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Mike by P. G. Wodehouse

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"Nor do I. Rather rot, though, if he lugged your brother into a row by
accident."

"I should get blamed. I think I'll speak to him again."

"I should, I think."

"I hope he isn't idiot enough to go out at night with Wyatt. If Wyatt
likes to risk it, all right. That's his look out. But it won't do for
Mike to go playing the goat too."

"Clowes suggested putting Firby-Smith on to him. He'd have more
chance, being in the same house, of seeing that he didn't come a
mucker than you would."

"I've done that. Smith said he'd speak to him."

"That's all right then. Is that a new bat?"

"Got it to-day. Smashed my other yesterday--against the school house."

Donaldson's had played a friendly with the school house during the
last two days, and had beaten them.

"I thought I heard it go. You were rather in form."

"Better than at the beginning of the term, anyhow. I simply couldn't
do a thing then. But my last three innings have been 33 not out, 18,
and 51.

"I should think you're bound to get your first all right."

"Hope so. I see Mike's playing for the second against the O.W.s."

"Yes. Pretty good for his first term. You have a pro. to coach you in
the holidays, don't you?"

"Yes. I didn't go to him much this last time. I was away a lot. But
Mike fairly lived inside the net."

"Well, it's not been chucked away. I suppose he'll get his first next
year. There'll be a big clearing-out of colours at the end of this
term. Nearly all the first are leaving. Henfrey'll be captain, I
expect."

"Saunders, the pro. at home, always says that Mike's going to be the
star cricketer of the family. Better than J. W. even, he thinks. I
asked him what he thought of me, and he said, 'You'll be making a lot
of runs some day, Mr. Bob.' There's a subtle difference, isn't there?
I shall have Mike cutting me out before I leave school if I'm not
careful."

"Sort of infant prodigy," said Trevor. "Don't think he's quite up to
it yet, though."

He went back to his study, and Bob, having finished his oiling and
washed his hands, started on his Thucydides. And, in the stress of
wrestling with the speech of an apparently delirious Athenian general,
whose remarks seemed to contain nothing even remotely resembling sense
and coherence, he allowed the question of Mike's welfare to fade from
his mind like a dissolving view.

CHAPTER VIII

A ROW WITH THE TOWN

The beginning of a big row, one of those rows which turn a school
upside down like a volcanic eruption and provide old boys with
something to talk about, when they meet, for years, is not unlike the
beginning of a thunderstorm.

You are walking along one seemingly fine day, when suddenly there is a
hush, and there falls on you from space one big drop. The next moment
the thing has begun, and you are standing in a shower-bath. It is just
the same with a row. Some trivial episode occurs, and in an instant
the place is in a ferment. It was so with the great picnic at Wrykyn.

The bare outlines of the beginning of this affair are included in a
letter which Mike wrote to his father on the Sunday following the Old
Wrykynian matches.

This was the letter:

"DEAR FATHER,--Thanks awfully for your letter. I hope you are quite
well. I have been getting on all right at cricket lately. My scores
since I wrote last have been 0 in a scratch game (the sun got in my
eyes just as I played, and I got bowled); 15 for the third against an
eleven of masters (without G. B. Jones, the Surrey man, and Spence);
28 not out in the Under Sixteen game; and 30 in a form match. Rather
decent. Yesterday one of the men put down for the second against the
O.W.'s second couldn't play because his father was very ill, so I
played. Wasn't it luck? It's the first time I've played for the
second. I didn't do much, because I didn't get an innings. They stop
the cricket on O.W. matches day because they have a lot of rotten
Greek plays and things which take up a frightful time, and half the
chaps are acting, so we stop from lunch to four. Rot I call it. So I
didn't go in, because they won the toss and made 215, and by the time
we'd made 140 for 6 it was close of play. They'd stuck me in eighth
wicket. Rather rot. Still, I may get another shot. And I made rather a
decent catch at mid-on. Low down. I had to dive for it. Bob played for
the first, but didn't do much. He was run out after he'd got ten. I
believe he's rather sick about it.

"Rather a rummy thing happened after lock-up. I wasn't in it, but a
fellow called Wyatt (awfully decent chap. He's Wain's step-son, only
they bar one another) told me about it. He was in it all right.
There's a dinner after the matches on O.W. day, and some of the chaps
were going back to their houses after it when they got into a row with
a lot of brickies from the town, and there was rather a row. There was
a policeman mixed up in it somehow, only I don't quite know where he
comes in. I'll find out and tell you next time I write. Love to
everybody. Tell Marjory I'll write to her in a day or two.

"Your loving son,

"MIKE.

"P.S.--I say, I suppose you couldn't send me five bob, could you? I'm
rather broke.

"P.P.S.--Half-a-crown would do, only I'd rather it was five bob."

And, on the back of the envelope, these words: "Or a bob would be
better than nothing."

* * * * *

The outline of the case was as Mike had stated. But there were certain
details of some importance which had not come to his notice when he
sent the letter. On the Monday they were public property.

The thing had happened after this fashion. At the conclusion of the
day's cricket, all those who had been playing in the four elevens
which the school put into the field against the old boys, together
with the school choir, were entertained by the headmaster to supper in
the Great Hall. The banquet, lengthened by speeches, songs, and
recitations which the reciters imagined to be songs, lasted, as a
rule, till about ten o'clock, when the revellers were supposed to go
back to their houses by the nearest route, and turn in. This was the
official programme. The school usually performed it with certain
modifications and improvements.

About midway between Wrykyn, the school, and Wrykyn, the town, there
stands on an island in the centre of the road a solitary lamp-post. It
was the custom, and had been the custom for generations back, for the
diners to trudge off to this lamp-post, dance round it for some
minutes singing the school song or whatever happened to be the popular
song of the moment, and then race back to their houses. Antiquity had
given the custom a sort of sanctity, and the authorities, if they
knew--which they must have done--never interfered.

But there were others.

Wrykyn, the town, was peculiarly rich in "gangs of youths." Like the
vast majority of the inhabitants of the place, they seemed to have no
work of any kind whatsoever to occupy their time, which they used,
accordingly, to spend prowling about and indulging in a mild,
brainless, rural type of hooliganism. They seldom proceeded to
practical rowdyism and never except with the school. As a rule, they
amused themselves by shouting rude chaff. The school regarded them
with a lofty contempt, much as an Oxford man regards the townee. The
school was always anxious for a row, but it was the unwritten law that
only in special circumstances should they proceed to active measures.
A curious dislike for school-and-town rows and most misplaced severity
in dealing with the offenders when they took place, were among the few
flaws in the otherwise admirable character of the headmaster of
Wrykyn. It was understood that one scragged bargees at one's own risk,
and, as a rule, it was not considered worth it.

But after an excellent supper and much singing and joviality, one's
views are apt to alter. Risks which before supper seemed great, show a
tendency to dwindle.

When, therefore, the twenty or so Wrykynians who were dancing round
the lamp-post were aware, in the midst of their festivities, that they
were being observed and criticised by an equal number of townees, and
that the criticisms were, as usual, essentially candid and personal,
they found themselves forgetting the headmaster's prejudices and
feeling only that these outsiders must be put to the sword as speedily
as possible, for the honour of the school.

Possibly, if the town brigade had stuck to a purely verbal form of
attack, all might yet have been peace. Words can be overlooked.

But tomatoes cannot.

No man of spirit can bear to be pelted with over-ripe tomatoes for any
length of time without feeling that if the thing goes on much longer
he will be reluctantly compelled to take steps.

In the present crisis, the first tomato was enough to set matters
moving.

As the two armies stood facing each other in silence under the dim and
mysterious rays of the lamp, it suddenly whizzed out from the enemy's
ranks, and hit Wyatt on the right ear.

There was a moment of suspense. Wyatt took out his handkerchief and
wiped his face, over which the succulent vegetable had spread itself.

"I don't know how you fellows are going to pass the evening," he said
quietly. "My idea of a good after-dinner game is to try and find the
chap who threw that. Anybody coming?"

For the first five minutes it was as even a fight as one could have
wished to see. It raged up and down the road without a pause, now in a
solid mass, now splitting up into little groups. The science was on
the side of the school. Most Wrykynians knew how to box to a certain
extent. But, at any rate at first, it was no time for science. To be
scientific one must have an opponent who observes at least the more
important rules of the ring. It is impossible to do the latest ducks
and hooks taught you by the instructor if your antagonist butts you in
the chest, and then kicks your shins, while some dear friend of his,
of whose presence you had no idea, hits you at the same time on the
back of the head. The greatest expert would lose his science in such
circumstances.

Probably what gave the school the victory in the end was the
righteousness of their cause. They were smarting under a sense of
injury, and there is nothing that adds a force to one's blows and a
recklessness to one's style of delivering them more than a sense of
injury.

