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HARMONY AND DISCORD
What might be described as a mixed reception awaited the players as they left the field. The pavilion and the parts about the pavilion rails were always packed on the last day of a final house-match, and even in normal circumstances there was apt to be a little sparring between the juniors of the two houses which had been playing for the cup. In the present case, therefore, it was not surprising that Kay's fags took the defeat badly. The thought that Fenn's presence at the beginning of the innings, instead of at the end, would have made all the difference between a loss and a victory, maddened them. The crowd that seethed in front of the pavilion was a turbulent one.
For a time the operation of chairing Fenn up the steps occupied the active minds of the Kayites. When he had disappeared into the first eleven room, they turned their attention in other directions. Caustic and uncomplimentary remarks began to fly to and fro between the representatives of Kay's and Blackburn's. It is not known who actually administered the first blow. But, when Fenn came out of the pavilion with Kennedy and Silver, he found a stirring battle in progress. The members of the other houses who had come to look on at the match stood in knots, and gazed with approval at the efforts of Kay's and Blackburn's juniors to wipe each other off the face of the earth. The air was full of shrill battle-cries, varied now and then by a smack or a thud, as some young but strenuous fist found a billet. The fortune of war seemed to be distributed equally so far, and the combatants were just warming to their work.
"Look here," said Kennedy, "we ought to stop this."
"What's the good," said Fenn, without interest. "It pleases them, and doesn't hurt anybody else."
"All the same," observed Jimmy Silver, moving towards the nearest group of combatants, "free fights aren't quite the thing, somehow. For, children, you should never let your angry passions rise; your little hands were never made to tear each other's eyes. Dr Watts' Advice to Young Pugilists. Drop it, you little beasts."
He separated two heated youths who were just beginning a fourth round. The rest of the warriors, seeing Silver and the others, called a truce, and Silver, having read a sort of Riot Act, moved on. The juniors of the beaten house, deciding that it would be better not to resume hostilities, consoled themselves by giving three groans for Mr Kay.
"What happened after I left you last night, Fenn?" asked Kennedy.
"Oh, I had one of my usual rows with Kay, only rather worse than usual. I said one or two things he didn't like, and today the old man sent for me and told me to come to his room from two till four. Kay had run me in for being 'grossly rude'. Listen to those kids. What a row they're making!"
"It's a beastly shame," said Kennedy despondently.
At the school shop Morrell, of Mulholland's, met them. He had been spending the afternoon with a rug and a novel on the hills at the back of the school, and he wanted to know how the final house-match had gone. Blackburn's had beaten Mulholland's in one of the early rounds. Kennedy explained what had happened.
"We should have lost if Fenn had turned up earlier," he said. "He had a row with Kay, and Kay gave him a sort of extra between two and four."
Fenn, busily occupied with an ice, added no comment of his own to this plain tale.
"Rough luck," said Morrell. "What's all that row out in the field?"
"That's Kay's kids giving three groans for Kay," explained Silver. "At least, they started with the idea of giving three groans. They've got up to about three hundred by this time. It seems to have fascinated them. They won't leave off. There's no school rule against groaning in the grounds, and they mean to groan till the end of the term. Personally, I like the sound. But then, I'm fond of music."
Morrell's face beamed with sudden pleasure. "I knew there was something I wanted to tell you," he said, "only I couldn't remember what. Your saying you're fond of music reminds me. Mulholland's crocked himself, and won't be able to turn out for the concert."
"What!" cried Kennedy. "How did it happen? What's he done?"
Mr Mulholland was the master who looked after the music of the school, a fine cricketer and keen sportsman. Had nothing gone wrong, he would have conducted at the concert that night.
"I heard it from the matron at our place," said Morrell. "She's full of it. Mulholland was batting at the middle net, and somebody else--I forget who--was at the one next to it on the right. The bowler sent down a long-hop to leg, and this Johnny had a smack at it, and sent it slap through the net, and it got Mulholland on the side of the head. He was stunned for a bit, but he's getting all right again now. But he won't be able to conduct tonight. Rather bad luck on the man, especially as he's so keen on the concert."
"Who's going to sub for him?" asked Silver. "Perhaps they'll scratch the show," suggested Kennedy.
"Oh, no," said Morrell, "it's all right. Kay is going to conduct. He's often done it at choir practices when Mulholland couldn't turn up."
Fenn put down his empty saucer with an emphatic crack on the counter.
"If Kay's going to run the show, I'm hanged if I turn up," he said.
"My dear chap, you can't get out of it now," said Kennedy anxiously. He did not want to see Fenn plunging into any more strife with the authorities this term.
"Think of the crowned heads who are coming to hear you," pleaded Jimmy Silver. "Think of the nobility and gentry. Think of me. You must play."
"Ah, there you are, Fenn."
Mr Kay had bustled in in his energetic way.
Fenn said nothing. He was there. It was idle to deny it.
"I thought I should find you here. Yes, I wanted to see you about the concert tonight. Mr Mulholland has met with an unfortunate accident, and I am looking after the entertainment in his place. Come with me and play over your piece. I should like to see that you are perfect in it. Dear me, dear me, what a noise those boys are making. Why are they behaving in that extraordinary way, I wonder!"
Kay's juniors had left the pavilion, and were trooping back to their house. At the present moment they were passing the school shop, and their tuneful voices floated in through the open window.
"This is very unusual. Why, they seem to be boys in my house. They are groaning."
"I think they are a little upset at the result of the match, sir," said Jimmy Silver suavely. "Fenn did not arrive, for some reason, till the end of the innings, so Mr Blackburn's won. The wicket was good, but a little fiery."
