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THE HILL

A Romance of Friendship

by

HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL







London
John Murray, Albemarle Street
First Edition . . . . . . . . . . . April, 1905
Thirty-second Impression (3/6) . . . April, 1928
Reprinted (2/-) . . . . . . . . . . November, 1928
Reprinted . . . . . . . . . . . . . September, 1930
Reprinted . . . . . . . . . . . . . June, 1935
Reprinted . . . . . . . . . . . . . October, 1937




To

GEORGE W. E. RUSSELL

I dedicate this Romance of Friendship to you with the sincerest
pleasure and affection. You were the first to suggest that I should
write a book about contemporary life at Harrow; you gave me the
principal idea; you have furnished me with notes innumerable; you have
revised every page of the manuscript; and you are a peculiarly keen
Harrovian.

In making this public declaration of my obligations to you, I take the
opportunity of stating that the characters in "The Hill," whether
masters or boys, are not portraits, although they may be called,
truthfully enough, composite photographs; and that the episodes of
Drinking and Gambling are founded on isolated incidents, not on
habitual practices. Moreover, in attempting to reproduce the curious
admixture of "strenuousness and sentiment" - your own phrase - which
animates so vitally Harrow life, I have been obliged to select the less
common types of Harrovian. Only the elect are capable of such
friendship as John Verney entertained for Henry Desmond; and few boys,
happily, are possessed of such powers as Scaife is shown to exercise.
But that there are such boys as Verney and Scaife, nobody knows better
than yourself.

Believe me,

Yours most gratefully,

HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL

BEECHWOOD,

February 22, 1905.




CONTENTS


I. THE MANOR
II. CAESAR
III. KRAIPALE
IV. TORPIDS
V. FELLOWSHIP
VI. A REVELATION
VII. REFORM
VIII. VERNEY BOSCOBEL
IX. BLACK SPOTS
X. DECAPITATION
XI. SELF-QUESTIONING
XII. "LORD'S"
XIII. "IF I PERISH, I PERISH"
XIV. GOOD NIGHT




THE HILL


CHAPTER I

THE MANOR

"Five hundred faces, and all so strange!
Life in front of me - home behind,
I felt like a waif before the wind
Tossed on an ocean of shock and change.

"_Chorus_. Yet the time may come, as the years go by,
When your heart will thrill
At the thought of the Hill,
And the day that you came so strange and shy."


The train slid slowly out of Harrow station.

Five minutes before, a man and a boy had been walking up and down the
long platform. The boy wondered why the man, his uncle, was so
strangely silent. Then, suddenly, the elder John Verney had placed his
hands upon the shoulders of the younger John, looking down into eyes as
grey and as steady as his own.

"You'll find plenty of fellows abusing Harrow," he said quietly; "but
take it from me, that the fault lies not in Harrow, but in them. Such
boys, as a rule, do not come out of the top drawer. Don't look so
solemn. You're about to take a header into a big river. In it are
rocks and rapids; but you know how to swim, and after the first plunge
you'll enjoy it, as I did, amazingly."

"Ra - ther," said John.

In the New Forest, where John had spent most of his life at his uncle's
place of Verney Boscobel, this uncle, his dead father's only brother,
was worshipped as a hero. Indeed he filled so large a space in the
boy's imagination, that others were cramped for room. John Verney in
India, in Burmah, in Africa (he took continents in his stride), moved
colossal. And when uncle and nephew met, behold, the great traveller
stood not much taller than John himself! That first moment, the
instant shattering of a precious delusion, held anguish. But now, as
the train whirled away the silent, thin, little man, he began to expand
again. John saw him scaling heights, cutting a path through
impenetrable forests, wading across dismal swamps, an ever-moving
figure, seeking the hitherto unknowable and irreclaimable, introducing
order where chaos reigned supreme, a world-famous pioneer.

How good to think that John Verney was _his_ uncle, blood of his blood,
his, his, his - for all time!

And, long ago, John, senior, had come to Harrow; had felt what John,
junior, felt to the core - the dull, grinding wrench of separation, the
sense, not yet to be analysed by a boy, of standing alone upon the edge
of a river, indeed, into which he must plunge headlong in a few
minutes. Well, Uncle John had taken his "header" with a stout
heart - who dared to doubt that? Surely he had not waited, shivering
and hesitating, at the jumping-off place.

The train was now out of sight. John slipped the uncle's tip into his
purse, and walked out of the station and on to the road beyond, the
road which led to the top of the Hill.

