receive you at once----"
"After all, they only gain an extra fortnight of me."
"You will leave directly I receive his letter. I shall arrange with
the headmaster that you are withdrawn privately----"
"_Not_ the sack?"
"Withdrawn privately. You will not go to school to-morrow. Do you
understand? That is all. Have you anything to say?"
"No, I don't think----"
His eye fell on a tray bearing a decanter and a syphon.
"Oh, yes," he said. "Can't I mix you a whisky and soda, father, before
I go off to bed?"
* * * * *
"Well?" said Mike.
Wyatt kicked off his slippers, and began to undress.
"Has he let you off?"
"Like a gun. I shoot off almost immediately. To-morrow I take a
well-earned rest away from school, and the day after I become the
gay young bank-clerk, all amongst the ink and ledgers."
Mike was miserably silent.
"Buck up," said Wyatt cheerfully. "It would have happened anyhow in
another fortnight. So why worry?"
Mike was still silent. The reflection was doubtless philosophic, but
it failed to comfort him.
Bad news spreads quickly. By the quarter to eleven interval next day
the facts concerning Wyatt and Mr. Wain were public property. Mike, as
an actual spectator of the drama, was in great request as an
informant. As he told the story to a group of sympathisers outside the
school shop, Burgess came up, his eyes rolling in a fine frenzy.
"Anybody seen young--oh, here you are. What's all this about Jimmy
Wyatt? They're saying he's been sacked, or some rot."
[Illustration: "WHAT'S ALL THIS ABOUT JIMMY WYATT?"]
"So he has--at least, he's got to leave."
"He's left already. He isn't coming to school again."
Burgess's first thought, as befitted a good cricket captain, was for
"And the Ripton match on Saturday!"
Nobody seemed to have anything except silent sympathy at his command.
"Dash the man! Silly ass! What did he want to do it for! Poor old
Jimmy, though!" he added after a pause. "What rot for him!"
"Beastly," agreed Mike.
"All the same," continued Burgess, with a return to the austere manner
of the captain of cricket, "he might have chucked playing the goat
till after the Ripton match. Look here, young Jackson, you'll turn out
for fielding with the first this afternoon. You'll play on Saturday."
"All right," said Mike, without enthusiasm. The Wyatt disaster was too
recent for him to feel much pleasure at playing against Ripton
_vice_ his friend, withdrawn.
Bob was the next to interview him. They met in the cloisters.
"Hullo, Mike!" said Bob. "I say, what's all this about Wyatt?"
"Wain caught him getting back into the dorm. last night after
Neville-Smith's, and he's taken him away from the school."
"What's he going to do? Going into that bank straight away?"
"Yes. You know, that's the part he bars most. He'd have been leaving
anyhow in a fortnight, you see; only it's awful rot for a chap like
Wyatt to have to go and froust in a bank for the rest of his life."
"He'll find it rather a change, I expect. I suppose you won't be
seeing him before he goes?"
"I shouldn't think so. Not unless he comes to the dorm. during the
night. He's sleeping over in Wain's part of the house, but I shouldn't
be surprised if he nipped out after Wain has gone to bed. Hope he
"I should like to say good-bye. But I don't suppose it'll be
They separated in the direction of their respective form-rooms. Mike
felt bitter and disappointed at the way the news had been received.
Wyatt was his best friend, his pal; and it offended him that the
school should take the tidings of his departure as they had done. Most
of them who had come to him for information had expressed a sort of
sympathy with the absent hero of his story, but the chief sensation
seemed to be one of pleasurable excitement at the fact that something
big had happened to break the monotony of school routine. They treated
the thing much as they would have treated the announcement that a
record score had been made in first-class cricket. The school was not
so much regretful as comfortably thrilled. And Burgess had actually
cursed before sympathising. Mike felt resentful towards Burgess. As a
matter of fact, the cricket captain wrote a letter to Wyatt during
preparation that night which would have satisfied even Mike's sense of
what was fit. But Mike had no opportunity of learning this.
There was, however, one exception to the general rule, one member of
the school who did not treat the episode as if it were merely an
interesting and impersonal item of sensational news. Neville-Smith
heard of what had happened towards the end of the interval, and rushed
off instantly in search of Mike. He was too late to catch him before
he went to his form-room, so he waited for him at half-past twelve,
when the bell rang for the end of morning school.
"I say, Jackson, is this true about old Wyatt?"
Mike related the story for the sixteenth time. It was a melancholy
pleasure to have found a listener who heard the tale in the right
spirit. There was no doubt about Neville-Smith's interest and
sympathy. He was silent for a moment after Mike had finished.
"It was all my fault," he said at length. "If it hadn't been for me,
this wouldn't have happened. What a fool I was to ask him to my place!
I might have known he would be caught."
"Oh, I don't know," said Mike.
"It was absolutely my fault."
Mike was not equal to the task of soothing Neville-Smith's wounded
conscience. He did not attempt it. They walked on without further
conversation till they reached Wain's gate, where Mike left him.
Neville-Smith proceeded on his way, plunged in meditation.
The result of which meditation was that Burgess got a second shock
before the day was out. Bob, going over to the nets rather late in the
afternoon, came upon the captain of cricket standing apart from his
fellow men with an expression on his face that spoke of mental
upheavals on a vast scale.
"What's up?" asked Bob.
"Nothing much," said Burgess, with a forced and grisly calm. "Only
that, as far as I can see, we shall play Ripton on Saturday with a
sort of second eleven. You don't happen to have got sacked or
anything, by the way, do you?"
"What's happened now?"
"Neville-Smith. In extra on Saturday. That's all. Only our first- and
second-change bowlers out of the team for the Ripton match in one day.
I suppose by to-morrow half the others'll have gone, and we shall take
the field on Saturday with a scratch side of kids from the Junior
"Neville-Smith! Why, what's he been doing?"
"Apparently he gave a sort of supper to celebrate his getting his
first, and it was while coming back from that that Wyatt got collared.
Well, I'm blowed if Neville-Smith doesn't toddle off to the Old Man
after school to-day and tell him the whole yarn! Said it was all his
fault. What rot! Sort of thing that might have happened to any one. If
Wyatt hadn't gone to him, he'd probably have gone out somewhere else."
"And the Old Man shoved him in extra?"
"Next two Saturdays."
"Are Ripton strong this year?" asked Bob, for lack of anything better
"Very, from all accounts. They whacked the M.C.C. Jolly hot team of
M.C.C. too. Stronger than the one we drew with."
"Oh, well, you never know what's going to happen at cricket. I may
hold a catch for a change."
Bob went on his way to the nets. Mike was just putting on his pads.
"I say, Mike," said Bob. "I wanted to see you. It's about Wyatt. I've
thought of something."
"A way of getting him out of that bank. If it comes off, that's to
"By Jove, he'd jump at anything. What's the idea?"
"Why shouldn't he get a job of sorts out in the Argentine? There ought
to be heaps of sound jobs going there for a chap like Wyatt. He's a
jolly good shot, to start with. I shouldn't wonder if it wasn't rather
a score to be able to shoot out there. And he can ride, I know."
