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MAINLY ABOUT FENN
"When we get licked tomorrow by half-a-dozen wickets," said Jimmy Silver, tilting his chair until the back touched the wall, "don't say I didn't warn you. If you fellows take down what I say from time to time in note-books, as you ought to do, you'll remember that I offered to give anyone odds that Kay's would out us in the final. I always said that a really hot man like Fenn was more good to a side than half-a-dozen ordinary men. He can do all the bowling and all the batting. All the fielding, too, in the slips."
Tea was just over at Blackburn's, and the bulk of the house had gone across to preparation in the school buildings. The prefects, as was their custom, lingered on to finish the meal at their leisure. These after-tea conversations were quite an institution at Blackburn's. The labours of the day were over, and the time for preparation for the morrow had not yet come. It would be time to be thinking of that in another hour. Meanwhile, a little relaxation might be enjoyed. Especially so as this was the last day but two of the summer term, and all necessity for working after tea had ceased with the arrival of the last lap of the examinations.
Silver was head of the house, and captain of its cricket team, which was nearing the end of its last match, the final for the inter-house cup, and--on paper--getting decidedly the worst of it. After riding in triumph over the School House, Bedell's, and Mulholland's, Blackburn's had met its next door neighbour, Kay's, in the final, and, to the surprise of the great majority of the school, was showing up badly. The match was affording one more example of how a team of average merit all through may sometimes fall before a one-man side. Blackburn's had the three last men on the list of the first eleven, Silver, Kennedy, and Challis, and at least nine of its representatives had the reputation of being able to knock up a useful twenty or thirty at any time. Kay's, on the other hand, had one man, Fenn. After him the tail started. But Fenn was such an exceptional all-round man that, as Silver had said, he was as good as half-a-dozen of the Blackburn's team, equally formidable whether batting or bowling--he headed the school averages at both. He was one of those batsmen who seem to know exactly what sort of ball you are going to bowl before it leaves your hand, and he could hit like another Jessop. As for his bowling, he bowled left hand--always a puzzling eccentricity to an undeveloped batsman--and could send them down very fast or very slow, as he thought best, and it was hard to see which particular brand he was going to serve up before it was actually in mid-air.
But it is not necessary to enlarge on his abilities. The figures against his name in Wisden prove a good deal. The fact that he had steered Kay's through into the last round of the house-matches proves still more. It was perfectly obvious to everyone that, if only you could get Fenn out for under ten, Kay's total for that innings would be nearer twenty than forty. They were an appalling side. But then no house bowler had as yet succeeded in getting Fenn out for under ten. In the six innings he had played in the competition up to date, he had made four centuries, an eighty, and a seventy.
Kennedy, the second prefect at Blackburn's, paused in the act of grappling with the remnant of a pot of jam belonging to some person unknown, to reply to Silver's remarks.
"We aren't beaten yet," he said, in his solid way. Kennedy's chief characteristics were solidity, and an infinite capacity for taking pains. Nothing seemed to tire or discourage him. He kept pegging away till he arrived. The ordinary person, for instance, would have considered the jam-pot, on which he was then engaged, an empty jam-pot. Kennedy saw that there was still a strawberry (or it may have been a section of a strawberry) at the extreme end, and he meant to have that coy vegetable if he had to squeeze the pot to get at it. To take another instance, all the afternoon of the previous day he had bowled patiently at Fenn while the latter lifted every other ball into space. He had been taken off three times, and at every fresh attack he had plodded on doggedly, until at last, as he had expected, the batsman had misjudged a straight one, and he had bowled him all over his wicket. Kennedy generally managed to get there sooner or later.
"It's no good chucking the game up simply because we're in a tight place," he said, bringing the spoon to the surface at last with the section of strawberry adhering to the end of it. "That sort of thing's awfully feeble."
"He calls me feeble!" shouted Jimmy Silver. "By James, I've put a man to sleep for less."
It was one of his amusements to express himself from time to time in a melodramatic fashion, sometimes accompanying his words with suitable gestures. It was on one of these occasions--when he had assumed at a moment's notice the role of the "Baffled Despot", in an argument with Kennedy in his study on the subject of the house football team--that he broke what Mr Blackburn considered a valuable door with a poker. Since then he had moderated his transports.
"They've got to make seventy-nine," said Kennedy.
Challis, the other first eleven man, was reading a green scoring-book.
"I don't think Kay's ought to have the face to stick the cup up in their dining-room," he said, "considering the little they've done to win it. If they do win it, that is. Still, as they made two hundred first innings, they ought to be able to knock off seventy-nine. But I was saying that the pot ought to go to Fenn. Lot the rest of the team had to do with it. Blackburn's, first innings, hundred and fifty-one; Fenn, eight for forty-nine. Kay's, two hundred and one; Fenn, a hundred and sixty-four not out. Second innings, Blackburn's hundred and twenty-eight; Fenn ten for eighty. Bit thick, isn't it? I suppose that's what you'd call a one-man team."
