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´╗┐Title: Tales of St. Austin's
Author: Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville), 1881-1975
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tales of St. Austin's" ***

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TALES OF ST AUSTIN'S



by P. G. Wodehouse

1903



PREFACE


Most of these stories originally appeared in _The Captain_. I am
indebted to the Editor of that magazine for allowing me to republish.
The rest are from the _Public School Magazine_. The story entitled
'A Shocking Affair' appears in print for the first time. 'This was one
of our failures.'

_P. G. Wodehouse_



[Dedication]
AD MATREM



CONTENTS


1 How Pillingshot Scored

2 The Odd Trick

3 L'Affaire Uncle John (A Story in Letters)

4 Harrison's Slight Error

5 Bradshaw's Little Story

6 A Shocking Affair

7 The Babe and the Dragon

8 The Manoeuvres of Charteris

9 How Payne Bucked Up

10 Author!

11 'The Tabby Terror'

12 The Prize Poem

13 Work

14 Notes

15 Now, Talking About Cricket--

16 The Tom Brown Question



[1]

HOW PILLINGSHOT SCORED


Pillingshot was annoyed. He was disgusted, mortified; no other word for
it. He had no objection, of course, to Mr Mellish saying that his work
during the term, and especially his Livy, had been disgraceful. A
master has the right to say that sort of thing if he likes. It is one
of the perquisites of the position. But when he went on to observe,
without a touch of shame, that there would be an examination in the
Livy as far as they had gone in it on the following Saturday,
Pillingshot felt that he exceeded. It was not playing the game. There
were the examinations at the end of term. Those were fair enough. You
knew exactly when they were coming, and could make your arrangements
accordingly. But to spring an examination on you in the middle of the
term out of a blue sky, as it were, was underhand and unsportsmanlike,
and would not do at all. Pillingshot wished that he could put his foot
down. He would have liked to have stalked up to Mr Mellish's desk,
fixed him with a blazing eye, and remarked, 'Sir, withdraw that remark.
Cancel that statement instantly, or--!' or words to that effect.

What he did say was: 'Oo, si-i-r!!'

'Yes,' said Mr Mellish, not troubling to conceal his triumph
at Pillingshot's reception of the news, 'there will be a Livy
examination next Saturday. And--' (he almost intoned this last
observation)--'anybody who does not get fifty per cent, Pillingshot,
fifty per cent, will be severely punished. Very severely punished,
Pillingshot.'

After which the lesson had proceeded on its course.

'Yes, it is rather low, isn't it?' said Pillingshot's friend, Parker,
as Pillingshot came to the end of a stirring excursus on the rights of
the citizen, with special reference to mid-term Livy examinations.
'That's the worst of Mellish. He always has you somehow.'

'But what am I to _do_?' raved Pillingshot.

'I should advise you to swot it up before Saturday,' said Parker.

'Oh, don't be an ass,' said Pillingshot, irritably.

What was the good of friends if they could only make idiotic
suggestions like that?

He retired, brooding, to his house.

The day was Wednesday. There were only two more days, therefore, in
which to prepare a quarter of a book of Livy. It couldn't be done. The
thing was not possible.

In the house he met Smythe.

'What are you going to do about it?' he inquired. Smythe was top of the
form, and if he didn't know how to grapple with a crisis of this sort,
who _could_ know?

'If you'll kindly explain,' said Smythe, 'what the dickens you are
talking about, I might be able to tell you.'

Pillingshot explained, with unwonted politeness, that 'it' meant the
Livy examination.

'Oh,' said Smythe, airily, 'that! I'm just going to skim through it in
case I've forgotten any of it. Then I shall read up the notes
carefully. And then, if I have time, I shall have a look at the history
of the period. I should advise you to do that, too.'

'Oh, don't be a goat,' said Pillingshot.

And he retired, brooding, as before.

That afternoon he spent industriously, copying out the fourth book of
_The Aeneid_. At the beginning of the week he had had a slight
disagreement with M. Gerard, the French master.

Pillingshot's views on behaviour and deportment during French lessons
did not coincide with those of M. Gerard. Pillingshot's idea of a
French lesson was something between a pantomime rally and a scrum at
football. To him there was something wonderfully entertaining in the
process of 'barging' the end man off the edge of the form into space,
and upsetting his books over him. M. Gerard, however, had a very
undeveloped sense of humour. He warned the humorist twice, and on the
thing happening a third time, suggested that he should go into extra
lesson on the ensuing Wednesday.

So Pillingshot went, and copied out Virgil.

He emerged from the room of detention at a quarter past four. As he
came out into the grounds he espied in the middle distance somebody
being carried on a stretcher in the direction of the School House. At
the same moment Parker loomed in sight, walking swiftly towards the
School shop, his mobile features shining with the rapt expression of
one who sees much ginger-beer in the near future.

'Hullo, Parker,' said Pillingshot, 'who's the corpse?'

'What, haven't you heard?' said Parker. 'Oh, no, of course, you were in
extra. It's young Brown. He's stunned or something.'

'How did it happen?'

'That rotter, Babington, in Dacre's. Simply slamming about, you know,
getting his eye in before going in, and Brown walked slap into one of
his drives. Got him on the side of the head.'

'Much hurt?'

'Oh, no, I don't think so. Keep him out of school for about a week.'

'Lucky beast. Wish somebody would come and hit me on the head. Come
and hit me on the head, Parker.'

'Come and have an ice,' said Parker.

'Right-ho,' said Pillingshot. It was one of his peculiarities, that
whatever the hour or the state of the weather, he was always equal to
consuming an ice. This was probably due to genius. He had an infinite
capacity for taking pains. Scarcely was he outside the promised ice
when another misfortune came upon him. Scott, of the First Eleven,
entered the shop. Pillingshot liked Scott, but he was not blind to
certain flaws in the latter's character. For one thing, he was too
energetic. For another, he could not keep his energy to himself. He was
always making Pillingshot do things. And Pillingshot's notion of the
ideal life was complete _dolce far niente_.

'Ginger-beer, please,' said Scott, with parched lips. He had been
bowling at the nets, and the day was hot. 'Hullo! Pillingshot, you
young slacker, why aren't you changed? Been bunking half-holiday games?
You'd better reform, young man.'

'I've been in extra,' said Pillingshot, with dignity.

'How many times does that make this term? You're going for the record,
aren't you? Jolly sporting of you. Bit slow in there, wasn't it?
'Nother ginger-beer, please.'

'Just a bit,' said Pillingshot.

'I thought so. And now you're dying for some excitement. Of course you
are. Well, cut over to the House and change, and then come back and
field at the nets. The man Yorke is going to bowl me some of his
celebrated slow tosh, and I'm going to show him exactly how Jessop does
it when he's in form.'

Scott was the biggest hitter in the School. Mr Yorke was one of the
masters. He bowled slow leg-breaks, mostly half-volleys and long hops.
Pillingshot had a sort of instinctive idea that fielding out in the
deep with Mr Yorke bowling and Scott batting would not contribute
largely to the gaiety of his afternoon. Fielding deep at the nets meant
that you stood in the middle of the football field, where there was no
telling what a ball would do if it came at you along the ground. If you
were lucky you escaped without injury. Generally, however, the ball
bumped and deprived you of wind or teeth, according to the height to
which it rose. He began politely, but firmly, to excuse himself.