_The Hill._

Presently, the boy reached some iron palings and a wicket-gate. His
uncle had pointed out this gate and the steep path beyond which led to
the top of the Hill, to the churchyard, to the Peachey tomb on which
Byron dreamed,[1] to the High Street - and to the Manor. It was
pleasant to remember that he was going to board at the Manor, with its
traditions, its triumphs, its record. In his uncle's day the Manor
ranked first among the boarding-houses. Not a doubt disturbed John's
conviction that it ranked first still.

The boy stared upward with a keen gaze. Had the mother seen her son at
that moment, she might have discerned a subtle likeness between uncle
and nephew, not the likeness of the flesh, but of the spirit.

September rains, followed by a day of warm sunshine, had lured from the
earth a soft haze which obscured the big fields at the foot of the
Hill. John could make out fences, poplars, elms, Scotch firs, and
spectral houses. But, above, everything was clear. The
school-buildings, such as he could see, stood out boldly against a
cloudless sky, and above these soared the spire of Harrow Church,
pointing an inexorable finger upwards.

Afterwards this spot became dear to John Verney, because here, where
mists were chill and blinding, he had been impelled to leave the broad
high-road and take a path which led into a shadowy future. In
obedience to an impulse stronger than himself he had taken the short
cut to what awaited him.

For a few minutes he stood outside the palings, trying to choke down an
abominable lump in his throat. This was not his first visit to Harrow.
At the end of the previous term, he had ascended the Hill to pass the
entrance examination. A master from his preparatory school accompanied
him, an Etonian, who had stared rather superciliously - so John
thought - at buildings less venerable than those which Henry VI. raised
near Windsor. John, who had perceptions, was elusively conscious that
his companion, too much of a gentleman to give his thoughts words,
might be contrasting a yeoman's work with a king's; and when the
Etonian, gazing across the plains below to where Windsor lay, a soft
shadow upon the horizon, said abruptly, "I wish Eton had been built
upon a hill," John replied effusively; "Oh, sir, it _is_ decent of you
to say that." The examination, however, distracted his attention from
all things save the papers. To his delight he found these easy, and,
as soon as he left the examination-room, he was popped into a cab and
taken back to town. Coming down the flight of steps, he had seen a few
boys hurrying up or down the road. At these the Etonian cocked a
twinkling eye.

"Queer kit you Harrow boys wear," he said.

John, inordinately grateful at this recognition of himself as an
Harrovian, forgave the gibe. It had struck him, also, that the shallow
straw hat, the swallow-tail coat, did look queer, but he regarded them
reverently as the uniform of a crack corps.

To-day, standing by the iron palings, John reviewed the events of the
last hour. The view was blurred by unshed tears. His uncle and he had
driven together to the Manor. Here, the explorer had exercised his
peculiar personal magnetism upon the house-master, a tall, burly man of
truculent aspect and speech. John realized proudly that his uncle was
the bigger of the two, and that the giant acknowledged, perhaps
grudgingly, the dwarf's superiority, The talk, short enough, had
wandered into Darkest Africa. His uncle, as usual, said little,
replying almost in monosyllables to the questions of his host; but John
junior told himself exultantly that it was not necessary for Uncle John
to talk; the wide world knew what he had done.

Then his house-master, Rutford, had told John where to buy his first
straw hat.

"You can get one without an order at the beginning of each term," said
he, in a thick, rasping voice. "But you must ask me for an order if
you want a second."

Then he had shown John his room, to be shared with two other boys, and
had told him the hour of lock-up. And then, after tea, came the walk
down the hill, the tip, the firm grasp of the sinewy hand, and a
final - "God bless you."

Coming to the end of these reflections, confronted by the inexorable
future, and the necessity, no less inexorable, of stepping into it,
John passed through the gate. His heart fluttered furiously, and the
lump in the throat swelled inconveniently. John, however, had provided
himself with a "cure-all." Plunging his hand into his pocket, he
pulled out a cartridge, an unused twenty-bore gun cartridge. Looking
at this, John smiled. When he smiled he became good-looking. The
face, too long, plain, but full of sense and humour, rounded itself
into the gracious curves of youth; the serious grey eyes sparkled; the
lips, too firmly compressed, parted, revealing admirable teeth, small
and squarely set; into the cheeks, brown rather than pink, flowed a
warm stream of colour.