"By Jove, I'll write to father to-night. He must be able to work it, I
should think. He never chucked the show altogether, did he?"
Mike, as most other boys of his age would have been, was profoundly
ignorant as to the details by which his father's money had been, or
was being, made. He only knew vaguely that the source of revenue had
something to do with the Argentine. His brother Joe had been born in
Buenos Ayres; and once, three years ago, his father had gone over
there for a visit, presumably on business. All these things seemed to
show that Mr. Jackson senior was a useful man to have about if you
wanted a job in that Eldorado, the Argentine Republic.
As a matter of fact, Mike's father owned vast tracts of land up
country, where countless sheep lived and had their being. He had long
retired from active superintendence of his estate. Like Mr. Spenlow,
he had a partner, a stout fellow with the work-taint highly developed,
who asked nothing better than to be left in charge. So Mr. Jackson had
returned to the home of his fathers, glad to be there again. But he
still had a decided voice in the ordering of affairs on the ranches,
and Mike was going to the fountain-head of things when he wrote to his
father that night, putting forward Wyatt's claims to attention and
ability to perform any sort of job with which he might be presented.
The reflection that he had done all that could be done tended to
console him for the non-appearance of Wyatt either that night or next
morning--a non-appearance which was due to the simple fact that he
passed that night in a bed in Mr. Wain's dressing-room, the door of
which that cautious pedagogue, who believed in taking no chances,
locked from the outside on retiring to rest.
THE RIPTON MATCH
Mike got an answer from his father on the morning of the Ripton match.
A letter from Wyatt also lay on his plate when he came down to
Mr. Jackson's letter was short, but to the point. He said he would go
and see Wyatt early in the next week. He added that being expelled
from a public school was not the only qualification for success as a
sheep-farmer, but that, if Mike's friend added to this a general
intelligence and amiability, and a skill for picking off cats with an
air-pistol and bull's-eyes with a Lee-Enfield, there was no reason why
something should not be done for him. In any case he would buy him a
lunch, so that Wyatt would extract at least some profit from his
visit. He said that he hoped something could be managed. It was a pity
that a boy accustomed to shoot cats should be condemned for the rest
of his life to shoot nothing more exciting than his cuffs.
Wyatt's letter was longer. It might have been published under the
title "My First Day in a Bank, by a Beginner." His advent had
apparently caused little sensation. He had first had a brief
conversation with the manager, which had run as follows:
"H'm ... Sportsman?"
"H'm ... Racquets?"
"H'm ... Well, you won't get any more of it now."
After which a Mr. Blenkinsop had led him up to a vast ledger, in which
he was to inscribe the addresses of all out-going letters. These
letters he would then stamp, and subsequently take in bundles to the
post office. Once a week he would be required to buy stamps. "If I
were one of those Napoleons of Finance," wrote Wyatt, "I should cook
the accounts, I suppose, and embezzle stamps to an incredible amount.
But it doesn't seem in my line. I'm afraid I wasn't cut out for a
business career. Still, I have stamped this letter at the expense
of the office, and entered it up under the heading 'Sundries,' which
is a sort of start. Look out for an article in the _Wrykynian_,
'Hints for Young Criminals, by J. Wyatt, champion catch-as-catch-can
stamp-stealer of the British Isles.' So long. I suppose you are
playing against Ripton, now that the world of commerce has found that
it can't get on without me. Mind you make a century, and then perhaps
Burgess'll give you your first after all. There were twelve colours
given three years ago, because one chap left at half-term and the man
who played instead of him came off against Ripton."
* * * * *
This had occurred to Mike independently. The Ripton match was a
special event, and the man who performed any outstanding feat against
that school was treated as a sort of Horatius. Honours were heaped
upon him. If he could only make a century! or even fifty. Even twenty,
if it got the school out of a tight place. He was as nervous on the
Saturday morning as he had been on the morning of the M.C.C. match. It
was Victory or Westminster Abbey now. To do only averagely well, to be
among the ruck, would be as useless as not playing at all, as far as
his chance of his first was concerned.
It was evident to those who woke early on the Saturday morning that
this Ripton match was not likely to end in a draw. During the Friday
rain had fallen almost incessantly in a steady drizzle. It had stopped
late at night; and at six in the morning there was every prospect of
another hot day. There was that feeling in the air which shows that
the sun is trying to get through the clouds. The sky was a dull grey
at breakfast time, except where a flush of deeper colour gave a hint
of the sun. It was a day on which to win the toss, and go in first. At
eleven-thirty, when the match was timed to begin, the wicket would be
too wet to be difficult. Runs would come easily till the sun came out
and began to dry the ground. When that happened there would be trouble
for the side that was batting.
Burgess, inspecting the wicket with Mr. Spence during the quarter to
eleven interval, was not slow to recognise this fact.
"I should win the toss to-day, if I were you, Burgess," said Mr.
"Just what I was thinking, sir."
"That wicket's going to get nasty after lunch, if the sun comes out. A
regular Rhodes wicket it's going to be."
"I wish we _had_ Rhodes," said Burgess. "Or even Wyatt. It would
just suit him, this."
Mr. Spence, as a member of the staff, was not going to be drawn into
discussing Wyatt and his premature departure, so he diverted the
conversation on to the subject of the general aspect of the school's
"Who will go on first with you, Burgess?"
"Who do you think, sir? Ellerby? It might be his wicket."
Ellerby bowled medium inclining to slow. On a pitch that suited him he
was apt to turn from leg and get people out caught at the wicket or
"Certainly, Ellerby. This end, I think. The other's yours, though I'm
afraid you'll have a poor time bowling fast to-day. Even with plenty
of sawdust I doubt if it will be possible to get a decent foothold
till after lunch."
"I must win the toss," said Burgess. "It's a nuisance too, about our
batting. Marsh will probably be dead out of form after being in the
Infirmary so long. If he'd had a chance of getting a bit of practice
yesterday, it might have been all right."
"That rain will have a lot to answer for if we lose. On a dry, hard
wicket I'm certain we should beat them four times out of six. I was
talking to a man who played against them for the Nomads. He said that
on a true wicket there was not a great deal of sting in their bowling,
but that they've got a slow leg-break man who might be dangerous on a
day like this. A boy called de Freece. I don't know of him. He wasn't
in the team last year."
"I know the chap. He played wing three for them at footer against us
this year on their ground. He was crocked when they came here. He's a
pretty useful chap all round, I believe. Plays racquets for them too."
"Well, my friend said he had one very dangerous ball, of the Bosanquet
type. Looks as if it were going away, and comes in instead."
"I don't think a lot of that," said Burgess ruefully. "One consolation
is, though, that that sort of ball is easier to watch on a slow
wicket. I must tell the fellows to look out for it."
"I should. And, above all, win the toss."
* * * * *
Burgess and Maclaine, the Ripton captain, were old acquaintances. They
had been at the same private school, and they had played against one
another at football and cricket for two years now.
"We'll go in first, Mac," said Burgess, as they met on the pavilion
steps after they had changed.
"It's awfully good of you to suggest it," said Maclaine. "but I think
we'll toss. It's a hobby of mine. You call."