Wyatt, one side of his face still showing traces of the tomato, led
the school with a vigour that could not be resisted. He very seldom
lost his temper, but he did draw the line at bad tomatoes.

Presently the school noticed that the enemy were vanishing little by
little into the darkness which concealed the town. Barely a dozen
remained. And their lonely condition seemed to be borne in upon these
by a simultaneous brain-wave, for they suddenly gave the fight up, and
stampeded as one man.

The leaders were beyond recall, but two remained, tackled low by Wyatt
and Clowes after the fashion of the football-field.

* * * * *

The school gathered round its prisoners, panting. The scene of the
conflict had shifted little by little to a spot some fifty yards from
where it had started. By the side of the road at this point was a
green, depressed looking pond. Gloomy in the daytime, it looked
unspeakable at night. It struck Wyatt, whose finer feelings had been
entirely blotted out by tomato, as an ideal place in which to bestow
the captives.

"Let's chuck 'em in there," he said.

The idea was welcomed gladly by all, except the prisoners. A move was
made towards the pond, and the procession had halted on the brink,
when a new voice made itself heard.

"Now then," it said, "what's all this?"

A stout figure in policeman's uniform was standing surveying them with
the aid of a small bull's-eye lantern.

"What's all this?"

"It's all right," said Wyatt.

"All right, is it? What's on?"

One of the prisoners spoke.

"Make 'em leave hold of us, Mr. Butt. They're a-going to chuck us in
the pond."

"Ho!" said the policeman, with a change in his voice. "Ho, are they?
Come now, young gentleman, a lark's a lark, but you ought to know
where to stop."

"It's anything but a lark," said Wyatt in the creamy voice he used
when feeling particularly savage. "We're the Strong Right Arm of
Justice. That's what we are. This isn't a lark, it's an execution."

"I don't want none of your lip, whoever you are," said Mr. Butt,
understanding but dimly, and suspecting impudence by instinct.

"This is quite a private matter," said Wyatt. "You run along on your
beat. You can't do anything here."

"Ho!"

"Shove 'em in, you chaps."

"Stop!" From Mr. Butt.

"Oo-er!" From prisoner number one.

There was a sounding splash as willing hands urged the first of the
captives into the depths. He ploughed his way to the bank, scrambled
out, and vanished.

Wyatt turned to the other prisoner.

"You'll have the worst of it, going in second. He'll have churned up
the mud a bit. Don't swallow more than you can help, or you'll go
getting typhoid. I expect there are leeches and things there, but if
you nip out quick they may not get on to you. Carry on, you chaps."

It was here that the regrettable incident occurred. Just as the second
prisoner was being launched, Constable Butt, determined to assert
himself even at the eleventh hour, sprang forward, and seized the
captive by the arm. A drowning man will clutch at a straw. A man about
to be hurled into an excessively dirty pond will clutch at a stout
policeman. The prisoner did.

Constable Butt represented his one link with dry land. As he came
within reach he attached himself to his tunic with the vigour and
concentration of a limpet.

At the same moment the executioners gave their man the final heave.
The policeman realised his peril too late. A medley of noises made the
peaceful night hideous. A howl from the townee, a yell from the
policeman, a cheer from the launching party, a frightened squawk from
some birds in a neighbouring tree, and a splash compared with which
the first had been as nothing, and all was over.

The dark waters were lashed into a maelstrom; and then two streaming
figures squelched up the further bank.

[Illustration: THE DARK WATERS WERE LASHED INTO A MAELSTROM]

The school stood in silent consternation. It was no occasion for light
apologies.

"Do you know," said Wyatt, as he watched the Law shaking the water
from itself on the other side of the pond, "I'm not half sure that we
hadn't better be moving!"

CHAPTER IX

BEFORE THE STORM

Your real, devastating row has many points of resemblance with a
prairie fire. A man on a prairie lights his pipe, and throws away the
match. The flame catches a bunch of dry grass, and, before any one can
realise what is happening, sheets of fire are racing over the country;
and the interested neighbours are following their example. (I have
already compared a row with a thunderstorm; but both comparisons may
stand. In dealing with so vast a matter as a row there must be no
stint.)

The tomato which hit Wyatt in the face was the thrown-away match. But
for the unerring aim of the town marksman great events would never
have happened. A tomato is a trivial thing (though it is possible that
the man whom it hits may not think so), but in the present case, it
was the direct cause of epoch-making trouble.

The tomato hit Wyatt. Wyatt, with others, went to look for the
thrower. The remnants of the thrower's friends were placed in the
pond, and "with them," as they say in the courts of law, Police
Constable Alfred Butt.

Following the chain of events, we find Mr. Butt, having prudently
changed his clothes, calling upon the headmaster.

The headmaster was grave and sympathetic; Mr. Butt fierce and
revengeful.

The imagination of the force is proverbial. Nurtured on motor-cars and
fed with stop-watches, it has become world-famous. Mr. Butt gave free
rein to it.

"Threw me in, they did, sir. Yes, sir."

"Threw you in!"

"Yes, sir. _Plop_!" said Mr. Butt, with a certain sad relish.

"Really, really!" said the headmaster. "Indeed! This is--dear me! I
shall certainly--They threw you in!--Yes, I shall--certainly----"

Encouraged by this appreciative reception of his story, Mr. Butt
started it again, right from the beginning.

"I was on my beat, sir, and I thought I heard a disturbance. I says to
myself, ''Allo,' I says, 'a frakkus. Lots of them all gathered
together, and fighting.' I says, beginning to suspect something,
'Wot's this all about, I wonder?' I says. 'Blow me if I don't think
it's a frakkus.' And," concluded Mr. Butt, with the air of one
confiding a secret, "and it _was_ a frakkus!"

"And these boys actually threw you into the pond?"

"_Plop_, sir! Mrs. Butt is drying my uniform at home at this very
moment as we sit talking here, sir. She says to me, 'Why, whatever
_'ave_ you been a-doing? You're all wet.' And," he added, again
with the confidential air, "I _was_ wet, too. Wringin' wet."

The headmaster's frown deepened.

"And you are certain that your assailants were boys from the school?"

"Sure as I am that I'm sitting here, sir. They all 'ad their caps on
their heads, sir."

"I have never heard of such a thing. I can hardly believe that it is
possible. They actually seized you, and threw you into the water----"

"_Splish_, sir!" said the policeman, with a vividness of imagery
both surprising and gratifying.

The headmaster tapped restlessly on the floor with his foot.

"How many boys were there?" he asked.

"Couple of 'undred, sir," said Mr. Butt promptly.

"Two hundred!"

"It was dark, sir, and I couldn't see not to say properly; but if you
ask me my frank and private opinion I should say couple of 'undred."

"H'm--Well, I will look into the matter at once. They shall be
punished."

"Yes, sir."

"Ye-e-s--H'm--Yes--Most severely."

"Yes, sir."

"Yes--Thank you, constable. Good-night."

"Good-night, sir."

The headmaster of Wrykyn was not a motorist. Owing to this
disadvantage he made a mistake. Had he been a motorist, he would have
known that statements by the police in the matter of figures must be
divided by any number from two to ten, according to discretion. As it
was, he accepted Constable Butt's report almost as it stood. He
thought that he might possibly have been mistaken as to the exact
numbers of those concerned in his immersion; but he accepted the
statement in so far as it indicated that the thing had been the work
of a considerable section of the school, and not of only one or two
individuals. And this made all the difference to his method of dealing
with the affair. Had he known how few were the numbers of those
responsible for the cold in the head which subsequently attacked
Constable Butt, he would have asked for their names, and an extra
lesson would have settled the entire matter.

As it was, however, he got the impression that the school, as a whole,
was culpable, and he proceeded to punish the school as a whole.

It happened that, about a week before the pond episode, a certain
member of the Royal Family had recovered from a dangerous illness,
which at one time had looked like being fatal. No official holiday had
been given to the schools in honour of the recovery, but Eton and
Harrow had set the example, which was followed throughout the kingdom,
and Wrykyn had come into line with the rest. Only two days before the
O.W.'s matches the headmaster had given out a notice in the hall that
the following Friday would be a whole holiday; and the school, always
ready to stop work, had approved of the announcement exceedingly.

The step which the headmaster decided to take by way of avenging Mr.
Butt's wrongs was to stop this holiday.

He gave out a notice to that effect on the Monday.

The school was thunderstruck. It could not understand it. The pond
affair had, of course, become public property; and those who had had
nothing to do with it had been much amused. "There'll be a frightful
row about it," they had said, thrilled with the pleasant excitement of
those who see trouble approaching and themselves looking on from a
comfortable distance without risk or uneasiness. They were not
malicious. They did not want to see their friends in difficulties. But
there is no denying that a row does break the monotony of a school
term. The thrilling feeling that something is going to happen is the
salt of life....

