A heavy cloud passed swiftly away before the wind that came with the night, and far in a clear sky the evening star shone with pure brightness, a gleaming world set high above the dark earth and the black shadows in the lane. In the ending of October a great storm had blown from the west, and it was through the bare boughs of a twisted oak that Ambrose Meyrick saw the silver light of the star. As the last faint flash died in the sky he leaned against a gate and gazed upward; and then his eyes fell on the dull and weary undulations of the land, the vast circle of dun ploughland and grey meadow bounded by a dim horizon, dreary as a prison wall. He remembered with a start how late it must be; he should have been back an hour before, and he was still in the open country, a mile away at least from the outskirts of Lupton. He turned from the star and began to walk as quickly as he could along the lane through the puddles and the sticky clay, soaked with three weeks’ heavy rain.
He saw at last the faint lamps of the nearest streets where the shoemakers lived and he tramped hurriedly through this wretched quarter, past its penny shops, its raw public-house, its rawer chapel, with twelve foundation-stones on which are written the names of the twelve leading Congregationalists of Lupton, past the squalling children whose mothers were raiding and harrying them to bed. Then came the Free Library, an admirable instance, as the Lupton Mercury declared, of the adaptation of Gothic to modern requirements. From a sort of tower of this building a great arm shot out and hung a round clock-face over the street, and Meyrick experienced another shock when he saw that it was even later than he had feared. He had to get to the other side of the town, and it was past seven already! He began to run, wondering what his fate would be at his uncle’s hands, and he went by “our grand old parish church” (completely “restored” in the early ‘forties), past the remains of the market-cross, converted most successfully, according to local opinion, into a drinking fountain for dogs and cattle, dodging his way among the late shoppers and the early loafers who lounged to and fro along the High Street.
He shuddered as he rang the bell at the Old Grange. He tried to put a bold face on it when the servant opened the door, and he would have gone straight down the hall into the schoolroom, but the girl stopped him.
“Master said you’re to go to the study at once, Master Meyrick, as soon as ever you come in.”
She was looking strangely at him, and the boy grew sick with dread. He was a “funk” through and through, and was frightened out of his wits about twelve times a day every day of his life. His uncle had said a few years before: “Lupton will make a man of you,” and Lupton was doing its best. The face of the miserable wretch whitened and grew wet; there was a choking sensation in his throat, and he felt very cold. Nelly Foran, the maid, still looked at him with strange, eager eyes, then whispered suddenly:
“You must go directly, Master Meyrick, Master heard the bell, I know; but I’ll make it up to you.”
Ambrose understood nothing except the approach of doom. He drew a long breath and knocked at the study door, and entered on his uncle’s command.
It was an extremely comfortable room. The red curtains were drawn close, shutting out the dreary night, and there was a great fire of coal that bubbled unctuously and shot out great jets of flame — in the schoolroom they used coke. The carpet was soft to the feet, and the chairs promised softness to the body, and the walls were well furnished with books. There were Thackeray, Dickens, Lord Lytton, uniform in red morocco, gilt extra; the Cambridge Bible for Students in many volumes, Stanley’s Life of Arnold, Coplestone’s Prælectiones Academicæ, commentaries, dictionaries, first editions of Tennyson, school and college prizes in calf, and, of course, a great brigade of Latin and Greek classics. Three of the wonderful and terrible pictures of Piranesi hung in the room; these Mr.
Horbury admired more for the subject-matter than for the treatment, in which he found, as he said, a certain lack of the aurea mediocritas— almost, indeed, a touch of morbidity. The gas was turned low, for the High Usher was writing at his desk, and a shaded lamp cast a bright circle of light on a mass of papers.
He turned round as Ambrose Meyrick came in. He had a high, bald forehead, and his fresh-coloured face was edged with reddish “mutton-chop” whiskers. There was a dangerous glint in his grey-green eyes, and his opening sentence was unpromising.
“Now, Ambrose, you must understand quite definitely that this sort of thing is not going to be tolerated any longer.”
Perhaps it would not have fared quite so badly with the unhappy lad if only his uncle had not lunched with the Head. There was a concatenation accordingly, every link in which had helped to make Ambrose Meyrick’s position hopeless. In the first place there was boiled mutton for luncheon, and this was a dish hateful to Mr. Horbury’s palate. Secondly, the wine was sherry. Of this Mr. Horbury was very fond, but unfortunately the Head’s sherry, though making a specious appeal to the taste, was in reality far from good and teemed with those fiery and irritating spirits which make the liver to burn and rage. Then Chesson had practically found fault with his chief assistant’s work. He had not, of course, told him in so many words that he was unable to teach; he had merely remarked:
“I don’t know whether you’ve noticed it, Horbury, but it struck me the other day that there was a certain lack of grip about those fellows of yours in the fifth. Some of them struck me as muddlers, if you know what I mean: there was a sort of vagueness, for example, about their construing in that chorus. Have you remarked anything of the kind yourself?”
And then, again, the Head had gone on:
“And, by the way, Horbury, I don’t quite know what to make of your nephew, Meyrick. He was your wife’s nephew, wasn’t he? Yes. Well, I hardly know whether I can explain what I feel about the boy; but I can’t help saying that there is something wrong about him. His work strikes me as good enough — in fact, quite above the form average — but, to use the musical term, he seems to be in the wrong key. Of course, it may be my fancy; but the lad reminds me of those very objectionable persons who are said to have a joke up their sleeve. I doubt whether he is taking the Lupton stamp; and when he gets up in the school I shall be afraid of his influence on the other boys.”
Here, again, the master detected a note of blame; and by the time he reached the Old Grange he was in an evil humour. He hardly knew which he found the more offensive — Chesson’s dish or his discourse. He was a dainty man in his feeding, and the thought of the great fat gigot pouring out a thin red stream from the gaping wound dealt to it by the Head mingled with his resentment of the indirect scolding which he considered that he had received, and on the fire just kindled every drop of that corrosive sherry was oil. He drank his tea in black silence, his rage growing fiercer for want of vent, and it is doubtful whether in his inmost heart he was altogether displeased when report was made at six o’clock that Meyrick had not come in. He saw a prospect — more than a prospect — of satisfactory relief.
