It was Walkinshaw's affair from the first. Grey, the captain of the St Austin's Fifteen, was in the infirmary nursing a bad knee. To him came Charles Augustus Walkinshaw with a scheme. Walkinshaw was football secretary, and in Grey's absence acted as captain. Besides these two there were only a couple of last year's team left--Reade and Barrett, both of Philpott's House.
'Hullo, Grey, how's the knee?' said Walkinshaw.
'How's the team getting on?' he said.
'Well, as far as I can see,' said Walkinshaw, 'we ought to have a rather good season, if you'd only hurry up and come back. We beat a jolly hot lot of All Comers yesterday. Smith was playing for them. The Blue, you know. And lots of others. We got a goal and a try to nil.'
'Good,' said Grey. 'Who did anything for us? Who scored?'
'I got in once. Payne got the other.'
'By Jove, did he? What sort of a game is he playing this year?'
The moment had come for Walkinshaw to unburden himself to his scheme. He proceeded to do so.
'Not up to much,' he said. 'Look here, Grey, I've got rather an idea. It's my opinion Payne's not bucking up nearly as much as he might. Do you mind if I leave him out of the next game?'
Grey stared. The idea was revolutionary.
'What! Leave him out? My good man, he'll be the next chap to get his colours. He's a cert. for his cap.'
'That's just it. He knows he's a cert., and he's slacking on the strength of it. Now, my idea is that if you slung him out for a match or two, he'd buck up extra hard when he came into the team again. Can't I have a shot at it?'
Grey weighed the matter. Walkinshaw pressed home his arguments.
'You see, it isn't like cricket. At cricket, of course, it might put a chap off awfully to be left out, but I don't see how it can hurt a man's play at footer. Besides, he's beginning to stick on side already.'
'Is he, by Jove?' said Grey. This was the unpardonable sin. 'Well, I'll tell you what you can do if you like. Get up a scratch game, First Fifteen v. Second, and make him captain of the Second.'
'Right,' said Walkinshaw, and retired beaming.
Walkinshaw, it may be remarked at once, to prevent mistakes, was a well-meaning idiot. There was no doubt about his being well-meaning. Also, there was no doubt about his being an idiot. He was continually getting insane ideas into his head, and being unable to get them out again. This matter of Payne was a good example of his customary methods. He had put his hand on the one really first-class forward St Austin's possessed, and proposed to remove him from the team. And yet through it all he was perfectly well-meaning. The fact that personally he rather disliked Payne had, to do him justice, no weight at all with him. He would have done the same by his bosom friend under like circumstances. This is the only excuse that can be offered for him. It was true that Payne regarded himself as a certainty for his colours, as far as anything can be considered certain in this vale of sorrow. But to accuse him of trading on this, and, to use the vernacular, of putting on side, was unjust to a degree.
On the afternoon following this conversation Payne, who was a member of Dacre's House, came into his study and banged his books down on the table with much emphasis. This was a sign that he was feeling dissatisfied with the way in which affairs were conducted in the world. Bowden, who was asleep in an armchair--he had been staying in with a cold--woke with a start. Bowden shared Payne's study. He played centre three-quarter for the Second Fifteen.
'Hullo!' he said.
Payne grunted. Bowden realized that matters had not been going well with him. He attempted to soothe him with conversation, choosing what he thought would be a congenial topic.
'What's on on Saturday?' he asked.
'Scratch game. First v. Second.'
'I know those First v. Second games,' he said. 'They turn the Second out to get butchered for thirty-five minutes each way, to improve the First's combination. It may be fun for the First, but it's not nearly so rollicking for us. Look here, Payne, if you find me with the pill at any time, you can let me down easy, you know. You needn't go bringing off any of your beastly gallery tackles.'
'I won't,' said Payne. 'To start with, it would be against rules. We happen to be on the same side.'
'Rot, man; I'm not playing for the First.' This was the only explanation that occurred to him.
'I'm playing for the Second.'
'What! Are you certain?'
'I've seen the list. They're playing Babington instead of me.'
'But why? Babington's no good.'
'I think they have a sort of idea I'm slacking or something. At any rate, Walkinshaw told me that if I bucked up I might get tried again.'
'Silly goat,' said Bowden. 'What are you going to do?'
'I'm going to take his advice, and buck up.'
He did. At the beginning of the game the ropes were lined by some thirty spectators, who had come to derive a languid enjoyment from seeing the First pile up a record score. By half-time their numbers had risen to an excited mob of something over three hundred, and the second half of the game was fought out to the accompaniment of a storm of yells and counter yells such as usually only belonged to school-matches. The Second Fifteen, after a poor start, suddenly awoke to the fact that this was not going to be the conventional massacre by any means. The First had scored an unconverted try five minutes after the kick-off, and it was after this that the Second began to get together. The school back bungled the drop out badly, and had to find touch in his own twenty-five, and after that it was anyone's game. The scrums were a treat to behold. Payne was a monument of strength. Time after time the Second had the ball out to their three-quarters, and just after half-time Bowden slipped through in the corner. The kick failed, and the two teams, with their scores equal now, settled down grimly to fight the thing out to a finish. But though they remained on their opponents' line for most of the rest of the game, the Second did not add to their score, and the match ended in a draw of three points all.