And here they were, right in it after all. The blow had fallen, and
crushed guilty and innocent alike.

* * * * *

The school's attitude can be summed up in three words. It was one
vast, blank, astounded "Here, I say!"

Everybody was saying it, though not always in those words. When
condensed, everybody's comment on the situation came to that.

* * * * *

There is something rather pathetic in the indignation of a school. It
must always, or nearly always, expend itself in words, and in private
at that. Even the consolation of getting on to platforms and shouting
at itself is denied to it. A public school has no Hyde Park.

There is every probability--in fact, it is certain--that, but for one
malcontent, the school's indignation would have been allowed to simmer
down in the usual way, and finally become a mere vague memory.

The malcontent was Wyatt. He had been responsible for the starting of
the matter, and he proceeded now to carry it on till it blazed up into
the biggest thing of its kind ever known at Wrykyn--the Great Picnic.

* * * * *

Any one who knows the public schools, their ironbound conservatism,
and, as a whole, intense respect for order and authority, will
appreciate the magnitude of his feat, even though he may not approve
of it. Leaders of men are rare. Leaders of boys are almost unknown. It
requires genius to sway a school.

It would be an absorbing task for a psychologist to trace the various
stages by which an impossibility was changed into a reality. Wyatt's
coolness and matter-of-fact determination were his chief weapons. His
popularity and reputation for lawlessness helped him. A conversation
which he had with Neville-Smith, a day-boy, is typical of the way in
which he forced his point of view on the school.

Neville-Smith was thoroughly representative of the average Wrykynian.
He could play his part in any minor "rag" which interested him, and
probably considered himself, on the whole, a daring sort of person.
But at heart he had an enormous respect for authority. Before he came
to Wyatt, he would not have dreamed of proceeding beyond words in his
revolt. Wyatt acted on him like some drug.

Neville-Smith came upon Wyatt on his way to the nets. The notice
concerning the holiday had only been given out that morning, and he
was full of it. He expressed his opinion of the headmaster freely and
in well-chosen words. He said it was a swindle, that it was all rot,
and that it was a beastly shame. He added that something ought to be
done about it.

"What are you going to do?" asked Wyatt.

"Well," said Neville-Smith a little awkwardly, guiltily conscious that
he had been frothing, and scenting sarcasm, "I don't suppose one can
actually _do_ anything."

"Why not?" said Wyatt.

"What do you mean?"

"Why don't you take the holiday?"

"What? Not turn up on Friday!"

"Yes. I'm not going to."

Neville-Smith stopped and stared. Wyatt was unmoved.

"You're what?"

"I simply sha'n't go to school."

"You're rotting."

"All right."

"No, but, I say, ragging barred. Are you just going to cut off, though
the holiday's been stopped?"

"That's the idea."

"You'll get sacked."

"I suppose so. But only because I shall be the only one to do it. If
the whole school took Friday off, they couldn't do much. They couldn't
sack the whole school."

"By Jove, nor could they! I say!"

They walked on, Neville-Smith's mind in a whirl, Wyatt whistling.

"I say," said Neville-Smith after a pause. "It would be a bit of a
rag."

"Not bad."

"Do you think the chaps would do it?"

"If they understood they wouldn't be alone."

Another pause.

"Shall I ask some of them?" said Neville-Smith.

"Do."

"I could get quite a lot, I believe."

"That would be a start, wouldn't it? I could get a couple of dozen
from Wain's. We should be forty or fifty strong to start with."

"I say, what a score, wouldn't it be?"

"Yes."

"I'll speak to the chaps to-night, and let you know."

"All right," said Wyatt. "Tell them that I shall be going anyhow. I
should be glad of a little company."

* * * * *

The school turned in on the Thursday night in a restless, excited way.
There were mysterious whisperings and gigglings. Groups kept forming
in corners apart, to disperse casually and innocently on the approach
of some person in authority.

An air of expectancy permeated each of the houses.

CHAPTER X

THE GREAT PICNIC

Morning school at Wrykyn started at nine o'clock. At that hour there
was a call-over in each of the form-rooms. After call-over the forms
proceeded to the Great Hall for prayers.

A strangely desolate feeling was in the air at nine o'clock on the
Friday morning. Sit in the grounds of a public school any afternoon in
the summer holidays, and you will get exactly the same sensation of
being alone in the world as came to the dozen or so day-boys who
bicycled through the gates that morning. Wrykyn was a boarding-school
for the most part, but it had its leaven of day-boys. The majority of
these lived in the town, and walked to school. A few, however, whose
homes were farther away, came on bicycles. One plutocrat did the
journey in a motor-car, rather to the scandal of the authorities, who,
though unable to interfere, looked askance when compelled by the
warning toot of the horn to skip from road to pavement. A form-master
has the strongest objection to being made to skip like a young ram by
a boy to whom he has only the day before given a hundred lines for
shuffling his feet in form.

It seemed curious to these cyclists that there should be nobody about.
Punctuality is the politeness of princes, but it was not a leading
characteristic of the school; and at three minutes to nine, as a
general rule, you might see the gravel in front of the buildings
freely dotted with sprinters, trying to get in in time to answer their
names.

It was curious that there should be nobody about to-day. A wave of
reform could scarcely have swept through the houses during the night.

And yet--where was everybody?

Time only deepened the mystery. The form-rooms, like the gravel, were
empty.

The cyclists looked at one another in astonishment. What could it
mean?

It was an occasion on which sane people wonder if their brains are not
playing them some unaccountable trick.

"I say," said Willoughby, of the Lower Fifth, to Brown, the only other
occupant of the form-room, "the old man _did_ stop the holiday
to-day, didn't he?"

"Just what I was going to ask you," said Brown. "It's jolly rum. I
distinctly remember him giving it out in hall that it was going to be
stopped because of the O.W.'s day row."

"So do I. I can't make it out. Where _is_ everybody?"

"They can't _all_ be late."

"Somebody would have turned up by now. Why, it's just striking."

"Perhaps he sent another notice round the houses late last night,
saying it was on again all right. I say, what a swindle if he did.
Some one might have let us know. I should have got up an hour later."

"So should I."

"Hullo, here _is_ somebody."

It was the master of the Lower Fifth, Mr. Spence. He walked briskly
into the room, as was his habit. Seeing the obvious void, he stopped
in his stride, and looked puzzled.

"Willoughby. Brown. Are you the only two here? Where is everybody?"

"Please, sir, we don't know. We were just wondering."

"Have you seen nobody?"

"No, sir."

"We were just wondering, sir, if the holiday had been put on again,
after all."

"I've heard nothing about it. I should have received some sort of
intimation if it had been."

"Yes, sir."

"Do you mean to say that you have seen _nobody_, Brown?"

"Only about a dozen fellows, sir. The usual lot who come on bikes,
sir."

"None of the boarders?"

"No, sir. Not a single one."

"This is extraordinary."

Mr. Spence pondered.

"Well," he said, "you two fellows had better go along up to Hall. I
shall go to the Common Room and make inquiries. Perhaps, as you say,
there is a holiday to-day, and the notice was not brought to me."

Mr. Spence told himself, as he walked to the Common Room, that
this might be a possible solution of the difficulty. He was not a
house-master, and lived by himself in rooms in the town. It was
just conceivable that they might have forgotten to tell him of the
change in the arrangements.

But in the Common Room the same perplexity reigned. Half a dozen
masters were seated round the room, and a few more were standing. And
they were all very puzzled.

A brisk conversation was going on. Several voices hailed Mr. Spence as
he entered.

"Hullo, Spence. Are you alone in the world too?"

"Any of your boys turned up, Spence?"

"You in the same condition as we are, Spence?"

Mr. Spence seated himself on the table.

"Haven't any of your fellows turned up, either?" he said.

"When I accepted the honourable post of Lower Fourth master in this
abode of sin," said Mr. Seymour, "it was on the distinct understanding
that there was going to be a Lower Fourth. Yet I go into my form-room
this morning, and what do I find? Simply Emptiness, and Pickersgill II.
whistling 'The Church Parade,' all flat. I consider I have been hardly
treated."

"I have no complaint to make against Brown and Willoughby, as
individuals," said Mr. Spence; "but, considered as a form, I call them
short measure."

"I confess that I am entirely at a loss," said Mr. Shields precisely.
"I have never been confronted with a situation like this since I
became a schoolmaster."

"It is most mysterious," agreed Mr. Wain, plucking at his beard.
"Exceedingly so."

The younger masters, notably Mr. Spence and Mr. Seymour, had begun to
look on the thing as a huge jest.

"We had better teach ourselves," said Mr. Seymour. "Spence, do a
hundred lines for laughing in form."

The door burst open.