Some philosophers have affirmed that lunatic doctors (or mental specialists) grow in time to a certain resemblance to their patients, or, in more direct language, become half mad themselves. There seems a good deal to be said for the position; indeed, it is probably a more noxious madness to swear a man into perpetual imprisonment in the company of maniacs and imbeciles because he sings in his bath and will wear a purple dressing-gown at dinner than to fancy oneself Emperor of China. However this may be, it is very certain that in many cases the schoolmaster is nothing more or less than a bloated schoolboy: the beasts are, radically, the same, but morbid conditions have increased the venom of the former’s sting. Indeed, it is not uncommon for well-wishers to the great Public School System to praise their favourite masters in terms which admit, nay, glory in, this identity. Read the memorial tributes to departed Heads in a well-known and most respectable Church paper. “To the last he was a big boy at heart,” writes Canon Diver of his friend, that illiterate old sycophant who brought up the numbers of the school to such a pitch by means of his conciliator policy to Jews, Turks, heretics and infidels that there was nothing for it but to make him a bishop. “I always thought he seemed more at home in the playing fields than in the sixth-form room. . . . He had all the English boy’s healthy horror of anything approaching pose or eccentricity. . . . He could be a severe disciplinarian when severity seemed necessary, but everybody in the school knew that a well-placed ‘boundary,’ a difficult catch or a goal well won or well averted would atone for all but the most serious offences.” There are many other points of resemblance between the average master and the average boy: each, for example, is intensely cruel, and experiences a quite abnormal joy in the infliction of pain. The baser boy tortures those animals which are not méchants. Tales have been told (they are hushed up by all true friends of the “System”) of wonderful and exquisite orgies in lonely hollows of the moors, in obscure and hidden thickets: tales of a boy or two, a lizard or a toad, and the slow simmering heat of a bonfire. But these are the exceptional pleasures of the virtuosi; for the average lad there is plenty of fun to be got out of his feebler fellows, of whom there are generally a few even in the healthiest community. After all, the weakest must go to the wall, and if the bones of the weakest are ground in the process, that is their fault. When some miserable little wretch, after a year or two of prolonged and exquisite torture of body and mind, seeks the last escape of suicide, one knows how the Old Boys will come forward, how gallantly they will declare that the days at the “dear old school” were the happiest in their lives; how “the Doctor” was their father and the Sixth their nursing-mother; how the delights of the Mahomedans’ fabled Paradise are but grey and weary sport compared with the joys of the happy fag, whose heart, as the inspired bard of Harrow tells us, will thrill in future years at the thought of the Hill. They write from all quarters, these brave Old Boys: from the hard-won Deanery, result of many years of indefatigable attack on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith; from the comfortable villa, the reward of commercial activity and acuteness on the Stock Exchange; from the courts and from the camps; from all the high seats of the successful; and common to them all is the convincing argument of praise. And we all agree, and say there is nothing like our great Public Schools, and perhaps the only dissentient voices are those of the father and mother who bury the body of a little child about whose neck is the black sign of the rope. But let them be comforted: the boy was no good at games, though his torments were not bad sport while he lasted.
Mr. Horbury was an old Luptonian; he was, in the words of Canon Diver, but “a big boy at heart,” and so he gave orders that Meyrick was to be sent in the study directly he came in, and he looked at the clock on the desk before him with satisfaction and yet with impatience. A hungry man may long for his delayed dinner almost with a sense of fury, and yet at the back of his mind he cannot help being consoled by the thought of how wonderfully he will enjoy the soup when it appears at last. When seven struck, Mr. Horbury moistened his lips slightly. He got up and felt cautiously behind one of the bookshelves. The object was there, and he sat down again. He listened; there were footfalls on the drive. Ah! there was the expected ring. There was a brief interval, and then a knock. The fire was glowing with red flashes, and the wretched toad was secured.
“Now, Ambrose, you must understand quite definitely that this sort of thing isn’t going to be tolerated any longer. This is the third time during this term that you have been late for lockup. You know the rules: six o’clock at latest. It is now twenty minutes past seven. What excuse have you to make? What have you been doing with yourself? Have you been in the Fields?”
“Why not? You must have seen the Resolution of the Sixth on the notice-board of the High School? You know what it promised any boy who shirked rocker? ‘A good sound thrashing with tuds before the First Thirty.’ I am afraid you will have a very bad time of it on Monday, after Graham has sent up your name to the Room.”
There was a pause. Mr. Horbury looked quietly and lengthily at the boy, who stood white and sick before him. He was a rather sallow, ugly lad of fifteen. There was something of intelligence in his expression, and it was this glance that Chesson, the Headmaster, had resented. His heart beat against his breast, his breath came in gasps and the sweat of terror poured down his body. The master gazed at him, and at last spoke again.
“But what have you been doing? Where have you been all this time?”
“If you please, Sir, I walked over to Selden Abbey.”
“To Selden Abbey? Why, it’s at least six miles away! What on earth did you want to go to Selden Abbey for? Are you fond of old stones?”
“If you please, Sir, I wanted to see the Norman arches. There is a picture of them in Parker’s Glossary.”
“Oh, I see! You are a budding antiquarian, are you, Ambrose, with an interest in Norman arches — eh? I suppose we are to look forward to the time when your researches will have made Lupton famous? Perhaps you would like to lecture to the school on St. Paul’s Cathedral? Pray, what are your views as to the age of Stonehenge?”
The wit was heavy enough, but the speaker’s position gave a bitter sting to his lash. Mr. Horbury saw that every cut had told, and, without prejudice to more immediate and acuter pleasures, he resolved that such biting satire must have a larger audience. Indeed, it was a long time before Ambrose Meyrick heard the last of those wretched Norman arches. The method was absurdly easy. “Openings” presented themselves every day. For example, if the boy made a mistake in construing, the retort was obvious:
“Thank you, Meyrick, for your most original ideas on the force of the aorist. Perhaps if you studied your Greek Grammar a little more and your favourite Glossary of Architecture a little less, it would be the better. Write out ‘Aorist means indefinite’ five hundred times.”
Or, again, perhaps the Classic Orders were referred to. Mr. Horbury would begin to instruct the form as to the difference between Ionic and Doric. The form listened with poor imitation of interest. Suddenly the master would break off:
“I beg your pardon. I was forgetting that we have a great architectural authority amongst us. Be so kind as to instruct us, Meyrick. What does Parker say? Or perhaps you have excogitated some theories of your own? I know you have an original mind, from the extraordinary quantities of your last copy of verse. By the way, I must ask you to write out ‘The e in venio is short’ five hundred times. I am sorry to interfere with your more important architectural studies, but I am afraid there is no help for it.”
And so on; while the form howled with amusement.
But Mr. Horbury kept these gems for future and public use. For the moment he had more exciting work on hand. He burst out suddenly:
“The fact is, Ambrose Meyrick, you’re a miserable little humbug! You haven’t the honesty to say, fair and square, that you funked rocker and went loafing about the country, looking for any mischief you could lay your hands on. Instead of that you make up this cock-and-bull story of Selden Abbey and Norman arches — as if any boy in his senses ever knew or cared twopence about such things! I hope you haven’t been spending the afternoon in some low public-house? There, don’t speak! I don’t want to hear any more lies. But, whatever you have been doing, you have broken the rules, and you must be taught that the rules have to be kept. Stand still!”
