Todd had found out all the unpainted beauty of public-school life without pocket money, and discovered that existence was just possible. A shilling on your watchchain and a shilling’s worth of stamps admit of no luxuries, and Todd, through his impecuniosity, even if he had wished, could not have done anything else but work. Taylor’s house was supposed to provide a fairly liberal table, but Gus really did miss his after-dinner cup of coffee at Hooper’s, and not many fellows would regard long letters to and from home as being the summum bonum of the week. Yet Todd had come to regard his mamma’s letters—four-paged gossip about his sisters, his brothers, the horses, and the dogs—in the light of luxuries.
Consequently, with nothing to distract him, Gus really did work. His standing in the Fifth sensibly increased. Merishall did not make elaborate jokes on his Latin, and Corker not once let fall the warning eye-glass preparatory to savaging him for his Greek, formerly called so by a courtesy title. There was a world of difference between his old haphazard slip-slop and his present honest attempts in the ways of scholarship.
The half-holidays, though, dragged dreadfully, for Gus was one of those fellows who have no natural aptitude for games, and he had a theory that he did not care a straw about them either. Being in the Fifth he could, of course, suit himself what he did with his halfers. Sometimes, in very desperation, he would lounge down to the Acres, and wander forlornly from goal post to goal post, and sometimes he spent the afternoon amusing himself—with Lancaster’s express approval—in the laboratory, and so effaced previous bad impressions from the science master’s mind. Gus, however, was honest enough with himself to own that he would rather have had an aimless stroll with Cotton than any amount of footer-gazing or “bottle-washing.” But Cotton had definitely thrown him over; they did not nod when they met, and Jim was very careful not to see Gus walking in solitary state in the roadway.
Todd was moodily looking out of his window one halfer, and discontentedly wondering how he could exist till he should switch on the electric for the evening grind, when a not unfamiliar knock sounded on the door. Gus faced round wonderingly, and opened the door. The house-master dropped into the chair which Todd hastily drew out for him.
“I thought I should catch you in, Todd. Nothing on, have you?”
“No, sir,” said Todd.
“No particular engagement for this afternoon.”
“No, sir,” said Gus, with a half sigh merging into a half smile, “though I did think of going down to the Acres, and looking at the footer.”
“I’m glad of that,” said Taylor, as though he really were. “I promised to referee this afternoon—Hargon’s v. Sharpe’s—but I want to cry off now. Neuralgia, Todd, is simply torturing me this moment, and refereeing wouldn’t improve it. Do you mind taking my place? Do please say ‘No’ if you’d rather not.”