'Don't talk rot,' said Scott, complainingly, 'you must have some
exercise or you'll go getting fat. Think what a blow it would be to
your family, Pillingshot, if you lost your figure. Buck up. If you're
back here in a quarter of an hour you shall have another ice. A large
ice, Pillingshot, price sixpence. Think of it.'

The word ice, as has been remarked before, touched chords in
Pillingshot's nature to which he never turned a deaf ear. Within the
prescribed quarter of an hour he was back again, changed.

'Here's the ice,' said Scott, 'I've been keeping it warm for you.
Shovel it down. I want to be starting for the nets. Quicker, man,
quicker! Don't roll it round your tongue as if it was port. Go for it.
Finished? That's right. Come on.'

Pillingshot had not finished, but Scott so evidently believed that he
had, that it would have been unkind to have mentioned the fact. He
followed the smiter to the nets.

If Pillingshot had passed the earlier part of the afternoon in a
sedentary fashion, he made up for it now. Scott was in rare form, and
Pillingshot noticed with no small interest that, while he invariably
hit Mr Yorke's deliveries a quarter of a mile or so, he never hit two
balls in succession in the same direction. As soon as the panting
fieldsman had sprinted to one side of the football ground and returned
the ball, there was a beautiful, musical _plonk_, and the ball
soared to the very opposite quarter of the field. It was a fine
exhibition of hitting, but Pillingshot felt that he would have enjoyed
it more if he could have watched it from a deck-chair.

'You're coming on as a deep field, young Pillingshot,' said Scott, as
he took off his pads. 'You've got a knack of stopping them with your
stomach, which the best first-class fields never have. You ought to
give lessons at it. Now we'll go and have some tea.'

If Pillingshot had had a more intimate acquaintance with the classics,
he would have observed at this point, '_Timeo Danaos_', and made a
last dash for liberty in the direction of the shop. But he was deceived
by the specious nature of Scott's remark. Visions rose before his eyes
of sitting back in one of Scott's armchairs, watching a fag toasting
muffins, which he would eventually dispatch with languid enjoyment. So
he followed Scott to his study. The classical parallel to his situation
is the well-known case of the oysters. They, too, were eager for the
treat.

They had reached the study, and Pillingshot was about to fling himself,
with a sigh of relief, into the most comfortable chair, when Scott
unmasked his batteries.

'Oh, by the way,' he said, with a coolness which to Pillingshot
appeared simply brazen, 'I'm afraid my fag won't be here today. The
young crock's gone and got mumps, or the plague, or something. So would
you mind just lighting that stove? It'll be rather warm, but that won't
matter. There are some muffins in the cupboard. You might weigh in with
them. You'll find the toasting-fork on the wall somewhere. It's hanging
up. Got it? Good man. Fire away.'

And Scott collected five cushions, two chairs, and a tin of mixed
biscuits, and made himself comfortable. Pillingshot, with feelings too
deep for words (in the then limited state of his vocabulary), did as he
was requested. There was something remarkable about the way Scott could
always get people to do things for him. He seemed to take everything
for granted. If he had had occasion to hire an assassin to make away
with the German Emperor, he would have said, 'Oh, I say, you might run
over to Germany and kill the Kaiser, will you, there's a good chap?
Don't be long.' And he would have taken a seat and waited, without the
least doubt in his mind that the thing would be carried through as
desired.

Pillingshot had just finished toasting the muffins, when the door
opened, and Venables, of Merevale's, came in.

'I thought I heard you say something about tea this afternoon, Scott,'
said Venables. 'I just looked in on the chance. Good Heavens, man!
Fancy muffins at this time of year! Do you happen to know what the
thermometer is in the shade?'

'Take a seat,' said Scott. 'I attribute my entire success in life
to the fact that I never find it too hot to eat muffins. Do you
know Pillingshot? One of the hottest fieldsmen in the School.
At least, he was just now. He's probably cooled off since then.
Venables--Pillingshot, and _vice versa_. Buck up with the tea,
Pillingshot. What, ready? Good man. Now we might almost begin.'

'Beastly thing that accident of young Brown's, wasn't it?' said Scott.
'Chaps oughtn't to go slamming about like that with the field full of
fellows. I suppose he won't be right by next Saturday?'

'Not a chance. Why? Oh, yes, I forgot. He was to have scored for the
team at Windybury, wasn't he?'

'Who are you going to get now?'

Venables was captain of the St Austin's team. The match next Saturday
was at Windybury, on the latter's ground.

'I haven't settled,' said Venables. 'But it's easy to get somebody.
Scoring isn't one of those things which only one chap in a hundred
understands.'

Then Pillingshot had an idea--a great, luminous idea.

'May I score?' he asked, and waited trembling with apprehension lest
the request be refused.

'All right,' said Venables, 'I don't see any reason why you shouldn't.
We have to catch the 8.14 at the station. Don't you go missing it or
anything.'

'Rather _not_,' said Pillingshot. 'Not much.'

          *          *          *          *         *

On Saturday morning, at exactly 9.15, Mr Mellish distributed the Livy
papers. When he arrived at Pillingshot's seat and found it empty, an
expression passed over his face like unto that of the baffled villain
in transpontine melodrama.

'Where is Pillingshot?' he demanded tragically. 'Where is he?'

'He's gone with the team to Windybury, sir,' said Parker, struggling to
conceal a large size in grins. 'He's going to score.'

'No,' said Mr Mellish sadly to himself, 'he _has_ scored.'



[2]

THE ODD TRICK


The attitude of Philip St H. Harrison, of Merevale's House, towards his
fellow-man was outwardly one of genial and even sympathetic toleration.
Did his form-master intimate that his conduct was not _his_ idea
of what Young England's conduct should be, P. St H. Harrison agreed
cheerfully with every word he said, warmly approved his intention of
laying the matter before the Headmaster, and accepted his punishment
with the air of a waiter booking an order for a chump chop and fried
potatoes. But the next day there would be a squeaking desk in the
form-room, just to show the master that he had not been forgotten. Or,
again, did the captain of his side at football speak rudely to him on
the subject of kicking the ball through in the scrum, Harrison would
smile gently, and at the earliest opportunity tread heavily on the
captain's toe. In short, he was a youth who made a practice of taking
very good care of himself. Yet he had his failures. The affair of
Graham's mackintosh was one of them, and it affords an excellent
example of the truth of the proverb that a cobbler should stick to his
last. Harrison's _forte_ was diplomacy. When he forsook the arts
of the diplomatist for those of the brigand, he naturally went wrong.
And the manner of these things was thus.

Tony Graham was a prefect in Merevale's, and part of his duties was to
look after the dormitory of which Harrison was one of the ornaments. It
was a dormitory that required a good deal of keeping in order. Such
choice spirits as Braithwaite of the Upper Fourth, and Mace, who was
rapidly driving the master of the Lower Fifth into a premature grave,
needed a firm hand. Indeed, they generally needed not only a firm hand,
but a firm hand grasping a serviceable walking-stick. Add to these
Harrison himself, and others of a similar calibre, and it will be seen
that Graham's post was no sinecure. It was Harrison's custom to throw
off his mask at night with his other garments, and appear in his true
character of an abandoned villain, willing to stick at nothing as long
as he could do it strictly incog. In this capacity he had come into
constant contact with Graham. Even in the dark it is occasionally
possible for a prefect to tell where a noise comes from. And if the
said prefect has been harassed six days in the week by a noise, and
locates it suddenly on the seventh, it is wont to be bad for the
producer and patentee of same.