Mr. Horbury went to the bookshelf and drew out the object. He stood at a little distance behind Meyrick and opened proceedings with a savage cut at his right arm, well above the elbow. Then it was the turn of the left arm, and the master felt the cane bite so pleasantly into the flesh that he distributed some dozen cuts between the two arms. Then he turned his attention to the lad’s thighs and finished up in the orthodox manner, Meyrick bending over a chair.
The boy’s whole body was one mass of burning, stinging torture; and, though he had not uttered a sound during the process, the tears were streaming down his cheeks. It was not the bodily anguish, though that was extreme enough, so much as a far-off recollection. He was quite a little boy, and his father, dead long since, was showing him the western doorway of a grey church on a high hill and carefully instructing him in the difference between “billetty” and “chevronny.”
“It’s no good snivelling, you know, Ambrose. I daresay you think me severe, but, though you won’t believe me now, the day will come when you will thank me from your heart for what I have just done. Let this day be a turning-point in your life. Now go to your work.”
It was strange, but Meyrick never came in the after days and thanked his uncle for that sharp dose of physical and mental pain. Even when he was a man he dreamed of Mr. Horbury and woke up in a cold sweat, and then would fall asleep again with a great sigh of relief and gladness as he realised that he was no longer in the power of that “infernal old swine,” “that filthy, canting, cruel brute,” as he roughly called his old master.
The fact was, as some old Luptonians remarked, the two had never understood one another. With the majority of the boys the High Usher passed for a popular master enough. He had been a distinguished athlete in his time, and up to his last days at the school was a football enthusiast. Indeed, he organised a variety of the Lupton game which met with immense popularity till the Head was reluctantly compelled to stop it; some said because he always liked to drop bitter into Horbury’s cup when possible; others — and with more probability on their side — maintained that it was in consequence of a report received from the school doctor to the effect that this new species of football was rapidly setting up an old species of heart disease in the weaker players.
However that might be, there could be no doubt as to Horbury’s intense and deep-rooted devotion to the school. His father had been a Luptonian before him. He himself had gone from the school to the University, and within a year or two of taking his degree he had returned to Lupton to serve it as a master. It was the general opinion in Public School circles that the High Usher had counted for as much as Chesson, the Headmaster, if not for more, in the immense advance in prestige and popularity that the school had made; and everybody thought that when Chesson received the episcopal order Horbury’s succession was a certainty. Unfortunately, however, there were wheels within wheels, and a total stranger was appointed, a man who knew nothing of the famous Lupton traditions, who (it was whispered) had been heard to say that “this athletic business” was getting a bit overdone. Mr. Horbury’s friends were furious, and Horbury himself, it was supposed, was bitterly disappointed. He retreated to one of the few decent canonries which have survived the wave of agricultural depression; but those who knew him best doubted whether his ecclesiastical duties were an adequate consolation for the loss of that coveted Headmastership of Lupton.
To quote the memoir which appeared in the Guardian soon after his death, over some well-known initials:
“His friends were shocked when they saw him at the Residence. He seemed no longer the same man, he had aged more in six months, as some of them expressed themselves, than in the dozen years before. The old joyous Horbury, full of mirth, an apt master of word-play and logic-fence, was somehow ‘dimmed,’ to use the happy phrase of a former colleague, the Dean of Dorchester. Old Boys who remembered the sparkle of his wit, the zest which he threw into everything, making the most ordinary form-work better fun than the games at other schools, as one of them observed, missed something indefinable from the man whom they had loved so long and so well. One of them, who had perhaps penetrated as closely as any into the arcana of Horbury’s friendship (a privilege which he will ever esteem as one of the greatest blessings of his life), tried to rouse him with an extravagant rumour which was then going the round of the popular Press, to the effect that considerable modifications were about to be introduced into the compulsory system of games at X., one of the greatest of our great Public Schools. Horbury flushed; the old light came into his eyes; his friend was reminded of the ancient war-horse who hears once more the inspiring notes of the trumpet. ‘I can’t believe it,’ he said, and there was a tremor in his voice. ‘They wouldn’t dare. Not even Y. (the Headmaster of X.) would do such a scoundrelly thing as that. I won’t believe it.’ But the flush soon faded and his apathy returned. ‘After all,’ he said, ‘I shouldn’t wonder if it were so. Our day is past, I suppose, and for all I know they may be construing the Breviary and playing dominoes at X. in a few years’ time.’
“I am afraid that those last years at Wareham were far from happy. He felt, I think, out of tune with his surroundings, and, pace the readers of the Guardian, I doubt whether he was ever quite at home in his stall. He confessed to one of his old associates that he doubted the wisdom of the whole Cathedral system. ‘What,’ he said, in his old characteristic manner, ‘would St. Peter say if he could enter this building and see that gorgeous window in which he is represented with mitre, cope and keys?’ And I do not think that he was ever quite reconciled to the daily recitation of the Liturgy, accompanied as it is in such establishments by elaborate music and all the pomp of the surpliced choir. ‘Rome and water, Rome and water!’ he has been heard to mutter under his breath as the procession swept up the nave, and before he died I think that he had the satisfaction of feeling that many in high places were coming round to his views.
“But to the very last he never forgot Lupton. A year or two before he died he wrote the great school song, ‘Follow, follow, follow!’ He was pleased, I know, when it appeared in the Luptonian, and a famous Old Boy informs me that he will never forget Horbury’s delight when he was told that the song was already a great favourite in ‘Chantry.’ To many of your readers the words will be familiar; but I cannot resist quoting the first verse:
“I am getting old and grey and the hills seem far away,
And I cannot hear the horn that once proclaimed the morn
When we sallied forth upon the chase together;
For the years are gone — alack! — when we hastened on the track,
And the huntsman’s whip went crack! as a signal to our pack
Riding in the sunshine and fair weather.
And yet across the ground
I seem to hear a sound,
A sound that comes up floating from the hollow;
And its note is very clear
As it echoes in my ear,
And the words are: ‘Lupton, follow, follow, follow!’
“Lupton, follow away!
The darkness lies behind us, and before us is the day.
Follow, follow the sun,
The whole world’s to be won,
So, Lupton, follow, follow, follow, follow away!
“An old pupil sang this verse to him on his death-bed, and I think, perhaps, that some at least of the readers of the Guardian will allow that George Horbury died ‘fortified,’ in the truest sense, ‘with the rites of the Church’— the Church of a Great Aspiration.”
Such was the impression that Mr. Horbury had evidently made upon some of his oldest friends; but Meyrick was, to the last, an infidel. He read the verses in the Guardian (he would never subscribe to the Luptonian) and jeered savagely at the whole sentiment of the memoir, and at the poetry, too.
“Isn’t it incredible?” he would say. “Let’s allow that the main purpose of the great Public Schools is to breed brave average boobies by means of rocker, sticker and mucker and the rest of it. Still, they do acknowledge that they have a sort of parergon— the teaching of two great literatures, two literatures that have moulded the whole of Western thought for more than two thousand years. And they pay an animal like this to teach these literatures — a swine that has not enough literature of any kind in him to save the soul of a louse! Look at those verses! Why, a decent fourth form boy would be ashamed to put his name to them!”
