Shame and Consciences

adapted by Mihangel

15. Summer term

"O summer term, sweet to the cricketer, whose very existence is bliss;
O summer term, sweet to the Editor, who writes but two numbers of
this --"

"But he doesn't write them," objected Jan, "any more than the captain of a side makes all the runs."

"Oh, I know it should be 'edit,' but that doesn't scan," Chips explained impatiently, and continued:

"O summer term, sweet to the sportsman, who makes a good book on the Oaks --"

"Why the Oaks?" interrupted Jan again. "Why not the Derby, while you're about it?"

Chips told him he would see, confound him!

"O summer term, sweet to the jester, who's plenty of food for his jokes."

"Oh, I see. But not enough rhymes for them, eh?"

"That's about it, I suppose."

Chips was laughing, though Jan was a shade too sardonic for him, as he often was these days. The scene was the poet's study, and the time after lock-up on a Sunday evening, when they always sat together until prayers. The twilight of early June was deepening, Chips had his tollies burning, and the tiny den that he kept so spick and span, its pictures seldom out of the horizontal, their plush frames brushed, looked very attractive in the two dim lights. The poet was seated at his table, the critic lounged in the folding chair with the leg-rest up and a bag of biscuits in his lap.

The evolution of the Poet Chips was nothing new. Jan had been watching the phenomenon ever since Chips had received a Handsome Book as second prize for his "The school-bell tolls the knell of parting play" in a parody competition in Every Boy's Magazine. That secret triumph had come in their first term, and Chips had promptly offered a companion effort ("Earth hath not anything to show more bare") to the School Magazine. There it was publicly declined with something more than thanks:

"C. -- Your composition shows talent, but tends to vulgarity. Choose a more lofty subject, and try again!"

The result of this encouragement was a shipwreck ballad ("The sea was raging with a boisterous roar") which deeply impressed Jan, but not the editor. The response in the February issue was simply

"C. -- Very sorry to discourage you, but --."

Discouraged poor C. had been, but no more than he was now by his friend's frivolous repartee.

It was really too bad of Jan, whose Easter holidays had been redeemed by a week of bliss at the Carpenters' nice house near London. The two boys had done exactly what they liked. They had kept all hours and seen a play or two, besides producing one themselves ("Alone in a Pirates' Lair") in a toy theatre. Jan had privately reflected that the whole thing revealed the child which still survived in old Chips, alongside the precocious poet. Yet the child was becoming the man. In the three weeks since they last had met, Chips had acquired spectacles -- or rather pince-nez -- which made him look so much older and wiser, and his voice had descended from unsteady treble to unsteady tenor. So Jan, out of kindness and friendship, had readily lent a hand at printing programmes and shifting scenes.

"Go on, Chips!" he now cried through half a biscuit. "It's first-class. Let's have some more."

But Chips only went on for another couplet:

"When 'tis joy on one's rug to be basking and watching a match on the Upper,
When the works of J. Lillywhite junior rank higher than those of one Tupper --
"

"Who's he when he's at home?" asked the relentless Jan.

"Oh, dash it, you want to know too much! You're as bad as old Jerry. Last time our form showed up verses to him, I'd got Olympus, meaning sky. 'Who's your friend Olympus?' says Jerry with a jab of his pencil. And now you say the same about poor old Tupper!"

"I didn't. But who is your friend Tupper?"

"He's no friend of mine. But I needed a rhyme for Upper, so he came in handy, like my old pal Olympus at the end of a hexameter. I expect he's some old penny-a-liner. What's that song?

Tupper and Tennyson, Daniel Defoe,
Anthony Trollope and Mr Guizot.
"

Chips might not have been able to say what song he meant. His mind was full of the assorted smatterings of an omnivorous but desultory reader, and he never had time to tidy it like his study. He sat pinching the soft rim of one of the tollies into a cup that overflowed and soused his fingers in hot grease. He was not going to read any more aloud, because he knew what rot it all was. But Jan warmly contradicted him, until he was allowed to listen to the rest like a better friend. Yet he was not, just then, at his best as friend or companion. It did rather try his temper to have to listen to vapid verses on a sore subject.