And so it came about that Harrison, enjoying himself one night, after
the manner of his kind, was suddenly dropped upon with violence. He had
constructed an ingenious machine, consisting of a biscuit tin, some
pebbles, and some string. He put the pebbles in the tin, tied the
string to it, and placed it under a chest of drawers. Then he took the
other end of the string to bed with him, and settled down to make a
night of it. At first all went well. Repeated inquiries from Tony
failed to produce the author of the disturbance, and when finally the
questions ceased, and the prefect appeared to have given the matter up
as a bad job, P. St H. Harrison began to feel that under certain
circumstances life was worth living. It was while he was in this happy
frame of mind that the string, with which he had just produced a
triumphant rattle from beneath the chest of drawers, was seized, and
the next instant its owner was enjoying the warmest minute of a
chequered career. Tony, like Brer Rabbit, had laid low until he was
certain of the direction from which the sound proceeded. He had then
slipped out of bed, crawled across the floor in a snake-like manner
which would have done credit to a Red Indian, found the tin, and traced
the string to its owner. Harrison emerged from the encounter feeling
sore and unfit for any further recreation. This deed of the night left
its impression on Harrison. The account had to be squared somehow, and
in a few days his chance came. Merevale's were playing a 'friendly'
with the School House, and in default of anybody better, Harrison had
been pressed into service as umpire. This in itself had annoyed him.
Cricket was not in his line--he was not one of your flannelled
fools--and of all things in connection with the game he loathed
umpiring most.

When, however, Tony came on to bowl at his end, _vice_ Charteris,
who had been hit for three fours in an over by Scott, the School
slogger, he recognized that even umpiring had its advantages, and
resolved to make the most of the situation.

Scott had the bowling, and he lashed out at Tony's first ball in his
usual reckless style. There was an audible click, and what the sporting
papers call confident appeals came simultaneously from Welch,
Merevale's captain, who was keeping wicket, and Tony himself. Even
Scott seemed to know that his time had come. He moved a step or two
away from the wicket, but stopped before going farther to look at the
umpire, on the off-chance of a miracle happening to turn his decision
in the batsman's favour.

The miracle happened.

'Not out,' said Harrison.

'Awfully curious,' he added genially to Tony, 'how like a bat those
bits of grass sound! You have to be jolly smart to know where a noise
comes from, don't you!'

Tony grunted disgustedly, and walked back again to the beginning of his
run.

If ever, in the whole history of cricket, a man was out
leg-before-wicket, Scott was so out to Tony's second ball. It was
hardly worth appealing for such a certainty. Still, the formality had
to be gone through.

'How was _that_?' inquired Tony.

'Not out. It's an awful pity, don't you think, that they don't bring in
that new leg-before rule?'

'Seems to me,' said Tony bitterly, 'the old rule holds pretty good when
a man's leg's bang in front.'

'Rather. But you see the ball didn't pitch straight, and the rule
says--'

'Oh, all right,' said Tony.

The next ball Scott hit for four, and the next after that for a couple.
The fifth was a yorker, and just grazed the leg stump. The sixth was a
beauty. You could see it was going to beat the batsman from the moment
it left Tony's hand. Harrison saw it perfectly.

'No ball,' he shouted. And just as he spoke Scott's off-stump
ricocheted towards the wicket-keeper.

'Heavens, man,' said Tony, fairly roused out of his cricket manners, a
very unusual thing for him. 'I'll swear my foot never went over the
crease. Look, there's the mark.'

'Rather not. Only, you see, it seemed to me you chucked that time. Of
course, I know you didn't mean to, and all that sort of thing, but
still, the rules--'

Tony would probably have liked to have said something very forcible
about the rules at this point, but it occurred to him that after all
Harrison was only within his rights, and that it was bad form to
dispute the umpire's decision. Harrison walked off towards square-leg
with a holy joy.

But he was too much of an artist to overdo the thing. Tony's next over
passed off without interference. Possibly, however, this was because it
was a very bad one. After the third over he asked Welch if he could get
somebody else to umpire, as he had work to do. Welch heaved a sigh of
relief, and agreed readily.

'Conscientious sort of chap that umpire of yours,' said Scott to Tony,
after the match. Scott had made a hundred and four, and was feeling
pleased. 'Considering he's in your House, he's awfully fair.'

'You mean that we generally swindle, I suppose?'

'Of course not, you rotter. You know what I mean. But, I say, that
catch Welch and you appealed for must have been a near thing. I could
have sworn I hit it.'

'Of course you did. It was clean out. So was the lbw. I say, did you
think that ball that bowled you was a chuck? That one in my first over,
you know.'

'Chuck! My dear Tony, you don't mean to say that man pulled you up for
chucking? I thought your foot must have gone over the crease.'

'I believe the chap's mad,' said Tony.

'Perhaps he's taking it out of you this way for treading on his corns
somehow. Have you been milling with this gentle youth lately?'

'By Jove,' said Tony, 'you're right. I gave him beans only the other
night for ragging in the dormitory.'

Scott laughed.

'Well, he seems to have been getting a bit of his own back today. Lucky
the game was only a friendly. Why will you let your angry passions
rise, Tony? You've wrecked your analysis by it, though it's improved my
average considerably. I don't know if that's any solid satisfaction to
you.'

'It isn't.'

'You don't say so! Well, so long. If I were you, I should keep an eye
on that conscientious umpire.'

'I will,' said Tony. 'Good-night.'

The process of keeping an eye on Harrison brought no results. When he
wished to behave himself well, he could. On such occasions Sandford and
Merton were literally not in it with him, and the hero of a
Sunday-school story would simply have refused to compete. But Nemesis,
as the poets tell us, though no sprinter, manages, like the celebrated
Maisie, to get right there in time. Give her time, and she will arrive.
She arrived in the case of Harrison. One morning, about a fortnight
after the House-match incident, Harrison awoke with a new sensation. At
first he could not tell what exactly this sensation was, and being too
sleepy to discuss nice points of internal emotion with himself, was
just turning over with the intention of going to sleep again, when the
truth flashed upon him. The sensation he felt was loneliness, and the
reason he felt lonely was because he was the only occupant of the
dormitory. To right and left and all around were empty beds.

As he mused drowsily on these portents, the distant sound of a bell
came to his ears and completed the cure. It was the bell for chapel. He
dragged his watch from under his pillow, and looked at it with
consternation. Four minutes to seven. And chapel was at seven. Now
Harrison had been late for chapel before. It was not the thought of
missing the service that worried him. What really was serious was that
he had been late so many times before that Merevale had hinted at
serious steps to be taken if he were late again, or, at any rate, until
a considerable interval of punctuality had elapsed.

That threat had been uttered only yesterday, and here he was in all
probability late once more.

There was no time to dress. He sprang out of bed, passed a sponge over
his face as a concession to the decencies, and looked round for
something to cover his night-shirt, which, however suitable for
dormitory use, was, he felt instinctively, scarcely the garment to wear
in public.

Fate seemed to fight for him. On one of the pegs in the wall hung a
mackintosh, a large, blessed mackintosh. He was inside it in a moment.

Four minutes later he rushed into his place in chapel.

The short service gave him some time for recovering himself. He left
the building feeling a new man. His costume, though quaint, would not
call for comment. Chapel at St Austin's was never a full-dress
ceremony. Mackintoshes covering night-shirts were the rule rather than
the exception.

But between his costume and that of the rest there was this subtle
distinction. They wore their own mackintoshes. He wore somebody else's.