He was foolish to talk in this fashion. People merely said that it was evident he was one of the failures of the great Public School system; and the song was much admired in the right circles. A very well-turned idem Latine appeared in the Guardian shortly after the publication of the memoir, and the initials at the foot of the version were recognised as those of a literary dean.
And on that autumn evening, far away in the ‘seventies, Meyrick, the boy, left Mr. Horbury’s study in a white fury of grief and pain and rage. He would have murdered his master without the faintest compunction, nay, with huge delight. Psychologically, his frame of mind was quite interesting, though he was only a schoolboy who had just had a sound thrashing for breaking rules.
For the fact, of course, was that Horbury, the irritating influence of the Head’s conversation and sherry apart, was by no means a bad fellow. He was for the moment savagely cruel, but then, most men are apt to be savagely cruel when they suffer from an inflamed liver and offensive superiors, more especially when there is an inferior, warranted defenceless, in their power. But, in the main, Horbury was a very decent specimen of his class — English schoolmaster — and Meyrick would never allow that. In all his reasoning about schools and schoolmasters there was a fatal flaw — he blamed both for not being what they never pretended to be. To use a figure that would have appealed to him, it was if one quarrelled with a plain, old-fashioned meeting-house because it was not in the least like Lincoln Cathedral. A chimney may not be a decorative object, but then it does not profess to be a spire or a pinnacle far in the spiritual city.
But Meyrick was always scolding meeting-houses because they were not cathedrals. He has been heard to rave for hours against useful, unpretentious chimney-pots because they bore no resemblance to celestial spires. Somehow or other, possibly by inheritance, possibly by the influence of his father’s companionship, he had unconsciously acquired a theory of life which bore no relation whatever to the facts of it. The theory was manifest in his later years; but it must have been stubbornly, if vaguely, present in him all through his boyhood. Take, for instance, his comment on poor Canon Horbury’s verses. He judged those, as we have seen, by the rules of the fine art of literature, and found them rubbish. Yet any old Luptonian would have told him that to hear the whole six hundred boys join in the chorus, “Lupton, follow away!” was one of the great experiences of life; from which it appears that the song, whatever its demerits from a literary point of view, fully satisfied the purpose for which is was written. In other words, it was an excellent chimney, but Meyrick still persisted in his easy and futile task of proving that it was not a bit like a spire. Then, again, one finds a fallacy of still huger extent in that major premiss of his: that the great Public Schools purpose to themselves as a secondary and minor object the imparting of the spirit and beauty of the Greek and Latin literatures. Now, it is very possible that at some distant period in the past this was an object, or even, perhaps, the object of the institutions in question. The Humanists, it may be conjectured, thought of school and University as places where Latin and Greek were to be learned, and to be learned with the object of enjoying the great thought and the great style of an antique world. One sees the spirit of this in Rabelais, for example. The Classics are a wonderful adventure; to learn to understand them is to be a spiritual Columbus, a discoverer of new seas and unknown continents, a drinker of new-old wine in a new-old land. To the student of those days a mysterious drowned Atlantis again rose splendid from the waves of the great deep. It was these things that Meyrick (unconsciously, doubtless) expected to find in his school life; it was for the absence of these things that he continued to scold the system in his later years; wherein, like Jim in Huckleberry Finn, he missed the point by a thousand miles.
The Latin and Greek of modern instruction are, of course, most curious and interesting survivals; no longer taught with any view of enabling students to enjoy and understand either the thought or beauty of the originals; taught rather in such a manner as to nauseate the learner for the rest of his days with the very notion of these lessons. Still, the study of the Classics survives, a curious and elaborate ritual, from which all sense and spirit have departed. One has only to recollect the form master’s lessons in the Odyssey or the Bacchæ, and then to view modern Free-masons celebrating the Mystic Death and Resurrection of Hiram Abiff; the analogy is complete, for neither the master nor the Masons have the remotest notion of what they are doing. Both persevere in strange and mysterious actions from inveterate conservatism.
Meyrick was a lover of antiquity and a special lover of survivals, but he could never see that the round of Greek syntax, and Latin prose, of Elegiacs and verbs in [Greek: mi], with the mystery of the Oratio obliqua and the Optative, was one of the most strange and picturesque survivals of modern life. It is to be noted, by the way, that the very meaning of the word “scholar” has been radically changed. Thus a well-known authority points out that “Melancholy” Burton had no “scholarship” in the real sense of the word; he merely used his vast knowledge of ancient and modern literature to make one of the most entertaining and curious books that the world possesses. True “scholarship,” in the modern sense, is to be sought for not in the Jacobean translators of the Bible, but in the Victorian revisers. The former made the greatest of English books out of their Hebrew and Greek originals; but the latter understood the force of the aorist. It is curious to reflect that “scholar” once meant a man of literary taste and knowledge.
Meyrick never mastered these distinctions, or, if he did so in later years, he never confessed to his enlightment, but went on railing at the meeting-house, which, he still maintained, did pretend to be a cathedral. He has been heard to wonder why a certain Dean, who had pointed out the vast improvements that had been effected by the Revisers, did not employ a few young art students from Kensington to correct the infamous drawing of the fourteenth-century glass in his cathedral. He was incorrigible; he was always incorrigible, and thus, in his boyhood, on the dark November evening, he meditated the murder of his good master and uncle — for at least a quarter of an hour.
His father, he remembered, had always spoken of Gothic architecture as the most wonderful and beautiful thing in the world: a thing to be studied and loved and reverenced. His father had never so much as mentioned rocker, much less had he preached it as the one way by which an English boy must be saved. Hence, Ambrose maintained inwardly that his visit to Selden Abbey was deserving of reward rather than punishment, and he resented bitterly, the savage injustice (as he thought it) of his caning.
Yet Mr. Horbury had been right in one matter, if not in all. That evening was a turning-point in Meyrick’s life. He had felt the utmost rage of the enemy, as it were, and he determined that he would be a funk no longer. He would not degenerate into the state of little Phipps, who had been bullied and “rockered” and beaten into such a deplorable condition that he fainted dead away while the Headmaster was operating on him for “systematic and deliberate lying.” Phipps not only fainted, but, being fundamentally sensible, as Dr. Johnson expressed it, showed a strong disinclination to return to consciousness and the precious balms of the “dear old Head.” Chesson was rather frightened, and the school doctor, who had his living to get, said, somewhat dryly, that he thought the lad had better go home for a week or two.
So Phipps went home in a state which made his mother cry bitterly and his father wonder whether the Public School system was not over-praised. But the old family doctor went about raging and swearing at the “scoundrels” who had reduced a child of twelve to a nervous wreck, with “neurasthenia cerebralis” well on its way. But Dr. Walford had got his education in some trumpery little academy, and did not understand or value the ethos of the great Public Schools.
