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CHAPTER 1 When you are getting on in years but not ill, of course , you get very sleepy at times, and the hours seem to pass like lazy cattle moving across a landscape. It was like that for Chips as the autumn term progressed and the days shortened till it was actually dark enough to light the gas before call-over.
For Chips, like some old sea captain, still measured time by the signals of the past; and well he might, for he lived at Mrs. He had been there more than a decade, ever since he finally gave up his mastership; and it was Brookfield far more than Greenwich time that both he and his landlady kept. Wickett," Chips would sing out, in that jerky, high-pitched voice that had still a good deal of sprightliness in it, "you might bring me a cup of tea before prep, will you?
Chips always wound up the clock after that last bell; then he put the wire guard in front of the fire, turned out the gas, and carried a detective novel to bed.
Rarely did he read more than a page of it before sleep came swiftly and peacefully, more like a mystic intensifying of perception than any changeful entrance into another world.
For his days and nights were equally full of dreaming. He was getting on in years but not ill, of course ; indeed, as Doctor Merivale said, there was really nothing the matter with him.
That is, of course, if you die at all. Wickett aside in the lobby and whisper: Born in , and taken to the Great Exhibition as a toddling child—not many people still alive could boast a thing like that. A phenomenon, that was. Wetherby had been an old man in those days——easy to remember because of the Franco-Prussian War.
But Brookfield he had liked, almost from the beginning. He remembered that day of his preliminary interview—sunny June, with the air full of flower scents and the plick-plock of cricket on the pitch. Brookfield was playing Barnhurst, and one of the Barnhurst boys, a chubby little fellow, made a brilliant century.
Queer that a thing like that should stay in the memory so clearly. Wetherby himself was very fatherly and courteous; he must have been ill then, poor chap, for he died during the summer vacation, before Chips began his first term.
But the two had seen and spoken to each other, anyway. Chips often thought, as he sat by the fire at Mrs. I am probably the only man in the world who has a vivid recollection of old Wetherby Chipping, and Brookfield is an old foundation. Youth and age often combine well. Give your enthusiasm to Brookfield, and Brookfield will give you something in return. I—er—gather that discipline was not always your strong point at Melbury?
You have another chance here. He remembered that first tremendous ordeal of taking prep; a September sunset more than half a century ago; Big Hall full of lusty barbarians ready to pounce on him as their legitimate prey. His youth, fresh-complexioned, high-collared, and side-whiskered odd fashions people followed in those days , at the mercy of five hundred unprincipled ruffians to whom the baiting of new masters was a fine art, an exciting sport, and something of a tradition.
Decent little beggars individually, but, as a mob, just pitiless and implacable. The sudden hush as he took his place at the desk on the dais; the scowl he assumed to cover his inward nervousness; the tall clock ticking behind him, and the smells of ink and varnish; the last blood-red rays slanting in slabs through the stained-glass windows.
Someone dropped a desk lid. Quickly, he must take everyone by surprise; he must show that there was no nonsense about him. He had won his first round. And years later, when Colley was an alderman of the City of London and a baronet and various other things, he sent his son also red-haired to Brookfield, and Chips would say: He deserved it then, and you deserve it now.
And again, years after that, many years after that, there was an even better joke. For another Colley had just arrived—son of the Colley who was a son of the first Colley. And Chips would say, punctuating his remarks with that little "umph-um" that had by then become a habit with him: I remember your grandfather—umph —he could never grasp the Ablative Absolute.
A stupid fellow, your grandfather. But I do believe—my dear Colley—that you are— umph—the biggest fool of the lot! A great joke, this growing old—but a sad joke, too, in a way. And as Chips sat by his fire with autumn gales rattling the windows, the waves of humor and sadness swept over him very often until tears fell, so that when Mrs.
Wickett came in with his cup of tea she did not know whether he had been laughing or crying. And neither did Chips himself. A group of eighteenth-century buildings centred upon a quadrangle, and there were acres of playing fields beyond; then came the small dependent village and the open fen country.
Brookfield, as Wetherby had said, was an old foundation; established in the reign of Elizabeth, as a grammar school, it might, with better luck, have become as famous as Harrow. Its luck, however, had been not so good; the School went up and down, dwindling almost to non-existence at one time, becoming almost illustrious at another. It was during one of these latter periods, in the reign of the first George, that the main structure had been rebuilt and large additions made.