The cartridge stood for so much. Only a week before, Uncle John, on
his arrival from Manchuria, had handed his nephew a small leather case
and a key. The case held a double-barrelled, hammerless, ejector,
twenty-bore gun, with a great name upon its polished blue barrels.

The sight of the cartridge justified John's expectations. He put it
back into his pocket, and strode forward and upward.


Close to the School Chapel, John remarked a curly-headed young
gentleman of wonderfully prepossessing appearance, from whom emanated
an air, an atmosphere, of genial enjoyment which diffused itself. The
bricks of the school-buildings seemed redder and warmer, as if they
were basking in this sunny smile. The youth was smiling now,
smiling - at John. For several hours John had been miserably aware that
surprises awaited him, but not smiles. He knew no Harrovians; at his
school, a small one, his fellows were labelled Winchester, Eton,
Wellington; none, curiously enough, Harrow. And already, he had passed
half a dozen boys, the first-comers, some strangers, like himself, and
in each face he had read indifference. Not one had taken the trouble
to say, "Hullo! Who are you?" after the rough and ready fashion of the
private school.

And now this smiling, fascinating person was actually about to address
him, and in the old familiar style - -

"Hullo!"

"Hullo!"

"I met your governor the other day."

"Did you?" John replied. His father had died when John was seven.
Obviously, a blunder in identity had created this genial smile. John
wished that his father had not died.

"Yes," pursued the smiling one, "I met him - partridge-shooting at
home - and he asked me to be on the lookout for you. It's queer you
should turn up at once, isn't it?"

"Yes," said John.

"Your governor looked awfully fit."

"Did he?" Then John added solemnly, "My governor died when I was a
kid."

The other gasped; then he threw back his curly head and laughed.

"I say, I beg your pardon. I didn't mean to laugh. If you're not
Hardacre, who are you?"

"Verney. I've just come."

"Verney? That's a great Harrow name. Are you any relation to the
explorer?"

"Nephew," said John, blushing.

"Ah - you ought to have been here last Speecher.[2] We cheered him, I
can tell you. And the song was sung: the one with his name in it."

"Yes," said John. Then he added nervously, "All the same, I don't know
a soul at Harrow."

Desmond smiled. The smile assured John that his name would secure him
a cordial welcome. Desmond added abruptly, "My name, Desmond, is a
Harrow name. My father, my grandfather, my uncles, and three brothers
were here. It does make a difference. What's your house?"

"The Manor," said John, proudly.

"Dirty Dick's!" Then, seeing consternation writ large upon John's
face, he added quickly, "We call _him_ Dirty Dick, you know; but the
house is - er - one of the oldest and biggest - er - houses." He continued
hurriedly: "I'm going into Damer's next term. Damer's is always
chock-a-block, you know."

"Why is Rutford called 'Dirty Dick'?" John asked nervously. "He
doesn't _look_ dirty."

"Oh, we've licked him into a sort of shape," said Desmond. "I
_believe_ he toshes now - once a month, or so."

"Toshes?"

"Tubs, you know. We call a tub a 'tosh.' When Dirty Dick came here he
was unclean. He told his form - oh! the cheek of it! - that in his
filthy mind one bath a week was plenty," unconsciously the boy mimicked
the thick, rasping tones - "two, luxury, and three - superfluity! After
that he was called Dirty Dick. There's another story. They say that
years ago he went to a Turkish bath, and after a rare good scraping the
man who was scraping him - nasty job that! - found something which Dirty
Dick recognized as a beastly flannel shirt he had lost when he was at
the 'Varsity. But only the Fourth Form boys swallow _that_. Hullo!
There's a pal of mine. See you again."

He ran off gaily. John walked to the shop where straw hats were sold.
Here he met other new boys, who regarded him curiously, but said
nothing. John put on his hat, and gave Rutford's name to the young man
who waited on him. He had an absurd feeling that the young man would
say, "Oh yes - Dirty Dick's!" One very nice-looking pink-cheeked boy
said to another boy that he was at Damer's. John could have sworn that
the hatter's assistant regarded the pink youth with increased deference.

Why had Uncle John sent him to Dirty Dick's? He hurried out of the
shop, fuming. Then he remembered the hammerless gun. After all, the
Manor had been _the_ house once, and it might be _the_ house again.

By this time the boys were arriving. Groups were forming. Snatches of
chatter reached John's ears. "Yes, I shot a stag, a nine-pointer. My
governor is going to have it set up for me - - What? Walked up your
grouse with dogs! We drive ours - - I had some ripping cricket, made
a century in one match - - By Jove! Did you really? - - "

John passed on. These were "bloods," tremendous swells, grown men with
a titillating flavour of the world about their distinguished persons.