"Hullo, here's another scholastic Little Bo-Peep," said Mr. Seymour.
"Well, Appleby, have you lost your sheep, too?"

"You don't mean to tell me----" began Mr. Appleby.

"I do," said Mr. Seymour. "Here we are, fifteen of us, all good men
and true, graduates of our Universities, and, as far as I can see, if
we divide up the boys who have come to school this morning on fair
share-and-share-alike lines, it will work out at about two-thirds of a
boy each. Spence, will you take a third of Pickersgill II.?"

"I want none of your charity," said Mr. Spence loftily. "You don't
seem to realise that I'm the best off of you all. I've got two in my
form. It's no good offering me your Pickersgills. I simply haven't
room for them."

"What does it all mean?" exclaimed Mr. Appleby.

"If you ask me," said Mr. Seymour, "I should say that it meant that
the school, holding the sensible view that first thoughts are best,
have ignored the head's change of mind, and are taking their holiday
as per original programme."

"They surely cannot----!"

"Well, where are they then?"

"Do you seriously mean that the entire school has--has
_rebelled_?"

"'Nay, sire,'" quoted Mr. Spence, "'a revolution!'"

"I never heard of such a thing!"

"We're making history," said Mr. Seymour.

"It will be rather interesting," said Mr. Spence, "to see how the head
will deal with a situation like this. One can rely on him to do the
statesman-like thing, but I'm bound to say I shouldn't care to be in
his place. It seems to me these boys hold all the cards. You can't
expel a whole school. There's safety in numbers. The thing is
colossal."

"It is deplorable," said Mr. Wain, with austerity. "Exceedingly so."

"I try to think so," said Mr. Spence, "but it's a struggle. There's a
Napoleonic touch about the business that appeals to one. Disorder on a
small scale is bad, but this is immense. I've never heard of anything
like it at any public school. When I was at Winchester, my last year
there, there was pretty nearly a revolution because the captain of
cricket was expelled on the eve of the Eton match. I remember making
inflammatory speeches myself on that occasion. But we stopped on the
right side of the line. We were satisfied with growling. But this----!"

Mr. Seymour got up.

"It's an ill wind," he said. "With any luck we ought to get the day
off, and it's ideal weather for a holiday. The head can hardly ask us
to sit indoors, teaching nobody. If I have to stew in my form-room all
day, instructing Pickersgill II., I shall make things exceedingly
sultry for that youth. He will wish that the Pickersgill progeny had
stopped short at his elder brother. He will not value life. In the
meantime, as it's already ten past, hadn't we better be going up to
Hall to see what the orders of the day _are_?"

"Look at Shields," said Mr. Spence. "He might be posing for a statue
to be called 'Despair!' He reminds me of Macduff. _Macbeth_, Act
iv., somewhere near the end. 'What, all my pretty chickens, at one
fell swoop?' That's what Shields is saying to himself."

"It's all very well to make a joke of it, Spence," said Mr. Shields
querulously, "but it is most disturbing. Most."

"Exceedingly," agreed Mr. Wain.

The bereaved company of masters walked on up the stairs that led to
the Great Hall.

CHAPTER XI

THE CONCLUSION OF THE PICNIC

If the form-rooms had been lonely, the Great Hall was doubly, trebly,
so. It was a vast room, stretching from side to side of the middle
block, and its ceiling soared up into a distant dome. At one end was a
dais and an organ, and at intervals down the room stood long tables.
The panels were covered with the names of Wrykynians who had won
scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge, and of Old Wrykynians who had
taken first in Mods or Greats, or achieved any other recognised
success, such as a place in the Indian Civil Service list. A silent
testimony, these panels, to the work the school had done in the world.

Nobody knew exactly how many the Hall could hold, when packed to its
fullest capacity. The six hundred odd boys at the school seemed to
leave large gaps unfilled.

This morning there was a mere handful, and the place looked worse than
empty.

The Sixth Form were there, and the school prefects. The Great Picnic
had not affected their numbers. The Sixth stood by their table in a
solid group. The other tables were occupied by ones and twos. A buzz
of conversation was going on, which did not cease when the masters
filed into the room and took their places. Every one realised by this
time that the biggest row in Wrykyn history was well under way; and
the thing had to be discussed.

In the Masters' library Mr. Wain and Mr. Shields, the spokesmen of the
Common Room, were breaking the news to the headmaster.

The headmaster was a man who rarely betrayed emotion in his public
capacity. He heard Mr. Shields's rambling remarks, punctuated by Mr.
Wain's "Exceedinglys," to an end. Then he gathered up his cap and
gown.

"You say that the whole school is absent?" he remarked quietly.

Mr. Shields, in a long-winded flow of words, replied that that was
what he did say.

"Ah!" said the headmaster.

There was a silence.

"'M!" said the headmaster.

There was another silence.

"Ye--e--s!" said the headmaster.

He then led the way into the Hall.

Conversation ceased abruptly as he entered. The school, like an
audience at a theatre when the hero has just appeared on the stage,
felt that the serious interest of the drama had begun. There was a
dead silence at every table as he strode up the room and on to the
dais.

There was something Titanic in his calmness. Every eye was on his face
as he passed up the Hall, but not a sign of perturbation could the
school read. To judge from his expression, he might have been unaware
of the emptiness around him.

The master who looked after the music of the school, and incidentally
accompanied the hymn with which prayers at Wrykyn opened, was waiting,
puzzled, at the foot of the dais. It seemed improbable that things
would go on as usual, and he did not know whether he was expected to
be at the organ, or not. The headmaster's placid face reassured him.
He went to his post.

The hymn began. It was a long hymn, and one which the school liked for
its swing and noise. As a rule, when it was sung, the Hall re-echoed.
To-day, the thin sound of the voices had quite an uncanny effect. The
organ boomed through the deserted room.

The school, or the remnants of it, waited impatiently while the
prefect whose turn it was to read stammered nervously through the
lesson. They were anxious to get on to what the Head was going to say
at the end of prayers. At last it was over. The school waited, all
ears.

The headmaster bent down from the dais and called to Firby-Smith, who
was standing in his place with the Sixth.

The Gazeka, blushing warmly, stepped forward.

"Bring me a school list, Firby-Smith," said the headmaster.

The Gazeka was wearing a pair of very squeaky boots that morning. They
sounded deafening as he walked out of the room.

The school waited.

Presently a distant squeaking was heard, and Firby-Smith returned,
bearing a large sheet of paper.

The headmaster thanked him, and spread it out on the reading-desk.

Then, calmly, as if it were an occurrence of every day, he began to
call the roll.

"Abney."

No answer.

"Adams."

No answer.

"Allenby."

"Here, sir," from a table at the end of the room. Allenby was a
prefect, in the Science Sixth.

The headmaster made a mark against his name with a pencil.

"Arkwright."

No answer.

He began to call the names more rapidly.

"Arlington. Arthur. Ashe. Aston."

"Here, sir," in a shrill treble from the rider in motorcars.

The headmaster made another tick.

The list came to an end after what seemed to the school an
unconscionable time, and he rolled up the paper again, and stepped to
the edge of the dais.

"All boys not in the Sixth Form," he said, "will go to their
form-rooms and get their books and writing-materials, and return
to the Hall."

("Good work," murmured Mr. Seymour to himself. "Looks as if we
should get that holiday after all.")

"The Sixth Form will go to their form-room as usual. I should like
to speak to the masters for a moment."

He nodded dismissal to the school.

The masters collected on the dais.

"I find that I shall not require your services to-day," said the
headmaster. "If you will kindly set the boys in your forms some work
that will keep them occupied, I will look after them here. It is a
lovely day," he added, with a smile, "and I am sure you will all enjoy
yourselves a great deal more in the open air."

"That," said Mr. Seymour to Mr. Spence, as they went downstairs, "is
what I call a genuine sportsman."

"My opinion neatly expressed," said Mr. Spence. "Come on the river. Or
shall we put up a net, and have a knock?"

"River, I think. Meet you at the boat-house."

"All right. Don't be long."

"If every day were run on these lines, school-mastering wouldn't be
such a bad profession. I wonder if one could persuade one's form to
run amuck as a regular thing."

"Pity one can't. It seems to me the ideal state of things. Ensures the
greatest happiness of the greatest number."

"I say! Suppose the school has gone up the river, too, and we meet
them! What shall we do?"

"Thank them," said Mr. Spence, "most kindly. They've done us well."