Now, Ambrose Meyrick had marked the career of wretched Phipps with concern and pity. The miserable little creature had been brought by careful handling from masters and boys to such a pitch of neurotic perfection that it was only necessary to tap him smartly on the back or on the arm, and he would instantly burst into tears. Whenever anyone asked him the simplest question he suspected a cruel trap of some sort, and lied and equivocated and shuffled with a pitiable lack of skill. Though he was pitched by the heels into mucker about three times a week, that he might acquire the useful art of natation, he still seemed to grow dirtier and dirtier. His school books were torn to bits, his exercises made into darts; he had impositions for losing books and canings for not doing his work, and he lied and cried all the more.
Meyrick had never got to this depth. He was a sturdy boy, and Phipps had always been a weakly little animal; but, as he walked from the study to the schoolroom after his thrashing, he felt that he had been in some danger of descending on that sad way. He finally resolved that he would never tread it, and so he walked past the baize-lined doors into the room where the other boys were at work on prep, with an air of unconcern which was not in the least assumed.
Mr. Horbury was a man of considerable private means and did not care to be bothered with the troubles and responsibilities of a big House. But there was room and to spare in the Old Grange, so he took three boys besides his nephew. These three were waiting with a grin of anticipation, since the nature of Meyrick’s interview with “old Horbury” was not dubious. But Ambrose strolled in with a “Hallo, you fellows!” and sat down in his place as if nothing had happened. This was intolerable.
“I say, Meyrick,” began Pelly, a beefy boy with a red face, “you have been blubbing! Feel like writing home about it? Oh! I forgot. This is your home, isn’t it? How many cuts? I didn’t hear you howl.”
The boy took no notice. He was getting out his books as if no one had spoken.
“Can’t you answer?” went on the beefy one. “How many cuts, you young sneak?”
“Go to hell!”
The whole three stared aghast for a moment; they thought Meyrick must have gone mad. Only one, Bates the observant, began to chuckle quietly to himself, for he did not like Pelly. He who was always beefy became beefier; his eyes bulged out with fury.
“I’ll give it you,” he said and made for Ambrose, who was turning over the leaves of the Latin dictionary. Ambrose did not wait for the assault; he rose also and met Pelly half-way with a furious blow, well planted on the nose. Pelly took a back somersault and fell with a crash to the floor, where he lay for a moment half stunned. He rose staggering and looked about him with a pathetic, bewildered air; for, indeed, a great part of his little world had crumbled about his ears. He stood in the middle of the room, wondering what it meant, whether it was true indeed that Meyrick was no longer of any use for a little quiet fun. A horrible and incredible transmutation had, apparently, been effected in the funk of old. Pelly gazed wildly about him as he tried to staunch the blood that poured over his mouth.
“Foul blow!” ventured Rawson, a lean lad who liked to twist the arms of very little boys till they shrieked for mercy. The full inwardness of the incident had not penetrated to his brain; he saw without believing, in the manner of the materialist who denies the marvellous even when it is before his eyes.
“Foul blow, young Meyrick!”
The quiet student had gone back to his place and was again handling his dictionary. It was a hard, compact volume, rebound in strong boards, and the edge of these boards caught the unfortunate Rawson full across the eyes with extraordinary force. He put his face in his hands and blubbered quietly and dismally, rocking to and fro in his seat, hardly hearing the fluent stream of curses with which the quiet student inquired whether the blow he had just had was good enough for him.
Meyrick picked up his dictionary with a volley of remarks which would have done credit to an old-fashioned stage-manager at the last dress rehearsal before production.
“Hark at him,” said Pelly feebly, almost reverently. “Hark at him.” But poor Rawson, rocking to and fro, his head between his hands, went on blubbering softly and spoke no word.
Meyrick had never been an unobservant lad; he had simply made a discovery that evening that in Rome certain Roman customs must be adopted. The wise Bates went on doing his copy of Latin verse, chuckling gently to himself. Bates was a cynic. He despised all the customs and manners of the place most heartily and took the most curious care to observe them. He might have been the inventor and patentee of rocker, if one judged him by the fervour with which he played it. He entered his name for every possible event at the sports, and jumped the jumps and threw the hammer and ran the races as if his life depended on it. Once Mr. Horbury had accidentally over-head Bates saying something about “the honour of the House” which went to his heart. As for cricket, Bates played as if his sole ambition was to become a first-class professional. And he chuckled as he did his Latin verses, which he wrote (to the awe of other boys) “as if he were writing a letter”— that is, without making a rough copy. For Bates had got the “hang” of the whole system from rocker to Latin verse, and his copies were much admired. He grinned that evening, partly at the transmutation of Meyrick and partly at the line he was jotting down:
“Mira loquor, coelo resonans vox funditur alto.”
In after life he jotted down a couple of novels which sold, as the journalists said, “like hot cakes.” Meyrick went to see him soon after the first novel had gone into its thirtieth thousand, and Bates was reading “appreciations” and fingering a cheque and chuckling.
“Mira loquor, populo, resonans, cheque funditur alto,” he said. “I know what schoolmasters and boys and the public want, and I take care they get it —sale espèce de sacrés cochons de N. de D.!”
The rest of prep. went off quite quietly. Pelly was slowly recovering from the shock that he had received and began to meditate revenge. Meyrick had got him unawares, he reflected. It was merely an accident, and he resolved to challenge Meyrick to fight and give him back the worst licking he had ever had in his life. He was beefy, but a bold fellow. Rawson, who was really a cruel coward and a sneak, had made up his mind that he wanted no more, and from time to time cast meek and propitiatory glances in Meyrick’s direction.
At half-past nine they all went into their dining-room for bread and cheese and beer. At a quarter to ten Mr. Horbury appeared in cap and gown and read a chapter from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, with one or two singularly maundering and unhappy prayers. He stopped the boys as they were going up to their rooms.
“What’s this, Pelly?” he said. “Your nose is all swollen. It’s been bleeding, too, I see. What have you been doing to yourself? And you, Rawson, how do you account for your eyes being black? What’s the meaning of all this?”
“Please, Sir, there was a very stiff bully down at rocker this afternoon, and Rawson and I got tokered badly.”
“Were you in the bully, Bates?”
“No, Sir; I’ve been outside since the beginning of the term. But all the fellows were playing up tremendously, and I saw Rawson and Pelly had been touched when we were changing.”
“Ah! I see. I’m very glad to find the House plays up so well. As for you, Bates, I hear you’re the best outside for your age that we’ve ever had. Good night.”
The three said “Thank you, Sir,” as if their dearest wish had been gratified, and the master could have sworn that Bates flushed with pleasure at his word of praise. But the fact was that Bates had “suggested” the flush by a cunning arrangement of his features.