"Tails it is. I ought to have warned you that you hadn't a chance.
I've lost the toss five times running, so I was bound to win to-day."
"You'll put us in, I suppose?"
"Oh, well, we sha'n't have long to wait for our knock, that's a
comfort. Buck up and send some one in, and let's get at you."
And Burgess went off to tell the ground-man to have plenty of sawdust
ready, as he would want the field paved with it.
* * * * *
The policy of the Ripton team was obvious from the first over. They
meant to force the game. Already the sun was beginning to peep through
the haze. For about an hour run-getting ought to be a tolerably simple
process; but after that hour singles would be as valuable as threes
and boundaries an almost unheard-of luxury.
So Ripton went in to hit.
The policy proved successful for a time, as it generally does.
Burgess, who relied on a run that was a series of tiger-like leaps
culminating in a spring that suggested that he meant to lower the long
jump record, found himself badly handicapped by the state of the
ground. In spite of frequent libations of sawdust, he was compelled to
tread cautiously, and this robbed his bowling of much of its pace. The
score mounted rapidly. Twenty came in ten minutes. At thirty-five the
first wicket fell, run out.
At sixty Ellerby, who had found the pitch too soft for him and had
been expensive, gave place to Grant. Grant bowled what were supposed
to be slow leg-breaks, but which did not always break. The change
Maclaine, after hitting the first two balls to the boundary, skied the
third to Bob Jackson in the deep, and Bob, for whom constant practice
had robbed this sort of catch of its terrors, held it.
A yorker from Burgess disposed of the next man before he could settle
down; but the score, seventy-four for three wickets, was large enough
in view of the fact that the pitch was already becoming more
difficult, and was certain to get worse, to make Ripton feel that the
advantage was with them. Another hour of play remained before lunch.
The deterioration of the wicket would be slow during that period. The
sun, which was now shining brightly, would put in its deadliest work
from two o'clock onwards. Maclaine's instructions to his men were to
go on hitting.
A too liberal interpretation of the meaning of the verb "to hit" led
to the departure of two more Riptonians in the course of the next two
overs. There is a certain type of school batsman who considers that to
force the game means to swipe blindly at every ball on the chance of
taking it half-volley. This policy sometimes leads to a boundary or
two, as it did on this occasion, but it means that wickets will fall,
as also happened now. Seventy-four for three became eighty-six for
five. Burgess began to look happier.
His contentment increased when he got the next man leg-before-wicket
with the total unaltered. At this rate Ripton would be out before
lunch for under a hundred.
But the rot stopped with the fall of that wicket. Dashing tactics were
laid aside. The pitch had begun to play tricks, and the pair now in
settled down to watch the ball. They plodded on, scoring slowly and
jerkily till the hands of the clock stood at half-past one. Then
Ellerby, who had gone on again instead of Grant, beat the less steady
of the pair with a ball that pitched on the middle stump and shot into
the base of the off. A hundred and twenty had gone up on the board at
the beginning of the over.
That period which is always so dangerous, when the wicket is bad, the
ten minutes before lunch, proved fatal to two more of the enemy. The
last man had just gone to the wickets, with the score at a hundred and
thirty-one, when a quarter to two arrived, and with it the luncheon
So far it was anybody's game.
MIKE WINS HOME
The Ripton last-wicket man was de Freece, the slow bowler. He was
apparently a young gentleman wholly free from the curse of
nervousness. He wore a cheerful smile as he took guard before
receiving the first ball after lunch, and Wrykyn had plenty of
opportunity of seeing that that was his normal expression when at the
wickets. There is often a certain looseness about the attack after
lunch, and the bowler of googlies took advantage of it now. He seemed
to be a batsman with only one hit; but he had also a very accurate
eye, and his one hit, a semicircular stroke, which suggested the golf
links rather than the cricket field, came off with distressing
frequency. He mowed Burgess's first ball to the square-leg boundary,
missed his second, and snicked the third for three over long-slip's
head. The other batsman played out the over, and de Freece proceeded
to treat Ellerby's bowling with equal familiarity. The scoring-board
showed an increase of twenty as the result of three overs. Every
run was invaluable now, and the Ripton contingent made the pavilion
re-echo as a fluky shot over mid-on's head sent up the hundred and
There are few things more exasperating to the fielding side than a
last-wicket stand. It resembles in its effect the dragging-out of a
book or play after the _dénouement_ has been reached. At the fall
of the ninth wicket the fieldsmen nearly always look on their outing
as finished. Just a ball or two to the last man, and it will be their
turn to bat. If the last man insists on keeping them out in the field,
they resent it.
What made it especially irritating now was the knowledge that a
straight yorker would solve the whole thing. But when Burgess bowled a
yorker, it was not straight. And when he bowled a straight ball, it
was not a yorker. A four and a three to de Freece, and a four bye sent
up a hundred and sixty.
It was beginning to look as if this might go on for ever, when
Ellerby, who had been missing the stumps by fractions of an inch,
for the last ten minutes, did what Burgess had failed to do. He
bowled a straight, medium-paced yorker, and de Freece, swiping at it
with a bright smile, found his leg-stump knocked back. He had made
twenty-eight. His record score, he explained to Mike, as they walked
to the pavilion, for this or any ground.
The Ripton total was a hundred and sixty-six.
* * * * *
With the ground in its usual true, hard condition, Wrykyn would have
gone in against a score of a hundred and sixty-six with the cheery
intention of knocking off the runs for the loss of two or three
wickets. It would have been a gentle canter for them.
But ordinary standards would not apply here. On a good wicket Wrykyn
that season were a two hundred and fifty to three hundred side. On a
bad wicket--well, they had met the Incogniti on a bad wicket, and
their total--with Wyatt playing and making top score--had worked out
at a hundred and seven.
A grim determination to do their best, rather than confidence that
their best, when done, would be anything record-breaking, was the
spirit which animated the team when they opened their innings.
And in five minutes this had changed to a dull gloom.
The tragedy started with the very first ball. It hardly seemed that
the innings had begun, when Morris was seen to leave the crease, and
make for the pavilion.
"It's that googly man," said Burgess blankly.
"What's happened?" shouted a voice from the interior of the first
"Morris is out."
"Good gracious! How?" asked Ellerby, emerging from the room with one
pad on his leg and the other in his hand.
"L.-b.-w. First ball."
"My aunt! Who's in next? Not me?"
"No. Berridge. For goodness sake, Berry, stick a bat in the way, and
not your legs. Watch that de Freece man like a hawk. He breaks like
sin all over the shop. Hullo, Morris! Bad luck! Were you out, do you
think?" A batsman who has been given l.-b.-w. is always asked this
question on his return to the pavilion, and he answers it in nine
cases out of ten in the negative. Morris was the tenth case. He
thought it was all right, he said.
"Thought the thing was going to break, but it didn't."
"Hear that, Berry? He doesn't always break. You must look out for
that," said Burgess helpfully. Morris sat down and began to take off
"That chap'll have Berry, if he doesn't look out," he said.
