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The Longest Journey(Chapter4)

2006-08-29 01:05

  PartI. Cambridge Chapter IV

  Sawston School had been founded by a tradesman in the seventeenth century. It was then a tiny grammar-school in a tiny town, and the City Company who governed it had to drive half a day through the woods and heath on the occasion of their annual visit. In the twentieth century they still drove, but only from the railway station; and found themselves not in a tiny town, nor yet in a large one, but amongst innumerable residences, detached and semi-detached, which had gathered round the school. For the intentions of the founder had been altered, or at all events amplified, instead of educating the "poore of my home," he now educated the upper classes of England. The change had taken place not so very far back. Till the nineteenth century the grammar-school was still composed of day scholars from the neighbourhood. Then two things happened. Firstly, the school's property rose in value, and it became rich. Secondly, for no obvious reason, it suddenly emitted a quantity of bishops. The bishops, like the stars from a Roman candle, were all colours, and flew in all directions, some high, some low, some to distant colonies, one into the Church of Rome. But many a father traced their course in the papers; many a mother wondered whether her son, if properly ignited, might not burn as bright; many a family moved to the place where living and education were so cheap, where day-boys were not looked down upon, and where the orthodox and the up-to-date were said to be combined. The school doubled its numbers. It built new class-rooms, laboratories and a gymnasium. It dropped the prefix "Grammar." It coaxed the sons of the local tradesmen into a new foundation, the "Commercial School," built a couple of miles away. And it started boarding-houses. It had not the gracious antiquity of Eton or Winchester, nor, on the other hand, had it a conscious policy like Lancing, Wellington, and other purely modern foundations. Where tradition served, it clung to them. Where new departures seemed desirable, they were made. It aimed at producing the average Englishman, and, to a very great extent, it succeeded.

  Here Mr. Pembroke passed his happy and industrious life. His technical position was that of master to a form low down on the Modern Side. But his work lay elsewhere. He organized. If no organization existed, he would create one. If one did exist, he would modify it. "An organization," he would say, "is after all not an end in itself. It must contribute to a movement." When one good custom seemed likely to corrupt the school, he was ready with another; he believed that without innumerable customs there was no safety, either for boys or men.

  Perhaps he is right, and always will be right. Perhaps each of us would go to ruin if for one short hour we acted as we thought fit, and attempted the service of perfect freedom. The school caps, with their elaborate symbolism, were his; his the many-tinted bathing-drawers, that showed how far a boy could swim; his the hierarchy of jerseys and blazers. It was he who instituted Bounds, and call, and the two sorts of exercise-paper, and the three sorts of caning, and "The Sawtonian," a bi-terminal magazine. His plump finger was in every pie. The dome of his skull, mild but impressive, shone at every master's meeting. He was generally acknowledged to be the coming man.

  His last achievement had been the organization of the day-boys. They had been left too much to themselves, and were weak in esprit de corps; they were apt to regard home, not school, as the most important thing in their lives. Moreover, they got out of their parents' hands; they did their preparation any time and some times anyhow. They shirked games, they were out at all hours, they ate what they should not, they smoked, they bicycled on the asphalt. Now all was over. Like boarders, they were to be in at 7:15 P.M., and were not allowed out after unless with a written order from their parent or guardian; they, too, must work at fixed hours in the evening, and before breakfast next morning from 7 to 8. Games were compulsory. They must not go to parties in term time. They must keep to bounds. Of course the reform was not complete. It was impossible to control the dieting, though, on a printed circular, day-parents were implored to provide simple food. And it is also believed that some mothers disobeyed the rule about preparation, and allowed their sons to do all the work over-night and have a longer sleep in the morning. But the gulf between day-boys and boarders was considerably lessened, and grew still narrower when the day-boys too were organized into a House with house-master and colours of their own. "Through the House," said Mr. Pembroke, "one learns patriotism for the school, just as through the school one learns patriotism for the country. Our only course, therefore, is to organize the day-boys into a House." The headmaster agreed, as he often did, and the new community was formed. Mr. Pembroke, to avoid the tongues of malice, had refused the post of house-master for himself, saying to Mr. Jackson, who taught the sixth, "You keep too much in the background. Here is a chance for you." But this was a failure. Mr. Jackson, a scholar and a student, neither felt nor conveyed any enthusiasm, and when confronted with his House, would say, "Well, I don't know what we're all here for. Now I should think you'd better go home to your mothers." He returned to his background, and next term Mr. Pembroke was to take his place.

  Such were the themes on which Mr. Pembroke discoursed to Rickie's civil ear. He showed him the school, and the library, and the subterranean hall where the day-boys might leave their coats and caps, and where, on festal occasions, they supped. He showed him Mr. Jackson's pretty house, and whispered, "Were it not for his brilliant intellect, it would be a case of Ouickmarch!" He showed him the racquet-court, happily completed, and the chapel, unhappily still in need of funds. Rickie was impressed, but then he was impressed by everything. Of course a House of day-boys seemed a little shadowy after Agnes and Gerald, but he imparted some reality even to that.