The bulk of the School had split up into sections, each section making
for its own House, and Merevale's was already in sight, when Harrison
felt himself grasped from behind. He turned, to see Graham.

'Might I ask,' enquired Tony with great politeness, 'who said you might
wear my mackintosh?'

Harrison gasped.

'I suppose you didn't know it was mine?'

'No, no, rather not. I didn't know.'

'And if you had known it was mine, you wouldn't have taken it, I
suppose?'

'Oh no, of course not,' said Harrison. Graham seemed to be taking an
unexpectedly sensible view of the situation.

'Well,' said Tony, 'now that you know that it is mine, suppose you give
it up.'

'Give it up!'

'Yes; buck up. It looks like rain, and I mustn't catch cold.'

'But, Graham, I've only got on--'

'Spare us these delicate details. Mack up, please, I want it.'

Finally, Harrison appearing to be difficult in the matter, Tony took
the garment off for him, and went on his way.

Harrison watched him go with mixed feelings. Righteous indignation
struggled with the gravest apprehension regarding his own future. If
Merevale should see him! Horrible thought. He ran. He had just reached
the House, and was congratulating himself on having escaped, when the
worst happened. At the private entrance stood Merevale, and with him
the Headmaster himself. They both eyed him with considerable interest
as he shot in at the boys' entrance.

'Harrison,' said Merevale after breakfast.

'Yes, sir?'

'The Headmaster wishes to see you--again.'

'Yes, sir,' said Harrison.

There was a curious lack of enthusiasm in his voice.



[3]

L'AFFAIRE UNCLE JOHN
(_A Story in Letters_)



I

From Richard Venables, of St Austin's School, to his brother Archibald
Venables, of King's College, Cambridge:

Dear Archie--I take up my pen to write to you, not as one hoping for an
answer, but rather in order that (you notice the Thucydidean
construction) I may tell you of an event the most important of those
that have gone before. You may or may not have heard far-off echoes of
my adventure with Uncle John, who has just come back from the
diamond-mines--and looks it. It happened thusly:

Last Wednesday evening I was going through the cricket field to meet
Uncle John, at the station, as per esteemed favour from the governor,
telling me to. Just as I got on the scene, to my horror, amazement, and
disgust, I saw a middle-aged bounder, in loud checks, who, from his
looks, might have been anything from a retired pawnbroker to a
second-hand butler, sacked from his last place for stealing the
sherry, standing in the middle of the field, on the very wicket the
Rugborough match is to be played on next Saturday (tomorrow), and
digging--_digging_--I'll trouble you. Excavating great chunks of
our best turf with a walking-stick. I was so unnerved, I nearly
fainted. It's bad enough being captain of a School team under any
circs., as far as putting you off your game goes, but when you see the
wicket you've been rolling by day, and dreaming about by night, being
mangled by an utter stranger--well! They say a cow is slightly
irritated when her calf is taken away from her, but I don't suppose the
most maternal cow that ever lived came anywhere near the frenzy that
surged up in my bosom at that moment. I flew up to him, foaming at the
mouth. 'My dear sir,' I shrieked, '_are_ you aware that you're
spoiling the best wicket that has ever been prepared since cricket
began?' He looked at me, in a dazed sort of way, and said, 'What?' I
said: 'How on earth do you think we're going to play Rugborough on a
ploughed field?' 'I don't follow, mister,' he replied. A man who calls
you 'mister' is beyond the pale. You are justified in being a little
rude to him. So I said: 'Then you must be either drunk or mad, and I
trust it's the latter.' I believe that's from some book, though I don't
remember which. This did seem to wake him up a bit, but before he could
frame his opinion in words, up came Biffen, the ground-man, to have a
last look at his wicket before retiring for the night. When he saw the
holes--they were about a foot deep, and scattered promiscuously, just
where two balls out of three pitch--he almost had hysterics. I gently
explained the situation to him, and left him to settle with my friend
of the check suit. Biffen was just settling down to a sort of Philippic
when I went, and I knew that I had left the man in competent hands.
Then I went to the station. The train I had been told to meet was the
5.30. By the way, of course, I didn't know in the least what Uncle John
was like, not having seen him since I was about one-and-a-half, but I
had been told to look out for a tall, rather good-looking man. Well,
the 5.30 came in all right, but none of the passengers seemed to answer
to the description. The ones who were tall were not good looking, and
the only man who was good looking stood five feet nothing in his boots.
I did ask him if he was Mr John Dalgliesh; but, his name happening to
be Robinson, he could not oblige. I sat out a couple more trains, and
then went back to the field. The man had gone, but Biffen was still
there. 'Was you expecting anyone today, sir?' he asked, as I came up.
'Yes. Why?' I said. 'That was 'im,' said Biffen. By skilful
questioning, I elicited the whole thing. It seems that the fearsome
bargee, in checks, was the governor's 'tall, good-looking man'; in
other words, Uncle John himself. He had come by the 4.30, I suppose.
Anyway, there he was, and I had insulted him badly. Biffen told me that
he had asked who I was, and that he (Biffen) had given the information,
while he was thinking of something else to say to him about his
digging. By the way, I suppose he dug from force of habit. Thought he'd
find diamonds, perhaps. When Biffen told him this, he said in a nasty
voice: 'Then, when he comes back will you have the goodness to tell him
that my name is John Dalgliesh, and that he will hear more of this.'
And I'm uncommonly afraid I shall. The governor bars Uncle John
awfully, I know, but he wanted me to be particularly civil to him,
because he was to get me a place in some beastly firm when I leave. I
haven't heard from home yet, but I expect to soon. Still, I'd like to
know how I could stand and watch him ruining the wicket for our spot
match of the season. As it is, it won't be as good as it would have
been. The Rugborough slow man will be unplayable if he can find one of
these spots. Altogether, it's a beastly business. Write soon, though I
know you won't--Yours ever, _Dick_



II

Telegram from Major-General Sir Everard Venables, V.C., K.C.M.G., to
his son Richard Venables:

Venables, St Austin's. What all this about Uncle John. Says were
grossly rude. Write explanation next post--_Venables_.



III

Letter from Mrs James Anthony (nee Miss Dorothy Venables) to her
brother Richard Venables:

Dear Dick--What _have_ you been doing to Uncle John? Jim and I are
stopping for a fortnight with father, and have just come in for the
whole thing. Uncle John--_isn't_ he a horrible man?--says you were
grossly insolent to him when he went down to see you. _Do_ write
and tell me all about it. I have heard no details as yet. Father
refuses to give them, and gets simply _furious_ when the matter is
mentioned. Jim said at dinner last night that a conscientious boy would
probably feel bound to be rude to Uncle John. Father said 'Conscience
be--'; I forget the rest, but it was awful. Jim says if he gets any
worse we shall have to sit on his head, and cut the traces. He is
getting so dreadfully _horsey_. Do write the very minute you get
this. I want to know all about it.--Your affectionate sister, _Dorothy_



IV

Part of Letter from Richard Venables, of St Austin's, to his father
Major-General Sir Everard Venables, V.C., K.C.M.G.:

... So you see it was really his fault. The Emperor of Germany has no
right to come and dig holes in our best wicket. Take a parallel case.
Suppose some idiot of a fellow (not that Uncle John's that, of course,
but you know what I mean) came and began rooting up your azaleas.
Wouldn't you want to say something cutting? I will apologize to Uncle
John, if you like; but still, I do think he might have gone somewhere
else if he really wanted to dig. So you see, etc., etc.