Williams, one of the other prefects, who had just sat down at the piano for the purpose of playing his one tune--a cake-walk, of which, through constant practice, he had mastered the rudiments--spoke over his shoulder to Silver.
"I tell you what, Jimmy," he said, "you've probably lost us the pot by getting your people to send brother Billy to Kay's. If he hadn't kept up his wicket yesterday, Fenn wouldn't have made half as many."
When his young brother had been sent to Eckleton two terms before, Jimmy Silver had strongly urged upon his father the necessity of placing him in some house other than Blackburn's. He felt that a head of a house, even of so orderly and perfect a house as Blackburn's, has enough worries without being saddled with a small brother. And on the previous afternoon young Billy Silver, going in eighth wicket for Kay's, had put a solid bat in front of everything for the space of one hour, in the course of which he made ten runs and Fenn sixty. By scoring odd numbers off the last ball of each over, Fenn had managed to secure the majority of the bowling in the most masterly way.
"These things will happen," said Silver, resignedly. "We Silvers, you know, can't help making runs. Come on, Williams, let's have that tune, and get it over."
Williams obliged. It was a classic piece called "The Coon Band Contest", remarkable partly for a taking melody, partly for the vast possibilities of noise which it afforded. Williams made up for his failure to do justice to the former by a keen appreciation of the latter. He played the piece through again, in order to correct the mistakes he had made at his first rendering of it. Then he played it for the third time to correct a new batch of errors.
"I should like to hear Fenn play that," said Challis. "You're awfully good, you know, Williams, but he might do it better still."
"Get him to play it as an encore at the concert," said Williams, starting for the fourth time.
The talented Fenn was also a musician,--not a genius at the piano, as he was at cricket, but a sufficiently sound performer for his age, considering that he had not made a special study of it. He was to play at the school concert on the following day.
"I believe Fenn has an awful time at Kay's," said Jimmy Silver. "It must be a fair sort of hole, judging from the specimens you see crawling about in Kay caps. I wish I'd known my people were sending young Billy there. I'd have warned them. I only told them not to sling him in here. I had no idea they'd have picked Kay's."
"Fenn was telling me the other day," said Kennedy, "that being in Kay's had spoiled his whole time at the school. He always wanted to come to Blackburn's, only there wasn't room that particular term. Bad luck, wasn't it? I don't think he found it so bad before he became head of the house. He didn't come into contact with Kay so much. But now he finds that he can't do a thing without Kay buzzing round and interfering."
"I wonder," said Jimmy Silver, thoughtfully, "if that's why he bowls so fast. To work it off, you know."
In the course of a beautiful innings of fifty-three that afternoon, the captain of Blackburn's had received two of Fenn's speediest on the same spot just above the pad in rapid succession, and he now hobbled painfully when he moved about.
The conversation that evening had dealt so largely with Fenn--the whole school, indeed, was talking of nothing but his great attempt to win the cricket cup single-handed--that Kennedy, going out into the road for a breather before the rest of the boarders returned from preparation, made his way to Kay's to see if Fenn was imitating his example, and taking the air too.
He found him at Kay's gate, and they strolled towards the school buildings together. Fenn was unusually silent.
"Well?" said Kennedy, after a minute had passed without a remark.
Fenn laughed what novelists are fond of calling a mirthless laugh.
"Oh, I don't know," he said; "I'm sick of this place."
Kennedy inspected his friend's face anxiously by the light of the lamp over the school gate. There was no mistake about it. Fenn certainly did look bad. His face always looked lean and craggy, but tonight there was a difference. He looked used up.
"Fagged?" asked Kennedy.
"Everything. I wish you could come into Kay's for a bit just to see what it's like. Then you'd understand. At present I don't suppose you've an idea of it. I'd like to write a book on 'Kay Day by Day'. I'd have plenty to put in it."
"What's he been doing?"
"Oh, nothing out of the ordinary run. It's the fact that he's always at it that does me. You get a houseful of--well, you know the sort of chap the average Kayite is. They'd keep me busy even if I were allowed a free hand. But I'm not. Whenever I try and keep order and stop things a bit, out springs the man Kay from nowhere, and takes the job out of my hands, makes a ghastly mess of everything, and retires purring. Once in every three times, or thereabouts, he slangs me in front of the kids for not keeping order. I'm glad this is the end of the term. I couldn't stand it much longer. Hullo, here come the chaps from prep. We'd better be getting back."
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