But Berridge survived the ordeal. He turned his first ball to leg for
This brought Marsh to the batting end; and the second tragedy
It was evident from the way he shaped that Marsh was short of
practice. His visit to the Infirmary had taken the edge off his
batting. He scratched awkwardly at three balls without hitting them.
The last of the over had him in two minds. He started to play forward,
changed his stroke suddenly and tried to step back, and the next
moment the bails had shot up like the _débris_ of a small
explosion, and the wicket-keeper was clapping his gloved hands gently
and slowly in the introspective, dreamy way wicket-keepers have on
A silence that could be felt brooded over the pavilion.
The voice of the scorer, addressing from his little wooden hut the
melancholy youth who was working the telegraph-board, broke it.
"One for two. Last man duck."
Ellerby echoed the remark. He got up, and took off his blazer.
"This is all right," he said, "isn't it! I wonder if the man at the
other end is a sort of young Rhodes too!"
Fortunately he was not. The star of the Ripton attack was evidently de
Freece. The bowler at the other end looked fairly plain. He sent them
down medium-pace, and on a good wicket would probably have been
simple. But to-day there was danger in the most guileless-looking
Berridge relieved the tension a little by playing safely through the
over, and scoring a couple of twos off it. And when Ellerby not only
survived the destructive de Freece's second over, but actually lifted
a loose ball on to the roof of the scoring-hut, the cloud began
perceptibly to lift. A no-ball in the same over sent up the first ten.
Ten for two was not good; but it was considerably better than one for
With the score at thirty, Ellerby was missed in the slips off de
Freece. He had been playing with slowly increasing confidence till
then, but this seemed to throw him out of his stride. He played inside
the next ball, and was all but bowled: and then, jumping out to drive,
he was smartly stumped. The cloud began to settle again.
Bob was the next man in.
Ellerby took off his pads, and dropped into the chair next to Mike's.
Mike was silent and thoughtful. He was in after Bob, and to be on the
eve of batting does not make one conversational.
"You in next?" asked Ellerby.
"It's getting trickier every minute," said Ellerby. "The only thing
is, if we can only stay in, we might have a chance. The wicket'll get
better, and I don't believe they've any bowling at all bar de Freece.
By George, Bob's out!... No, he isn't."
Bob had jumped out at one of de Freece's slows, as Ellerby had done,
and had nearly met the same fate. The wicket-keeper, however, had
fumbled the ball.
"That's the way I was had," said Ellerby. "That man's keeping such a
jolly good length that you don't know whether to stay in your ground
or go out at them. If only somebody would knock him off his length, I
believe we might win yet."
The same idea apparently occurred to Burgess. He came to where Mike
"I'm going to shove you down one, Jackson," he said. "I shall go in
next myself and swipe, and try and knock that man de Freece off."
"All right," said Mike. He was not quite sure whether he was glad or
sorry at the respite.
"It's a pity old Wyatt isn't here," said Ellerby. "This is just the
sort of time when he might have come off."
"Bob's broken his egg," said Mike.
"Good man. Every little helps.... Oh, you silly ass, get _back_!"
Berridge had called Bob for a short run that was obviously no run.
Third man was returning the ball as the batsmen crossed. The next
moment the wicket-keeper had the bails off. Berridge was out by a
"Forty-one for four," said Ellerby. "Help!"
Burgess began his campaign against de Freece by skying his first
ball over cover's head to the boundary. A howl of delight went up
from the school, which was repeated, _fortissimo_, when, more
by accident than by accurate timing, the captain put on two more
fours past extra-cover. The bowler's cheerful smile never varied.
Whether Burgess would have knocked de Freece off his length or not was
a question that was destined to remain unsolved, for in the middle of
the other bowler's over Bob hit a single; the batsmen crossed; and
Burgess had his leg-stump uprooted while trying a gigantic pull-stroke.
The melancholy youth put up the figures, 54, 5, 12, on the board.
Mike, as he walked out of the pavilion to join Bob, was not conscious
of any particular nervousness. It had been an ordeal having to wait
and look on while wickets fell, but now that the time of inaction was
at an end he felt curiously composed. When he had gone out to bat
against the M.C.C. on the occasion of his first appearance for the
school, he experienced a quaint sensation of unreality. He seemed to
be watching his body walking to the wickets, as if it were some one
else's. There was no sense of individuality.
But now his feelings were different. He was cool. He noticed small
things--mid-off chewing bits of grass, the bowler re-tying the scarf
round his waist, little patches of brown where the turf had been worn
away. He took guard with a clear picture of the positions of the
fieldsmen photographed on his brain.
Fitness, which in a batsman exhibits itself mainly in an increased
power of seeing the ball, is one of the most inexplicable things
connected with cricket. It has nothing, or very little, to do with
actual health. A man may come out of a sick-room with just that extra
quickness in sighting the ball that makes all the difference; or he
may be in perfect training and play inside straight half-volleys. Mike
would not have said that he felt more than ordinarily well that day.
Indeed, he was rather painfully conscious of having bolted his food at
lunch. But something seemed to whisper to him, as he settled himself
to face the bowler, that he was at the top of his batting form. A
difficult wicket always brought out his latent powers as a bat. It was
a standing mystery with the sporting Press how Joe Jackson managed to
collect fifties and sixties on wickets that completely upset men who
were, apparently, finer players. On days when the Olympians of the
cricket world were bringing their averages down with ducks and
singles, Joe would be in his element, watching the ball and pushing it
through the slips as if there were no such thing as a tricky wicket.
And Mike took after Joe.
A single off the fifth ball of the over opened his score and brought
him to the opposite end. Bob played ball number six back to the
bowler, and Mike took guard preparatory to facing de Freece.
The Ripton slow bowler took a long run, considering his pace. In the
early part of an innings he often trapped the batsmen in this way, by
leading them to expect a faster ball than he actually sent down. A
queer little jump in the middle of the run increased the difficulty of
The smiting he had received from Burgess in the previous over had not
had the effect of knocking de Freece off his length. The ball was too
short to reach with comfort, and not short enough to take liberties
with. It pitched slightly to leg, and whipped in quickly. Mike had
faced half-left, and stepped back. The increased speed of the ball
after it had touched the ground beat him. The ball hit his right pad.
"'S that?" shouted mid-on. Mid-on has a habit of appealing for
l.-b.-w. in school matches.
De Freece said nothing. The Ripton bowler was as conscientious in the
matter of appeals as a good bowler should be. He had seen that the
ball had pitched off the leg-stump.
The umpire shook his head. Mid-on tried to look as if he had not
Mike prepared himself for the next ball with a glow of confidence. He
felt that he knew where he was now. Till then he had not thought the
wicket was so fast. The two balls he had played at the other end had
told him nothing. They had been well pitched up, and he had smothered
them. He knew what to do now. He had played on wickets of this pace at
home against Saunders's bowling, and Saunders had shown him the right
way to cope with them.
The next ball was of the same length, but this time off the off-stump.
Mike jumped out, and hit it before it had time to break. It flew along
the ground through the gap between cover and extra-cover, a
Bob played out the over with elaborate care.
