On the same morning Mike met Adair for the first time.
He was going across to school with Psmith and Jellicoe, when a group of
three came out of the gate of the house next door.
"That's Adair," said Jellicoe, "in the middle."
His voice had assumed a tone almost of awe.
"Who's Adair?" asked Mike.
"Captain of cricket, and lots of other things."
Mike could only see the celebrity's back. He had broad shoulders and
wiry, light hair, almost white. He walked well, as if he were used to
running. Altogether a fit-looking sort of man. Even Mike's jaundiced
eye saw that.
As a matter of fact, Adair deserved more than a casual glance. He was
that rare type, the natural leader. Many boys and men, if accident, or
the passage of time, places them in a position where they are expected
to lead, can handle the job without disaster; but that is a very
different thing from being a born leader. Adair was of the sort that
comes to the top by sheer force of character and determination. He was
not naturally clever at work, but he had gone at it with a dogged
resolution which had carried him up the school, and landed him high in
the Sixth. As a cricketer he was almost entirely self-taught. Nature had
given him a good eye, and left the thing at that. Adair's doggedness had
triumphed over her failure to do her work thoroughly. At the cost of
more trouble than most people give to their life work he had made
himself into a bowler. He read the authorities, and watched first-class
players, and thought the thing out on his own account, and he divided
the art of bowling into three sections. First, and most
important--pitch. Second on the list--break. Third--pace. He set himself
to acquire pitch. He acquired it. Bowling at his own pace and without
any attempt at break, he could now drop the ball on an envelope seven
times out of ten.
Break was a more uncertain quantity. Sometimes he could get it at the
expense of pitch, sometimes at the expense of pace. Some days he could
get all three, and then he was an uncommonly bad man to face on anything
but a plumb wicket.
Running he had acquired in a similar manner. He had nothing approaching
style, but he had twice won the mile and half mile at the Sports off
elegant runners, who knew all about stride and the correct timing of the
sprints and all the rest of it.
Briefly, he was a worker. He had heart.
A boy of Adair's type is always a force in a school. In a big public
school or six or seven hundred, his influence is felt less; but in a
small school like Sedleigh he is like a tidal wave, sweeping all before
him. There were two hundred boys at Sedleigh, and there was not one of
them in all probability who had not, directly or indirectly, been
influenced by Adair. As a small boy his sphere was not large, but the
effects of his work began to be apparent even then. It is human nature
to want to get something which somebody else obviously values very much;
and when it was observed by members of his form that Adair was going to
great trouble and inconvenience to secure a place in the form eleven or
fifteen, they naturally began to think, too, that it was worth being in
those teams. The consequence was that his form always played hard. This
made other forms play hard. And the net result was that, when Adair
succeeded to the captaincy of Rugger and cricket in the same year,
Sedleigh, as Mr. Downing, Adair's housemaster and the nearest approach
to a cricket master that Sedleigh possessed, had a fondness for saying,
was a keen school. As a whole, it both worked and played with energy.
All it wanted now was opportunity.
This Adair was determined to give it. He had that passionate fondness
for his school which every boy is popularly supposed to have, but which
really is implanted in about one in every thousand. The average
public-school boy _likes_ his school. He hopes it will lick Bedford at
Rugger and Malvern at cricket, but he rather bets it won't. He is sorry
to leave, and he likes going back at the end of the holidays, but as for
any passionate, deep-seated love of the place, he would think it rather
bad form than otherwise. If anybody came up to him, slapped him on the
back, and cried, "Come along, Jenkins, my boy! Play up for the old
school, Jenkins! The dear old school! The old place you love so!" he
would feel seriously ill.
Adair was the exception.
To Adair, Sedleigh was almost a religion. Both his parents were dead;
his guardian, with whom he spent the holidays, was a man with neuralgia
at one end of him and gout at the other; and the only really pleasant
times Adair had had, as far back as he could remember, he owed to
Sedleigh. The place had grown on him, absorbed him. Where Mike,
violently transplanted from Wrykyn, saw only a wretched little hole not
to be mentioned in the same breath with Wrykyn, Adair, dreaming of the
future, saw a colossal establishment, a public school among public
schools, a lump of human radium, shooting out Blues and Balliol Scholars
year after year without ceasing.
It would not be so till long after he was gone and forgotten, but he did
not mind that. His devotion to Sedleigh was purely unselfish. He did not
want fame. All he worked for was that the school should grow and grow,
keener and better at games and more prosperous year by year, till it
should take its rank among _the_ schools, and to be an Old Sedleighan
should be a badge passing its owner everywhere.