A minute later he was staring disconsolately at a group of his fellows
just in front of Dir - - of Rutford's side door. An impulse seized him
to turn and flee. What would Uncle John say to that? So he advanced.
The boys made way politely, asking no questions. As he passed through
he caught a few eager words. "I was hoping that the brute had gone.
It _is_ a sickener, and no mistake!"

John ascended the battered, worn-out staircase, wondering who the
"brute" was. Perhaps a sort of Flashman. John knew his _Tom Brown_;
but some one had told him that bullying had ceased to be. Great
emphasis had been laid on the "brute," whoever he might be.

Upon the second-floor passage, he found his room and one of its
tenants, who nodded carelessly as John crossed the threshold.

"I'm Scaife," he said. "Are you the Lord, or the Commoner?" He
laughed, indicating a large portmanteau, labelled, "Lord Esmé Kinloch."

"I'm Verney," said John.

"I've bagged the best bed," said Scaife, after a pause, "and I advise
you to bag the next best one, over there. It was mine last term."

"I don't see the beds," said John, staring about him.

Scaife pointed out what appeared to be three tall, narrow wardrobes.
The rest of the furniture included three much-battered washstands and
chests of drawers, four Windsor chairs, and a square table, covered
with innumerable inkstains and roughly-carved names.

"The beds let down," Scaife said, "and during the first school the
maids make them, and shut them up again. It is considered a joke to
crawl into another fellow's room at night, and shut him up. You find
yourself standing upon your head in the dark, choking. It is a
joke - for the other fellow."

"Did some one do that to you?" asked John.

"Yes; a big lout in the Third Fifth," Scaife smiled grimly.

"And what did you do?"

"I waited for him next day with a cricket stump. There was an awful
row, because I let him have it a bit too hard; but I've not been shut
up since. That bed is a beast. It collapses." He chuckled. "Young
Kinloch won't find it quite as soft as the ones at White Ladies. Well,
like the rest of us, he'll have to take Dirty Dick's as he finds it."

The bolt had fallen.

John asked in a quavering voice, "Then it _is_ called that?"

"Called what?"

"This house. Dirty Dick's!"

Scaife smiled cynically. He looked about a year older than John, but
he had the air and manners of a man of the world - so John thought.
Also, he was very good-looking, handsomer than Desmond, and in striking
contrast to that smiling, genial youth, being dark, almost swarthy of
complexion, with strongly-marked features and rather coarse hands and
feet.

"Everybody here calls it Dirty Dick's," he replied curtly.

John stared helplessly.

"But," he muttered, "I heard, I was told, that the Manor was the best
house in the school."

"It used to be," Scaife answered. "To-day, it comes jolly near being
the worst. The fellows in other houses are decent; they don't rub it
in; but, between ourselves, the Manor has gone to pot ever since Dirty
Dick took hold of it. Damer's is the swell house now."

John began to unstrap his portmanteau. Scaife puzzled him. For
instance, he displayed no curiosity. He did not put the questions
always asked at a Preparatory School. Without turning his thought into
words, John divined that at Harrow it was bad form to ask questions.
As he wanted to ask a question, a very important question, this
enforced silence became exasperating.

Presently Scaife said, "I suppose you are one of the Claydon lot."

"No; my home is in the New Forest. My uncle is Verney of Verney
Boscobel."

"Oh! his name is on the panels at the head of the staircase; and it's
carved on a bed in the next room."

"Crikey! I must go and look at it."

"You can look at the panels, of course; but don't say 'Crikey!' and
don't go into the next room. Two Fifth Form fellows have it. It would
be infernal cheek."