The school had not gone up the river. They had marched in a solid
body, with the school band at their head playing Sousa, in the
direction of Worfield, a market town of some importance, distant about
five miles. Of what they did and what the natives thought of it all,
no very distinct records remain. The thing is a tradition on the
countryside now, an event colossal and heroic, to be talked about in
the tap-room of the village inn during the long winter evenings. The
papers got hold of it, but were curiously misled as to the nature of
the demonstration. This was the fault of the reporter on the staff of
the _Worfield Intelligencer and Farmers' Guide_, who saw in the
thing a legitimate "march-out," and, questioning a straggler as to the
reason for the expedition and gathering foggily that the restoration
to health of the Eminent Person was at the bottom of it, said so in
his paper. And two days later, at about the time when Retribution had
got seriously to work, the _Daily Mail_ reprinted the account,
with comments and elaborations, and headed it "Loyal Schoolboys." The
writer said that great credit was due to the headmaster of Wrykyn for
his ingenuity in devising and organising so novel a thanksgiving
celebration. And there was the usual conversation between "a
rosy-cheeked lad of some sixteen summers" and "our representative,"
in which the rosy-cheeked one spoke most kindly of the head-master,
who seemed to be a warm personal friend of his.

The remarkable thing about the Great Picnic was its orderliness.
Considering that five hundred and fifty boys were ranging the country
in a compact mass, there was wonderfully little damage done to
property. Wyatt's genius did not stop short at organising the march.
In addition, he arranged a system of officers which effectually
controlled the animal spirits of the rank and file. The prompt and
decisive way in which rioters were dealt with during the earlier
stages of the business proved a wholesome lesson to others who would
have wished to have gone and done likewise. A spirit of martial law
reigned over the Great Picnic. And towards the end of the day fatigue
kept the rowdy-minded quiet.

At Worfield the expedition lunched. It was not a market-day,
fortunately, or the confusion in the narrow streets would have been
hopeless. On ordinary days Worfield was more or less deserted. It is
astonishing that the resources of the little town were equal to
satisfying the needs of the picnickers. They descended on the place
like an army of locusts.

Wyatt, as generalissimo of the expedition, walked into the
"Grasshopper and Ant," the leading inn of the town.

"Anything I can do for you, sir?" inquired the landlord politely.

"Yes, please," said Wyatt, "I want lunch for five hundred and fifty."

That was the supreme moment in mine host's life. It was his big
subject of conversation ever afterwards. He always told that as his
best story, and he always ended with the words, "You could ha' knocked
me down with a feather!"

The first shock over, the staff of the "Grasshopper and Ant" bustled
about. Other inns were called upon for help. Private citizens rallied
round with bread, jam, and apples. And the army lunched sumptuously.

In the early afternoon they rested, and as evening began to fall, the
march home was started.

* * * * *

At the school, net practice was just coming to an end when, faintly,
as the garrison of Lucknow heard the first skirl of the pipes of the
relieving force, those on the grounds heard the strains of the school
band and a murmur of many voices. Presently the sounds grew more
distinct, and up the Wrykyn road came marching the vanguard of the
column, singing the school song. They looked weary but cheerful.

As the army drew near to the school, it melted away little by little,
each house claiming its representatives. At the school gates only a
handful were left.

Bob Jackson, walking back to Donaldson's, met Wyatt at the gate, and
gazed at him, speechless.

"Hullo," said Wyatt, "been to the nets? I wonder if there's time for a
ginger-beer before the shop shuts."

CHAPTER XII

MIKE GETS HIS CHANCE

The headmaster was quite bland and business-like about it all. There
were no impassioned addresses from the dais. He did not tell the
school that it ought to be ashamed of itself. Nor did he say that he
should never have thought it of them. Prayers on the Saturday morning
were marked by no unusual features. There was, indeed, a stir of
excitement when he came to the edge of the dais, and cleared his
throat as a preliminary to making an announcement. Now for it, thought
the school.

This was the announcement.

"There has been an outbreak of chicken-pox in the town. All streets
except the High Street will in consequence be out of bounds till
further notice."

He then gave the nod of dismissal.

The school streamed downstairs, marvelling.

The less astute of the picnickers, unmindful of the homely proverb
about hallooing before leaving the wood, were openly exulting. It
seemed plain to them that the headmaster, baffled by the magnitude of
the thing, had resolved to pursue the safe course of ignoring it
altogether. To lie low is always a shrewd piece of tactics, and there
seemed no reason why the Head should not have decided on it in the
present instance.

Neville-Smith was among these premature rejoicers.

"I say," he chuckled, overtaking Wyatt in the cloisters, "this is all
right, isn't it! He's funked it. I thought he would. Finds the job too
big to tackle."

Wyatt was damping.

"My dear chap," he said, "it's not over yet by a long chalk. It hasn't
started yet."

"What do you mean? Why didn't he say anything about it in Hall, then?"

"Why should he? Have you ever had tick at a shop?"

"Of course I have. What do you mean? Why?"

"Well, they didn't send in the bill right away. But it came all
right."

"Do you think he's going to do something, then?"

"Rather. You wait."

Wyatt was right.

Between ten and eleven on Wednesdays and Saturdays old Bates, the
school sergeant, used to copy out the names of those who were in extra
lesson, and post them outside the school shop. The school inspected
the list during the quarter to eleven interval.

To-day, rushing to the shop for its midday bun, the school was aware
of a vast sheet of paper where usually there was but a small one. They
surged round it. Buns were forgotten. What was it?

Then the meaning of the notice flashed upon them. The headmaster had
acted. This bloated document was the extra lesson list, swollen with
names as a stream swells with rain. It was a comprehensive document.
It left out little.

"The following boys will go in to extra lesson this afternoon and next
Wednesday," it began. And "the following boys" numbered four hundred.

"Bates must have got writer's cramp," said Clowes, as he read the huge
scroll.

* * * * *

Wyatt met Mike after school, as they went back to the house.

"Seen the 'extra' list?" he remarked. "None of the kids are in it, I
notice. Only the bigger fellows. Rather a good thing. I'm glad you got
off."

"Thanks," said Mike, who was walking a little stiffly. "I don't know
what you call getting off. It seems to me you're the chaps who got
off."

"How do you mean?"

"We got tanned," said Mike ruefully.

"What!"

"Yes. Everybody below the Upper Fourth."

Wyatt roared with laughter.

"By Gad," he said, "he is an old sportsman. I never saw such a man. He
lowers all records."

"Glad you think it funny. You wouldn't have if you'd been me. I was
one of the first to get it. He was quite fresh."

"Sting?"

"Should think it did."

"Well, buck up. Don't break down."

"I'm not breaking down," said Mike indignantly.

"All right, I thought you weren't. Anyhow, you're better off than I
am."

"An extra's nothing much," said Mike.

"It is when it happens to come on the same day as the M.C.C. match."

"Oh, by Jove! I forgot. That's next Wednesday, isn't it? You won't be
able to play!"

"No."

"I say, what rot!"

"It is, rather. Still, nobody can say I didn't ask for it. If one goes
out of one's way to beg and beseech the Old Man to put one in extra,
it would be a little rough on him to curse him when he does it."

"I should be awfully sick, if it were me."

"Well, it isn't you, so you're all right. You'll probably get my place
in the team."

Mike smiled dutifully at what he supposed to be a humorous sally.

"Or, rather, one of the places," continued Wyatt, who seemed to be
sufficiently in earnest. "They'll put a bowler in instead of me.
Probably Druce. But there'll be several vacancies. Let's see. Me.
Adams. Ashe. Any more? No, that's the lot. I should think they'd give
you a chance."

"You needn't rot," said Mike uncomfortably. He had his day-dreams,
like everybody else, and they always took the form of playing for the
first eleven (and, incidentally, making a century in record time). To
have to listen while the subject was talked about lightly made him hot
and prickly all over.

"I'm not rotting," said Wyatt seriously, "I'll suggest it to Burgess
to-night."

"You don't think there's any chance of it, really, do you?" said Mike
awkwardly.

"I don't see why not? Buck up in the scratch game this afternoon.
Fielding especially. Burgess is simply mad on fielding. I don't blame
him either, especially as he's a bowler himself. He'd shove a man into
the team like a shot, whatever his batting was like, if his fielding
was something extra special. So you field like a demon this afternoon,
and I'll carry on the good work in the evening."

"I say," said Mike, overcome, "it's awfully decent of you, Wyatt."

* * * * *

Billy Burgess, captain of Wrykyn cricket, was a genial giant, who
seldom allowed himself to be ruffled. The present was one of the rare
occasions on which he permitted himself that luxury. Wyatt found him
in his study, shortly before lock-up, full of strange oaths, like the
soldier in Shakespeare.

"You rotter! You rotter! You _worm_!" he observed crisply, as
Wyatt appeared.

"Dear old Billy!" said Wyatt. "Come on, give me a kiss, and let's be
friends."

"You----!"

"William! William!"

"If it wasn't illegal, I'd like to tie you and Ashe and that
blackguard Adams up in a big sack, and drop you into the river. And
I'd jump on the sack first. What do you mean by letting the team down
like this? I know you were at the bottom of it all."

