The Rival Captains – Richard Bird

The Rival Captains by Richard BirdThe Rival Captains by Richard Bird. Originally published in 1916 by Hodder and Stoughton, like many of Bird’s books went through several reprints most notably by Humphrey Milton OUP London, 1927 and then in a Richard Bird Omnibus, London 1937 (along with The Sporting House and The Wharton Medal.)

The Rival Captains
    I A Bolt from the Blue
   II The New Star
  III Tea and Tips
   IV A First-Class Rag
    V A Change of Studies
   VI The Real Clark
  VII A Mysterious Scream
 VIII Mazeppa Up-to-Date
   IX "Good Fun"
    X Wheels Needing Grease
   XI "Getting the Boot"
  XII The O.D. Match
 VIII "Masks and Faces"
  XIV Times Out of Joint
   XV Some Smoke
  XVI The Tale of a Shirt
 XVII Caterham's Confidences
XVIII A Mouse and a Man
  XIX WATT Loses His Cap
   XX The Ragging of Percy
  XXI "When Thieves Fall Out"
 XXII Bax Lends a Hand
XXIII A Junior House Match
 XXIV An Honest Man Comes By His Own

Chapter I

"Ham, please!"
"Tongue, please!"
"Ham and tongue, please!"
"Greedy beast!  Don't give him both, Mary! Give him dry bread!"
"Beast yourself! Ham and tongue, please, Mary!"
"Keep him waiting till the end! That's mine, isn't it, Jessie? Bags I!"
"It's tongue, you fool: you said ham!"
A moment of silence, during which the entire audience paused to realise the catastrophe. Then cheers and drumming on the table with knives and spoons announced the total ruin of at least one plate.
Mrs. Salkeld, commonly called "The Mut," the capable matron of Mr. Chatham's house, left the tea-urns and approached the scene of the catastrophe.
"How did it hape, Mary?" she asked.
"Young Master Pettigrew," said Mary. "He held the tablecloth out level, so I thought it was part of the table. When I put the plate down on it, he let go -- his hands were underneath.""
"Well, Pettigrew?" demanded Mrs. Salkheld, as Mary began to gather up the debris of the plate.
"I was thinking," observed Pettigrew, the brightest brain of all the Lower Study. Bright, that is to say, in schemes of rascality, though not at Latin prose. "My hands got under the cloth, somehow -- I suppose --"
"Report yourself to Mr. Baxendale after tea," said the judge, cutting short the plea, "and see what he thinks of it. And no meat for you tonight!"
The last punishment did not seem likely materially to affect Pettigrew's temper or girth. He explained in a loud and offensive whisper to his allies, Blythe, Duckworth, and Sands, that he did not care, because --

(1) Both tongue and ham had been bought cheap, having been kept too long.
(2) He had had two Regular Gorges before leaving home that day.
(3) He had tons of grub in his tuck-box.

