Jeremy at Crale - Hugh Walpole - ebook

Jeremy at Crale ebook

Hugh Walpole

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Horror built on the psychological game of characters. Jeremy at Crale is a third-age story published by Sir Hugh Walpole. Published to critical acclaim throughout the world, it quickly became a bestseller.

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Liczba stron: 384

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Contents

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter I

THE FORTRESS

1

Young Cole, quivering with pride, surveyed the room.

So, at last, was one of his deepest ambitions realized.

It was not, when you looked at it, a very large room. If, as was the way with many of the other Studies, it had had a table in the middle of it, there would have been precious little space in which to move. But he and Gauntlet Ma, almost at once after their arrival last night, had come to an agreement about this. They would have their own tables in their own corners, leaving the middle of the room free–and Marlowe could lump it.

Ma Bender had found two small (and exceedingly dirty) tables, and the only thing that remained was to toss for the window. They had tossed and Cole had won. Marlowe, of course, had the dark corner near the door.

Young Jeremy Cole didn’t dare to think what his feelings would have been had he lost that toss. He wanted that window terribly–nobody in the world would ever know how badly–and for once in a way he had been successful. “For once in a way,” because he always lost the toss at everything.

He was alone in the room at last (he had hurried here directly after Third School) and his intention was to arrange his table before anyone came in. He saw that Gauntlet had already arranged his, that from somewhere or another he had procured a dark blue cloth and a smart-looking writing-case.

Then, turning with a shock of surprise, he discovered that that young pip-squeak Marlowe had arranged his–and what an arrangement! There, in between the door and the farther corner, exactly fitting into its space, was one of those old writing bureaux, Eighteenth Century or something, with little drawers and twisted brass handles and of a dark, shiny colour that even Jeremy, who knew nothing whatever about furniture, recognized as handsome. Moreover, above this remarkable piece of furniture was a small, dark bookcase with a glass front, and inside this were books with shining and gleaming faces.

On the top of the bureau was a leather frame that contained the portrait of a thin, severe, military-looking gentleman; there was also a strange, brass figure of a squatting, malevolent-looking image–Chinese or Hindu, something Eastern.

All that Jeremy could say was “Gosh!”

When had young Marlowe produced these things? They weren’t there last night. What side! If young Marlowe thought that this kind of swank...

But he turned, then, back to his own scratched and naked-seeming table. Large splashes of ink disfigured its surface. The few things that he had to arrange upon it–a dingy double frame containing his father and mother, a very faded green blotter, one of the school ink-wells and a photograph of the House Second XV of last season–how miserable these seemed!

He was aware of acute and poignant disappointment. And to think that he should be disappointed so soon when, during the whole of the preceding year, he had longed and longed for just this moment–when by simple right of brains, industry and personality he should be part owner of one of these Studies! And here he was, and it was dust-and-ashes in the mouth!

However, being Jeremy Cole, he very quickly recovered. What, after all, did it matter? It was all very well to make a show on the second day of the term, but what about the end of the first week? Everyone knew that you couldn’t, unless you were in the Sixth, or a Games Captain, and had fags and a whole Study to yourself, keep anything decent for more than a day or two. What would Marlowe’s old bureau look like after one or two rags? But were there to be any rags in here? He and Gauntlet had only last night sworn that there should not. They would keep the place decent and rag elsewhere... Would they? He couldn’t be sure. He wasn’t even certain of himself. The very thought of young Marlowe’s “side” made him want to kick that bureau about.

However, there was always the window. Jeremy turned to it and sighed with contentment. To the ordinary observer it might not have seemed a marvellous view. On the right was the great, towering wall of Upper School and, lower down, jutting out of this, the Upper Fives Courts. In the middle distance was a square, rather dingy space known as Coulter’s Yard, and beyond Coulter’s the path that bordered the Upper Playing Fields. On the left were the walls, red-bricked and creeper-covered, of Jeremy’s own House, Leeson’s.