V

Letter from Richard Venables, of St Austin's, to his sister Mrs James
Anthony:

Dear Dolly--Thanks awfully for your letter, and thank Jim for his
message. He's a ripper. I'm awfully glad you married him and not that
rotter, Thompson, who used to hang on so. I hope the most marvellous
infant on earth is flourishing. And now about Uncle John. Really, I am
jolly glad I did say all that to him. We played Rugborough yesterday,
and the wicket was simply vile. They won the toss, and made two hundred
and ten. Of course, the wicket was all right at one end, and that's
where they made most of their runs. I was wicket-keeping as usual, and
I felt awfully ashamed of the beastly pitch when their captain asked me
if it was the football-field. Of course, he wouldn't have said that if
he hadn't been a pal of mine, but it was probably what the rest of the
team thought, only they were too polite to say so. When we came to bat
it was worse than ever. I went in first with Welch--that's the fellow
who stopped a week at home a few years ago; I don't know whether you
remember him. He got out in the first over, caught off a ball that
pitched where Uncle John had been prospecting, and jumped up. It was
rotten luck, of course, and worse was to follow, for by half-past five
we had eight wickets down for just over the hundred, and only young
Scott, who's simply a slogger, and another fellow to come in. Well,
Scott came in. I had made about sixty then, and was fairly well
set--and he started simply mopping up the bowling. He gave a chance
every over as regular as clockwork, and it was always missed, and then
he would make up for it with two or three tremendous whangs--a safe
four every time. It wasn't batting. It was more like golf. Well, this
went on for some time, and we began to get hopeful again, having got a
hundred and eighty odd. I just kept up my wicket, while Scott hit. Then
he got caught, and the last man, a fellow called Moore, came in. I'd
put him in the team as a bowler, but he could bat a little, too, on
occasions, and luckily this was one of them. There were only eleven to
win, and I had the bowling. I was feeling awfully fit, and put their
slow man clean over the screen twice running, which left us only three
to get. Then it was over, and Moore played the fast man in grand style,
though he didn't score. Well, I got the bowling again, and half-way
through the over I carted a half-volley into the Pav., and that gave us
the match. Moore hung on for a bit and made about ten, and then got
bowled. We made 223 altogether, of which I had managed to get
seventy-eight, not out. It pulls my average up a good bit. Rather
decent, isn't it? The fellows rotted about a good deal, and chaired me
into the Pav., but it was Scott who won us the match, I think. He made
ninety-four. But Uncle John nearly did for us with his beastly
walking-stick. On a good wicket we might have made any number. I don't
know how the affair will end. Keep me posted up in the governor's
symptoms, and write again soon.--Your affectionate brother, _Dick_

PS.--On looking over this letter, I find I have taken it for granted
that you know all about the Uncle John affair. Probably you do, but, in
case you don't, it was this way. You see, I was going, etc., etc.



VI

From Archibald Venables, of King's College, Cambridge, to Richard
Venables, of St Austin's:

Dear Dick--Just a line to thank you for your letter, and to tell you
that since I got it I have had a visit from the great Uncle John, too.
He _is_ an outsider, if you like. I gave him the best lunch I
could in my rooms, and the man started a long lecture on extravagance.
He doesn't seem to understand the difference between the 'Varsity and a
private school. He kept on asking leading questions about pocket-money
and holidays, and wanted to know if my master allowed me to walk in the
streets in that waistcoat--a remark which cut me to the quick, 'that
waistcoat' being quite the most posh thing of the sort in Cambridge. He
then enquired after my studies; and, finally, when I saw him off at the
station, said that he had decided not to tip me, because he was afraid
that I was inclined to be extravagant. I was quite kind to him,
however, in spite of everything; but I was glad you had spoken to him
like a father. The recollection of it soothed me, though it seemed to
worry him. He talked a good deal about it. Glad you came off against
Rugborough.--Yours ever, _A. Venables_



VII

From Mr John Dalgliesh to Mr Philip Mortimer, of Penge:

Dear Sir--In reply to your letter of the 18th inst., I shall be happy
to recommend your son, Reginald, for the vacant post in the firm of
Messrs Van Nugget, Diomonde, and Mynes, African merchants. I have
written them to that effect, and you will, doubtless, receive a
communication from them shortly.--I am, my dear sir, yours faithfully,
_J. Dalgliesh_



VIII

From Richard Venables, of St Austin's, to his father Major-General Sir
Everard Venables, V.C., K.C.M.G.:

Dear Father--Uncle John writes, in answer to my apology, to say that no
apologies will meet the case; and that he has given his nomination in
that rotten City firm of his to a fellow called Mortimer. But rather a
decent thing has happened. There is a chap here I know pretty well, who
is the son of Lord Marmaduke Twistleton, and it appears that the dook
himself was down watching the Rugborough match, and liked my batting.
He came and talked to me after the match, and asked me what I was going
to do when I left, and I said I wasn't certain, and he said that, if I
hadn't anything better on, he could give me a place on his estate up in
Scotland, as a sort of land-agent, as he wanted a chap who could play
cricket, because he was keen on the game himself, and always had a lot
going on in the summer up there. So he says that, if I go up to the
'Varsity for three years, he can guarantee me the place when I come
down, with a jolly good screw and a ripping open-air life, with lots of
riding, and so on, which is just what I've always wanted. So, can I?
It's the sort of opportunity that won't occur again, and you know you
always said the only reason I couldn't go up to the 'Varsity was, that
it would be a waste of time. But in this case, you see, it won't,
because he wants me to go, and guarantees me the place when I come
down. It'll be awfully fine, if I may. I hope you'll see it.--Your
affectionate son, _Dick_

PS.--I think he's writing to you. He asked your address. I think Uncle
John's a rotter. I sent him a rattling fine apology, and this is how he
treats it. But it'll be all right if you like this land-agent idea. If
you like, you might wire your answer.



IX

Telegram from Major-General Sir Everard Venables, V.C., K.C.M.G., to
his son Richard Venables, of St Austin's:

Venables, St Austin's. Very well.--_Venables_



X

Extract from Letter from Richard Venables, of St Austin's, to his
father Major-General Sir Everard Venables, V.C., K.C.M.G.:

... Thanks, awfully--

Extract from _The Austinian_ of October:

The following O.A.s have gone into residence this year: At Oxford, J.
Scrymgeour, Corpus Christi; R. Venables, Trinity; K. Crespigny-Brown,
Balliol.

Extract from the _Daily Mail_'s account of the 'Varsity match of
the following summer:

... The St Austin's freshman, Venables, fully justified his inclusion by
scoring a stylish fifty-seven. He hit eight fours, and except for a
miss-hit in the slips, at 51, which Smith might possibly have secured
had he started sooner, gave nothing like a chance. Venables, it will be
remembered, played several good innings for Oxford in the earlier
matches, notably, his not out contribution of 103 against Sussex--



[4]

HARRISON'S SLIGHT ERROR


The one o'clock down express was just on the point of starting. The
engine-driver, with his hand on the lever, whiled away the moments,
like the watchman in _The Agamemnon_, by whistling. The guard
endeavoured to talk to three people at once. Porters flitted to and
fro, cleaving a path for themselves with trucks of luggage. The Usual
Old Lady was asking if she was right for some place nobody had ever
heard of. Everybody was saying good-bye to everybody else, and last,
but not least, P. St H. Harrison, of St Austin's, was strolling at a
leisurely pace towards the rear of the train. There was no need for him
to hurry. For had not his friend, Mace, promised to keep a corner-seat
for him while he went to the refreshment-room to lay in supplies?
Undoubtedly he had, and Harrison, as he watched the struggling crowd,
congratulated himself that he was not as other men. A corner seat in a
carriage full of his own particular friends, with plenty of provisions,
and something to read in case he got tired of talking--it would be
perfect.