Later, after the Napoleonic Wars and until mid-Victorian days, the School declined again, both in numbers and in repute. Wetherby, who came in , restored its fortunes somewhat; but its subsequent history never raised it to front-rank status. It was, nevertheless, a good school of the second rank. Several notable families supported it; it supplied fair samples of the history-making men of the age—judges, members of parliament, colonial administrators, a few peers and bishops. Mostly, however, it turned out merchants, manufacturers, and professional men, with a good sprinkling of country squires and parsons.
It was the sort of school which, when mentioned, would sometimes make snobbish people confess that they rather thought they had heard of it. But if it had not been this sort of school it would probably not have taken Chips.
For Chips, in any social or academic sense, was just as respectable, but no more brilliant, than Brookfield itself. It had taken him some time to realize this, at the beginning. Not that he was boastful or conceited, but he had been, in his early twenties, as ambitious as most other young men at such an age. His dream had been to get a headship eventually, or at any rate a senior mastership in a really first-class school; it was only gradually, after repeated trials and failures, that he realized the inadequacy of his qualifications.
His degree, for instance, was not particularly good, and his discipline, though good enough and improving, was not absolutely reliable under all conditions. He had no private means and no family connections of any importance. About , after he had been at Brookfield a decade, he began to recognize that the odds were heavily against his being able to better himself by moving elsewhere; but about that time, also, the possibility of staying where he was began to fill a comfortable niche in his mind.
At forty, he was rooted, settled, and quite happy. At fifty, he was the doyen of the staff. At sixty, under a new and youthful Head, he WAS Brookfield—the guest of honor at Old Brookfeldian dinners, the court of appeal in all matters affecting Brookfield history and traditions. And in , when he turned sixty-five, he retired, was presented with a check and a writing desk and a clock, and went across the road to live at Mrs.
A decent career, decently closed; three cheers for old Chips, they all shouted, at that uproarious end-of-term dinner.
Three cheers, indeed; but there was more to come, an unguessed epilogue, an encore played to a tragic audience. Wickett let to him. It was convenient—that was the main thing. For he liked, if the weather were mild enough, to stroll across to the playing fields in an afternoon and watch the games. He liked to smile and exchange a few words with the boys when they touched their caps to him. He made a special point of getting to know all the new boys and having them to tea with him during their first term.
His guests found it fun to watch him make tea —mixing careful spoonfuls from different caddies. And he would ask the new boys where they lived, and if they had family connections at Brookfield.
Goodbye, My Brother
He kept watch to see that their plates were never empty, and punctually at five, after the session had lasted an hour, he would glance at the clock and say: Gives you a jolly good tea, anyhow, and you DO know when he wants you to push off Wickett when she entered his room to clear away the remains of the party.
Young Branksome tells me— umph—that his uncle was Major Collingwood—the Collingwood we had here in—umph—nought-two, I think it was. Dear me, I remember Collingwood very well. I once thrashed him—umph—for climbing on to the gymnasium roof—to get a ball out of the gutter. Might have—umph—broken his neck, the young fool. Do you remember him, Mrs. He must have been in your time. Wickett, before she saved money, had been in charge of the linen room at the School.
That kind never does, sir. He was killed —in Egypt, I think Yes—umph—you can bring my supper about then. He had no worries; his pension was adequate, and there was a little money saved up besides. He could afford everything and anything he wanted. His room was furnished simply and with schoolmasterly taste: The books were chiefly classical, the classics having been his subject; there was, however, a seasoning of history and belles-lettres.
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There was also a bottom shelf piled up with cheap editions of detective novels. Sometimes he took down Vergil or Xenophon and read for a few moments, but he was soon back again with Doctor Thorndyke or Inspector French. He was not, despite his long years of assiduous teaching, a very profound classical scholar; indeed, he thought of Latin and Greek far more as dead languages from which English gentlemen ought to know a few quotations than as living tongues that had ever been spoken by living people.
He liked those short leading articles in the Times that introduced a few tags that he recognized. To be among the dwindling number of people who understood such things was to him a kind of secret and valued freemasonry; it represented, he felt, one of the chief benefits to be derived from a classical education.