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FENN RECEIVES A LETTER
But the step was not such a very long one after all. What it amounted to was simply this, that open rebellion ceased in Kay's. When Kennedy put up the list on the notice-board for the third time, which he did on the morning following his encounter with Walton, and wrote on it that the match with Blackburn's would take place that afternoon, his team turned out like lambs, and were duly defeated by thirty-one points. He had to play a substitute for Walton, who was rather too battered to be of any real use in the scrum; but, with that exception, the team that entered the field was the same that should have entered it the day before.
But his labours in the Augean stables of Kay's were by no means over. Practically they had only begun. The state of the house now was exactly what it had been under Fenn. When Kennedy had taken over the reins, Kay's had become on the instant twice as bad as it had been before. By his summary treatment of the revolution, he had, so to speak, wiped off this deficit. What he had to do now was to begin to improve things. Kay's was now in its normal state--slack, rowdy in an underhand way, and utterly useless to the school. It was "up to" Kennedy, as they say in America, to start in and make something presentable and useful out of these unpromising materials.
What annoyed him more than anything else was the knowledge that if only Fenn chose to do the square thing and help him in his work, the combination would be irresistible. It was impossible to make any leeway to speak of by himself. If Fenn would only forget his grievances and join forces with him, they could electrify the house.
Fenn, however, showed no inclination to do anything of the kind. He and Kennedy never spoke to one another now except when it was absolutely unavoidable, and then they behaved with that painful politeness in which the public schoolman always wraps himself as in a garment when dealing with a friend with whom he has quarrelled.
On the Walton episode Fenn had made no comment, though it is probable that he thought a good deal.
It was while matters were in this strained condition that Fenn received a letter from his elder brother. This brother had been at Eckleton in his time--School House--and had left five years before to go to Cambridge. Cambridge had not taught him a great deal, possibly because he did not meet the well-meant efforts of his tutor half-way. The net result of his three years at King's was--imprimis, a cricket blue, including a rather lucky eighty-three at Lord's; secondly, a very poor degree; thirdly and lastly, a taste for literature and the drama--he had been a prominent member of the Footlights Club. When he came down he looked about him for some occupation which should combine in happy proportions a small amount of work and a large amount of salary, and, finding none, drifted into journalism, at which calling he had been doing very fairly ever since.
"Dear Bob," the letter began. Fenn's names were Robert Mowbray, the second of which he had spent much of his time in concealing. "Just a line."
The elder Fenn always began his letters with these words, whether they ran to one sheet or eight. In the present case the screed was not particularly long.
"Do you remember my reading you a bit of an opera I was writing? Well, I finished it, and, after going the round of most of the managers, who chucked it with wonderful unanimity, it found an admirer in Higgs, the man who took the part of the duke in The Outsider. Luckily, he happened to be thinking of starting on his own in opera instead of farce, and there's a part in mine which fits him like a glove. So he's going to bring it out at the Imperial in the spring, and by way of testing the piece--trying it on the dog, as it were--he means to tour with it. Now, here's the point of this letter. We start at Eckleton next Wednesday. We shall only be there one night, for we go on to Southampton on Thursday. I suppose you couldn't come and see it? I remember Peter Brown, who got the last place in the team the year I got my cricket colours, cutting out of his house (Kay's, by the way) and going down town to see a piece at the theatre. I'm bound to admit he got sacked for it, but still, it shows that it can be done. All the same, I shouldn't try it on if I were you. You'll be able to read all about the 'striking success' and 'unrestrained enthusiasm' in the Eckleton Mirror on Thursday. Mind you buy a copy."
The rest of the letter was on other subjects. It took Fenn less than a minute to decide to patronise that opening performance. He was never in the habit of paying very much attention to risks when he wished to do anything, and now he felt as if he cared even less than usual what might be the outcome of the adventure. Since he had ceased to be on speaking terms with Kennedy, he had found life decidedly dull. Kennedy had been his only intimate friend. He had plenty of acquaintances, as a first eleven and first fifteen man usually has, but none of them were very entertaining. Consequently he welcomed the idea of a break in the monotony of affairs. The only thing that had broken it up to the present had been a burglary at the school house. Some enterprising marauder had broken in a week before and gone off with a few articles of value from the headmaster's drawing-room. But the members of the school house had talked about this episode to such an extent that the rest of the school had dropped off the subject, exhausted, and declined to discuss it further. And things had become monotonous once more.
Having decided to go, Fenn began to consider how he should do it. And here circumstances favoured him. It happened that on the evening on which his brother's play was to be produced the headmaster was giving his once-a-term dinner to the house-prefects. This simplified matters wonderfully. The only time when his absence from the house was at all likely to be discovered would be at prayers, which took place at half-past nine. The prefects' dinner solved this difficulty for him. Kay would not expect him to be at prayers, thinking he was over at the Head's, while the Head, if he noticed his absence at all, would imagine that he was staying away from the dinner owing to a headache or some other malady. It seemed tempting Providence not to take advantage of such an excellent piece of luck. For the rest, detection was practically impossible. Kennedy's advent to the house had ousted Fenn from the dormitory in which he had slept hitherto, and, there being no bed available in any of the other dormitories, he had been put into the spare room usually reserved for invalids whose invalidism was not of a sufficiently infectious kind to demand their removal to the infirmary. As for getting back into the house, he would leave the window of his study unfastened. He could easily climb on to the window-ledge, and so to bed without let or hindrance.
The distance from Kay's to the town was a mile and a half. If he started at the hour when he should have been starting for the school house, he would arrive just in time to see the curtain go up.
Having settled these facts definitely in his mind, he got his books together and went over to school.
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