Fathers of Men/Chapter 22

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CHAPTER XXII

THE OLD BOYS' MATCH

Founder's Day was mercifully fine. A hot sun lit the usual scene outside the colonnade, where the Old Boys assembled before the special service with which the day began, and greeted each other to the merry measure of the chapel bells. Most of the hardy annual faces were early on the spot, with here and there a bronzed one not to be seen every year, but a good sprinkling as smooth as the other day when they left the school. These were the men of fashion, coming down at last in any clothes they liked; among them Bruce, last year's captain, and Stratten his wicket-keeper, who was also a friend of Jan's.

Under the straw hats with the famous ribbons were Swallow and Wilman, who never looked a day older, and the great Charles Cave who did. It was his first appearance as an Old Boy, and perhaps only due to the fact that his young brother was playing for the school. Charles Cave wore a Zingari ribbon and a Quidnunc tie, but there was every hope of seeing the Cambridge sash round his lithe waist later. His tawny hair seemed to have lost a little of its lustre, and he looked down his aristocratic nose at oral reports of the Eleven and of the captain's bowling. But fancy that young Rutter being in at all, let alone captain! Fine bowler his first year? So were lots of them, but how many lasted? It was the old story, and Charles Cave looked the Methuselah of Cricket as he shook that handsome head of his.

But the captain's bowling was not the worst; they did say his actual captaincy was just as bad, and that he was frightfully "barred" by the team. Of course he never had been quite the man for the job, whatever young Stratten chose to say. Stratten would stick up for anybody, especially of his own house; he would soon see for himself. And what about these measles? A regular outbreak, apparently, within the last week; fresh cases every day; among others, the best bat in the school! That young Sandham, no less. Hard luck? Scarcely worth playing the match, with such a jolly good lot of Old Boys down. . . . So the heads and tongues wagged together, and with them those happy chapel bells, until one was left ringing more sedately by itself, and the Old Boys filed in and up to their prominent places at the top of the right-hand aisle.

Evan Devereux, always a musical member of a very musical school, sat in the choir in full view of the young men of all ages. But he did not look twice at them; he might not have known that they were there. Yet it was not the obviously assumed indifference of one only too conscious that they were there, and who they all were, and which of them were going to play in the match. Evan might have felt that he ought to have been playing against them, that only a brute with a spite against him would have left him out; but he did not look as though he were thinking of that now. He did not look bitter or contemptuous; he did look worried and distrait. Any one, sufficiently interested in his flushed face and sharp yet sensitive features, might have observed that he seldom turned over a leaf, or remembered to open his compressed mouth; from it alone they might have seen that he was miserable, but they could not possibly have guessed why.

Neither did Jan when he chased Evan to his study immediately after chapel.

"It's all right, Evan! You've got to play, if you don't mind!"

"Who says so?" cried Evan, swinging round.

Of course it was not his old study, but it was just as dark inside, like all the Lodge studies leading straight out into the quad; and Jan very naturally misconstrued the angry tone, missing altogether its note of alarm.

"I do, of course. I was awfully sorry ever to leave you out, but what else was I to do? Thank goodness you've got your chance again, and I only hope you'll make a century!"

Jan was keen to the point of fervour; no ill-will of any sort or kind, not even the reflex resentment of an unpopular character, seemed to survive in his mind. His delight on his friend's behalf seemed almost to have restored his confidence in himself.

"Then I'll see if I can't bowl a bit," he added, "and between us we'll make Charles Cave & Co. sit up!"

"I—I don't think I'm awfully keen on playing, thank you," said Evan, in a wavering voice of would-be stiffness.

"You are!"

"I'm not, really, thanks all the same."

"But you can't refuse to play for the school, just because I simply was obliged——"

"It isn't that!" snapped Evan from his heart. It was too late to recall it. He did not try. He stood for some time without adding a syllable, and then—"I thought I wasn't even twelfth man?" he sneered.

"Well, as a matter of fact——"

Jan had not the heart to state the fact outright.

"I thought Norgate had got Sandham's place?"

"Well, so he had. I couldn't help it, Evan! I really couldn't. But now Norgate has got measles, too, and you've simply got to come in instead. You will, Evan! Of course you will; and I'll bowl twice as well for having you on the side. I simply hated leaving you out. But there's life in the old dog yet, and I'll let 'em know it, and so will you!"

