In his Sunday suit (with ten shillings in specie in the right-hand trouser pocket) and a brand-new bowler hat, the youngest of the Shearnes, Thomas Beauchamp Algernon, was being launched by the combined strength of the family on his public-school career. It was a solemn moment. The landscape was dotted with relatives—here a small sister, awed by the occasion into refraining from insult; there an aunt, vaguely admonitory. “Well, Tom,” said Mr. Shearne, “you’ll soon be off now. You’re sure to like Eckleton. Remember to cultivate your bowling. Everyone can bat nowadays. And play forward, not outside. The outsides get most of the fun, certainly, but then if you’re a forward, you’ve got eight chances of getting into a team.”
“All right, father.”
“Oh, and work hard.” This by way of an afterthought.
“All right, father.”
“And, Tom,” said Mrs. Shearne, “you are sure to be comfortable at school, because I asked Mrs. Davy to write to her sister, Mrs. Spencer, who has a son at Eckleton, and tell her to tell him to look after you when you get there. He is in Mr. Dencroft’s house, which is next door to Mr. Blackburn’s, so you will be quite close to one another. Mind you write directly you get there.”
“All right, mother.”
“And look here, Tom.” His eldest brother stepped to the front and spoke earnestly. “Look here, don’t you forget what I’ve been telling you?”
“You’ll be right enough if you don’t go sticking on side. Don’t forget that, however much of a blood you may have been at that rotten little private school of yours, you’re not one at Eckleton.”
“You look clean, which is the great thing. There’s nothing much wrong with you except cheek. You’ve got enough of that to float a ship. Keep it under.”
“All right. Keep your hair on.”
“There you go,” said the expert, with gloomy triumph. “If you say that sort of thing at Eckleton, you’ll get jolly well sat on, by Jove!”
“Bai Jove, old chap!” murmured the younger brother, “we’re devils in the Forty-twoth!”
The other, whose chief sorrow in life was that he could not get the smaller members of the family to look with proper awe on the fact that he had just passed into Sandhurst, gazed wistfully at the speaker, but, realising that there was a locked door between them, tried no active measures.
“Well, anyhow,” he said, “you’ll soon get it knocked out of you, that’s one comfort. Look here, if you do get scrapping with anybody, don’t forget all I’ve taught you. And I should go on boxing there if I were you, so as to go down to Aldershot some day. You ought to make a fairly decent featherweight if you practise.”
“Let’s know when Eckleton’s playing Haileybury, and I’ll come and look you up. I want to see that match.”
“Good-bye, Tom, dear.”
Chorus of aunts and other supers: “Goodbye, Tom.”
Tom (comprehensively): “G’bye.”
The train left the station.