Shame and Consciences

adapted by Mihangel

28. Lucifer

Heriot himself showed Jan to his room, the spare bedroom on the private side, where he was to remain until he went. All his belongings had been brought from his dormitory, and some few already from his study. The bed was made and turned down, and there was an adjoining dressing-room at his disposal, with the gas lit and hot water brought up by some unenlightened maid. This led Heriot to explain, very gruffly, the special consideration to which Mr Thrale had referred.

"The whole thing's a secret from the house so far, and of course the servants know nothing about it. They probably think you're suspected of measles, not strongly enough for the Sanatorium but too strongly for the sick-room on the boys' side. I shall allow that impression to prevail until -- as long as you remain."

"Thank you, sir."

"I remember better days, Rutter. We'd seen a good many together before you came to anything like this." His glasses flashed. "Yet all the time --"

He stopped himself as before, turned on his heel and shut a window which he had just opened. This time Jan guessed what it was that Heriot could not trust himself to mention. He was glad to be bidden an abrupt good-night, and left alone at last.

Alone in the condemned cell, or rather a luxurious suite of cells. The luxury was an irony not lost on Jan. He was as alive to every detail of his surroundings as he had been towards the end of the match. And the grim humour of the situation, which had only come home to him since his interview with the Head Master, was still a relief after the solemnity of that ordeal. He must never again forget that he was guiltless. That made all the difference in the world. Could he have thought of condemned cells if he deserved to be in one, or of the portmanteau he found in the dressing-room, lying ready to be packed, as the open coffin of his school life?

And yet it was, it was!

The night was long and wakeful, disturbed by ominous memories. They began when he emptied his pockets before undressing and missed the small gold watch which had been his mother's when she ran away from home. This was the first night in all his schooldays that he had been without it. Again he remembered wondering if the boys would laugh at him for having a lady's watch; but they were marvellously decent about some things, and not one of them had ever commented. The little gold watch had timed him through all these years, and now, the first occasion he had left it behind, he had come to grief. It was only in the studies, but it would never bring his luck back now.

Then there was that pocketful of small silver and stray gold. Two pounds eighteen and sixpence, he ought to make it; and he did. The amount was not the only thing about the money that he recalled. He took an envelope from the stationery case, swept all the coins in and stuck it up with care. He even wrote the amount outside before dropping the jingling packet into a drawer in the dressing-table. He then got into bed in the superfine sheets dedicated to guests -- his own sheets would not have stretched across this great mattress -- and these reminded every inch of him where he was, every hour of the night.

He heard them all struck by the old blue church clock. It was the first time he had heard it like this since he had moved out of the little front dormitory, his first year in the Eleven. It was strange to be sleeping over the street again, listening to all its old noises ... listening ... listening again ... listening always to the old harsh bell.

That was the worst noise of all. He must have been asleep, in spite of everything, and only really woke up standing on the soft, spacious, unfamiliar floor. The spare bedroom was full of summer sunshine. The fine weather had come to stay. They would get a fast wicket over at Repton next weekend, and Goose would have to win the toss. Goose!

Meanwhile it was only Sunday. Jan knew the habits of his house on Sunday morning, and now was his chance of the bath. Bathrooms were not plentiful in those days. There was only one between both sides of the house, not counting the shower off the lavatory which was now out of bounds. The bathroom was in bounds, just, and Jan got to it first, bolted both doors and looked out into the quad while the bath was filling.

Those cursed memories! Here was another, of his very first sight of the quad, his very first morning in the school ... Well, he had lived to be cock of that walk, and on those fives courts he was leaving no one better. But how pleasant it all looked in the cool morning sun! There is a peculiar quality about Sunday sunshine, a restfulness at once real and imaginary. It was very real to Jan as he took leave of the quiet study windows, the empty garden seats shaded by the laburnum with its shrivelled blossoms, the little acacia, and the plane-tree which had been blown down once and ever since held in leash by a chain. Closer at hand, hardly out of reach, the dormitory windows stood wide open, but nobody got up in dormitory till the last five minutes on a Sunday morning. So Jan gloated unobserved on the scene of so much that had happened to the house and to him -- of Sprawson's open pranks and Shockley's wary brutalities. It was down there that Mulberry first showed his fatal nose and Jan was christened Tiger, and it was there they lit up a slide with tollies at the end of his first winter term. Now it was the end of all terms, and in a night the old quad had changed into a place of the past.