He penetrated deeper into the dusky den; his hand flew out spasmodically. There was not another living being to whom he would have made so demonstrative an advance; but he had just described himself more aptly than he knew. Evan always awakened the faithful old hound in Jan, as Jerry Thrale had stirred the lion in him, Haigh the mule, and sane Bob Heriot the mere man. So we all hit each other in different places. But it was only Evan who had found Jan's softest spot, and therefore only Evan who could hurt him as he did without delay.

"Oh, all right, I'll play! Anything to oblige, I'm sure! But there's nothing to shake hands about, is there?"

So history repeated and exaggerated itself. But it was a long time before Jan thought of that. And then he was not angry with himself, as he had been four years before; he was far too hurt to be angry with anybody at all. And in that old dog, for one, there was very little life that day.

He went through the preliminary forms of office, which generally caused him visible embarrassment, with a casual unconcern even less to be admired; but it was almost the fact that Jan only realised he had lost the toss when he found himself as mechanically leading his men into the field. He had been thinking of Evan all that time, but now he took himself in hand, set his field and opened the bowling himself in a fit of desperation. It was no good; he had lost the art. That fatal new ball of his was an expensive present to such batsmen as Cave and Wilman; and the soft green wicket was still too slow for the one that came with his arm; they could step back to it, and place it for a single every time. After three overs Jan took himself off, and watched the rest of the innings from various positions in the field.

It lasted well into the afternoon, when the wicket turned crusty and one of the change bowlers took advantage of it, subsequently receiving his colours for a very creditable performance. It was the younger Cave, and he had secured the last five wickets for under thirty runs, apart from a couple in the morning. His gifted brother had taken just enough trouble to contribute an elegant 29 out of 47 for the first wicket; the celebrated Swallow had batted up to his great reputation for three-quarters of an hour; and Swiller Wilman, who played serious cricket with a misleading chuckle, would certainly have achieved his usual century but for the collapse of the Old Boys' rearguard. He carried his bat through the innings for 83 out of 212, but was good enough to express indebtedness to Jan, to whom he had been delightful all day.

"If you'd gone on again after lunch," said Wilman, "I believe you'd have made much shorter work of us. I know I was jolly glad you didn't—but you shouldn't take a bad streak too seriously, Rutter. It'll all come back before you know where you are."

Jan shook a hopeless head, but he was grateful for the other's friendliness. It had made three or four hours in the field pass quicker than in previous matches; it had even affected the manner of the rest of the Eleven towards him—or Jan thought it had—because the Swiller was undoubtedly the most popular personality, man or boy, upon the ground. Jan was none the less thankful to write out the order of going in and then to retire into a corner of the pavilion for the rest of the afternoon.

That, however, was not ordained by the Fates who had turned a slow wicket into a sticky one, after robbing the school of its best batsman. Two wickets were down before double figures appeared on the board, and four for under 50. Then came something of a stand, in which the younger Cave, who had his share of the family insolence seized the opportunity of treating his big brother's bowling with ostentatious disrespect. It was not, however, Charles Cave who had been taking the wickets, though his graceful action and his excellent length had been admired as much as ever. It was A. G. Swallow, the finest bowler the school etc.—until he became her most brilliant bat. The wicket was just adapted for a taste of his earlier quality; for over an hour he had the boys at his mercy, and perhaps might have done even greater execution than he did in that time. Then, however, a passing shower made matters easier; and when Jan went in, seventh wicket down, there was just a chance of saving the follow-on, with 91 on the board and half-an-hour to go. Somehow he managed to survive that half-hour, and was not out 20 at close of play, when the score was 128 with one more wicket to fall.

At the Conversazione in the evening, he found that he still had a certain number of friends, who not only made far too much of his little innings, but still more of his election to the Pilgrims during the day. The Pilgrims C.C. was the famous and exclusive Old Boys' club for which few indeed were chosen out of each year's Eleven; this year the honour was reserved for Jan and the absent Sandham; and with his new colours, worn as all good Pilgrims wear them on these ocasions, in a transverse band between the evening shirt and waistcoat, the fine awkward fellow was a salient object of congratulations. Wilman was as pointedly nice as he had been to Jan in the field, after hearing in the morning of his unpopularity. Stratten had never been anything else to anybody in his life, but he could not have been nicer about this if he had been a Pilgrim himself instead of feeling rather sore that he was not one. A. G. Swallow affected to see another good bowler degenerating into a batsman in accordance with his own bad example. And the other old choices of the present team very properly disguised their disaffection for the nonce.

Only Evan Devereux, who again had failed to get into double figures, said nothing at all; but he seemed so lost without Sandham, and looked so wretched when he was not laughing rather loud, that Jan was not at first altogether surprised at what the next morning brought forth.