[Illustration: PHIL WALKED DOWN THE STEPS WITHOUT A FRIENDLY CHEER.]
The week before the Carthusian match there was but one solitary player to be promoted. The position was back, and every fellow in the place knew that, bar Bourne himself, there wasn’t another man that could hold a candle to Acton there. The committee doggedly, and with meaning, elected the only player there was to elect, and Acton signified that he was willing to play. Bourne, as usual, was there, and no one felt more than he the air of distrust and constraint which hung over the meeting. When Acton was unanimously elected for back Phil stolidly wrote out the list of the team and had it pinned up on the notice-board. He had carefully drawn the line in red ink above the last name—Acton’s—which showed that the pride of Biffen’s was not in the eleven yet.
Probably Acton on the next day played as well as even he had ever played in his life, for he was almost impassable, and the crowd of fellows cheered him till they were hoarse. The minute the whistle blew, like one man the whole school swarmed round the pavilion. The question each asked himself and his chum was, “Would Acton get the last cap?” And the answer was, “Why, of course! Who else should have it?”
That afternoon to most of the fellows the eleven seemed an age getting into their sweaters and coats. When Acton appeared first, and it was seen that he was wearing the pink cap of Biffen’s on his head there was more than astonishment, there was consternation. Whatever did it mean? Acton smiled good-naturedly at the school as they cheered him to the echo, and hurried unconcernedly along. The others of the eleven came out dejectedly, and filed up the hill in gloomy little groups. The whole school waited for Phil, and when he came out, pale and worried, they received him in icy silence. As he was coming down the steps one of Biffen’s fags shouted shrilly, “Three cheers for Acton!”
Phil stalked through the shouting school, and as I joined him and we walked up together, he said, through his clenched teeth—
“I wish, old man, I had never seen that brute.”
That evening Bourne wrote to Worcester offering him the remaining cap.
Worcester flew across to Acton’s room, and said, “Bourne has offered me the place—the last cap. He must be stark, staring mad!”
“Take it,” said Acton, coolly.
“No fear,” said Worcester. “We have a stupid kind of prejudice here for having the best eleven we can get, and it isn’t the best if you’re out of it. Bourne has always been a most impartial fellow up to this date, so this little occurrence has thrown us off the rails. Before I go to protest, though, have you any idea what is the matter?”
“He does not consider me fit for the eleven,” said Acton with a light laugh, but also with perfect truth.
“Rot!” said Dick, hurrying away.
He hunted up the other nine fellows, and said bluntly his business.