Off the second ball of the other man's over Mike scored his first
boundary. It was a long-hop on the off. He banged it behind point to
the terrace-bank. The last ball of the over, a half-volley to leg, he
lifted over the other boundary.
"Sixty up," said Ellerby, in the pavilion, as the umpire signalled
another no-ball. "By George! I believe these chaps are going to knock
off the runs. Young Jackson looks as if he was in for a century."
"You ass," said Berridge. "Don't say that, or he's certain to get
Berridge was one of those who are skilled in cricket superstitions.
But Mike did not get out. He took seven off de Freece's next over by
means of two cuts and a drive. And, with Bob still exhibiting a stolid
and rock-like defence, the score mounted to eighty, thence to ninety,
and so, mainly by singles, to a hundred.
At a hundred and four, when the wicket had put on exactly fifty, Bob
fell to a combination of de Freece and extra-cover. He had stuck like
a limpet for an hour and a quarter, and made twenty-one.
Mike watched him go with much the same feelings as those of a man who
turns away from the platform after seeing a friend off on a long
railway journey. His departure upset the scheme of things. For himself
he had no fear now. He might possibly get out off his next ball, but
he felt set enough to stay at the wickets till nightfall. He had had
narrow escapes from de Freece, but he was full of that conviction,
which comes to all batsmen on occasion, that this was his day. He had
made twenty-six, and the wicket was getting easier. He could feel the
sting going out of the bowling every over.
Henfrey, the next man in, was a promising rather than an effective
bat. He had an excellent style, but he was uncertain. (Two years
later, when he captained the Wrykyn teams, he made a lot of runs.) But
this season his batting had been spasmodic.
To-day he never looked like settling down. He survived an over from de
Freece, and hit a fast change bowler who had been put on at the other
end for a couple of fluky fours. Then Mike got the bowling for three
consecutive overs, and raised the score to a hundred and twenty-six. A
bye brought Henfrey to the batting end again, and de Freece's pet
googly, which had not been much in evidence hitherto, led to his
snicking an easy catch into short-slip's hands.
A hundred and twenty-seven for seven against a total of a hundred and
sixty-six gives the impression that the batting side has the
advantage. In the present case, however, it was Ripton who were really
in the better position. Apparently, Wrykyn had three more wickets to
fall. Practically they had only one, for neither Ashe, nor Grant, nor
Devenish had any pretensions to be considered batsmen. Ashe was the
school wicket-keeper. Grant and Devenish were bowlers. Between them
the three could not be relied on for a dozen in a decent match.
Mike watched Ashe shape with a sinking heart. The wicket-keeper looked
like a man who feels that his hour has come. Mike could see him
licking his lips. There was nervousness written all over him.
He was not kept long in suspense. De Freece's first ball made a
hideous wreck of his wicket.
"Over," said the umpire.
Mike felt that the school's one chance now lay in his keeping the
bowling. But how was he to do this? It suddenly occurred to him that
it was a delicate position that he was in. It was not often that he
was troubled by an inconvenient modesty, but this happened now. Grant
was a fellow he hardly knew, and a school prefect to boot. Could he go
up to him and explain that he, Jackson, did not consider him competent
to bat in this crisis? Would not this get about and be accounted to
him for side? He had made forty, but even so....
Fortunately Grant solved the problem on his own account. He came up to
Mike and spoke with an earnestness born of nerves. "For goodness
sake," he whispered, "collar the bowling all you know, or we're done.
I shall get outed first ball."
"All right," said Mike, and set his teeth. Forty to win! A large
order. But it was going to be done. His whole existence seemed to
concentrate itself on those forty runs.
The fast bowler, who was the last of several changes that had been
tried at the other end, was well-meaning but erratic. The wicket was
almost true again now, and it was possible to take liberties.
Mike took them.
A distant clapping from the pavilion, taken up a moment later all
round the ground, and echoed by the Ripton fieldsmen, announced that
he had reached his fifty.
The last ball of the over he mishit. It rolled in the direction of
"Come on," shouted Grant.
Mike and the ball arrived at the opposite wicket almost
simultaneously. Another fraction of a second, and he would have been
[Illustration: MIKE AND THE BALL ARRIVED ALMOST SIMULTANEOUSLY]
The last balls of the next two overs provided repetitions of this
performance. But each time luck was with him, and his bat was across
the crease before the bails were off. The telegraph-board showed a
hundred and fifty.
The next over was doubly sensational. The original medium-paced bowler
had gone on again in place of the fast man, and for the first five
balls he could not find his length. During those five balls Mike
raised the score to a hundred and sixty.
But the sixth was of a different kind. Faster than the rest and of a
perfect length, it all but got through Mike's defence. As it was, he
stopped it. But he did not score. The umpire called "Over!" and there
was Grant at the batting end, with de Freece smiling pleasantly as he
walked back to begin his run with the comfortable reflection that at
last he had got somebody except Mike to bowl at.
That over was an experience Mike never forgot.
Grant pursued the Fabian policy of keeping his bat almost immovable
and trusting to luck. Point and the slips crowded round. Mid-off and
mid-on moved half-way down the pitch. Grant looked embarrassed, but
determined. For four balls he baffled the attack, though once nearly
caught by point a yard from the wicket. The fifth curled round his
bat, and touched the off-stump. A bail fell silently to the ground.
Devenish came in to take the last ball of the over.
It was an awe-inspiring moment. A great stillness was over all the
ground. Mike's knees trembled. Devenish's face was a delicate grey.
The only person unmoved seemed to be de Freece. His smile was even
more amiable than usual as he began his run.
The next moment the crisis was past. The ball hit the very centre of
Devenish's bat, and rolled back down the pitch.
The school broke into one great howl of joy. There were still seven
runs between them and victory, but nobody appeared to recognise this
fact as important. Mike had got the bowling, and the bowling was not
It seemed almost an anti-climax when a four to leg and two two's
through the slips settled the thing.
* * * * *
Devenish was caught and bowled in de Freece's next over; but the
Wrykyn total was one hundred and seventy-two.
* * * * *
"Good game," said Maclaine, meeting Burgess in the pavilion. "Who was
the man who made all the runs? How many, by the way?"
"Eighty-three. It was young Jackson. Brother of the other one."
"That family! How many more of them are you going to have here?"
"He's the last. I say, rough luck on de Freece. He bowled rippingly."
Politeness to a beaten foe caused Burgess to change his usual "not
"The funny part of it is," continued he, "that young Jackson was only
playing as a sub."
"You've got a rum idea of what's funny," said Maclaine.
It was a morning in the middle of September. The Jacksons were
breakfasting. Mr. Jackson was reading letters. The rest, including
Gladys Maud, whose finely chiselled features were gradually
disappearing behind a mask of bread-and-milk, had settled down to
serious work. The usual catch-as-catch-can contest between Marjory and
Phyllis for the jam (referee and time-keeper, Mrs. Jackson) had
resulted, after both combatants had been cautioned by the referee, in
a victory for Marjory, who had duly secured the stakes. The hour being
nine-fifteen, and the official time for breakfast nine o'clock, Mike's
place was still empty.