So engrossed was he in these reflections, that he did not notice that
from the opposite end of the platform a youth of about his own age was
also making for the compartment in question. The first intimation he
had of his presence was when the latter, arriving first at the door by
a short head, hurled a bag on to the rack, and sank gracefully into the
identical corner seat which Harrison had long regarded as his own
personal property. And to make matters worse, there was no other vacant
seat in the compartment. Harrison was about to protest, when the guard
blew his whistle. There was nothing for it but to jump in and argue the
matter out _en route_. Harrison jumped in, to be greeted instantly
by a chorus of nine male voices. 'Outside there! No room! Turn him
out!' said the chorus. Then the chorus broke up into its component
parts, and began to address him one by one.

'You rotter, Harrison,' said Babington, of Dacre's, 'what do you come
barging in here for? Can't you see we're five aside already?'

'Hope you've brought a sardine-opener with you, old chap,' said
Barrett, the peerless pride of Philpott's, ''cos we shall jolly well
need one when we get to the good old Junct-i-on. Get up into the rack,
Harrison, you're stopping the ventilation.'

The youth who had commandeered Harrison's seat so neatly took another
unpardonable liberty at this point. He grinned. Not the timid,
deprecating smile of one who wishes to ingratiate himself with
strangers, but a good, six-inch grin right across his face. Harrison
turned on him savagely.

'Look here,' he said, 'just you get out of that. What do you mean by
bagging my seat?'

'Are you a director of this line?' enquired the youth politely. Roars
of applause from the interested audience. Harrison began to feel hot
and uncomfortable.

'Or only the Emperor of Germany?' pursued his antagonist.

More applause, during which Harrison dropped his bag of provisions,
which were instantly seized and divided on the share and share alike
system, among the gratified Austinians.

'Look here, none of your cheek,' was the shockingly feeble retort which
alone occurred to him. The other said nothing. Harrison returned to the
attack.

'Look here,' he said, 'are you going to get out, or have I got to make
you?'

Not a word did his opponent utter. To quote the bard: 'The stripling
smiled.' To tell the truth, the stripling smiled inanely.

The other occupants of the carriage were far from imitating his
reserve. These treacherous friends, realizing that, for those who were
themselves comfortably seated, the spectacle of Harrison standing up
with aching limbs for a journey of some thirty miles would be both
grateful and comforting, espoused the cause of the unknown with all the
vigour of which they were capable.

'Beastly bully, Harrison,' said Barrett. 'Trying to turn the kid out of
his seat! Why can't you leave the chap alone? Don't you move, kid.'

'Thanks,' said the unknown, 'I wasn't going to.'

'Now you see what comes of slacking,' said Grey. 'If you'd bucked up
and got here in time you might have bagged this seat I've got. By Jove,
Harrison, you've no idea how comfortable it is in this corner.'

'Punctuality,' said Babington, 'is the politeness of princes.'

And again the unknown maddened Harrison with a 'best-on-record' grin.

'But, I say, you chaps,' said he, determined as a last resource to
appeal to their better feelings (if any), 'Mace was keeping this seat
for me, while I went to get some grub. Weren't you, Mace?' He turned to
Mace for corroboration. To his surprise, Mace was nowhere to be seen.

His sympathetic school-fellows grasped the full humour of the situation
as one man, and gave tongue once more in chorus.

'You weed,' they yelled joyfully, 'you've got into the wrong carriage.
Mace is next door.'

And then, with the sound of unquenchable laughter ringing in his ears,
Harrison gave the thing up, and relapsed into a disgusted silence. No
single word did he speak until the journey was done, and the carriage
emptied itself of its occupants at the Junction. The local train was in
readiness to take them on to St Austin's, and this time Harrison
managed to find a seat without much difficulty. But it was a bitter
moment when Mace, meeting him on the platform, addressed him as a
rotter, for that he had not come to claim the corner seat which he had
been reserving for him. They had had, said Mace, a rattling good time
coming down. What sort of a time had Harrison had in _his_
carriage? Harrison's reply was not remarkable for its clearness.

The unknown had also entered the local train. It was plain, therefore,
that he was coming to the School as a new boy. Harrison began to wonder
if, under these circumstances, something might not be done in the
matter by way of levelling up things. He pondered. When St Austin's
station was reached, and the travellers began to stream up the road
towards the College, he discovered that the newcomer was a member of
his own House. He was standing close beside him, and heard Babington
explaining to him the way to Merevale's. Merevale was Harrison's
House-master.

It was two minutes after he had found out this fact that the Grand Idea
came to Harrison. He saw his way now to a revenge so artistic, so
beautifully simple, that it was with some difficulty that he restrained
himself from bursting into song. For two pins, he felt, he could have
done a cake-walk.

He checked his emotion. He beat it steadily back, and quenched it. When
he arrived at Merevale's, he went first to the matron's room. 'Has
Venables come back yet?' he asked.

Venables was the head of Merevale's House, captain of the School
cricket, wing three-quarter of the School Fifteen, and a great man
altogether.

'Yes,' said the matron, 'he came back early this afternoon.'

Harrison knew it. Venables always came back early on the last day of
the holidays.

'He was upstairs a short while ago,' continued the matron. 'He was
putting his study tidy.'

Harrison knew it. Venables always put his study tidy on the last day of
the holidays. He took a keen and perfectly justifiable pride in his
study, which was the most luxurious in the House.

'Is he there now?' asked Harrison.

'No. He has gone over to see the Headmaster.'

'Thanks,' said Harrison, 'it doesn't matter. It wasn't anything
important.'

He retired triumphant. Things were going excellently well for his
scheme.

His next act was to go to the fags' room, where, as he had expected, he
found his friend of the train. Luck continued to be with him. The
unknown was alone.

'Hullo!' said Harrison.

'Hullo!' said the fellow-traveller. He had resolved to follow
Harrison's lead. If Harrison was bringing war, then war let it be. If,
however, his intentions were friendly, he would be friendly too.

'I didn't know you were coming to Merevale's. It's the best House in
the School.'

'Oh!'

'Yes, for one thing, everybody except the kids has a study.'

'What? Not really? Why, I thought we had to keep to this room. One of
the chaps told me so.'

'Trying to green you, probably. You must look out for that sort of
thing. I'll show you the way to your study, if you like. Come along
upstairs.'

'Thanks, awfully. It's awfully good of you,' said the gratified
unknown, and they went upstairs together.

One of the doors which they passed on their way was open, disclosing to
view a room which, though bare at present, looked as if it might be
made exceedingly comfortable.

'That's my den,' said Harrison. It was perhaps lucky that Graham, to
whom the room belonged, in fact, as opposed to fiction, did not hear
the remark. Graham and Harrison were old and tried foes. 'This is
yours.' Harrison pushed open another door at the end of the passage.

His companion stared blankly at the Oriental luxury which met his eye.
'But, I say,' he said, 'are you sure? This seems to be occupied
already.'

'Oh, no, that's all right,' said Harrison, airily. 'The chap who used
to be here left last term. He didn't know he was going to leave till it
was too late to pack up all his things, so he left his study as it was.
All you've got to do is to cart the things out into the passage and
leave them there. The Moke'll take 'em away.'