"Liar!" said Sands, with genial simplicity. He was a creature whose conversation was conducted chiefly in monosyllables. "Here, you chaps! Sub up."
With kindly communism Sands, Blythe, and Duckworth divided their portions and gave a third each to their comrade. This he received literally with both hands and appreciative thanks. Despite his recent assertions and the regular gorges, great and rapid progress was made.
It was the first night of the Christmas term. Cricket and the summer were, in the words of the deathless lyric, "things of the past, old dear": the early days of September were bright and promising. Dry, quiet weather a nip of slight frost in the early mornings, the stimulating promise of roughness to combat and enjoy, the expectation of footer once more - these delights were upon the world in general and Dipcote in particular. It was now half-past five. Nearly all of Mr. Chatham's house were safely folded. All must be in by nine o' clock on the opening day. Appetites were keen and - among the old hands, at any rate - spirits high. The recollection of home comforts, now that the actual leaving had been got over, were being compensated for by the meeting of kindred souls and the exchange of reminiscences. Company gives courage - actual, as well as the "gallery courage" one assumes because it is expected. Even the new boys, under the influence of tea and gossip, were feeling a little less inclined to go out into the garden and eat worms because nobody loved them.
"Who's school captain this year?" asked Blythe presently. "Anybody heard yet?"
"Ass! who could it be but Scott?"
"Well, there's Colquhoun and Watt, out of your shop, both in the running. And Braithwaite of the School House. Any of them might get the job."
"Scott's above them all in school - second in last term's order, too."
"No colours," grunted Sands. "Bars him. Utterly."
"You mump-head," said Blythe, digging him in the ribs; "he got his cricket colours after all. No footer colours of course, but-"
"And Watt and Colquhoun both have their footer colours, though they're below him in school. So'd Braithwaite," added Duckworth.
"Take it from me," said Pettigrew, with decision, "that Scott will be captain. The Old Man's a whale for work. You can bet your boots and shoes and pyjamas that he'll spot Scott. -Hi! that's a pome!"
"What's a pome?"
"Spot-Scott. What-what?"
"What-rot!" said another voice that they did not recognise. It came from a junior who had hitherto been sitting silent on Pettigrew's right. The unconscious poet turned and looked him up and down as if he had been a new specimen of the Dipcote fauna. So, indeed, he was.
"Hello!" said Pettigrew. "You a new kid?"
The new kid gravely finished some bread-and-butter, exasperated the questioner by a further pause while he drank some tea, and then said "Yes."
"What's your name?"
Another pause, and another drink. ("A bally sponge!" said Duckworth audibly.) Then, "My name's Goss."
"Then what," said Pettigrew with restrained ire, "do you mean by calling my poem rot?"
"I didn't," said Goss calmly.
"You did. I said 'Spot-Scott; what-what!' And you said 'What-rot!' If that isn't good enough-"
"I didn't call your poem rot."
"Gosh!" said Pettigrew, wide-eyed and appealing to heaven. "Here we get a new kid laughing at my literary work, and then calling me a liar! Things-"
"I didn't," persisted Goss. "I said 'What rot!' because you said Scott would be the new captain. He won't."
"What do you know about it?" queried Blythe.
"Well, he's my cousin," said the new boy, helping himself to jam.
"And why won't he be captain?" asked Pettigrew, curiosity conquering anger.
"'Cos he's left. In a hurry."
"No!" snapped Goss, with a flush. "Had a job offered him to go tea-planting just two days ago. Too good a job to refuse. So he chucked the idea of coming back and is going to sail in a fortnight."
"Ah, well! he was a bit of a stinker," said Duckworth gracefully. "Daresay his cousin will carry on the good old tradition. That makes the captaincy more open."
At that moment a senior boy came in to tea. He caught the words as he was passing, and stopped with a smile that was genuine, if patronising.
"Captaincy of Dipcote 13th fifteen?" he asked cheerily. "One of you specking?"
"Oh, no, Watt!" answered Pettigrew. "Haven't you heard?"
"What? I've only just arrived."
"Scott's left. And the new captain isn't fixed yet. We were wondering-"
He paused. Watt, realizing the situation, laughed and interposed.
"-if the Old Man would remember you?"
"I'd be more satisfied if he'd forget me," replied Pettigrew, conscious of the honour of joking with a member of the Sixth.
Watt laughed, passed on, and sat down to tea.
"Decent chap, Watt," observed Pettigrew in an artless undertone. "O-ooh! What's that for?" He bent down and began rubbing his shin.
"Keep you from getting swelled head," said Blythe, sitting opposite. "Hate seeing a pal of mine get above himself 'cos he's spoken to by the footer captain."
"Wait till afterwards!" said the sufferer darkly, conscious that the charge was just. He looked round to find a victim on whom to vent his wrath. His eye fell on Goss, palpably smiling. "Hi, you!" he said; "what the dickens are you laughing at?"