The boys vanished and Mr. Horbury returned to his desk. He was editing a selection called “English Literature for Lower Forms.” He began to read from the slips that he had prepared:
“So all day long the noise of battle roll’d
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur’s table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonnesse ——”
He stopped and set a figure by the last word, and then, on a blank slip, with a corresponding letter, he repeated the figure and wrote the note:
Lyonnesse — the Sicilly Isles.
Then he took a third slip and wrote the question:
Give the ancient name of the Sicilly Isles.
These serious labours employed him till twelve o’clock. He put the materials of his book away as the clock struck, and solemnly mixed himself his nightly glass of whisky and soda — in the daytime he never touched spirits — and bit the one cigar which he smoked in the twenty-four hours. The stings of the Head’s sherry and of his conversation no longer burned within him; time and work and the bite of the cane in Meyrick’s flesh had soothed his soul, and he set himself to dream, leaning back in his arm-chair, watching the cheerful fire.
He was thinking of what he would do when he succeeded to the Headmastership. Already there were rumours that Chesson had refused the Bishopric of St. Dubric’s in order that he might be free to accept Dorchester, which, in the nature of things, must soon be vacant. Horbury had no doubt that the Headmastership would be his; he had influential friends who assured him that the trustees would not hesitate for an instant. Then he would show the world what an English Public School could be made. In five years, he calculated, he would double the numbers. He saw the coming importance of the modern side, and especially of science. Personally, he detested “stinks,” but he knew what an effect he would produce with a great laboratory fitted with the very best appliances and directed by a highly qualified master. Then, again, an elaborate gymnasium must be built; there must be an engineer’s shop, too, and a carpenter’s as well. And people were beginning to complain that a Public School Education was of no use in the City. There must be a business master, an expert from the Stock Exchange who would see that this reproach was removed. Then he considered that a large number of the boys belonged to the land-owning class. Why should a country gentleman be at the mercy of his agent, forced for lack of technical knowledge to accept statements which he could not check? It was clear that the management of land and great estates must have its part in the scheme; and, again, the best-known of the Crammers must be bought on his own terms, so that the boys who wished to get into the Army or the Civil Service would be practically compelled to come to Lupton. Already he saw paragraphs in the Guardian and The Times— in all the papers — paragraphs which mentioned the fact that ninety-five per cent of the successful candidates for the Indian Civil Service had received their education at the foundation of “stout old Martin Rolle.” Meanwhile, in all this flood of novelty, the old traditions should be maintained with more vigour than ever. The classics should be taught as they never had been taught. Every one of the masters on this side should be in the highest honours and, if possible, he would get famous men for the work — they should not merely be good, but also notorious scholars. Gee, the famous explorer in Crete, who had made an enormous mark in regions widely removed from the scholastic world by his wonderful book, Dædalus; or, The Secret of the Labyrinth, must come to Lupton at any price; and Maynard, who had discovered some most important Greek manuscripts in Egypt, he must have a form, too. Then there was Rendell, who had done so well with his Thucydides, and Davies, author of The Olive of Athene, a daring but most brilliant book which promised to upset the whole established theory of mythology — he would have such a staff as no school had ever dreamed of. “We shall have no difficulty about paying them,” thought Horbury; “our numbers will go up by leaps and bounds, and the fees shall be five hundred pounds a year — and such terms will do us more good than anything.”
He went into minute detail. He must take expert advice as to the advisability of the school farming on its own account, and so supplying the boys with meat, milk, bread, butter and vegetables at first cost. He believed it could be done; he would get a Scotch farmer from the Lowlands and make him superintendent at a handsome salary and with a share in the profits. There would be the splendid advertisement of “the whole dietary of the school supplied from the School Farms, under the supervision of Mr. David Anderson, formerly of Haddanneuk, the largest tenancy in the Duke of Ayr’s estates.” The food would be better and cheaper, too; but there would be no luxury. The “Spartan” card was always worth playing; one must strike the note of plain living in a luxurious age; there must be no losing of the old Public School severity. On the other hand, the boy’s hands should be free to go into their own pockets; there should be no restraint here. If a boy chose to bring in Dindonneau aux truffes or Pieds de mouton à la Ste Menehould to help out his tea, that was his look-out. Why should not the school grant a concession to some big London firm, who would pay handsomely for the privilege of supplying the hungry lads with every kind of expensive dainty? The sum could be justly made a large one, as any competing shop could be promptly put out of bounds with reason or without it. On one side, confiserie; at the other counter, charcuterie; enormous prices could be charged to the wealthy boys of whom the school would be composed. Yet, on the other hand, the distinguished visitor — judge, bishop, peer or what not — would lunch at the Headmaster’s house and eat the boys’ dinner and go away saying it was quite the plainest and very many times the best meal he had ever tasted. There would be well-hung saddle of mutton, roasted and not baked; floury potatoes and cauliflower; apple pudding with real English cheese, with an excellent glass of the school beer, an honest and delicious beverage made of malt and hops in the well-found school brewery. Horbury knew enough of modern eating and drinking to understand that such a meal would be a choice rarity to nine rich people out of ten; and yet it was “Spartan,” utterly devoid of luxury and ostentation.
Again, he passed from detail and minutiæ into great Napoleonic regions. A thousand boys at £500 a year; that would be an income for the school of five hundred thousand pounds! The profits would be gigantic, immense. After paying large, even extravagant, prices to the staff, after all building expenses had been deducted, he hardly dared to think how vast a sum would accrue year by year to the Trustees. The vision began to assume such magnificence that it became oppressive; it put on the splendours and delights of the hashish dream, which are too great and too piercing for mortal hearts to bear. And yet it was no mirage; there was not a step that could not be demonstrated, shown to be based on hard; matter-of-fact business considerations. He tried to keep back his growing excitement, to argue with himself that he was dealing in visions, but the facts were too obstinate. He saw that it would be his part to work the same miracle in the scholastic world as the great American storekeepers had operated in the world of retail trade. The principle was precisely the same: instead of a hundred small shops making comparatively modest and humdrum profits you had the vast emporium doing business on the gigantic scale with vastly diminished expenses and vastly increased rewards.
Here again was a hint. He had thought of America, and he knew that here was an inexhaustible gold mine, that no other scholastic prospector had even dreamed of. The rich American was notoriously hungry for everything that was English, from frock-coats to pedigrees. He had never thought of sending his son to an English Public School because he considered the system hopelessly behind the times. But the new translated Lupton would be to other Public Schools as a New York hotel of the latest fashion is to a village beer-shop. And yet the young millionaire would grow up in the company of the sons of the English gentlemen, imbibing the unique culture of English life, while at the same time he enjoyed all the advantages of modern ideas, modern science and modern business training. Land was still comparatively cheap at Lupton; the school must buy it quietly, indirectly, by degrees, and then pile after pile of vast buildings rose before his eyes. He saw the sons of the rich drawn from all the ends of the world to the Great School, there to learn the secret of the Anglo–Saxons.