The Moke was the official who combined in a single body the duties of
butler and bootboy at Merevale's House. 'Oh, right-ho!' said the
unknown, and Harrison left him.

Harrison's idea was that when Venables returned and found an absolute
stranger placidly engaged in wrecking his carefully-tidied study, he
would at once, and without making inquiries, fall upon that absolute
stranger and blot him off the face of the earth. Afterwards it might
possibly come out that he, Harrison, had been not altogether
unconnected with the business, and then, he was fain to admit, there
might be trouble. But he was a youth who never took overmuch heed for
the morrow. Sufficient unto the day was his motto. And, besides, it was
distinctly worth risking. The main point, and the one with which alone
the House would concern itself, was that he had completely taken in,
scored off, and overwhelmed the youth who had done as much by him in
the train, and his reputation as one not to be lightly trifled with
would be restored to its former brilliance. Anything that might happen
between himself and Venables subsequently would be regarded as a purely
private matter between man and man, affecting the main point not at
all.

About an hour later a small Merevalian informed Harrison that Venables
wished to see him in his study. He went. Experience had taught him that
when the Head of the House sent for him, it was as a rule as well to
humour his whim and go. He was prepared for a good deal, for he had
come to the conclusion that it was impossible for him to preserve his
incognito in the matter, but he was certainly not prepared for what he
saw.

Venables and the stranger were seated in two armchairs, apparently on
the very best of terms with one another. And this, in spite of the fact
that these two armchairs were the only furniture left in the study. The
rest, as he had noted with a grin before he had knocked at the door,
was picturesquely scattered about the passage.

'Hullo, Harrison,' said Venables, 'I wanted to see you. There seems to
have been a slight mistake somewhere. Did you tell my brother to shift
all the furniture out of the study?'

Harrison turned a delicate shade of green.

'Your--er--brother?' he gurgled.

'Yes. I ought to have told you my brother was coming to the Coll. this
term. I told the Old Man and Merevale and the rest of the authorities.
Can't make out why I forgot you. Slipped my mind somehow. However, you
seem to have been doing the square thing by him, showing him round and
so on. Very good of you.'

Harrison smiled feebly. Venables junior grinned. What seemed to
Harrison a mystery was how the brothers had managed to arrive at the
School at different times. The explanation of which was in reality very
simple. The elder Venables had been spending the last week of the
holidays with MacArthur, the captain of the St Austin's Fifteen, the
same being a day boy, suspended within a mile of the School.

'But what I can't make out,' went on Venables, relentlessly, 'is this
furniture business. To the best of my knowledge I didn't leave suddenly
at the end of last term. I'll ask if you like, to make sure, but I
fancy you'll find you've been mistaken. Must have been thinking of
someone else. Anyhow, we thought you must know best, so we lugged all
the furniture out into the passage, and now it appears there's been a
mistake of sorts, and the stuff ought to be inside all the time. So
would you mind putting it back again? We'd help you, only we're going
out to the shop to get some tea. You might have it done by the time we
get back. Thanks, awfully.'

Harrison coughed nervously, and rose to a point of order.

'I was going out to tea, too,' he said.

'I'm sorry, but I think you'll have to scratch the engagement,' said
Venables.

Harrison made a last effort.

'I'm fagging for Welch this term,' he protested.

It was the rule at St Austin's that every fag had the right to refuse
to serve two masters. Otherwise there would have been no peace for that
down-trodden race.

'That,' said Venables, 'ought to be awfully jolly for Welch, don't you
know, but as a matter of fact term hasn't begun yet. It doesn't start
till tomorrow. Weigh in.'

Various feelings began to wage war beneath Harrison's Eton waistcoat. A
profound disinclination to undertake the suggested task battled briskly
with a feeling that, if he refused the commission, things might--nay,
would--happen.

'Harrison,' said Venables gently, but with meaning, as he hesitated,
'do you know what it is to wish you had never been born?'

And Harrison, with a thoughtful expression on his face, picked up a
photograph from the floor, and hung it neatly in its place over the
mantelpiece.



[5]

BRADSHAW'S LITTLE STORY


The qualities which in later years rendered Frederick Wackerbath
Bradshaw so conspicuous a figure in connection with the now celebrated
affair of the European, African, and Asiatic Pork Pie and Ham Sandwich
Supply Company frauds, were sufficiently in evidence during his school
career to make his masters prophesy gloomily concerning his future. The
boy was in every detail the father of the man. There was the same
genial unscrupulousness, upon which the judge commented so bitterly
during the trial, the same readiness to seize an opportunity and make
the most of it, the same brilliance of tactics. Only once during those
years can I remember an occasion on which Justice scored a point
against him. I can remember it, because I was in a sense responsible
for his failure. And he can remember it, I should be inclined to think,
for other reasons. Our then Headmaster was a man with a straight eye
and a good deal of muscular energy, and it is probable that the
talented Frederick, in spite of the passage of years, has a tender
recollection of these facts.

It was the eve of the Euripides examination in the Upper Fourth.
Euripides is not difficult compared to some other authors, but he does
demand a certain amount of preparation. Bradshaw was a youth who did
less preparation than anybody I have ever seen, heard of, or read of,
partly because he preferred to peruse a novel under the table during
prep., but chiefly, I think, because he had reduced cribbing in form to
such an exact science that he loved it for its own sake, and would no
sooner have come tamely into school with a prepared lesson than a
sportsman would shoot a sitting bird. It was not the marks that he
cared for. He despised them. What he enjoyed was the refined pleasure
of swindling under a master's very eye. At the trial the judge, who
had, so ran report, been himself rather badly bitten by the Ham
Sandwich Company, put the case briefly and neatly in the words, 'You
appear to revel in villainy for villainy's sake,' and I am almost
certain that I saw the beginnings of a gratified smile on Frederick's
expressive face as he heard the remark. The rest of our study--the
juniors at St Austin's pigged in quartettes--were in a state of
considerable mental activity on account of this Euripides examination.
There had been House-matches during the preceding fortnight, and
House-matches are not a help to study, especially if you are on the
very fringe of the cock-house team, as I was. By dint of practising
every minute of spare time, I had got the eleventh place for my
fielding. And, better still, I had caught two catches in the second
innings, one of them a regular gallery affair, and both off the
captain's bowling. It was magnificent, but it was not Euripides, and I
wished now that it had been. Mellish, our form-master, had an
unpleasant habit of coming down with both feet, as it were, on members
of his form who failed in the book-papers.

We were working, therefore, under forced draught, and it was distinctly
annoying to see the wretched Bradshaw lounging in our only armchair
with one of Rider Haggard's best, seemingly quite unmoved at the
prospect of Euripides examinations. For all he appeared to care,
Euripides might never have written a line in his life.

Kendal voiced the opinion of the meeting.

'Bradshaw, you worm,' he said. 'Aren't you going to do _any_
work?'

'Think not. What's the good? Can't get up a whole play of Euripides in
two hours.'

'Mellish'll give you beans.'

'Let him.'

'You'll get a jolly bad report.'

'Shan't get a report at all. I always intercept it before my guardian
can get it. He never says anything.'

'Mellish'll probably run you in to the Old Man,' said White, the fourth
occupant of the study.

Bradshaw turned on us with a wearied air.

'Oh, do give us a rest,' he said. 'Here you are just going to do a most
important exam., and you sit jawing away as if you were paid for it.
Oh, I say, by the way, who's setting the paper tomorrow?'