"He's captain of cricket and Rugger," said Jellicoe impressively. "He's
in the shooting eight. He's won the mile and half mile two years
running. He would have boxed at Aldershot last term, only he sprained
his wrist. And he plays fives jolly well!"
"Sort of little tin god," said Mike, taking a violent dislike to Adair
from that moment.
Mike's actual acquaintance with this all-round man dated from the dinner
hour that day. Mike was walking to the house with Psmith. Psmith was a
little ruffled on account of a slight passage-of-arms he had had with
his form master during morning school.
"'There's a P before the Smith,' I said to him. 'Ah, P. Smith, I see,'
replied the goat. 'Not Peasmith,' I replied, exercising wonderful
self-restraint, 'just Psmith.' It took me ten minutes to drive the thing
into the man's head; and when I _had_ driven it in, he sent me out of
the room for looking at him through my eyeglass. Comrade Jackson, I fear
me we have fallen among bad men. I suspect that we are going to be much
persecuted by scoundrels."
"Both you chaps play cricket, I suppose?"
They turned. It was Adair. Seeing him face to face, Mike was aware of a
pair of very bright blue eyes and a square jaw. In any other place and
mood he would have liked Adair at sight. His prejudice, however, against
all things Sedleighan was too much for him. "I don't," he said shortly.
"Haven't you _ever_ played?"
"My little sister and I sometimes play with a soft ball at home."
Adair looked sharply at him. A temper was evidently one of his numerous
"Oh," he said. "Well, perhaps you wouldn't mind turning out this
afternoon and seeing what you can do with a hard ball--if you can manage
without your little sister."
"I should think the form at this place would be about on a level with
hers. But I don't happen to be playing cricket, as I think I told you."
Adair's jaw grew squarer than ever. Mike was wearing a gloomy scowl.
Psmith joined suavely in the dialogue.
"My dear old comrades," he said, "Don't let us brawl over this matter.
This is a time for the honeyed word, the kindly eye, and the pleasant
smile. Let me explain to Comrade Adair. Speaking for Comrade Jackson and
myself, we should both be delighted to join in the mimic warfare of our
National Game, as you suggest, only the fact is, we happen to be the
Young Archaeologists. We gave in our names last night. When you are
being carried back to the pavilion after your century against
Loamshire--do you play Loamshire?--we shall be grubbing in the hard
ground for ruined abbeys. The old choice between Pleasure and Duty,
Comrade Adair. A Boy's Crossroads."
"Then you won't play?"
"No," said Mike.
"Archaeology," said Psmith, with a deprecatory wave of the hand, "will
brook no divided allegiance from her devotees."
Adair turned, and walked on.
Scarcely had he gone, when another voice hailed them with precisely the
"Both you fellows are going to play cricket, eh?"
It was a master. A short, wiry little man with a sharp nose and a
general resemblance, both in manner and appearance, to an excitable
"I saw Adair speaking to you. I suppose you will both play. I like every
new boy to begin at once. The more new blood we have, the better. We
want keenness here. We are, above all, a keen school. I want every boy
to be keen."
"We are, sir," said Psmith, with fervor.
Mr. Downing--for it was no less a celebrity--started, as one who
perceives a loathly caterpillar in his salad.
"We gave in our names to Mr. Outwood last night, sir. Archaeology is a
passion with us, sir. When we heard that there was a society here, we
went singing about the house."
"I call it an unnatural pursuit for boys," said Mr. Downing vehemently.
"I don't like it. I tell you I don't like it. It is not for me to
interfere with one of my colleagues on the staff, but I tell you frankly
that in my opinion it is an abominable waste of time for a boy. It gets
him into idle, loafing habits."
"I never loaf, sir," said Psmith.
"I was not alluding to you in particular. I was referring to the
principle of the thing. A boy ought to be playing cricket with other
boys, not wandering at large about the country, probably smoking and
going into low public houses."
"A very wild lot, sir, I fear, the Archaeological Society here," sighed
Psmith, shaking his head.
"If you choose to waste your time, I suppose I can't hinder you. But in
my opinion it is foolery, nothing else."
He stumped off.
"Now _he's_ cross," said Psmith, looking after him. "I'm afraid we're
getting ourselves disliked here."
"Good job, too."
"At any rate, Comrade Outwood loves us. Let's go on and see what sort of
a lunch that large-hearted fossil fancier is going to give us."