  "The racquet-court," said Mr. Pembroke, "is most gratifying. We never expected to manage it this year. But before the Easter holidays every boy received a subscription card, and was given to understand that he must collect thirty shillings. You will scarcely believe me, but they nearly all responded. Next term there was a dinner in the great school, and all who had collected, not thirty shillings, but as much as a pound, were invited to it——for naturally one was not precise for a few shillings, the response being the really valuable thing. Practically the whole school had to come."

  "They must enjoy the court tremendously."

  "Ah, it isn't used very much. Racquets, as I daresay you know, is rather an expensive game. Only the wealthier boys play——and I'm sorry to say that it is not of our wealthier boys that we are always the proudest. But the point is that no public school can be called first-class until it has one. They are building them right and left."

  "And now you must finish the chapel?"

  "Now we must complete the chapel." He paused reverently, and said, "And here is a fragment of the original building." Rickie at once had a rush of sympathy. He, too, looked with reverence at the morsel of Jacobean brickwork, ruddy and beautiful amidst the machine-squared stones of the modern apse. The two men, who had so little in common, were thrilled with patriotism. They rejoiced that their country was great, noble, and old.

  "Thank God I'm English," said Rickie suddenly.

  "Thank Him indeed," said Mr. Pembroke, laying a hand on his back.

  "We've been nearly as great as the Greeks, I do believe. Greater, I'm sure, than the Italians, though they did get closer to beauty. Greater than the French, though we do take all their ideas. I can't help thinking that England is immense. English literature certainly."

  Mr. Pembroke removed his hand. He found such patriotism somewhat craven. Genuine patriotism comes only from the heart. It knows no parleying with reason. English ladies will declare abroad that there are no fogs in London, and Mr. Pembroke, though he would not go to this, was only restrained by the certainty of being found out. On this occasion he remarked that the Greeks lacked spiritual insight, and had a low conception of woman.

  "As to women——oh! there they were dreadful," said Rickie, leaning his hand on the chapel. "I realize that more and more. But as to spiritual insight, I don't quite like to say; and I find Plato too difficult, but I know men who don't, and I fancy they mightn't agree with you."

  "Far be it from me to disparage Plato. And for philosophy as a whole I have the greatest respect. But it is the crown of a man's education, not the foundation. Myself, I read it with the utmost profit, but I have known endless trouble result from boys who attempt it too soon, before they were set."

  "But if those boys had died first," cried Rickie with sudden vehemence, "without knowing what there is to know——"

  "Or isn't to know!" said Mr. Pembroke sarcastically.

  "Or what there isn't to know. Exactly. That's it."

  "My dear Rickie, what do you mean? If an old friend may be frank, you are talking great rubbish." And, with a few well-worn formulae, he propped up the young man's orthodoxy. The props were unnecessary. Rickie had his own equilibrium. Neither the Revivalism that assails a boy at about the age of fifteen, nor the scepticism that meets him five years later, could sway him from his allegiance to the church into which he had been born. But his equilibrium was personal, and the secret of it useless to others. He desired that each man should find his own.

  "What does philosophy do?" the propper continued. "Does it make a man happier in life? Does it make him die more peacefully? I fancy that in the long-run Herbert Spencer will get no further than the rest of us. Ah, Rickie! I wish you could move among the school boys, and see their healthy contempt for all they cannot touch!" Here he was going too far, and had to add, "Their spiritual capacities, of course, are another matter." Then he remembered the Greeks, and said, "Which proves my original statement."

  Submissive signs, as of one propped, appeared in Rickie's face. Mr. Pembroke then questioned him about the men who found Plato not difficult. But here he kept silence, patting the school chapel gently, and presently the conversation turned to topics with which they were both more competent to deal.

  "Does Agnes take much interest in the school?"

  "Not as much as she did. It is the result of her engagement. If our naughty soldier had not carried her off, she might have made an ideal schoolmaster's wife. I often chaff him about it, for he a little despises the intellectual professions. Natural, perfectly natural. How can a man who faces death feel as we do towards mensa or tupto?"

  "Perfectly true. Absolutely true."

  Mr. Pembroke remarked to himself that Frederick was improving.

  "If a man shoots straight and hits straight and speaks straight, if his heart is in the right place, if he has the instincts of a Christian and a gentleman——then I, at all events, ask no better husband for my sister."

  "How could you get a better?" he cried. "Do you remember the thing in 'The Clouds'?" And he quoted, as well as he could, from the invitation of the Dikaios Logos, the description of the young Athenian, perfect in body, placid in mind, who neglects his work at the Bar and trains all day among the woods and meadows, with a garland on his head and a friend to set the pace; the scent of new leaves is upon them; they rejoice in the freshness of spring; over their heads the plane-tree whispers to the elm, perhaps the most glorious invitation to the brainless life that has ever been given.

  "Yes, yes," said Mr. Pembroke, who did not want a brother-in-law out of Aristophanes. Nor had he got one, for Mr. Dawes would not have bothered over the garland or noticed the spring, and would have complained that the friend ran too slowly or too fast.