"An ode to the balmiest season endowed us by nature's decree,
A wild panegyric in praise of the jolliest term of the three!
"

Why Chips, who rarely made a run and was always upset about it, chose to celebrate cricket in doggerel, Jan did not begin to understand. He only knew it was not the jolliest term of the three for him, but quite the unluckiest so far, despite the fact that he was free at last from the clutches of Mr Haigh. It was out of school that the bad luck of his first term had repeated itself, for his cricket had been knocked on the head even quicker than his football.

Cricket in a public school is a heavy sorrow to the average new boy. If he goes with a reputation, he will have his chance. Unknown talent has to wait for it, mere ardour is simply swamped. Jan had neither a reputation nor a private school where he could say that he had played. He did not know he was a cricketer. Indeed at that time he was not a cricketer. He began the term talking about notches instead of runs, scouting instead of fielding, and a full ball when he meant a fast one. Once he even said "cuddy-handed" for "left-handed," in speaking to Chips of his own bowling. Luckily they were alone at the time. Chips was shocked to find his friend so unversed in the very alphabet of cricket, and began coaching him out of Lillywhite. Yet Jan was a natural left-hand bowler, and the first three balls which Jan delivered to him, at their first net, took an informal hat-trick at the expense of the theorist.

As a result Chips, who already had a reputation as a bit of a windbag about the game, went around talking more generously than wisely of the Tiger's prowess. Cricket was played in a whole series of games on the three grounds -- Lower, Middle and Upper -- in ascending order of age, size and ability. Chips, being small for his age, had put his name down for the Lower Ground, and Jan, being bigger, his for the Middle. But there were plenty of lusty louts on the Middle, and he had to go several days without playing. When he did get a game he was not put on to bowl, and May was well advanced before he found himself taking wickets.

It was Shockley of all people -- by chance the captain of the game -- who had tossed the ball to him, with a characteristic reference to Chips's bragging. "That young lubber Carpenter says you can bowl a bit. If you can't, I'll give the ruddy little liar the biggest licking he's ever had in his life!"

Significantly, it was not Jan who was threatened with violence, but the Shocker's subtle approach put him on his mettle. He shambled up to the wicket, gave an ungainly twiddle of the left arm, and delivered a ball that removed the leg bail after pitching outside the off stump.

The batsman did not stir from the crease. "I'm not going," he said.

"You jolly well are!" thundered Shockley. "The umpire didn't give a no-ball, did he?"

"No. And he didn't give me guard, either. New guard for a left-hand bowler, if you don't mind. You should have said he was one."

"I'm blowed if I knew," replied the Shocker, truthfully enough, and turned to the bowler. "Why the blue blazes didn't you tell us, Rutter?"

"I never thought of it."

Curses descended on Jan's head, but the batsman stuck to his crease. The umpires, as usual the two next men in, had a tricky point to settle. One gave it "out" with indecent haste, and took his coat off. The other, a younger boy in the batsman's own house, was not so sure. Jan offered a rash and insolent solution.

"Suppose I bowl him out again?"

"I don't know your beastly name," cried the batsman, "but you'll know more about me when the game's over."

"Quite right," said Shockley, and partly because the batsman was even bigger than he was, and partly out of open spite against Jan, he allowed the game to proceed.

The batsman took fresh guard and Jan shambled up. This time the ball seemed well off the wicket, and the batsman took a vindictive slash only to find his off stump mown down. This time he did retire, and Jan took the remaining wickets at nominal cost. In any other game, such a bowler would immediately have been promoted to the game above. But Shockley kept him to himself, and the next half-holiday put the cap on Jan's misfortunes.

It was a rainy day, hardly fit for cricket, and Jan had never bowled with a wet ball before. He lost his length so badly that his first two overs were expensive, and Shockley abused him viciously. The first ball of his third over was returned as a half-volley between himself and mid-off. Jan shot out his left hand, but the wet ball passed clean through his fingers, which he shook with pain while a single was run. He was about to bowl again when he saw blood pouring over his flannels. His bowling hand was split so far down that he could see between the knuckles of the second and third fingers. He went dripping to the doctor's, but found he was out. So he himself strapped the fingers together in their drying blood, and for most of the next three weeks he carried his arm in a sling.

It was a depressing time for him, full of ironies which Chips's gushing verses only underlined. House matches began, and in the Under Sixteen competition Heriot's were promptly defeated by a side which a decent bowler would have wiped out. In the All Ages, despite Charles Cave and the runs he could not help making, they survived only one round. True, the rest of the house did not realise their loss, though Shockley could have told them had he chosen. Then the list of the school teams came out, and Jan was not in any. Chips had just scraped into the lowest of the Lower teams.