He struggled into his shirt--he was changing after a bath--and his
face popped wrathfully out at the other end.

"I'm awfully sorry, Bill," said Wyatt. "The fact is, in the excitement
of the moment the M.C.C. match went clean out of my mind."

"You haven't got a mind," grumbled Burgess. "You've got a cheap brown
paper substitute. That's your trouble."

Wyatt turned the conversation tactfully.

"How many wickets did you get to-day?" he asked.

"Eight. For a hundred and three. I was on the spot. Young Jackson
caught a hot one off me at third man. That kid's good."

"Why don't you play him against the M.C.C. on Wednesday?" said Wyatt,
jumping at his opportunity.

"What? Are you sitting on my left shoe?"

"No. There it is in the corner."

"Right ho!... What were you saying?"

"Why not play young Jackson for the first?"

"Too small."

"Rot. What does size matter? Cricket isn't footer. Besides, he isn't
small. He's as tall as I am."

"I suppose he is. Dash, I've dropped my stud."

Wyatt waited patiently till he had retrieved it. Then he returned to
the attack.

"He's as good a bat as his brother, and a better field."

"Old Bob can't field for toffee. I will say that for him. Dropped a
sitter off me to-day. Why the deuce fellows can't hold catches when
they drop slowly into their mouths I'm hanged if I can see."

"You play him," said Wyatt. "Just give him a trial. That kid's a
genius at cricket. He's going to be better than any of his brothers,
even Joe. Give him a shot."

Burgess hesitated.

"You know, it's a bit risky," he said. "With you three lunatics out of
the team we can't afford to try many experiments. Better stick to the
men at the top of the second."

Wyatt got up, and kicked the wall as a vent for his feelings.

"You rotter," he said. "Can't you _see_ when you've got a good
man? Here's this kid waiting for you ready made with a style like
Trumper's, and you rave about top men in the second, chaps who play
forward at everything, and pat half-volleys back to the bowler! Do you
realise that your only chance of being known to Posterity is as the
man who gave M. Jackson his colours at Wrykyn? In a few years he'll be
playing for England, and you'll think it a favour if he nods to you in
the pav. at Lord's. When you're a white-haired old man you'll go
doddering about, gassing to your grandchildren, poor kids, how you
'discovered' M. Jackson. It'll be the only thing they'll respect you
for."

Wyatt stopped for breath.

"All right," said Burgess, "I'll think it over. Frightful gift of the
gab you've got, Wyatt."

"Good," said Wyatt. "Think it over. And don't forget what I said about
the grandchildren. You would like little Wyatt Burgess and the other
little Burgesses to respect you in your old age, wouldn't you? Very
well, then. So long. The bell went ages ago. I shall be locked out."

* * * * *

On the Monday morning Mike passed the notice-board just as Burgess
turned away from pinning up the list of the team to play the M.C.C. He
read it, and his heart missed a beat. For, bottom but one, just above
the W. B. Burgess, was a name that leaped from the paper at him. His
own name.

CHAPTER XIII

THE M.C.C. MATCH

If the day happens to be fine, there is a curious, dream-like
atmosphere about the opening stages of a first eleven match.
Everything seems hushed and expectant. The rest of the school have
gone in after the interval at eleven o'clock, and you are alone on the
grounds with a cricket-bag. The only signs of life are a few
pedestrians on the road beyond the railings and one or two blazer and
flannel-clad forms in the pavilion. The sense of isolation is trying
to the nerves, and a school team usually bats 25 per cent. better
after lunch, when the strangeness has worn off.

Mike walked across from Wain's, where he had changed, feeling quite
hollow. He could almost have cried with pure fright. Bob had shouted
after him from a window as he passed Donaldson's, to wait, so that
they could walk over together; but conversation was the last thing
Mike desired at that moment.

He had almost reached the pavilion when one of the M.C.C. team came
down the steps, saw him, and stopped dead.

"By Jove, Saunders!" cried Mike.

"Why, Master Mike!"

The professional beamed, and quite suddenly, the lost, hopeless
feeling left Mike. He felt as cheerful as if he and Saunders had met
in the meadow at home, and were just going to begin a little quiet
net-practice.

"Why, Master Mike, you don't mean to say you're playing for the school
already?"

Mike nodded happily.

"Isn't it ripping," he said.

Saunders slapped his leg in a sort of ecstasy.

"Didn't I always say it, sir," he chuckled. "Wasn't I right? I used to
say to myself it 'ud be a pretty good school team that 'ud leave you
out."

"Of course, I'm only playing as a sub., you know. Three chaps are in
extra, and I got one of the places."

"Well, you'll make a hundred to-day, Master Mike, and then they'll
have to put you in."

"Wish I could!"

"Master Joe's come down with the Club," said Saunders.

"Joe! Has he really? How ripping! Hullo, here he is. Hullo, Joe?"

The greatest of all the Jacksons was descending the pavilion steps
with the gravity befitting an All England batsman. He stopped short,
as Saunders had done.

"Mike! You aren't playing!"

"Yes."

"Well, I'm hanged! Young marvel, isn't he, Saunders?"

"He is, sir," said Saunders. "Got all the strokes. I always said it,
Master Joe. Only wants the strength."

Joe took Mike by the shoulder, and walked him off in the direction of
a man in a Zingari blazer who was bowling slows to another of the
M.C.C. team. Mike recognised him with awe as one of the three best
amateur wicket-keepers in the country.

"What do you think of this?" said Joe, exhibiting Mike, who grinned
bashfully. "Aged ten last birthday, and playing for the school. You
are only ten, aren't you, Mike?"

"Brother of yours?" asked the wicket-keeper.

"Probably too proud to own the relationship, but he is."

"Isn't there any end to you Jacksons?" demanded the wicket-keeper in
an aggrieved tone. "I never saw such a family."

"This is our star. You wait till he gets at us to-day. Saunders is our
only bowler, and Mike's been brought up on Saunders. You'd better win
the toss if you want a chance of getting a knock and lifting your
average out of the minuses."

"I _have_ won the toss," said the other with dignity. "Do you
think I don't know the elementary duties of a captain?"

* * * * *

The school went out to field with mixed feelings. The wicket was hard
and true, which would have made it pleasant to be going in first. On
the other hand, they would feel decidedly better and fitter for
centuries after the game had been in progress an hour or so. Burgess
was glad as a private individual, sorry as a captain. For himself, the
sooner he got hold of the ball and began to bowl the better he liked
it. As a captain, he realised that a side with Joe Jackson on it, not
to mention the other first-class men, was not a side to which he would
have preferred to give away an advantage. Mike was feeling that by no
possibility could he hold the simplest catch, and hoping that nothing
would come his way. Bob, conscious of being an uncertain field, was
feeling just the same.

The M.C.C. opened with Joe and a man in an Oxford Authentic cap. The
beginning of the game was quiet. Burgess's yorker was nearly too much
for the latter in the first over, but he contrived to chop it away,
and the pair gradually settled down. At twenty, Joe began to open his
shoulders. Twenty became forty with disturbing swiftness, and Burgess
tried a change of bowling.

It seemed for one instant as if the move had been a success, for Joe,
still taking risks, tried to late-cut a rising ball, and snicked
it straight into Bob's hands at second slip. It was the easiest
of slip-catches, but Bob fumbled it, dropped it, almost held it a
second time, and finally let it fall miserably to the ground. It was
a moment too painful for words. He rolled the ball back to the bowler
in silence.

One of those weary periods followed when the batsman's defence seems
to the fieldsmen absolutely impregnable. There was a sickening
inevitableness in the way in which every ball was played with the very
centre of the bat. And, as usual, just when things seemed most
hopeless, relief came. The Authentic, getting in front of his wicket,
to pull one of the simplest long-hops ever seen on a cricket field,
missed it, and was l.b.w. And the next ball upset the newcomer's leg
stump.

The school revived. Bowlers and field were infused with a new life.
Another wicket--two stumps knocked out of the ground by Burgess--helped
the thing on. When the bell rang for the end of morning school, five
wickets were down for a hundred and thirteen.

But from the end of school till lunch things went very wrong indeed.
Joe was still in at one end, invincible; and at the other was the
great wicket-keeper. And the pair of them suddenly began to force the
pace till the bowling was in a tangled knot. Four after four, all
round the wicket, with never a chance or a mishit to vary the
monotony. Two hundred went up, and two hundred and fifty. Then Joe
reached his century, and was stumped next ball. Then came lunch.

The rest of the innings was like the gentle rain after the
thunderstorm. Runs came with fair regularity, but wickets fell at
intervals, and when the wicket-keeper was run out at length for a
lively sixty-three, the end was very near. Saunders, coming in last,
hit two boundaries, and was then caught by Mike. His second hit had
just lifted the M.C.C. total over the three hundred.