Chesson was mistaken in that idea of his, which he thought daring and original, of establishing a distinct Jewish House where the food should be “Kosher.” The rich Jew who desired to send his son to an English Public School was, in nine cases out of ten, anxious to do so precisely because he wanted to sink his son’s connection with Jewry in oblivion. He had heard Chesson talk of “our Christian duty to the seed of Israel” in this connection. The man was clearly a fool. No, the more Jews the better, but no Jewish House. And no Puseyism either: broad, earnest religious teaching, with a leaning to moderate Anglicanism, should be the faith of Lupton. As to this Chesson was, certainly, sound enough. He had always made a firm stand against ecclesiasticism in any form. Horbury knew the average English parent of the wealthier classes thoroughly; he knew that, though he generally called himself a Churchman, he was quite content to have his sons prepared for confirmation by a confessed Agnostic. Certainly this liberty must not be narrowed when Lupton became cosmopolitan. “We will retain all the dignified associations which belong to the Established Church,” he said to himself, “and at the same time we shall be utterly free from the taint of over-emphasising dogmatic teaching.” He had a sudden brilliant idea. Everybody in Church circles was saying that the English bishops were terribly overworked, that it was impossible for the most strenuous men with the best intentions to supervise effectually the huge dioceses that had descended from the sparsely populated England of the Middle Ages. Everywhere there was a demand for suffragans and more suffragans. In the last week’s Guardian there were three letters on the subject, one from a clergyman in their own diocese. The Bishop had been attacked by some rabid ritualistic person, who had pointed out that nine out of every ten parishes had not so much as seen the colour of his hood ever since his appointment ten years before. The Archdeacon of Melby had replied in a capital letter, scathing and yet humorous. Horbury turned to the paper on the table beside his chair and looked up the letter. “In the first place,” wrote the Archdeacon, “your correspondent does not seem to have realised that the ethoes of the Diocese of Melby is not identical with that of sacerdotalism. The sturdy folk of the Midlands have not yet, I am thankful to say, forgotten the lessons of our great Reformation. They have no wish to see a revival of the purely mechanical religion of the Middle Ages — of the system of a sacrificing priesthood and of sacraments efficacious ex opere operato. Hence they do not regard the episcopate quite in the same light as your correspondent ‘Senex,’ who, it seems to me, looks upon a bishop as a sort of Christianised ‘medicine-man,’ endowed with certain mysterious thaumaturgic powers which have descended to him by an (imaginary) spiritual succession. This was not the view of Hooker, nor, I venture to say, has it ever been the view of the really representative divines of the Established Church of England.
“Still,” the Archdeacon went on, “it must be admitted that the present diocese of Melby is unwieldy and, it may be fairly said, unworkable.”
Then there followed the humorous anecdote of Sir Boyle Roche and the Bird, and finally the Archdeacon emitted the prayer that God in His own good time would put it into the hearts of our rulers in Church and State to give their good Bishop an episcopal curate.
Horbury got up from his chair and paced up and down the study; his excitement was so great that he could keep quiet no longer. His cigar had gone out long ago, and he had barely sipped the whisky and soda. His eyes glittered with excitement. Circumstances seemed positively to be playing into his hands; the dice of the world were being loaded in his favour. He was like Bel Ami at his wedding. He almost began to believe in Providence.
For he was sure it could be managed. Here was a general feeling that no one man could do the work of the diocese. There must be a suffragan, and Lupton must give the new Bishop his title. No other town was possible. Dunham had certainly been a see in the eighth century, but it was now little more than a village and a village served by a miserable little branch line; whereas Lupton was on the great main track of the Midland system, with easy connections to every part of the country. The Archdeacon, who was also a peer, would undoubtedly become the first Bishop of Lupton, and he should be the titular chaplain of the Great School! “Chaplain! The Right Reverend Lord Selwyn, Lord Bishop of Lupton.” Horbury gasped; it was too magnificent, too splendid. He knew Lord Selwyn quite well and had no doubt as to his acceptance. He was a poor man, and there would be no difficulty whatever in establishing a modus. The Archdeacon was just the man for the place. He was no pedantic theologian, but a broad, liberal-minded man of the world. Horbury remembered, almost with ecstasy, that he had lectured all over the United States with immense success. The American Press had been enthusiastic, and the First Congregational Church of Chicago had implored Selwyn to accept its call, preach what he liked and pocket an honorarium of twenty-five thousand dollars a year. And, on the other hand, what could the most orthodox desire safer than a chaplain who was not only a bishop, but a peer of the realm? Wonderful! Here were the three birds — Liberalism, Orthodoxy and Reverence for the House of Lords — caught safe and secure in this one net.
The games? They should be maintained in all their glory, rather on an infinitely more splendid scale. Cricket and sticker (the Lupton hockey), rackets and fives, should be all encouraged; and more, Lupton should be the only school to possess a tennis court. The noble jeu de paume, the game of kings, the most aristocratic of all sports, should have a worthy home at Lupton. They would train champions; they would have both French and English markers skilled in the latest developments of the chemin de fer service. “Better than half a yard, I think,” said Horbury to himself; “they will have to do their best to beat that.”
But he placed most reliance on rocker. This was the Lupton football, a variant as distinctive in its way as the Eton Wall Game. People have thought that the name is a sort of portmanteau word, a combination of Rugger and Soccer; but in reality the title was derived from the field where the game used to be played in old days by the townsfolk. As in many other places, football at Lupton had been originally an excuse for a faction-fight between two parishes in the town — St. Michael’s and St. Paul’s-in-the-Fields. Every year, on Shrove Tuesday, the townsfolk, young and old, had proceeded to the Town Field and had fought out their differences with considerable violence. The field was broken land: a deep, sluggish stream crossed one angle of it, and in the middle there were quarries and jagged limestone rocks. Hence football was called in the town “playing rocks,” for, indeed, it was considered an excellent point of play to hurl a man over the edge of the quarry on to the rocks beneath, and so late as 1830 a certain Jonas Simpson of St. Michael’s had had his spine broken in this way. However, as a boy from St. Paul’s was drowned in the Wand the same day, the game was always reckoned a draw. It was from the peculiarities of this old English sport that the school had constructed its game. The Town Field had, of course, long been stolen from the townsfolk and built over; but the boys had, curiously enough, perpetuated the tradition of its peculiarities in a kind of football ritual. For, besides the two goals, one part of the field was marked by a line of low white posts: these indicated the course of a non-existent Wand brook, and in the line of these posts it was lawful to catch an opponent by the throat and choke him till he turned black in the face — the best substitute for drowning that the revisers of the game could imagine. Again: about the centre of the field two taller posts indicated the position of the quarries, and between these you might be hit or kicked full in the stomach without the smallest ground of complaint: the stroke being a milder version of the old fall on the rocks.