It is true that beyond the “Upper Games” (these were scarcely visible because they shelved so swiftly downhill) were the tops of trees, and beyond the trees again you could imagine the sea, knowing as you did that it was inevitably and eternally there.

But, on the whole, not much for the ordinary observer. Everything, however, for Jeremy.

By opening the window and craning his neck he could have a very good view of the Fives Court and, without craning at all, the whole gossip and turmoil of Coulter’s was visible to him. Beyond all, most of the real life of the school–masters, visitors and every species of boy–passed at one time or another along the Gridiron, the path beyond Coulter’s.

A marvellous and all-engrossing view. It was wonderful, when you came to consider it, that Gauntlet had submitted so tamely to the result of that significant toss.

But his table? Could he not do something about it? He would write home at once and demand that a table-cloth should be sent. And then what about Uncle Samuel’s funny picture that had lain for three years, the period of Jeremy’s sojourn at Crale, at the bottom of his play-box! Every holiday it had gone home with him and, as he had always insisted on himself packing and unpacking that sacred vessel, no one had ever discovered it.

To tell the truth he had been always ashamed of that picture. Who wouldn’t be? It might be anything. Uncle Samuel said it was “Sheep in a Field,” but who ever saw sheep like little red dots and lacking apparently both heads and tails?

Jeremy had too high an opinion of Uncle Samuel to leave it at home. Someone would discover it and then Uncle Samuel would be hurt, but no one in the school had ever seen it, and until now Jeremy had resolved that no one ever should.

However, it had a rather nice thin, gilt frame. People might appreciate that, and who was there in Jeremy’s set who knew anything about pictures, anyway?

He turned once more to the window. It was a lovely, early autumn day. Soft, white clouds hovered lazily about a sky shining with sun. The tips of the trees against the horizon shaded in shadowy orange over a blue so faint that it was scarcely any colour at all.

But Jeremy didn’t bother about the day. Someone was coming into the nearest Fives Court. It might be Bates, and wasn’t that “Bunch” Halleran?

He was half out of the window, his legs hanging over the table. The door behind him opened, and turning impetuously, his career was nearly then and there terminated for ever.

Oh, all right; it was Gauntlet. The excitement of what he had to say carried him tumbling from the table to the floor, and the impetus of his movement almost carried him into Gauntlet’s arms.

“I say, Spikes... Look here! Look at young Marlowe!”

Gauntlet turned round, and he said what Jeremy had said:

“Gosh!” Then he added, staring: “It’s rather ripping!”

“Spikes” Gauntlet was a little taller than Jeremy and a great deal more handsome. He was, in fact, a good-looking small boy, and, for his tender years, something of a dandy. There are certain small boys who, through all the rough and tumble of their Jungle life, are never dishevelled or untidy. Their shining Eton collars are always clean, their cheeks are never inky, even their nails are grey rather than black–that is, if there are any nails. The knees of their trousers are never dusty, nor the seat thereof, and their boots never yawn, nor do their socks tumble in cascades below the ankle.

Such a boy was Gauntlet, and yet it would not be fair to say that he held himself apart. He was, on the whole, popular in spite of his neatness, although not so popular as his hard work in the direction of popularity entitled him to be.

For it was the desire and longing of his heart, soul and stomach to be popular. This was his only goal in life. He knew (and with surprising clarity for so young a boy) that as a scholar he would never be especially distinguished, nor would he ever play games supremely well. He was not rich, nor had his father a title (than small boys there exist in all the world no greater social snobs); but he had, he fancied, “charm.” He was at heart extremely conceited, but he was already worldly-wise enough to know that to display your conceit before the world was the height of social folly. He was, in fact, very old for his years, being an only child and possessing an adoring mother.

He was an intriguer born. He owed allegiance to no one: others thought they were his friends and he liked them to think so; but, on his side, he gave his friendship to no one. He did not, indeed, know what the word meant. He cultivated the suppression of the emotions. He showed neither anger nor fear, neither greed nor cruelty. He was naturally something of a puzzle to the young wild animals in whose midst he lived.