The first intimation Grey received of this came to him late in the evening. He had been reading a novel which, whatever its other merits may have been, was not interesting, and it had sent him to sleep. He awoke to hear a well-known voice observe with some unction: 'Ah! M'yes. Leeches and hot fomentations.' This effectually banished sleep. If there were two things in the world that he loathed, they were leeches and hot fomentations, and the School doctor apparently regarded them as a panacea for every kind of bodily ailment, from a fractured skull to a cold in the head. It was this gentleman who had just spoken, but Grey's alarm vanished as he perceived that the words had no personal application to himself. The object of the remark was a fellow-sufferer in the next bed but one. Now Grey was certain that when he had fallen asleep there had been nobody in that bed. When, therefore, the medical expert had departed on his fell errand, the quest of leeches and hot fomentations, he sat up and gave tongue.
'Who's that in that bed?' he asked.
'Hullo, Grey,' replied a voice. 'Didn't know you were awake. I've come to keep you company.'
'That you, Barrett? What's up with you?'
'Collar-bone. Dislocated it or something. Reade's over in that corner. He has bust his ankle. Oh, yes, we've been having a nice, cheery afternoon,' concluded Barrett bitterly.
'Great Scott! How did it happen?'
'Where? In your collar-bone?'
'Yes. That wasn't what I meant, though. What I was explaining was that Payne got hold of me in the middle of the field, and threw me into touch. After which he fell on me. That was enough for my simple needs. I'm not grasping.'
'How about Reade?'
'The entire Second scrum collapsed on top of Reade. When we dug him out his ankle was crocked. Mainspring gone, probably. Then they gathered up the pieces and took them gently away. I don't know how it all ended.'
Just then Walkinshaw burst into the room. He had a large bruise over one eye, his arm was in a sling, and he limped. But he was in excellent spirits.
'I knew I was right, by Jove,' he observed to Grey. 'I knew he could buck up if he liked.'
'I know it now,' said Barrett.
'Who's this you're talking about?' said Grey.
'Payne. I've never seen anything like the game he played today. He was everywhere. And, by Jove, his tackling!'
'Don't,' said Barrett, wearily.
'It's the best match I ever played in,' said Walkinshaw, bubbling over with enthusiasm. 'Do you know, the Second had all the best of the game.'
'What was the score?'
'Draw. One try all.'
'And now I suppose you're satisfied?' enquired Barrett. The great scheme for the regeneration of Payne had been confided to him by its proud patentee.
'Almost,' said Walkinshaw. 'We'll continue the treatment for one more game, and then we'll have him simply fizzing for the Windybury match. That's next Saturday. By the way, I'm afraid you'll hardly be fit again in time for that, Barrett, will you?'
'I may possibly,' said Barrett, coldly, 'be getting about again in time for the Windybury match of the year after next. This year I'm afraid I shall not have the pleasure. And I should strongly advise you, if you don't want to have to put a team of cripples into the field, to discontinue the treatment, as you call it.'
'Oh, I don't know,' said Walkinshaw.
On the following Wednesday evening, at five o'clock, something was carried in on a stretcher, and deposited in the bed which lay between Grey and Barrett. Close scrutiny revealed the fact that it was what had once been Charles Augustus Walkinshaw. He was slightly broken up.
'Payne?' enquired Grey in chilly tones.
Walkinshaw admitted the impeachment.
Grey took a pencil and a piece of paper from the table at his side. 'If you want to know what I'm doing,' he said, 'I'm writing out the team for the Windybury match, and I'm going to make Payne captain, as the senior Second Fifteen man. And if we win I'm jolly well going to give him his cap after the match. If we don't win, it'll be the fault of a raving lunatic of the name of Walkinshaw, with his beastly Colney Hatch schemes for reforming slack forwards. You utter rotter!'
Fortunately for the future peace of mind of C. A. Walkinshaw, the latter contingency did not occur. The School, in spite of its absentees, contrived to pull the match off by a try to nil. Payne, as was only right and proper, scored the try, making his way through the ranks of the visiting team with the quiet persistence of a steam-roller. After the game he came to tea, by request, at the infirmary, and was straightaway invested by Grey with his First Fifteen colours. On his arrival he surveyed the invalids with interest.
'Rough game, footer,' he observed at length.
'Don't mention it,' said Barrett politely. 'Leeches,' he added dreamily. 'Leeches and hot fomentations. Boiling fomentations. Will somebody kindly murder Walkinshaw!'
'Why?' asked Payne, innocently.
* * * * * * * * * * * *