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THE SENSATIONS OF AN EXILE
"What" shouted Kennedy.
He sprang to his feet as if he had had an electric shock.
Jimmy Silver, having satisfied his passion for the dramatic by the abruptness with which he had exploded his mine, now felt himself at liberty to be sympathetic.
"It's quite true," he said. "And that's just how I felt when Blackburn told me. Blackburn's as sick as anything. Naturally he doesn't see the point of handing you over to Kay. But the Old Man insisted, so he caved in. He wanted to see you as soon as you arrived. You'd better go now. I'll finish your packing."
This was noble of Jimmy, for of all the duties of life he loathed packing most.
"Thanks awfully," said Kennedy, "but don't you bother. I'll do it when I get back. But what's it all about? What made Kay want a man? Why won't Fenn do? And why me?"
"Well, it's easy to see why they chose you. They reflected that you'd had the advantage of being in Blackburn's with me, and seeing how a house really should be run. Kay wants a head for his house. Off he goes to the Old Man. 'Look here,' he says, 'I want somebody shunted into my happy home, or it'll bust up. And it's no good trying to put me off with an inferior article, because I won't have it. It must be somebody who's been trained from youth up by Silver.' 'Then,' says the Old Man, reflectively, 'you can't do better than take Kennedy. I happen to know that Silver has spent years in showing him the straight and narrow path. You take Kennedy.' 'All right,' says Kay; 'I always thought Kennedy a bit of an ass myself, but if he's studied under Silver he ought to know how to manage a house. I'll take him. Advise our Mr Blackburn to that effect, and ask him to deliver the goods at his earliest convenience. Adoo, mess-mate, adoo!' And there you are--that's how it was."
"But what's wrong with Fenn?"
"My dear chap! Remember last term. Didn't Fenn have a regular scrap with Kay, and get shoved into extra for it? And didn't he wreck the concert in the most sportsmanlike way with that encore of his? Think the Old Man is going to take that grinning? Not much! Fenn made a ripping fifty against Kent in the holidays--I saw him do it--but they don't count that. It's a wonder they didn't ask him to leave. Of course, I think it's jolly rough on Fenn, but I don't see that you can blame them. Not the Old Man, at any rate. He couldn't do anything else. It's all Kay's fault that all this has happened, of course. I'm awfully sorry for you having to go into that beastly hole, but from Kay's point of view it's a jolly sound move. You may reform the place."
"I doubt it."
"So do I--very much. I didn't say you would--I said you might. I wonder if Kay means to give you a free hand. It all depends on that."
"Yes. If he's going to interfere with me as he used to with Fenn, he'll want to bring in another head to improve on me."
"Rather a good idea, that," said Jimmy Silver, laughing, as he always did when any humorous possibilities suggested themselves to him. "If he brings in somebody to improve on you, and then somebody else to improve on him, and then another chap to improve on him, he ought to have a decent house in half-a-dozen years or so."
"The worst of it is," said Kennedy, "that I've got to go to Kay's as a sort of rival to Fenn. I shouldn't mind so much if it wasn't for that. I wonder how he'll take it! Do you think he knows about it yet? He didn't enjoy being head, but that's no reason why he shouldn't cut up rough at being shoved back to second prefect. It's a beastly situation."
"Beastly," agreed Jimmy Silver. "Look here," he added, after a pause, "there's no reason, you know, why this should make any difference. To us, I mean. What I mean to say is, I don't see why we shouldn't see each other just as often, and so on, simply because you are in another house, and all that sort of thing. You know what I mean."
He spoke shamefacedly, as was his habit whenever he was serious. He liked Kennedy better than anyone he knew, and hated to show his feelings. Anything remotely connected with sentiment made him uncomfortable.
"Of course," said Kennedy, awkwardly.
"You'll want a refuge," said Silver, in his normal manner, "now that you're going to see wild life in Kay's. Don't forget that I'm always at home in my study in the afternoons--admission on presentation of a visiting-card."
"All right," said Kennedy, "I'll remember. I suppose I'd better go and see Blackburn now."
Mr Blackburn was in his study. He was obviously disgusted and irritated by what had happened. Loyalty to the headmaster, and an appreciation of his position as a member of the staff led him to try and conceal his feelings as much as possible in his interview with Kennedy, but the latter understood as plainly as if his house-master had burst into a flow of abuse and complaint. There had always been an excellent understanding--indeed, a friendship--between Kennedy and Mr Blackburn, and the master was just as sorry to lose his second prefect as the latter was to go.
"Well, Kennedy," he said, pleasantly. "I hope you had a good time in the holidays. I suppose Silver has told you the melancholy news--that you are to desert us this term? It is a great pity. We shall all be very sorry to lose you. I don't look forward to seeing you bowl us all out in the house-matches next summer," he added, with a smile, "though we shall expect a few full-pitches to leg, for the sake of old times."