  "And as for her——!" But he could think of no classical parallel for Agnes. She slipped between examples. A kindly Medea, a Cleopatra with a sense of duty——these suggested her a little. She was not born in Greece, but came overseas to it——a dark, intelligent princess. With all her splendour, there were hints of splendour still hidden——hints of an older, richer, and more mysterious land. He smiled at the idea of her being "not there." Ansell, clever as he was, had made a bad blunder. She had more reality than any other woman in the world.

  Mr. Pembroke looked pleased at this boyish enthusiasm. He was fond of his sister, though he knew her to be full of faults. "Yes, I envy her," he said. "She has found a worthy helpmeet for life's journey, I do believe. And though they chafe at the long engagement, it is a blessing in disguise. They learn to know each other thoroughly before contracting more intimate ties."

  Rickie did not assent. The length of the engagement seemed to him unspeakably cruel. Here were two people who loved each other, and they could not marry for years because they had no beastly money. Not all Herbert's pious skill could make this out a blessing. It was bad enough being "so rich" at the Silts; here he was more ashamed of it than ever. In a few weeks he would come of age and his money be his own. What a pity things were so crookedly arranged. He did not want money, or at all events he did not want so much.

  "Suppose," he meditated, for he became much worried over this,—— "suppose I had a hundred pounds a year less than I shall have. Well, I should still have enough. I don't want anything but food, lodging, clothes, and now and then a railway fare. I haven't any tastes. I don't collect anything or play games. Books are nice to have, but after all there is Mudie's, or if it comes to that, the Free Library. Oh, my profession! I forgot I shall have a profession. Well, that will leave me with more to spare than ever." And he supposed away till he lost touch with the world and with what it permits, and committed an unpardonable sin.

  It happened towards the end of his visit——another airless day of that mild January. Mr. Dawes was playing against a scratch team of cads, and had to go down to the ground in the morning to settle something. Rickie proposed to come too.

  Hitherto he had been no nuisance. "You will be frightfully bored," said Agnes, observing the cloud on her lover's face. "And Gerald walks like a maniac."

  "I had a little thought of the Museum this morning," said Mr. Pembroke. "It is very strong in flint arrow-heads."

  "Ah, that's your line, Rickie. I do envy you and Herbert the way you enjoy the past."

  "I almost think I'll go with Dawes, if he'll have me. I can walk quite fast just to the ground and back. Arrowheads are wonderful, but I don't really enjoy them yet, though I hope I shall in time."

  Mr. Pembroke was offended, but Rickie held firm.

  In a quarter of an hour he was back at the house alone, nearly crying.

  "Oh, did the wretch go too fast?" called Miss Pembroke from her bedroom window.

  "I went too fast for him." He spoke quite sharply, and before he had time to say he was sorry and didn't mean exactly that, the window had shut.

  "They've quarrelled," she thought. "Whatever about?"

  She soon heard. Gerald returned in a cold stormy temper. Rickie had offered him money.

  "My dear fellow don't be so cross. The child's mad."

  "If it was, I'd forgive that. But I can't stand unhealthiness."

  "Now, Gerald, that's where I hate you. You don't know what it is to pity the weak."

  "Woman's job. So you wish I'd taken a hundred pounds a year from him. Did you ever hear such blasted cheek? Marry us——he, you, and me——a hundred pounds down and as much annual——he, of course, to pry into all we did, and we to kowtow and eat dirt-pie to him. If that's Mr. Rickety Elliot's idea of a soldier and an Englishman, it isn't mine, and I wish I'd had a horse-whip."

  She was roaring with laughter. "You're babies, a pair of you, and you're the worst. Why couldn't you let the little silly down gently? There he was puffing and sniffing under my window, and I thought he'd insulted you. Why didn't you accept?"

  "Accept?" he thundered.

  "It would have taken the nonsense out of him for ever. Why, he was only talking out of a book."

  "More fool he."

  "Well, don't be angry with a fool. He means no harm. He muddles all day with poetry and old dead people, and then tries to bring it into life. It's too funny for words."

  Gerald repeated that he could not stand unhealthiness.

  "I don't call that exactly unhealthy."

  "I do. And why he could give the money's worse."

  "What do you mean?"

  He became shy. "I hadn't meant to tell you. It's not quite for a lady." For, like most men who are rather animal, he was intellectually a prude. "He says he can't ever marry, owing to his foot. It wouldn't be fair to posterity. His grandfather was crocked, his father too, and he's as bad. He thinks that it's hereditary, and may get worse next generation. He's discussed it all over with other Undergrads. A bright lot they must be. He daren't risk having any children. Hence the hundred quid."

  She stopped laughing. "Oh, little beast, if he said all that!"

  He was encouraged to proceed. Hitherto he had not talked about their school days. Now he told her everything,——the "barley-sugar," as he called it, the pins in chapel, and how one afternoon he had tied him head-downward on to a tree trunk and then ran away——of course only for a moment.

  For this she scolded him well. But she had a thrill of joy when she thought of the weak boy in the clutches of the strong one.

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