This moving upward into the Study world had been an event of far greater excitement to him than to young Cole, but he had shown no excitement whatever.

He had feared, at the end of the summer term, that he would not obtain his promotion out of the Middle Fourth into the Upper Fourth. The Upper Fourth meant the Upper School. Every boy in Upper School had the share of a Study. He had, however, snatched his remove by the skin of his teeth, if so melodramatic a metaphor may be used in connexion with so controlled a personality.

When, at the end of the first week of the summer holidays, his father, a dyspeptic General, had received a letter informing him that his son had won his remove, young Gauntlet occupied many summer hours in wondering with whom his Study lot would be cast.

Only six Leeson boys could possibly have their remove–Staire, Cole, Marlowe, Perrin, Hackett and himself. Three of them would share a Study; the other three would be distributed among other Studies. The permutations and combinations were infinite.

Of these five boys two were superior–young Cole because of his football, and “Red” Staire because of–oh, because of a thousand things.

The rise to a Study was a rise out of the lower ranges of the Jungle–it was a half-way stage between serfdom and liberty. Now was the time when you could look around and judge who, chances being equal, would in two years’ time be Leaders of the House and possibly Leaders of the School. Of course, not always. There were some stupid boys who would linger in the Lower School for years and yet, because of their sporting talents, would be “Bloods” and Leaders of Men–Halleran, for instance, who was still in the Upper Fourth although he had been Fives Captain for the last two years.

But when, as was the case with Stocky Cole and Red Staire, there were brains as well as games, you could foretell the future pretty accurately.

Well and good–no problem at all, had Stocky Cole and Red Staire been friends. But, as everyone in Lower School knew, they were, and had been for the past two years, the most determined enemies. They loathed one another. All the Lower School politics in Leeson’s during the last year had hovered and hesitated around their feud. You could not possibly belong to both camps.

It looked, then, as though Fate had definitely decided that Gauntlet should henceforth belong to the Cole party. This decision about the Study had surely decided the matter. But not at all. Young Gauntlet was not to be rushed like that. Like Mr. Asquith, whose character he in no other way resembled, he would “wait and see.” (These were days before that famous phrase had been created.)

Were his feelings to be consulted (and they never were, if he could avoid it), he liked Cole the better of the two. You couldn’t help liking Stocky Cole. Almost everyone did except Staire. But was Cole likely to rise to the top? He was, from Gauntlet’s point of view, in character extremely rum. He seemed to have no ambitions–with the one grand exception, of course–football. And even in football he didn’t “work for position,” as Gauntlet would have done. He never made up to anybody. Why, all last year he was Considine’s fag, and into Considine’s Study all the football men at one time or another penetrated. But young Cole had never sweated himself for any one of them more than for another. It was generally reported that Considine himself would have done a lot for Stocky had Stocky allowed him, but Stocky seemed to prefer his own inconsiderable friends, people of no account like Jumbo Payne. There was a case in point. Exactly. Who was Jumbo Payne? Nobody and Nothing. Moreover, would he ever be Anything or Anybody? Never. No good at games; no good at work. Nothing to say for himself, nothing to look at, no family, no money. Gauntlet simply couldn’t understand making a friend of such a Nothing. Young Cole never seemed to look ahead–save only in football. He had been a trifle excited over the window question. But a window? What was a window? Gauntlet cared nothing for windows.

Now Red Staire was quite different. He made friends of the mighty. He was on good terms with almost everyone in authority. His father was a baronet of most ancient standing, and he had plenty of money. He might very possibly next summer get his First Cricket. He was at any rate certain of his House Cricket.

Yes, but next summer? That was a long way off and Staire was no good at football. This was Stocky Cole’s term. Anything might happen before next summer.

2

The two boys made a striking contrast as they stood together staring at Marlowe’s bureau.

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