Towards the end of the term two or three boys caught scarlet fever, and there was much talk of sending them all home in order to escape an epidemic; but the sufferers were isolated, and since no more were attacked it was supposed that the outbreak was stopped. One of the stricken was Philip. He remained in hospital through the Easter holidays, and at the beginning of the summer term was sent home to the vicarage to get a little fresh air. The Vicar, notwithstanding medical assurance that the boy was no longer infectious, received him with suspicion; he thought it very inconsiderate of the doctor to suggest that his nephew’s convalescence should be spent by the seaside, and consented to have him in the house only because there was nowhere else he could go.
Philip went back to school at half-term. He had forgotten the quarrels he had had with Rose, but remembered only that he was his greatest friend. He knew that he had been silly. He made up his mind to be more reasonable. During his illness Rose had sent him in a couple of little notes, and he had ended each with the words: ‘Hurry up and come back.’ Philip thought Rose must be looking forward as much to his return as he was himself to seeing Rose.
He found that owing to the death from scarlet fever of one of the boys in the Sixth there had been some shifting in the studies and Rose was no longer in his. It was a bitter disappointment. But as soon as he arrived he burst into Rose’s study. Rose was sitting at his desk, working with a boy called Hunter, and turned round crossly as Philip came in.
‘Who the devil’s that?’ he cried. And then, seeing Philip: ‘Oh, it’s you.’
Philip stopped in embarrassment.
‘I thought I’d come in and see how you were.’
‘We were just working.’
Hunter broke into the conversation.
‘When did you get back?’
‘Five minutes ago.’
They sat and looked at him as though he was disturbing them. They evidently expected him to go quickly. Philip reddened.
‘I’ll be off. You might look in when you’ve done,’ he said to Rose.
Philip closed the door behind him and limped back to his own study. He felt frightfully hurt. Rose, far from seeming glad to see him, had looked almost put out. They might never have been more than acquaintances. Though he waited in his study, not leaving it for a moment in case just then Rose should come, his friend never appeared; and next morning when he went in to prayers he saw Rose and Hunter singing along arm in arm. What he could not see for himself others told him. He had forgotten that three months is a long time in a schoolboy’s life, and though he had passed them in solitude Rose had lived in the world. Hunter had stepped into the vacant place. Philip found that Rose was quietly avoiding him. But he was not the boy to accept a situation without putting it into words; he waited till he was sure Rose was alone in his study and went in.
‘May I come in?’ he asked.
Rose looked at him with an embarrassment that made him angry with Philip.
‘Yes, if you want to.’
‘It’s very kind of you,’ said Philip sarcastically.
‘What d’you want?’
‘I say, why have you been so rotten since I came back?’
‘Oh, don’t be an ass,’ said Rose.
‘I don’t know what you see in Hunter.’
‘That’s my business.’
Philip looked down. He could not bring himself to say what was in his heart. He was afraid of humiliating himself. Rose got up.
‘I’ve got to go to the Gym,’ he said.
When he was at the door Philip forced himself to speak.
‘I say, Rose, don’t be a perfect beast.’
‘Oh, go to hell.’
Rose slammed the door behind him and left Philip alone. Philip shivered with rage. He went back to his study and turned the conversation over in his mind. He hated Rose now, he wanted to hurt him, he thought of biting things he might have said to him. He brooded over the end to their friendship and fancied that others were talking of it. In his sensitiveness he saw sneers and wonderings in other fellows’ manner when they were not bothering their heads with him at all. He imagined to himself what they were saying.
‘After all, it wasn’t likely to last long. I wonder he ever stuck Carey at all. Blighter!’
To show his indifference he struck up a violent friendship with a boy called Sharp whom he hated and despised. He was a London boy, with a loutish air, a heavy fellow with the beginnings of a moustache on his lip and bushy eyebrows that joined one another across the bridge of his nose. He had soft hands and manners too suave for his years. He spoke with the suspicion of a cockney accent. He was one of those boys who are too slack to play games, and he exercised great ingenuity in making excuses to avoid such as were compulsory. He was regarded by boys and masters with a vague dislike, and it was from arrogance that Philip now sought his society. Sharp in a couple of terms was going to Germany for a year. He hated school, which he looked upon as an indignity to be endured till he was old enough to go out into the world. London was all he cared for, and he had many stories to tell of his doings there during the holidays. From his conversation—he spoke in a soft, deep-toned voice—there emerged the vague rumour of the London streets by night. Philip listened to him at once fascinated and repelled. With his vivid fancy he seemed to see the surging throng round the pit-door of theatres, and the glitter of cheap restaurants, bars where men, half drunk, sat on high stools talking with barmaids; and under the street lamps the mysterious passing of dark crowds bent upon pleasure. Sharp lent him cheap novels from Holywell Row, which Philip read in his cubicle with a sort of wonderful fear.
Once Rose tried to effect a reconciliation. He was a good-natured fellow, who did not like having enemies.
‘I say, Carey, why are you being such a silly ass? It doesn’t do you any good cutting me and all that.’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ answered Philip.
‘Well, I don’t see why you shouldn’t talk.’
‘You bore me,’ said Philip.
Rose shrugged his shoulders and left him. Philip was very white, as he always became when he was moved, and his heart beat violently. When Rose went away he felt suddenly sick with misery. He did not know why he had answered in that fashion. He would have given anything to be friends with Rose. He hated to have quarrelled with him, and now that he saw he had given him pain he was very sorry. But at the moment he had not been master of himself. It seemed that some devil had seized him, forcing him to say bitter things against his will, even though at the time he wanted to shake hands with Rose and meet him more than halfway. The desire to wound had been too strong for him. He had wanted to revenge himself for the pain and the humiliation he had endured. It was pride: it was folly too, for he knew that Rose would not care at all, while he would suffer bitterly. The thought came to him that he would go to Rose, and say:
‘I say, I’m sorry I was such a beast. I couldn’t help it. Let’s make it up.’
But he knew he would never be able to do it. He was afraid that Rose would sneer at him. He was angry with himself, and when Sharp came in a little while afterwards he seized upon the first opportunity to quarrel with him. Philip had a fiendish instinct for discovering other people’s raw spots, and was able to say things that rankled because they were true. But Sharp had the last word.
‘I heard Rose talking about you to Mellor just now,’ he said. ‘Mellor said: Why didn’t you kick him? It would teach him manners. And Rose said: I didn’t like to. Damned cripple.’
Philip suddenly became scarlet. He could not answer, for there was a lump in his throat that almost choked him.