"I've had a letter from MacPherson," said Mr. Jackson.
MacPherson was the vigorous and persevering gentleman, referred to in
a previous chapter, who kept a fatherly eye on the Buenos Ayres sheep.
"He seems very satisfied with Mike's friend Wyatt. At the moment of
writing Wyatt is apparently incapacitated owing to a bullet in the
shoulder, but expects to be fit again shortly. That young man seems to
make things fairly lively wherever he is. I don't wonder he found a
public school too restricted a sphere for his energies."
"Has he been fighting a duel?" asked Marjory, interested.
"Bushrangers," said Phyllis.
"There aren't any bushrangers in Buenos Ayres," said Ella.
"How do you know?" said Phyllis clinchingly.
"Bush-ray, bush-ray, bush-ray," began Gladys Maud, conversationally,
through the bread-and-milk; but was headed off.
"He gives no details. Perhaps that letter on Mike's plate supplies
them. I see it comes from Buenos Ayres."
"I wish Mike would come and open it," said Marjory. "Shall I go and
hurry him up?"
The missing member of the family entered as she spoke.
"Buck up, Mike," she shouted. "There's a letter from Wyatt. He's been
wounded in a duel."
"With a bushranger," added Phyllis.
"Bush-ray," explained Gladys Maud.
"Is there?" said Mike. "Sorry I'm late."
He opened the letter and began to read.
"What does he say?" inquired Marjory. "Who was the duel with?"
"How many bushrangers were there?" asked Phyllis.
Mike read on.
"Good old Wyatt! He's shot a man."
"Killed him?" asked Marjory excitedly.
"No. Only potted him in the leg. This is what he says. First page is
mostly about the Ripton match and so on. Here you are. 'I'm dictating
this to a sportsman of the name of Danvers, a good chap who can't help
being ugly, so excuse bad writing. The fact is we've been having a
bust-up here, and I've come out of it with a bullet in the shoulder,
which has crocked me for the time being. It happened like this. An
ass of a Gaucho had gone into the town and got jolly tight, and
coming back, he wanted to ride through our place. The old woman who
keeps the lodge wouldn't have it at any price. Gave him the absolute
miss-in-baulk. So this rotter, instead of shifting off, proceeded to
cut the fence, and go through that way. All the farms out here have
their boundaries marked by wire fences, and it is supposed to be a
deadly sin to cut these. Well, the lodge-keeper's son dashed off in
search of help. A chap called Chester, an Old Wykehamist, and I were
dipping sheep close by, so he came to us and told us what had happened.
We nipped on to a couple of horses, pulled out our revolvers, and
tooled after him. After a bit we overtook him, and that's when the
trouble began. The johnny had dismounted when we arrived. I thought
he was simply tightening his horse's girths. What he was really doing
was getting a steady aim at us with his revolver. He fired as we came
up, and dropped poor old Chester. I thought he was killed at first, but
it turned out it was only his leg. I got going then. I emptied all the
six chambers of my revolver, and missed him clean every time. In the
meantime he got me in the right shoulder. Hurt like sin afterwards,
though it was only a sort of dull shock at the moment. The next item
of the programme was a forward move in force on the part of the enemy.
The man had got his knife out now--why he didn't shoot again I don't
know--and toddled over in our direction to finish us off. Chester was
unconscious, and it was any money on the Gaucho, when I happened to
catch sight of Chester's pistol, which had fallen just by where I came
down. I picked it up, and loosed off. Missed the first shot, but got
him with the second in the ankle at about two yards; and his day's
work was done. That's the painful story. Danvers says he's getting
writer's cramp, so I shall have to stop....'"
"By Jove!" said Mike.
"What a dreadful thing!" said Mrs. Jackson.
"Anyhow, it was practically a bushranger," said Phyllis.
"I told you it was a duel, and so it was," said Marjory.
"What a terrible experience for the poor boy!" said Mrs. Jackson.
"Much better than being in a beastly bank," said Mike, summing up.
"I'm glad he's having such a ripping time. It must be almost as decent
as Wrykyn out there.... I say, what's under that dish?"
MR. JACKSON MAKES UP HIS MIND
Two years have elapsed and Mike is home again for the Easter holidays.
If Mike had been in time for breakfast that morning he might have
gathered from the expression on his father's face, as Mr. Jackson
opened the envelope containing his school report and read the
contents, that the document in question was not exactly a paean of
praise from beginning to end. But he was late, as usual. Mike always
was late for breakfast in the holidays.
When he came down on this particular morning, the meal was nearly
over. Mr. Jackson had disappeared, taking his correspondence with him;
Mrs. Jackson had gone into the kitchen, and when Mike appeared the
thing had resolved itself into a mere vulgar brawl between Phyllis and
Ella for the jam, while Marjory, who had put her hair up a fortnight
before, looked on in a detached sort of way, as if these juvenile
gambols distressed her.
"Hullo, Mike," she said, jumping up as he entered; "here you are--I've
been keeping everything hot for you."
"Have you? Thanks awfully. I say--" his eye wandered in mild surprise
round the table. "I'm a bit late."
Marjory was bustling about, fetching and carrying for Mike, as she
always did. She had adopted him at an early age, and did the thing
thoroughly. She was fond of her other brothers, especially when they
made centuries in first-class cricket, but Mike was her favourite. She
would field out in the deep as a natural thing when Mike was batting
at the net in the paddock, though for the others, even for Joe, who
had played in all five Test Matches in the previous summer, she would
do it only as a favour.
Phyllis and Ella finished their dispute and went out. Marjory sat on
the table and watched Mike eat.
"Your report came this morning, Mike," she said.
The kidneys failed to retain Mike's undivided attention. He looked up
interested. "What did it say?"
"I didn't see--I only caught sight of the Wrykyn crest on the
envelope. Father didn't say anything."
Mike seemed concerned. "I say, that looks rather rotten! I wonder if
it was awfully bad. It's the first I've had from Appleby."
"It can't be any worse than the horrid ones Mr. Blake used to write
when you were in his form."
"No, that's a comfort," said Mike philosophically. "Think there's any
more tea in that pot?"
"I call it a shame," said Marjory; "they ought to be jolly glad to
have you at Wrykyn just for cricket, instead of writing beastly
reports that make father angry and don't do any good to anybody."
"Last summer he said he'd take me away if I got another one."
"He didn't mean it really, I _know_ he didn't! He couldn't!
You're the best bat Wrykyn's ever had."
"What ho!" interpolated Mike.
"You _are_. Everybody says you are. Why, you got your first the
very first term you were there--even Joe didn't do anything nearly so
good as that. Saunders says you're simply bound to play for England in
another year or two."
"Saunders is a jolly good chap. He bowled me a half-volley on the off
the first ball I had in a school match. By the way, I wonder if he's
out at the net now. Let's go and see."
Saunders was setting up the net when they arrived. Mike put on his
pads and went to the wickets, while Marjory and the dogs retired as
usual to the far hedge to retrieve.