"Nothing much," said Goss amiably, and Pettigrew noticed that, though of quiet aspect, his body and muscles were big. He gloomed at the thought. Times were bad: the country was going to the dogs: new kids were not as respectful as in his young days. Now, they had to be reduced by strategy. It was high time Goss was taken down a peg, but Pettigrew's active brain for the moment could think of nothing.
Tea closed without further incident, and the house dispersed to unpack and gossip. Watt and a few cronies lingered, discussing the summer holidays and cricket averages. Finally, they too went about their respective businesses. The football captain, after arranging his togs in his dormitory, repaired to the First Study, that he was to share during the coming year with Colquhoun. He found it empty and busied himself pleasantly for twenty minutes in changing his books from his old study and putting them in order on the new shelves. Presently Colquhoun, a big, solid-looking fellow, with kindly eyes, entered and sat down on the window-seat. He looked grave, even a little uncomfortable. Watt had his back to him at first and noticed nothing ununsual. There was a short silence, and then it was broken by Colquhoun.
"I say," he began, and stopped.
Watt turned. "Yes?" he observed.
"I've just been seeing Chatham," said Colquhoun. "He's given me some news - some unexpected news-"
"Been left a fortune, or going to be sacked?" asked Watt cheerfully.
"Neither. He's just told me that Scott has left and I'm to be school captain this year."
"Oh!" said Watt, rather blankly. This was a surprise indeed. He had expected Scott to be made captain; but when he had heard of Scott's leaving he had been optimistic over his own chances. This was not unnatural, for he was above Colquhoun in school order, and was certain to be elected captain of the Dipcote football as soon as the games committee met, for he was the senior colour left. Also, he had his cricket colours. Colquhoun had his football colours and was a sound, if rather slow, centre three-quarter. Besides-he thought silently for a moment, and then gave a short attempt to laugh.
"Congrats," he said perfunctorily. "I hope you'll have a good year. But won't it be a bit queer you being school captain and me house captain? I mean, my being under you in school, and you under me in the house? It's a technical point, of course, but-"
Colquhoun looked gloomy.
"Chatham says I'm to be house captain too," he said awkwardly. "He's just been explaining-"
Watt's eyes flashed angrily.
"But Chat told me at the end of last term that he was going to make me skipper the house."
"I know," agreed Colquhoun. "Chat's just been explaining. He thought Scott was coming back and would be the school captain. Scott's leaving has upset all. Chat's awfully sorry about it, but he thinks it wouldn't be the best arrangement to have two captains in one house. The Old Man has chosen me (goodness knows why) to skipper the school, and Chat says I must take on the house job as well. I'm-I'm awfully sorry, too, old hoss-it's beastly rough on you. But the thing's none of my seeking. We've just got to make the best of it."
He paused, hoping that Watt would do the decent things. He wanted him to say, "Well, it can't be helped, and I'll back you up all I know" - the decent thing-the obvious sporting thing for a Dipcotian to do. But he was disappointed.
Watt gave a short, uncomfortable laugh and said, "well, if the Old Man and Chatham have fixed it up, there's no more to be said., But I must say I think it's pretty stiff to promise a fellow a thing and then change your mind. And I think he might have told me instead of sending a message. A bit casual, anyhow."
"He wants to see you now," said Colquhoun eagerly, trying to soften the blow. "Chat didn't ask me to tell you. I only thought I'd sort of break the ice a bit before you went in."
"Good of you," returned Watt, with a slight sneer. "Well, I suppose I'd better go and be filled up with polite regrets. Where is Chat? In his study?"
"Yes," said Colquhoun. "I'm-I'm awfully sorry, old chap-it's not my fault, you know. I couldn't help it."
"Oh, what's the odds?" said Watt jauntily. "After all, a captaincy more or less doesn't matter. But I rather bar a man making a promise and then breaking it as soon as it suits his convenience. Well, I'd better trot and get the pathetic scene over as soon as possible."
He swung out of the study, leaving Colquhoun chilled. He had guessed that Watt would be disappointed-who would not, after having been promised the captaincy?- but he had not thought he would take it like this. He felt a little resentful-not unjustly; for a man should pride himself on a grown-up attitude towards the blows of fate. Had he been in Watt's place, he told himself, he would not have taken it that way. Sick? Yes, of course he would have been sick, but he would have faced his sickness and put his shoulder to the wheel. If not for the School and House, at least he would have put a cheery face on things for the sake of his self-respect. The world should have thought that he could take a knock without a wince. As he changed into ordinary garb again he hoped, with a sense of foreboding, that Watt was not going to make an ass of himself.