"Thank you, Silver," replied Mr Kay with asperity. "When I require explanations I will ask for them."
He darted out of the shop, and a moment later they heard him pouring out a flood of recriminations on the groaning fags.
"There was once a man who snubbed me," said Jimmy Silver. "They buried him at Brookwood. Well, what are you going to do, Fenn? Going to play tonight? Harkee, boy. Say but the word, and I will beard this tyrant to his face."
"Yes," he said briefly, "I shall play. You'd better turn up. I think you'll enjoy it."
Silver said that no human power should keep him away.
* * * * * * *
The School concert was always one of the events of the summer term. There was a concert at the end of the winter term, too, but it was not so important. To a great many of those present the summer concert marked, as it were, the last flutter of their school life. On the morrow they would be Old Boys, and it behoved them to extract as much enjoyment from the function as they could. Under Mr Mullholland's rule the concert had become a very flourishing institution. He aimed at a high standard, and reached it. There was more than a touch of the austere about the music. A glance at the programme was enough to show the lover of airs of the trashy, clashy order that this was no place for him. Most of the items were serious. When it was thought necessary to introduce a lighter touch, some staidly rollicking number was inserted, some song that was saved--in spite of a catchy tune--by a halo of antiquity. Anything modern was taboo, unless it were the work of Gotsuchakoff, Thingummyowsky, or some other eminent foreigner. Foreign origin made it just possible.
The school prefects lurked during the performance at the doors and at the foot of the broad stone steps that led to the Great Hall. It was their duty to supply visitors with programmes.
Jimmy Silver had foregathered with Kennedy, Challis, and Williams at the junior door. The hall was full now, and their labours consequently at an end.
"Pretty good 'gate'," said Silver, looking in through the open door. "It must be warm up in the gallery."
Across the further end of the hall a dais had been erected. On this the bulk of the school sat, leaving the body of the hall to the crowned heads, nobility, and gentry to whom Silver had referred in his conversation with Fenn.
"It always is warm in the gallery," said Challis. "I lost about two stone there every concert when I was a kid. We simply used to sit and melt."
"And I tell you what," broke in Silver, "it's going to get warmer before the end of the show. Do you notice that all Kay's house are sitting in a lump at the back. I bet they're simply spoiling for a row. Especially now Kay's running the concert. There's going to be a hot time in the old town tonight--you see if there isn't. Hark at 'em."
The choir had just come to the end of a little thing of Handel's. There was no reason to suppose that the gallery appreciated Handel. Nevertheless, they were making a deafening noise. Clouds of dust rose from the rhythmical stamping of many feet. The noise was loudest and the dust thickest by the big window, beneath which sat the men from Kay's. Things were warming up.
The gallery, with one last stamp which nearly caused the dais to collapse, quieted down. The masters in the audience looked serious. One or two of the visitors glanced over their shoulders with a smile. How excited the dear boys were at the prospect of holidays! Young blood! Young blood! Boys would be boys.
The concert continued. Half-way through the programme there was a ten minutes' interval. Fenn's pianoforte solo was the second item of the second half.
He mounted the platform amidst howls of delight from the gallery. Applause at the Eckleton concerts was granted more for services in the playing-fields than merit as a musician. Kubelik or Paderewski would have been welcomed with a few polite handclaps. A man in the eleven or fifteen was certain of two minutes' unceasing cheers.
"Evidently one of their heroes, my dear," said Paterfamilias to Materfamilias. "I suppose he has won a scholarship at the University."
Paterfamilias' mind was accustomed to run somewhat upon scholarships at the University. What the school wanted was a batting average of forty odd or a bowling analysis in single figures.
Fenn played the "Moonlight Sonata". A trained musical critic would probably have found much to cavil at in his rendering of the piece, but it was undoubtedly good for a public school player. Of course he was encored. The gallery would have encored him if he had played with one finger, three mistakes to every bar.
"I told Fenn," said Jimmy Silver, "if he got an encore, that he ought to play the--My aunt! He is!"
Three runs and half-a-dozen crashes, and there was no further room for doubt. Fenn was playing the "Coon Band Contest".
"He's gone mad," gasped Kennedy.
Whether he had or not, it is certain that the gallery had. All the evening they had been stewing in an atmosphere like that of the inner room of a Turkish bath, and they were ready for anything. It needed but a trifle to set them off. The lilt of that unspeakable Yankee melody supplied that trifle. Kay's malcontents, huddled in their seats by the window, were the first to break out. Feet began to stamp in time to the music--softly at first, then more loudly. The wooden dais gave out the sound like a drum.
Other rioters joined in from the right. The noise spread through the gallery as a fire spreads through gorse. Soon three hundred pairs of well-shod feet were rising and falling. Somebody began to whistle. Everybody whistled. Mr Kay was on his feet, gesticulating wildly. His words were lost in the uproar.
For five minutes the din prevailed. Then, with a final crash, Fenn finished. He got up from the music-stool, bowed, and walked back to his place by the senior door. The musical efforts of the gallery changed to a storm of cheering and clapping.
The choir rose to begin the next piece.
Still the noise continued.
People began to leave the Hall--in ones and twos first, then in a steady stream which blocked the doorways. It was plain to the dullest intelligence that if there was going to be any more concert, it would have to be performed in dumb show. Mr Kay flung down his baton.
The visitors had left by now, and the gallery was beginning to follow their example, howling as it went.
"Well," said Jimmy Silver cheerfully, as he went with Kennedy down the steps, "I think we may call that a record. By my halidom, there'll be a row about this later on."
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