She was kept busy. Saunders was a good sound bowler of the M.C.C.
minor match type, and there had been a time when he had worried Mike
considerably, but Mike had been in the Wrykyn team for three seasons
now, and each season he had advanced tremendously in his batting. He
had filled out in three years. He had always had the style, and now he
had the strength as well. Saunders's bowling on a true wicket seemed
simple to him. It was early in the Easter holidays, but already he was
beginning to find his form. Saunders, who looked on Mike as his own
special invention, was delighted.
"If you don't be worried by being too anxious now that you're captain,
Master Mike," he said, "you'll make a century every match next term."
"I wish I wasn't; it's a beastly responsibility."
Henfrey, the Wrykyn cricket captain of the previous season, was not
returning next term, and Mike was to reign in his stead. He liked the
prospect, but it certainly carried with it a rather awe-inspiring
responsibility. At night sometimes he would lie awake, appalled by the
fear of losing his form, or making a hash of things by choosing the
wrong men to play for the school and leaving the right men out. It is
no light thing to captain a public school at cricket.
As he was walking towards the house, Phyllis met him. "Oh, I've been
hunting for you, Mike; father wants you."
"I don't know."
"He's in the study. He seems--" added Phyllis, throwing in the
information by way of a make-weight, "in a beastly wax."
Mike's jaw fell slightly. "I hope the dickens it's nothing to do with
that bally report," was his muttered exclamation.
Mike's dealings with his father were as a rule of a most pleasant
nature. Mr. Jackson was an understanding sort of man, who treated his
sons as companions. From time to time, however, breezes were apt to
ruffle the placid sea of good-fellowship. Mike's end-of-term report
was an unfailing wind-raiser; indeed, on the arrival of Mr. Blake's
sarcastic _résumé_ of Mike's short-comings at the end of the
previous term, there had been something not unlike a typhoon. It was
on this occasion that Mr. Jackson had solemnly declared his intention
of removing Mike from Wrykyn unless the critics became more
flattering; and Mr. Jackson was a man of his word.
It was with a certain amount of apprehension, therefore, that Jackson
entered the study.
"Come in, Mike," said his father, kicking the waste-paper basket; "I
want to speak to you."
Mike, skilled in omens, scented a row in the offing. Only in moments
of emotion was Mr. Jackson in the habit of booting the basket.
There followed an awkward silence, which Mike broke by remarking that
he had carted a half-volley from Saunders over the on-side hedge that
"It was just a bit short and off the leg stump, so I stepped out--may
I bag the paper-knife for a jiffy? I'll just show----"
"Never mind about cricket now," said Mr. Jackson; "I want you to
listen to this report."
"Oh, is that my report, father?" said Mike, with a sort of sickly
interest, much as a dog about to be washed might evince in his tub.
"It is," replied Mr. Jackson in measured tones, "your report; what is
more, it is without exception the worst report you have ever had."
"Oh, I say!" groaned the record-breaker.
"'His conduct,'" quoted Mr. Jackson, "'has been unsatisfactory in the
extreme, both in and out of school.'"
"It wasn't anything really. I only happened----"
Remembering suddenly that what he had happened to do was to drop a
cannon-ball (the school weight) on the form-room floor, not once, but
on several occasions, he paused.
"'French bad; conduct disgraceful----'"
"Everybody rags in French."
"'Mathematics bad. Inattentive and idle.'"
"Nobody does much work in Math."
"'Latin poor. Greek, very poor.'"
"We were doing Thucydides, Book Two, last term--all speeches and
doubtful readings, and cruxes and things--beastly hard! Everybody says
"Here are Mr. Appleby's remarks: 'The boy has genuine ability, which
he declines to use in the smallest degree.'"
Mike moaned a moan of righteous indignation.
"'An abnormal proficiency at games has apparently destroyed all desire
in him to realise the more serious issues of life.' There is more to
the same effect."
Mr. Appleby was a master with very definite ideas as to what
constituted a public-school master's duties. As a man he was
distinctly pro-Mike. He understood cricket, and some of Mike's shots
on the off gave him thrills of pure aesthetic joy; but as a master he
always made it his habit to regard the manners and customs of the boys
in his form with an unbiased eye, and to an unbiased eye Mike in a
form-room was about as near the extreme edge as a boy could be, and
Mr. Appleby said as much in a clear firm hand.
"You remember what I said to you about your report at Christmas,
Mike?" said Mr. Jackson, folding the lethal document and replacing it
in its envelope.
Mike said nothing; there was a sinking feeling in his interior.
"I shall abide by what I said."
Mike's heart thumped.
"You will not go back to Wrykyn next term."
Somewhere in the world the sun was shining, birds were twittering;
somewhere in the world lambkins frisked and peasants sang blithely at
their toil (flat, perhaps, but still blithely), but to Mike at that
moment the sky was black, and an icy wind blew over the face of the
The tragedy had happened, and there was an end of it. He made no
attempt to appeal against the sentence. He knew it would be useless,
his father, when he made up his mind, having all the unbending
tenacity of the normally easy-going man.
Mr. Jackson was sorry for Mike. He understood him, and for that reason
he said very little now.
"I am sending you to Sedleigh," was his next remark.
Sedleigh! Mike sat up with a jerk. He knew Sedleigh by name--one of
those schools with about a hundred fellows which you never hear of
except when they send up their gymnasium pair to Aldershot, or their
Eight to Bisley. Mike's outlook on life was that of a cricketer, pure
and simple. What had Sedleigh ever done? What were they ever likely to
do? Whom did they play? What Old Sedleighan had ever done anything at
cricket? Perhaps they didn't even _play_ cricket!
"But it's an awful hole," he said blankly.
Mr. Jackson could read Mike's mind like a book. Mike's point of view
was plain to him. He did not approve of it, but he knew that in Mike's
place and at Mike's age he would have felt the same. He spoke drily to
hide his sympathy.
"It is not a large school," he said, "and I don't suppose it could
play Wrykyn at cricket, but it has one merit--boys work there. Young
Barlitt won a Balliol scholarship from Sedleigh last year." Barlitt
was the vicar's son, a silent, spectacled youth who did not enter
very largely into Mike's world. They had met occasionally at
tennis-parties, but not much conversation had ensued. Barlitt's
mind was massive, but his topics of conversation were not Mike's.
"Mr. Barlitt speaks very highly of Sedleigh," added Mr. Jackson.
Mike said nothing, which was a good deal better than saying what he
would have liked to have said.
The train, which had been stopping everywhere for the last half-hour,
pulled up again, and Mike, seeing the name of the station, got up,
opened the door, and hurled a Gladstone bag out on to the platform in
an emphatic and vindictive manner. Then he got out himself and looked
"For the school, sir?" inquired the solitary porter, bustling up, as
if he hoped by sheer energy to deceive the traveller into thinking
that Sedleigh station was staffed by a great army of porters.
Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if
somebody had met him in 1812, and said, "So you're back from Moscow,
eh?" Mike was feeling thoroughly jaundiced. The future seemed wholly
gloomy. And, so far from attempting to make the best of things, he had
set himself deliberately to look on the dark side. He thought, for
instance, that he had never seen a more repulsive porter, or one more
obviously incompetent than the man who had attached himself with a
firm grasp to the handle of the bag as he strode off in the direction
of the luggage-van. He disliked his voice, his appearance, and the
colour of his hair. Also the boots he wore. He hated the station, and
the man who took his ticket.