He meant well, but the picture he conjured up almost made Kennedy break down. Nothing up to the present had made him realise the completeness of his exile so keenly as this remark of Mr Blackburn's about his bowling against the side for which he had taken so many wickets in the past. It was a painful thought.
"I am afraid you won't have quite such a pleasant time in Mr Kay's as you have had here," resumed the house-master. "Of course, I know that, strictly speaking, I ought not to talk like this about another master's house; but you can scarcely be unaware of the reasons that have led to this change. You must know that you are being sent to pull Mr Kay's house together. This is strictly between ourselves, of course. I think you have a difficult task before you, but I don't fancy that you will find it too much for you. And mind you come here as often as you please. I am sure Silver and the others will be glad to see you. Goodbye, Kennedy. I think you ought to be getting across now to Mr Kay's. I told him that you would be there before half-past nine. Good night."
"Good night, sir," said Kennedy.
He wandered out into the house dining-room. Somehow, though Kay's was only next door, he could not get rid of the feeling that he was about to start on a long journey, and would never see his old house again. And in a sense this was so. He would probably visit Blackburn's tomorrow afternoon, but it would not be the same. Jimmy Silver would greet him like a brother, and he would brew in the same study in which he had always brewed, and sit in the same chair; but it would not be the same. He would be an outsider, a visitor, a stranger within the gates, and--worst of all--a Kayite. Nothing could alter that.
The walk of the dining-room were covered with photographs of the house cricket and football teams for the last fifteen years. Looking at them, he felt more than ever how entirely his school life had been bound up in his house. From his first day at Eckleton he had been taught the simple creed of the Blackburnite, that Eckleton was the finest school in the three kingdoms, and that Blackburn's was the finest house in the finest school.
Under the gas-bracket by the door hung the first photograph in which he appeared, the cricket team of four years ago. He had just got the last place in front of Challis on the strength of a tremendous catch for the house second in a scratch game two days before the house-matches began. It had been a glaring fluke, but it had impressed Denny, the head of the house, who happened to see it, and had won him his place.
He walked round the room, looking at each photograph in turn. It seemed incredible that he had no longer any right to an interest in the success of Blackburn's. He could have endured leaving all this when his time at school was up, for that would have been the natural result of the passing of years. But to be transplanted abruptly and with a wrench from his native soil was too much. He went upstairs to pack, suffering from as severe an attack of the blues as any youth of eighteen had experienced since blues were first invented.
Jimmy Silver hovered round, while he packed, with expressions of sympathy and bitter remarks concerning Mr Kay and his wicked works, and, when the operation was concluded, helped Kennedy carry his box over to his new house with the air of one seeing a friend off to the parts beyond the equator.
It was ten o'clock by the time the front door of Kay's closed upon its new head. Kennedy went to the matron's sanctum to be instructed in the geography of the house. The matron, a severe lady, whose faith in human nature had been terribly shaken by five years of office in Kay's, showed him his dormitory and study with a lack of geniality which added a deeper tinge of azure to Kennedy's blues. "So you've come to live here, have you?" her manner seemed to say; "well, I pity you, that's all. A nice time you're going to have."
Kennedy spent the half-hour before going to bed in unpacking his box for the second time, and arranging his books and photographs in the study which had been Wayburn's. He had nothing to find fault with in the study. It was as large as the one he had owned at Blackburn's, and, like it, looked out over the school grounds.
At half-past ten the gas gave a flicker and went out, turned off at the main. Kennedy lit a candle and made his way to his dormitory. There now faced him the more than unpleasant task of introducing himself to its inmates. He knew from experience the disconcerting way in which a dormitory greets an intruder. It was difficult to know how to begin matters. It would take a long time, he thought, to explain his presence to their satisfaction.
Fortunately, however, the dormitory was not unprepared. Things get about very quickly in a house. The matron had told the housemaids; the housemaids had handed it on to their ally, the boot boy; the boot boy had told Wren, whom he happened to meet in the passage, and Wren had told everybody else.
There was an uproar going on when Kennedy opened the door, but it died away as he appeared, and the dormitory gazed at the newcomer in absolute and embarrassing silence. Kennedy had not felt so conscious of the public eye being upon him since he had gone out to bat against the M.C.C., on his first appearance in the ranks of the Eckleton eleven. He went to his bed and began to undress without a word, feeling rather than seeing the eyes that were peering at him. When he had completed the performance of disrobing, he blew out the candle and got into bed. The silence was broken by numerous coughs, of that short, suggestive type with which the public schoolboy loves to embarrass his fellow man. From some unidentified corner of the room came a subdued giggle. Then a whispered, "Shut up, you fool!" To which a low voice replied, "All right, I'm not doing anything."
More coughs, and another outbreak of giggling from a fresh quarter.
"Good night," said Kennedy, to the room in general.
There was no reply. The giggler appeared to be rapidly approaching hysterics.
"Shut up that row," said Kennedy.
The giggling ceased.
The atmosphere was charged with suspicion. Kennedy fell asleep fearing that he was going to have trouble with his dormitory before many nights had passed.
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