There were many other like amenities in rocker; and Horbury maintained it was by far the manliest variant of the game. For this pleasing sport he now designed a world-wide fame. Rocker should be played wherever the English flag floated: east and west, north and south; from Hong Kong to British Columbia; in Canada and New Zealand there should be the Temenoi of this great rite; and the traveller seeing the mystic enclosure — the two goals, the line of little posts marking “brooks” and the two poles indicating “quarries”— should know English soil as surely as by the Union Jack. The technical terms of rocker should become a part of the great Anglo–Saxon inheritance; the whole world should hear of “bully-downs” and “tokering,” of “outsides” and “rammers.” It would require working, but it was to be done: articles in the magazines and in the Press; perhaps a story of school life, a new Tom Brown must be written. The Midlands and the North must be shown that there was money in it, and the rest would be easy.
One thing troubled Horbury. His mind was full of the new and splendid buildings that were to be erected, but he was aware that antiquity still counted for something, and unfortunately Lupton could show very little that was really antique. Forty years before, Stanley, the first reforming Headmaster, had pulled down the old High School. There were prints of it: it was a half-timbered, fifteenth-century building, with a wavering roof-line and an overhanging upper story; there were dim, leaded windows and a grey arched porch — an ugly old barn, Stanley called it. Scott was called in and built the present High School, a splendid hall in red brick: French thirteenth-century, with Venetian detail; it was much admired. But Horbury was sorry that the old school had been destroyed; he saw for the first time that it might have been made a valuable attraction. Then again, Dowsing, who succeeded Stanley, had knocked the cloisters all to bits; there was only one side of the quadrangle left, and this had been boarded up and used as a gardeners’ shed. Horbury did not know what to say of the destruction of the Cross that used to stand in the centre of the quad. No doubt Dowsing was right in thinking it superstitious; still, it might have been left as a curiosity and shown to visitors, just as the instruments of bygone cruelty — the rack and the Iron Maid — are preserved and exhibited to wondering sightseers. There was no real danger of any superstitious adoration of the Cross; it was, as a matter of fact, as harmless as the axe and block at the Tower of London; Dowsing had ruined what might have been an important asset in the exploitation of the school.
Still, perhaps the loss was not altogether irreparable. High School was gone and could not be recovered; but the cloisters might be restored and the Cross, too. Horbury knew that the monument in front of Charing Cross Railway Station was considered by many to be a genuine antique: why not get a good man to build them a Cross? Not like the old one, of course; that “Fair Roode with our Deare Ladie Saint Marie and Saint John,” and, below, the stories of the blissful Saints and Angels — that would never do. But a vague, Gothic erection, with plenty of kings and queens, imaginary benefactors of the school, and a small cast-iron cross at the top: that could give no offence to anybody, and might pass with nine people out of ten as a genuine remnant of the Middle Ages. It could be made of soft stone and allowed to weather for a few years; then a coat of invisible anti-corrosive fluid would preserve carvings and imagery that would already appear venerable in decay. There was no need to make any precise statements: parents and the public might be allowed to draw their own conclusions.
Horbury was neglecting nothing. He was building up a great scheme in his mind, and to him it seemed that every detail was worth attending to, while at the same time he did not lose sight of the whole effect. He believed in finish: there must be no rough edges. It seemed to him that a school legend must be invented. The real history was not quite what he wanted, though it might work in with a more decorative account of Lupton’s origins. One might use the Textus Receptus of Martin Rolle’s Foundation — the bequest of land c. 1430 to build and maintain a school where a hundred boys should be taught grammar, and ten poor scholars and six priests should pray for the Founder’s soul. This was well enough, but one might hint that Martin Rolle really refounded and re-endowed a school of Saxon origin, probably established by King Alfred himself in Luppa’s Tun. Then, again, who could show that Shakespeare had not visited Lupton? His famous schoolboy, “creeping like snail unwillingly to school,” might very possibly have been observed by the poet as he strolled by the banks of the Wand. Many famous men might have received their education at Lupton; it would not be difficult to make a plausible list of such. It must be done carefully and cautiously, with such phrases as “it has always been a tradition at Lupton that Sir Walter Raleigh received part of his education at the school”; or, again, “an earlier generation of Luptonians remembered the initials ‘W. S. S. on A.’ cut deeply in the mantel of old High School, now, unfortunately, demolished.” Antiquarians would laugh? Possibly; but who cared about antiquarians? For the average man “Charing” was derived from “chère reine,” and he loved to have it so, and Horbury intended to appeal to the average man. Though he was a schoolmaster he was no recluse, and he had marked the ways of the world from his quiet study in Lupton; hence he understood the immense value of a grain of quackery in all schemes which are meant to appeal to mortals. It was a deadly mistake to suppose that anything which was all quackery would be a success — a permanent success, at all events; it was a deadlier mistake still to suppose that anything quite devoid of quackery could pay handsomely. The average English palate would shudder at the flavour of aioli, but it would be charmed by the insertion of that petit point d’ail which turned mere goodness into triumph and laurelled perfection. And there was no need to mention the word “garlic” before the guests. Lupton was not going to be all garlic: it was to be infinitely the best scholastic dish that had ever been served — the ingredients should be unsurpassed and unsurpassable. But — King Alfred’s foundation of a school at Luppa’s Tun, and that “W. S. S. on A.” cut deeply on the mantel of the vanished High School — these and legends like unto them, these would be the last touch, le petit point d’ail.
It was a great scheme, wonderful and glorious; and the most amazing thing about it was that it was certain to be realised. There was not a flaw from start to finish. The Trustees were certain to appoint him — he had that from a sure quarter — and it was but a question of a year or two, perhaps only of a month or two, before all this great and golden vision should be converted into hard and tangible fact. He drank off his glass of whisky and soda; it had become flat and brackish, but to him it was nectar, since it was flavoured with ecstasy.
He frowned suddenly as he went upstairs to his room. An unpleasant recollection had intruded for a moment on his amazing fantasy; but he dismissed the thought as soon as it arose. That was all over, there could be no possibility of trouble from that direction; and so, his mind filled with images, he fell asleep and saw Lupton as the centre of the whole world, like Jerusalem in the ancient maps.
A student of the deep things of mysticism has detected a curious element of comedy in the management of human concerns; and there certainly seems a touch of humour in the fact that on this very night, while Horbury was building the splendid Lupton of the future, the palace of his thought and his life was shattered for ever into bitter dust and nothingness. But so it was. The Dread Arrest had been solemnly recognised, and that wretched canonry at Wareham was irrevocably pronounced for doom. Fantastic were the elements of forces that had gone to the ordering of this great sentence: raw corn spirit in the guise of sherry, the impertinence (or what seemed such) of an elderly clergyman, a boiled leg of mutton, a troublesome and disobedient boy, and — another person.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12