Founder's Day came, with the match against the Old Boys who fielded a galaxy of brilliant young men. It was a whole holiday, when you were free to take your rug to the Upper directly after chapel. Jan took his ball as well, because his arm was now out of the sling, though he was still forbidden to play. That did not prevent him bowling to one of the veterans who stuck single stumps down the length of the white palings that bounded the ground on one side. Each was bombarded by batteries of volunteers, but Jan's batsman asked the other volunteers to wait while the left-hander gave him a little practice. After his single stump had been laid low, the Old Boy asked Jan his name, and why he was not bowling for the school. He was laughing as he spoke, and the knot of bystanders laughed louder, which sent Jan off to his rug in dudgeon. There Chips joined him, bubbling with enthusiasm.

"Tiger! Tiger! You're as good as made!"

The Tiger's claws came out, and he growled.

"Don't you know who you were bowling to?" demanded Chips in self-defence.

"No, I don't, and I don't care either."

"It's only A. G. Swallow!"

"Never heard of him."

"He was captain here before we were born, and about the best all-rounder we ever turned out! He's played for the Gentlemen again and again."

"What's that to me?"

"It may be everything! He went straight to Dudley Relton and told him all about you. I swear he did. I saw him imitate your action -- no mistaking it -- and I saw Relton look this way."

Jan stopped being indifferent, but he was not easily convinced. Dudley Relton was a young master, new that term, who only the season before had captained Oxford. He was the pioneer of a new movement, the very first so-called cricket master in any school, to whom the professional now plays second fiddle. The innovation was Mr Thrale's, prompted by the death of the previous professional, the giant off whom Chips and Jan had bought their first school caps. Whether Dudley Relton was the right man remained to be seen. It was said that he interfered with the selection of the Eleven, that a strong captain would have put him in his place, that the great Charles Cave had done so, that Relton had still to justify his existence as a discoverer of buried talent. Out of all this, Chips built a castle in the air and installed Jan as tenant of the castle.

He was so full of his unselfish dream that the July Magazine which contained his "wild panegyric in praise of the jolliest term of the three" came out, as it were, behind the poet's back, and he had the rare experience of hearing himself quoted before he saw himself in print.

It was after second school, and Chips had gone into hall to read the cricket sections of the papers. He found a group of fellows skimming the new Magazine, just that minute out, and chuckling indulgently over something in it.

"That's not bad about 'basking on rugs on the Upper'," remarked Crabtree critically, and Chips felt his heart between his teeth.

"The whole thing isn't bad," agreed none other than Charles Cave, which was the blessing of royalty.

"You might let me see!" Chips gasped at Crabtree's elbow.

"Why should I?" demanded Crabtree, with the outraged dignity of his very decided superiority.

Chips knew very well he was taking a large liberty. But nobody else was listening yet, so he whispered in Crabtree's ear, "Because I wrote it!"

"You what?"

"I wrote that thing."

"What thing?"

Everybody was listening now.

"That thing you're reading about 'Summer Term'."

"What a lie!"

"It isn't. I swear I did."

Charles Cave was too great a man to add any comment, or to withdraw the one he had already made. But Crabtree was nodding his red head with intimidation.

"Oh! So you wrote the thing, did you?"

"I did, I swear!"

"Then it's the greatest rot I ever read in my life, and the most infernal piece of cheek for a kid of your standing!"

There was something bracing about this change of tune, and the laughter it raised was not ill-natured, and Chips received not only banter but a good many compliments. He was always sorry that he had not held his tongue and enjoyed the delights of anonymity a little longer. But nothing could rob him of that great moment when Cave major praised the whole thing in the highest schoolboy terms, which were not retracted.

Old Mother Sprawson was among those who congratulated him, though his praise was accompanied by a mild cuff on the ear for using the word "eulogic." Sprawson declared it was not a word at all but a base creation of Chips's brain, and when Chips showed it to him in a dictionary he got another cuff for defending the indefensible. There was no venom in Mother's hearty violence. It was he who told Jan he had heard he was a bit of a bowler, and promised him a game on the Upper before the term was out, and a licking if he got less than five wickets.

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