* * * * *

Three hundred is a score that takes some making on any ground, but on
a fine day it was not an unusual total for the Wrykyn eleven. Some
years before, against Ripton, they had run up four hundred and
sixteen; and only last season had massacred a very weak team of Old
Wrykynians with a score that only just missed the fourth hundred.

Unfortunately, on the present occasion, there was scarcely time,
unless the bowling happened to get completely collared, to make the
runs. It was a quarter to four when the innings began, and stumps were
to be drawn at a quarter to seven. A hundred an hour is quick work.

Burgess, however, was optimistic, as usual. "Better have a go for
them," he said to Berridge and Marsh, the school first pair.

Following out this courageous advice, Berridge, after hitting three
boundaries in his first two overs, was stumped half-way through the
third.

After this, things settled down. Morris, the first-wicket man, was a
thoroughly sound bat, a little on the slow side, but exceedingly hard
to shift. He and Marsh proceeded to play themselves in, until it
looked as if they were likely to stay till the drawing of stumps.

A comfortable, rather somnolent feeling settled upon the school. A
long stand at cricket is a soothing sight to watch. There was an
absence of hurry about the batsmen which harmonised well with the
drowsy summer afternoon. And yet runs were coming at a fair pace. The
hundred went up at five o'clock, the hundred and fifty at half-past.
Both batsmen were completely at home, and the M.C.C. third-change
bowlers had been put on.

Then the great wicket-keeper took off the pads and gloves, and the
fieldsmen retired to posts at the extreme edge of the ground.

"Lobs," said Burgess. "By Jove, I wish I was in."

It seemed to be the general opinion among the members of the Wrykyn
eleven on the pavilion balcony that Morris and Marsh were in luck. The
team did not grudge them their good fortune, because they had earned
it; but they were distinctly envious.

Lobs are the most dangerous, insinuating things in the world.
Everybody knows in theory the right way to treat them. Everybody knows
that the man who is content not to try to score more than a single
cannot get out to them. Yet nearly everybody does get out to them.

It was the same story to-day. The first over yielded six runs, all
through gentle taps along the ground. In the second, Marsh hit an
over-pitched one along the ground to the terrace bank. The next ball
he swept round to the leg boundary. And that was the end of Marsh. He
saw himself scoring at the rate of twenty-four an over. Off the last
ball he was stumped by several feet, having done himself credit by
scoring seventy.

The long stand was followed, as usual, by a series of disasters.
Marsh's wicket had fallen at a hundred and eighty. Ellerby left at a
hundred and eighty-six. By the time the scoring-board registered two
hundred, five wickets were down, three of them victims to the lobs.
Morris was still in at one end. He had refused to be tempted. He was
jogging on steadily to his century.

Bob Jackson went in next, with instructions to keep his eye on the
lob-man.

For a time things went well. Saunders, who had gone on to bowl again
after a rest, seemed to give Morris no trouble, and Bob put him
through the slips with apparent ease. Twenty runs were added, when the
lob-bowler once more got in his deadly work. Bob, letting alone a ball
wide of the off-stump under the impression that it was going to break
away, was disagreeably surprised to find it break in instead, and hit
the wicket. The bowler smiled sadly, as if he hated to have to do
these things.

Mike's heart jumped as he saw the bails go. It was his turn next.

"Two hundred and twenty-nine," said Burgess, "and it's ten past six.
No good trying for the runs now. Stick in," he added to Mike. "That's
all you've got to do."

All!... Mike felt as if he was being strangled. His heart was racing
like the engines of a motor. He knew his teeth were chattering. He
wished he could stop them. What a time Bob was taking to get back to
the pavilion! He wanted to rush out, and get the thing over.

At last he arrived, and Mike, fumbling at a glove, tottered out into
the sunshine. He heard miles and miles away a sound of clapping, and a
thin, shrill noise as if somebody were screaming in the distance. As a
matter of fact, several members of his form and of the junior day-room
at Wain's nearly burst themselves at that moment.

At the wickets, he felt better. Bob had fallen to the last ball of the
over, and Morris, standing ready for Saunders's delivery, looked so
calm and certain of himself that it was impossible to feel entirely
without hope and self-confidence. Mike knew that Morris had made
ninety-eight, and he supposed that Morris knew that he was very near
his century; yet he seemed to be absolutely undisturbed. Mike drew
courage from his attitude.

Morris pushed the first ball away to leg. Mike would have liked to
have run two, but short leg had retrieved the ball as he reached the
crease.

The moment had come, the moment which he had experienced only in
dreams. And in the dreams he was always full of confidence, and
invariably hit a boundary. Sometimes a drive, sometimes a cut, but
always a boundary.

"To leg, sir," said the umpire.

"Don't be in a funk," said a voice. "Play straight, and you can't get
out."

It was Joe, who had taken the gloves when the wicket-keeper went on to
bowl.

Mike grinned, wryly but gratefully.

Saunders was beginning his run. It was all so home-like that for a
moment Mike felt himself again. How often he had seen those two little
skips and the jump. It was like being in the paddock again, with
Marjory and the dogs waiting by the railings to fetch the ball if he
made a drive.

Saunders ran to the crease, and bowled.

Now, Saunders was a conscientious man, and, doubtless, bowled the very
best ball that he possibly could. On the other hand, it was Mike's
first appearance for the school, and Saunders, besides being
conscientious, was undoubtedly kind-hearted. It is useless to
speculate as to whether he was trying to bowl his best that ball. If
so, he failed signally. It was a half-volley, just the right distance
away from the off-stump; the sort of ball Mike was wont to send nearly
through the net at home....

The next moment the dreams had come true. The umpire was signalling to
the scoring-box, the school was shouting, extra-cover was trotting to
the boundary to fetch the ball, and Mike was blushing and wondering
whether it was bad form to grin.

From that ball onwards all was for the best in this best of all
possible worlds. Saunders bowled no more half-volleys; but Mike
played everything that he did bowl. He met the lobs with a bat like
a barn-door. Even the departure of Morris, caught in the slips off
Saunders's next over for a chanceless hundred and five, did not disturb
him. All nervousness had left him. He felt equal to the situation.
Burgess came in, and began to hit out as if he meant to knock off the
runs. The bowling became a shade loose. Twice he was given full tosses
to leg, which he hit to the terrace bank. Half-past six chimed, and two
hundred and fifty went up on the telegraph board. Burgess continued to
hit. Mike's whole soul was concentrated on keeping up his wicket.
There was only Reeves to follow him, and Reeves was a victim to the
first straight ball. Burgess had to hit because it was the only game
he knew; but he himself must simply stay in.

The hands of the clock seemed to have stopped. Then suddenly he heard
the umpire say "Last over," and he settled down to keep those six
balls out of his wicket.

The lob bowler had taken himself off, and the Oxford Authentic had
gone on, fast left-hand.

The first ball was short and wide of the off-stump. Mike let it alone.
Number two: yorker. Got him! Three: straight half-volley. Mike played
it back to the bowler. Four: beat him, and missed the wicket by an
inch. Five: another yorker. Down on it again in the old familiar way.

All was well. The match was a draw now whatever happened to him. He
hit out, almost at a venture, at the last ball, and mid-off, jumping,
just failed to reach it. It hummed over his head, and ran like a
streak along the turf and up the bank, and a great howl of delight
went up from the school as the umpire took off the bails.

Mike walked away from the wickets with Joe and the wicket-keeper.

"I'm sorry about your nose, Joe," said the wicket-keeper in tones of
grave solicitude.

"What's wrong with it?"

"At present," said the wicket-keeper, "nothing. But in a few years I'm
afraid it's going to be put badly out of joint."

CHAPTER XIV

A SLIGHT IMBROGLIO

Mike got his third eleven colours after the M.C.C. match. As he had
made twenty-three not out in a crisis in a first eleven match, this
may not seem an excessive reward. But it was all that he expected. One
had to take the rungs of the ladder singly at Wrykyn. First one was
given one's third eleven cap. That meant, "You are a promising man,
and we have our eye on you." Then came the second colours. They might
mean anything from "Well, here you are. You won't get any higher, so
you may as well have the thing now," to "This is just to show that we
still have our eye on you."

Mike was a certainty now for the second. But it needed more than one
performance to secure the first cap.

"I told you so," said Wyatt, naturally, to Burgess after the match.

"He's not bad," said Burgess. "I'll give him another shot."

But Burgess, as has been pointed out, was not a person who ever became
gushing with enthusiasm.