"Young gents at the school, sir," said the porter, perceiving from
Mike's _distrait_ air that the boy was a stranger to the place,
"goes up in the 'bus mostly. It's waiting here, sir. Hi, George!"
"I'll walk, thanks," said Mike frigidly.
"It's a goodish step, sir."
"Here you are."
"Thank you, sir. I'll send up your luggage by the 'bus, sir. Which
'ouse was it you was going to?"
"Right, sir. It's straight on up this road to the school. You can't
miss it, sir."
"Worse luck," said Mike.
He walked off up the road, sorrier for himself than ever. It was such
absolutely rotten luck. About now, instead of being on his way to a
place where they probably ran a diabolo team instead of a cricket
eleven, and played hunt-the-slipper in winter, he would be on the
point of arriving at Wrykyn. And as captain of cricket, at that. Which
was the bitter part of it. He had never been in command. For the last
two seasons he had been the star man, going in first, and heading the
averages easily at the end of the season; and the three captains under
whom he had played during his career as a Wrykynian, Burgess, Enderby,
and Henfrey had always been sportsmen to him. But it was not the same
thing. He had meant to do such a lot for Wrykyn cricket this term. He
had had an entirely new system of coaching in his mind. Now it might
never be used. He had handed it on in a letter to Strachan, who would
be captain in his place; but probably Strachan would have some scheme
of his own. There is nobody who could not edit a paper in the ideal
way; and there is nobody who has not a theory of his own about
cricket-coaching at school.
Wrykyn, too, would be weak this year, now that he was no longer there.
Strachan was a good, free bat on his day, and, if he survived a few
overs, might make a century in an hour, but he was not to be depended
upon. There was no doubt that Mike's sudden withdrawal meant that
Wrykyn would have a bad time that season. And it had been such a
wretched athletic year for the school. The football fifteen had been
hopeless, and had lost both the Ripton matches, the return by over
sixty points. Sheen's victory in the light-weights at Aldershot had
been their one success. And now, on top of all this, the captain of
cricket was removed during the Easter holidays. Mike's heart bled for
Wrykyn, and he found himself loathing Sedleigh and all its works with
a great loathing.
The only thing he could find in its favour was the fact that it was
set in a very pretty country. Of a different type from the Wrykyn
country, but almost as good. For three miles Mike made his way through
woods and past fields. Once he crossed a river. It was soon after this
that he caught sight, from the top of a hill, of a group of buildings
that wore an unmistakably school-like look.
This must be Sedleigh.
Ten minutes' walk brought him to the school gates, and a baker's boy
directed him to Mr. Outwood's.
There were three houses in a row, separated from the school buildings
by a cricket-field. Outwood's was the middle one of these.
Mike went to the front door, and knocked. At Wrykyn he had always
charged in at the beginning of term at the boys' entrance, but this
formal reporting of himself at Sedleigh suited his mood.
He inquired for Mr. Outwood, and was shown into a room lined with
books. Presently the door opened, and the house-master appeared.
There was something pleasant and homely about Mr. Outwood. In
appearance he reminded Mike of Smee in "Peter Pan." He had the same
eyebrows and pince-nez and the same motherly look.
"Jackson?" he said mildly.
"I am very glad to see you, very glad indeed. Perhaps you would like a
cup of tea after your journey. I think you might like a cup of tea.
You come from Crofton, in Shropshire, I understand, Jackson, near
Brindleford? It is a part of the country which I have always wished to
visit. I daresay you have frequently seen the Cluniac Priory of St.
Ambrose at Brindleford?"
Mike, who would not have recognised a Cluniac Priory if you had handed
him one on a tray, said he had not.
"Dear me! You have missed an opportunity which I should have been glad
to have. I am preparing a book on Ruined Abbeys and Priories of
England, and it has always been my wish to see the Cluniac Priory of
St. Ambrose. A deeply interesting relic of the sixteenth century.
Bishop Geoffrey, 1133-40----"
"Shall I go across to the boys' part, sir?"
"What? Yes. Oh, yes. Quite so. And perhaps you would like a cup of tea
after your journey? No? Quite so. Quite so. You should make a point of
visiting the remains of the Cluniac Priory in the summer holidays,
Jackson. You will find the matron in her room. In many respects it is
unique. The northern altar is in a state of really wonderful
preservation. It consists of a solid block of masonry five feet long
and two and a half wide, with chamfered plinth, standing quite free
from the apse wall. It will well repay a visit. Good-bye for the
present, Jackson, good-bye."
Mike wandered across to the other side of the house, his gloom visibly
deepened. All alone in a strange school, where they probably played
hopscotch, with a house-master who offered one cups of tea after one's
journey and talked about chamfered plinths and apses. It was a little
He strayed about, finding his bearings, and finally came to a room
which he took to be the equivalent of the senior day-room at a Wrykyn
house. Everywhere else he had found nothing but emptiness. Evidently
he had come by an earlier train than was usual. But this room was
A very long, thin youth, with a solemn face and immaculate clothes,
was leaning against the mantelpiece. As Mike entered, he fumbled in
his top left waistcoat pocket, produced an eyeglass attached to a
cord, and fixed it in his right eye. With the help of this aid to
vision he inspected Mike in silence for a while, then, having flicked
an invisible speck of dust from the left sleeve of his coat, he spoke.
"Hullo," he said.
He spoke in a tired voice.
"Hullo," said Mike.
"Take a seat," said the immaculate one. "If you don't mind dirtying
your bags, that's to say. Personally, I don't see any prospect of ever
sitting down in this place. It looks to me as if they meant to use
these chairs as mustard-and-cress beds. A Nursery Garden in the Home.
That sort of idea. My name," he added pensively, "is Smith. What's
"Jackson," said Mike.
"Are you the Bully, the Pride of the School, or the Boy who is Led
Astray and takes to Drink in Chapter Sixteen?"
"The last, for choice," said Mike, "but I've only just arrived, so I
"The boy--what will he become? Are you new here, too, then?"
"Yes! Why, are you new?"
"Do I look as if I belonged here? I'm the latest import. Sit down
on yonder settee, and I will tell you the painful story of my life.
By the way, before I start, there's just one thing. If you ever
have occasion to write to me, would you mind sticking a P at the
beginning of my name? P-s-m-i-t-h. See? There are too many Smiths,
and I don't care for Smythe. My father's content to worry along in
the old-fashioned way, but I've decided to strike out a fresh line.
I shall found a new dynasty. The resolve came to me unexpectedly this
morning, as I was buying a simple penn'orth of butterscotch out of
the automatic machine at Paddington. I jotted it down on the back of
an envelope. In conversation you may address me as Rupert (though I
hope you won't), or simply Smith, the P not being sounded. Cp. the
name Zbysco, in which the Z is given a similar miss-in-baulk. See?"
Mike said he saw. Psmith thanked him with a certain stately old-world