John hoped that Scaife would offer to accompany him to the panels.
Then he went alone. It being now within half an hour of lock-up, the
passages were swarming with boys. Soon John would see them assembled
in Hall, where their names would be called over by Rutford.
Everybody - John had been told - was expected to be present at this first
call-over, except a few boys who might be coming from a distance. John
worked his way along the upper passage, and down the second flight of
stairs till he came to the first landing. Here, close to the house
notice-board, were some oak panels covered with names and dates, all
carved - so John learned later - by a famous Harrow character, Sam Hoare,
once "Custos" of the School. The boy glanced eagerly, ardently, up and
down the panels. Ah, yes, here was his father's name, and here - his
uncle's. And then out of the dull, finely-grained oak, shone other
names familiar to all who love the Hill and its traditions. John's
heart grew warm again with pride in the house that had held such men.
The name of the great statesman and below it a mighty warrior's made
him thrill and tremble. They were _Old Harrovians_, these fellows, men
whom his uncle had known, men of whom his dear mother, wise soul! had
spoken a thousand times. The landing and the passages were roaring
with the life of the present moment. Boys, big and small, were
chaffing each other loudly. Under some circumstances, this new-comer,
a stranger, ignored entirely, might have felt desolate and forlorn in
the heart of such a crowd; but John was tingling with delight and
pleasure.

Suddenly, the noise moderated. John, looking up, saw a big fellow
slowly approaching, exchanging greetings with everybody. John turned
to a boy close to him.

"Who is it?" he whispered.

The other boy answered curtly, "Lawrence, the Head of the House."

The big fellow suddenly caught John's eyes. What he read
there - admiration, respect, envy - brought a slight smile to his lips.

"Your name?" he demanded.

"Verney."

Lawrence held out his hand, simply and yet with a certain dignity.

"I heard you were coming," he said, keenly examining John's face. "We
can't have too many Verneys. If I can do anything for you, let me
know."

He nodded, and strode on. John saw that several boys were staring with
a new interest. None, however, spoke to him; and he returned to his
room with a blushing face. Scaife had unpacked his clothes and put
them away; he was now surveying the bare walls with undisguised
contempt.

"Isn't this a beastly hole?" he remarked.

John, always interested in people rather than things, examined the room
carefully. Passing down the passage he had caught glimpses of other
rooms: some charmingly furnished, gay with chintz, embellished with
pictures, Japanese fans, silver cups, and other trophies. Comparing
these with his own apartment, John said shyly -

"It's not very beefy."

"Beefy? You smell of a private school, Verney. Now, is it worth doing
up? You see, I shall be in a two-room next term. If we all chip
in - - " he paused.

"I've brought back two quid," said John.

Scaife's smile indicated neither approval nor the reverse. John's
ingenuous confidence provoked none in return.

"We'll talk about it when Kinloch arrives. I wonder why his people
sent him here."

John had studied some books, but not the Peerage. The great name of
Kinloch was new to him, not new to Scaife, who, for a boy, knew his
"Burke" too odiously well.

"Why shouldn't his people send him here?" he asked.

"Because," Scaife's tone was contemptuous, "because the
Kinlochs - they're a great cricketing family - go to Eton. The duke must
nave some reason."

"The duke?"

"Hang it, surely you have heard of the Duke of Trent?"

"Yes," said John, humbly. "And this is his son?"

He glanced at the label on the new portmanteau.

"Whose son should he be?" said Scaife. "Well, it's queer. Dukes[3]
and dukes' sons come to Harrow - all the Hamiltons were here, and the
FitzRoys, and the St. Maurs - but the Kinlochs, as I say, have gone to
Eton. It's a rum thing - very. And why the deuce hasn't he turned up?"

The clanging of a bell brought both boys to their feet.

"Lock-up, and call-over," said Scaife. "Come on!"

They pushed their way down the passage. Several boys addressed Scaife.

"Hullo, Demon! - Here's the old Demon! - Demon, I thought you were going
to be sacked!"

To these and other sallies Scaife replied with his slightly ironical
smile. John perceived that his companion was popular and at the same
time peculiar; quite different from any boy he had yet met.

They filed into a big room - the dining-room of the house - a square,
lofty hall, with three long tables in it. On the walls hung some
portraits of famous Old Harrovians. As a room it was disappointing at
first sight, almost commonplace. But in it, John soon found out,
everything for weal or woe which concerned the Manor had taken place or
had been discussed. There were two fireplaces and two large doors.
The boys passed through one door; upon the threshold of the other stood
the butler, holding a silver salver, with a sheet of paper on it.

"What cheek!" murmured Scaife.

"Eh?" said John.

"Dirty Dick isn't here. Just like him, the slacker! And when he does
come over on our side of the House, he slimes about in carpet
slippers - the beast!"

Lawrence entered as Scaife spoke. John saw that his strongly-marked
eyebrows went up, when he perceived the butler. He approached, and
took the sheet of paper. The butler said impressively -

"Mr. Rutford is busy. Will you call over, sir?"

At any rate, the butler, Dumbleton, was worthy of the best traditions


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