* * * * *

So Wilkins, of the School House, who had played twice for the first
eleven, dropped down into the second, as many a good man had done
before him, and Mike got his place in the next match, against the
Gentlemen of the County. Unfortunately for him, the visiting team,
however gentlemanly, were not brilliant cricketers, at any rate as far
as bowling was concerned. The school won the toss, went in first, and
made three hundred and sixteen for five wickets, Morris making another
placid century. The innings was declared closed before Mike had a
chance of distinguishing himself. In an innings which lasted for
one over he made two runs, not out; and had to console himself for
the cutting short of his performance by the fact that his average
for the school was still infinity. Bob, who was one of those lucky
enough to have an unabridged innings, did better in this match, making
twenty-five. But with Morris making a hundred and seventeen, and
Berridge, Ellerby, and Marsh all passing the half-century, this score
did not show up excessively.

We now come to what was practically a turning-point in Mike's career
at Wrykyn. There is no doubt that his meteor-like flights at cricket
had an unsettling effect on him. He was enjoying life amazingly, and,
as is not uncommon with the prosperous, he waxed fat and kicked.
Fortunately for him--though he did not look upon it in that light at
the time--he kicked the one person it was most imprudent to kick. The
person he selected was Firby-Smith. With anybody else the thing might
have blown over, to the detriment of Mike's character; but Firby-Smith,
having the most tender affection for his dignity, made a fuss.

It happened in this way. The immediate cause of the disturbance was a
remark of Mike's, but the indirect cause was the unbearably
patronising manner which the head of Wain's chose to adopt towards
him. The fact that he was playing for the school seemed to make no
difference at all. Firby-Smith continued to address Mike merely as the
small boy.

The following, _verbatim_, was the tactful speech which he
addressed to him on the evening of the M.C.C. match, having summoned
him to his study for the purpose.

"Well," he said, "you played a very decent innings this afternoon, and
I suppose you're frightfully pleased with yourself, eh? Well, mind you
don't go getting swelled head. See? That's all. Run along."

Mike departed, bursting with fury.

The next link in the chain was forged a week after the Gentlemen of
the County match. House matches had begun, and Wain's were playing
Appleby's. Appleby's made a hundred and fifty odd, shaping badly for
the most part against Wyatt's slows. Then Wain's opened their innings.
The Gazeka, as head of the house, was captain of the side, and he and
Wyatt went in first. Wyatt made a few mighty hits, and was then caught
at cover. Mike went in first wicket.

For some ten minutes all was peace. Firby-Smith scratched away at his
end, getting here and there a single and now and then a two, and Mike
settled down at once to play what he felt was going to be the innings
of a lifetime. Appleby's bowling was on the feeble side, with Raikes,
of the third eleven, as the star, supported by some small change. Mike
pounded it vigorously. To one who had been brought up on Saunders,
Raikes possessed few subtleties. He had made seventeen, and was
thoroughly set, when the Gazeka, who had the bowling, hit one in the
direction of cover-point. With a certain type of batsman a single is a
thing to take big risks for. And the Gazeka badly wanted that single.

"Come on," he shouted, prancing down the pitch.

Mike, who had remained in his crease with the idea that nobody even
moderately sane would attempt a run for a hit like that, moved forward
in a startled and irresolute manner. Firby-Smith arrived, shouting
"Run!" and, cover having thrown the ball in, the wicket-keeper removed
the bails.

These are solemn moments.

The only possible way of smoothing over an episode of this kind is for
the guilty man to grovel.

Firby-Smith did not grovel.

"Easy run there, you know," he said reprovingly.

The world swam before Mike's eyes. Through the red mist he could see
Firby-Smith's face. The sun glinted on his rather prominent teeth. To
Mike's distorted vision it seemed that the criminal was amused.

"Don't _laugh_, you grinning ape!" he cried. "It isn't funny."

[Illustration: "DON'T _LAUGH_, YOU GRINNING APE"]

He then made for the trees where the rest of the team were sitting.

Now Firby-Smith not only possessed rather prominent teeth; he was also
sensitive on the subject. Mike's shaft sank in deeply. The fact that
emotion caused him to swipe at a straight half-volley, miss it, and be
bowled next ball made the wound rankle.

He avoided Mike on his return to the trees. And Mike, feeling now a
little apprehensive, avoided him.

The Gazeka brooded apart for the rest of the afternoon, chewing the
insult. At close of play he sought Burgess.

Burgess, besides being captain of the eleven, was also head of the
school. He was the man who arranged prefects' meetings. And only a
prefects' meeting, thought Firby-Smith, could adequately avenge his
lacerated dignity.

"I want to speak to you, Burgess," he said.

"What's up?" said Burgess.

"You know young Jackson in our house."

"What about him?"

"He's been frightfully insolent."

"Cheeked you?" said Burgess, a man of simple speech.

"I want you to call a prefects' meeting, and lick him."

Burgess looked incredulous.

"Rather a large order, a prefects' meeting," he said. "It has to be a
pretty serious sort of thing for that."

"Frightful cheek to a school prefect is a serious thing," said
Firby-Smith, with the air of one uttering an epigram.

"Well, I suppose--What did he say to you?"

Firby-Smith related the painful details.

Burgess started to laugh, but turned the laugh into a cough.

"Yes," he said meditatively. "Rather thick. Still, I mean--A prefects'
meeting. Rather like crushing a thingummy with a what-d'you-call-it.
Besides, he's a decent kid."

"He's frightfully conceited."

"Oh, well--Well, anyhow, look here, I'll think it over, and let you
know to-morrow. It's not the sort of thing to rush through without
thinking about it."

And the matter was left temporarily at that.

CHAPTER XV

MIKE CREATES A VACANCY

Burgess walked off the ground feeling that fate was not using him
well.

Here was he, a well-meaning youth who wanted to be on good terms with
all the world, being jockeyed into slaughtering a kid whose batting he
admired and whom personally he liked. And the worst of it was that he
sympathised with Mike. He knew what it felt like to be run out just
when one had got set, and he knew exactly how maddening the Gazeka's
manner would be on such an occasion. On the other hand, officially he
was bound to support the head of Wain's. Prefects must stand together
or chaos will come.

He thought he would talk it over with somebody. Bob occurred to him.
It was only fair that Bob should be told, as the nearest of kin.

And here was another grievance against fate. Bob was a person he did
not particularly wish to see just then. For that morning he had posted
up the list of the team to play for the school against Geddington, one
of the four schools which Wrykyn met at cricket; and Bob's name did
not appear on that list. Several things had contributed to that
melancholy omission. In the first place, Geddington, to judge from the
weekly reports in the _Sportsman_ and _Field_, were strong this
year at batting. In the second place, the results of the last few
matches, and particularly the M.C.C. match, had given Burgess the
idea that Wrykyn was weak at bowling. It became necessary, therefore,
to drop a batsman out of the team in favour of a bowler. And either
Mike or Bob must be the man.

Burgess was as rigidly conscientious as the captain of a school eleven
should be. Bob was one of his best friends, and he would have given
much to be able to put him in the team; but he thought the thing over,
and put the temptation sturdily behind him. At batting there was not
much to choose between the two, but in fielding there was a great deal.
Mike was good. Bob was bad. So out Bob had gone, and Neville-Smith, a
fair fast bowler at all times and on his day dangerous, took his place.

These clashings of public duty with private inclination are the
drawbacks to the despotic position of captain of cricket at a public
school. It is awkward having to meet your best friend after you have
dropped him from the team, and it is difficult to talk to him as if
nothing had happened.

Burgess felt very self-conscious as he entered Bob's study, and was
rather glad that he had a topic of conversation ready to hand.

"Busy, Bob?" he asked.

"Hullo," said Bob, with a cheerfulness rather over-done in his anxiety
to show Burgess, the man, that he did not hold him responsible in
any way for the distressing acts of Burgess, the captain. "Take a
pew. Don't these studies get beastly hot this weather. There's some
ginger-beer in the cupboard. Have some?"

"No, thanks. I say, Bob, look here, I want to see you."

"Well, you can, can't you? This is me, sitting over here. The tall,
dark, handsome chap."

"It's awfully awkward, you know," continued Burgess gloomily; "that
ass of a young brother of yours--Sorry, but he _is_ an ass,
though he's your brother----"

"Thanks for the 'though,' Billy. You know how to put a thing nicely.
What's Mike been up to?"

"It's that old fool the Gazeka. He came to me frothing with rage, and
wanted me to call a prefects' meeting and touch young Mike up."

Bob displayed interest and excitement for the first time.

"Prefects' meeting! What the dickens is up? What's he been doing?
Smith must be drunk. What's all the row about?"

Burgess repeated the main facts of the case as he had them from
Firby-Smith.

"Personally, I sympathise with the kid," he added, "Still, the Gazeka
_is_ a prefect----"

Bob gnawed a pen-holder morosely.

"Silly young idiot," he said.

"Sickening thing being run out," suggested Burgess.

"Still----"

"I know. It's rather hard to see what to do. I suppose if the Gazeka
insists, one's bound to support him."

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