“Is that the explanation?”
“Yes. Honour bright! Except”—Acton paused diplomatically for a moment—“except, I don’t think he likes me.”
“Then Phil is a fool, and he’ll find out pretty speedily that we can’t stand rot of this quality. I, of course, can’t take the cap.”
“My dear fellow, why in the world not? If you don’t, some other house will get it. Biffen’s deserves two fellows in the eleven this year.”
“They do, by Jove!”
“Then let us have the satisfaction of keeping out another Corker fellow.”
Dick told the other fellows plainly and without any gilding, his conversation with Acton, and they pressed him to go and see Phil personally; so Dick marched heavily to Bourne’s quarters.
“Sorry, Worcester, but I cannot explain anything. Not even to you. But I do hope you’ll come into the eleven.”
Dick said shortly, “I think I shall, for Biffen’s deserves the other cap, though the right fellow isn’t getting it. By the way, Bourne, you’ll not be very sweet to the school generally after this. They—the fellows—to a man, are no end cut up over Acton’s treatment.”
“I supposed they would be. I knew it would be so.”
“Look here, Phil. You always did the square thing. Let us have the reason for this,” said Dick, earnestly.
“Sorry, Worcester, I can’t.”
“Good night, then.”
The rage and consternation of the Biffenites when they found that Bourne was immovable in his decision can be imagined. Some were inclined to take the matter up to Corker’s throne, but they were a miserable minority.
“Let Corker have a finger in our own private affairs!” said Dick, with intense disgust. “What next, gentlemen? We won’t be able to blow our own noses without his permission. Keep the masters out of this, whatever we do. Can’t we see the thing through ourselves? I vote we try, anyhow.”
Some were inclined to blame Dick for accepting the cap; but pretty generally it was agreed that, if Acton was not to have it, Dick was the next best man, but at what a distance! The honour of having two men in the eleven was no solatium for the wounded pride of Biffen’s, when they considered their great injury. The reason, though, was, naturally, what puzzled them—and, for the matter of that, the whole school. Did Bourne expect his team to play footer as though it were a game of croquet? Were drawing-room manners to be introduced on to the Acres’ clay? Were the famous eleven of St. Amory’s to amble about, like a swarm of bread-and-butter misses? One wit suggested wadded coats and respirators. Acton rough, indeed! Phil Bourne must be an embodiment of his grandmother, then! Most of the fags in Biffen’s house sent Phil elaborate instructions for “a nice drawing-room game to take the place of ‘Socker’ football—nasty, rough ‘Socker’ footer—for one-and-six, and guaranteed to do no injury to the most delicate constitution. A child can play it!” These letters were anonymous, of course; but Biffen’s house-paper was freely used. “Anyhow,” said Phil, with a gentle smile to me, “the spelling is obviously Biffen’s.”