It was better in the cells at the front of the house. It might have been quite bearable there, but for the bells. But on a Sunday the cracked bell rung by Morgan in the quad was nothing to the bells you heard on the other side of the house, if you came to listen to them as Jan did. There was evidently an early celebration in the parish church as well as in chapel, but that was the only time the rival bells rang a duet of sedate discords. All the rest of the day they followed each other in proper sequence.

The chapel bells led off with their incorrigibly merry measure. It was worse to hear the accompanying tramp of boys in twos and threes, in Sunday tails or Eton jackets, looking heartlessly content with life, taking off praepostorial hats or touching common school caps to gowned and hooded masters; for Jan was obliged to peep through the blind, not deliberately to make things worse, but for the sake of a moment's distraction. That was all he got. There were heaps of fellows now to whom he could not put a name, for mere mortal boys do not excite the curiosity of gods, but once or twice poor Lucifer espied some still unfallen angel in the ribbon of shade across the street. One was Ibbotson of the Eleven -- a god with clay feet if ever there was one -- but there he went, looking the god all over, to the happy jingle of those callous bells. Ibbotson would come down as an Old Boy and never think twice of what he had really been. Why should he? Jan, at all events, was not his judge. Yet he would be one of Jan's.

The church bells came as a relief, richer in tone, poorer in association, with townspeople on the pavement and not a sound in the house. Jan fell to and packed. All his clothes had been brought in now and his study possessions would be sent after him. So Mr Heriot had looked in to say, and at the same time to extract a promise that Jan would not again set foot on the boys' side of the house. He wondered if the bath had been judged a step too far in that direction, and what it was feared that he might do when all their backs were turned. But he gave his word without complaining.

Never had condemned man less cause for complaint. Excellent meals were brought to the spare room. There was the usual sound fare for dinner, including the inevitable cold apple pie with cloves in it, and a long glass of beer to which (in those unregenerate days) Jan's exalted place in the house entitled him. Morgan, at any rate, could not know what he was there for. Jan was wondering whether it was enough to make him sleepy after his wretched night, and so kill an hour of this yet more wretched day, when the door burst open without preliminary knock, and Chips stood wheezing on the other side of the bed.

His shoulders heaved and his face was intense and agonised. It was plain at a glance that old Chips knew something.

"Oh, Jan!" he cried. "What did you do it for?"

"That's my business. Who sent you here?"

"I got leave from Heriot."

"Very good of you, I'm sure!"

"That wasn't why I came," said Chips, stung by this reception. He shut the door behind him and walked round the bed with the extremely determined air of one in whom determination was not a habit.

"Well, why did you come?" inquired Jan, though he was beginning to guess.

"You did a thing I couldn't have believed you'd do!"

"Many things, it seems."

"I'm only thinking of one. The others don't concern me. You went into my study and -- and broke into the house money-box!"

"I left you something worth five times as much, and I owned what I'd done in black and white."

"I know that. Here's your watch and your I.O.U. I found them after chapel this morning."

Jan took his treasure eagerly, laid it on the dressing-table, and produced his packet of coins from one of the drawers.

"And here's your money. You'd better count it, but you won't find a sixpence missing."

Chips stared at him.

"But what on earth did you borrow it for?"

"That's my business," said Jan in the same tone as before, though Chips had changed his.

"I don't know how you knew I had all this money. It isn't usual late in the term like this, when all the subs have been banked long ago."

Jan said nothing.

"This is my business, you know," persisted Chips.

"Oh, is it? Then I don't mind telling you I heard you filling your precious coffers yesterday after dinner."

It was Chips's own term for the money-box in which as captain of the house he placed the various house subscriptions as he received them. He looked distressed.

"I was afraid you must have heard me."

"Then why did you ask?"

"I hoped you hadn't."

"What difference does it make?"

"You heard me with the money, and yet you couldn't come and ask me to lend it to you."

"I'd like to have seen you lend it!"

"This money was for something special, Jan."

"I thought it was."

"Half the house had just been giving me back their allowances, but some had got more from home, on purpose."

"Yet you pretend you'd have let me touch it!"

Chips took this taunt without heat, yet with a treacherous lip.

"I would, Jan, every penny of it."

"Why should you?"

"Because it was yours already! It was something we were all going to give you because of -- because of -- those cups we got through you -- and -- and -- everything else you've done for the house, Jan!"

An emotional dog, this Chips. He still had the sense to see that emotion was out of place, and the self-control not to show it too much. But he could not help pushing the envelope back towards Jan, as much as to say that it was still his, that he must really take it with the good wishes he now needed more than ever. Not a word of the kind from his lips, yet every syllable in his eyes and movements. Jan, all the wind taken out of his sails, could only shake his head, wheel round, and stand looking down into the street.

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