'Mellish, of course,' said White.

'No, he isn't,' I said. 'Shows what a lot you know about it. Mellish is
setting the Livy paper.'

'Then, who's doing this one?' asked Bradshaw.

'Yorke.'

Yorke was the master of the Upper Fifth. He generally set one of the
upper fourth book-papers.

'Certain?' said Bradshaw.

'Absolutely.'

'Thanks. That's all I wanted to know. By Jove, I advise you chaps to
read this. It's grand. Shall I read out this bit about a fight?'

'No!' we shouted virtuously, all together, though we were dying to hear
it, and we turned once more to the loathsome inanities of the second
chorus. If we had been doing Homer, we should have felt more in touch
with Bradshaw. There's a good deal of similarity, when you come to
compare them, between Homer and Haggard. They both deal largely in
bloodshed, for instance. As events proved, the Euripides paper, like
many things which seem formidable at a distance, was not nearly so bad
as I had expected. I did a fair-to-moderate paper, and Kendal and White
both seemed satisfied with themselves. Bradshaw confessed without
emotion that he had only attempted the last half of the last question,
and on being pressed for further information, merely laughed
mysteriously, and said vaguely that it would be all right.

It now became plain that he had something up his sleeve. We expressed a
unanimous desire to know what it was.

'You might tell a chap,' I said.

'Out with it, Bradshaw, or we'll lynch you,' added Kendal.

Bradshaw, however, was not to be drawn. Much of his success in the
paths of crime, both at school and afterwards, was due to his secretive
habits. He never permitted accomplices.

On the following Wednesday the marks were read out. Out of a possible
hundred I had obtained sixty--which pleased me very much indeed--White,
fifty-five, Kendal, sixty-one. The unspeakable Bradshaw's net total was
four.

Mellish always read out bad marks in a hushed voice, expressive of
disgust and horror, but four per cent was too much for him. He shouted
it, and the form yelled applause, until Ponsonby came in from the Upper
Fifth next door with Mr Yorke's compliments, 'and would we recollect
that his form were trying to do an examination'.

When order had been restored, Mellish settled his glasses and glared
through them at Bradshaw, who, it may be remarked, had not turned a
hair.

'Bradshaw,' he said, 'how do you explain this?'

It was merely a sighting shot, so to speak. Nobody was ever expected to
answer the question. Bradshaw, however, proved himself the exception to
the rule.

'I can explain, sir,' he said, 'if I may speak to you privately
afterwards.'

I have seldom seen anyone so astonished as Mellish was at these words.
In the whole course of his professional experience, he had never met
with a parallel case. It was hard on the poor man not to be allowed to
speak his mind about a matter of four per cent in a book-paper, but
what could he do? He could not proceed with his denunciation, for if
Bradshaw's explanation turned out a sufficient excuse, he would have to
withdraw it all again, and vast stores of golden eloquence would be
wasted. But, then, if he bottled up what he wished to say altogether,
it might do him a serious internal injury. At last he hit on a
compromise. He said, 'Very well, Bradshaw, I will hear what you have to
say,' and then sprang, like the cat in the poem, 'all claws', upon an
unfortunate individual who had scored twenty-nine, and who had been
congratulating himself that Bradshaw's failings would act as a sort of
lightning-conductor to him. Bradshaw worked off his explanation in
under five minutes. I tried to stay behind to listen, on the pretext of
wanting to tidy up my desk, but was ejected by request. Bradshaw
explained that his statement was private.

After a time they came out together like long-lost brothers, Mellish
with his hand on Bradshaw's shoulder. It was some small comfort to me
to remember that Bradshaw had the greatest dislike to this sort of
thing.

It was evident that Bradshaw, able exponent of the art of fiction that
he was, must have excelled himself on this occasion. I tried to get the
story out of him in the study that evening. White and Kendal assisted.
We tried persuasion first. That having failed, we tried taunts. Then we
tried kindness. Kendal sat on his legs, and I sat on his head, and
White twisted his arm. I think that we should have extracted something
soon, either his arm from its socket or a full confession, but we were
interrupted. The door flew open, and Prater (the same being our
House-master, and rather a good sort) appeared.

'Now then, now then,' he said. Prater's manner is always abrupt.

'What's this? I can't have this. I can't have this. Get up at once.
Where's Bradshaw?'

I rose gracefully to my feet, thereby disclosing the classic features
of the lost one.

'The Headmaster wants to see you at once, Bradshaw, at the School
House. You others had better find something to do, or you will be
getting into trouble.'

He and Bradshaw left together, while we speculated on the cause of the
summons.

We were not left very long in suspense. In a quarter of an hour
Bradshaw returned, walking painfully, and bearing what, to the expert's
eye, are the unmistakable signs of a 'touching up', which, being
interpreted, is corporal punishment.

'Hullo,' said White, as he appeared, 'what's all this?'

'How many?' enquired the statistically-minded Kendal. 'You'll be
thankful for this when you're a man, Bradshaw.'

'That's what I always say to myself when I'm touched up,' added Kendal.

I said nothing, but it was to me that the wounded one addressed
himself.

'You utter ass,' he said, in tones of concentrated venom.

'Look here, Bradshaw--' I began, protestingly.

'It's all through you--you idiot,' he snarled. 'I got twelve.'

'Twelve isn't so dusty,' said White, critically. 'Most I ever got was
six.'

'But why was it?' asked Kendal. 'That's what we want to know. What have
you been and gone and done?'

'It's about that Euripides paper,' said Bradshaw.

'Ah!' said Kendal.

'Yes, I don't mind telling you about it now. When Mellish had me up
after school today, I'd got my yarn all ready. There wasn't a flaw in
it anywhere as far as I could see. My idea was this. I told him I'd
been to Yorke's room the day before the exam, to ask him if he had any
marks for us. That was all right. Yorke was doing the two Unseen
papers, and it was just the sort of thing a fellow would do to go and
ask him about the marks.'

'Well?'

'Then when I got there he was out, and I looked about for the marks,
and on the table I saw the Euripides paper.'

'By Jove!' said Kendal. We began to understand, and to realize that
here was a master-mind.

'Well, of course, I read it, not knowing what it was, and then, as the
only way of not taking an unfair advantage, I did as badly as I could
in the exam. That was what I told Mellish. Any beak would have
swallowed it.'

'Well, didn't he?'

'Mellish did all right, but the rotter couldn't keep it to himself.
Went and told the Old Man. The Old Man sent for me. He was as decent as
anything at first. That was just his guile. He made me describe exactly
where I had seen the paper, and so on. That was rather risky, of
course, but I put it as vaguely as I could. When I had finished, he
suddenly whipped round, and said, "Bradshaw, why are you telling me all
these lies?" That's the sort of thing that makes you feel rather a
wreck. I was too surprised to say anything.'

'I can guess the rest,' said Kendal. 'But how on earth did he know it
was all lies? Why didn't you stick to your yarn?'

'And, besides,' I put in, 'where do I come in? I don't see what I've
got to do with it.'

Bradshaw eyed me fiercely. 'Why, the whole thing was your fault,' he
said. 'You told me Yorke was setting the paper.'

'Well, so he did, didn't he?'

'No, he didn't. The Old Man set it himself,' said Bradshaw, gloomily.



[6]

A SHOCKING AFFAIR


The Bradshaw who appears in the following tale is the same youth who
figures as the hero--or villain, label him as you like--of the
preceding equally veracious narrative. I mention this because I should
not care for you to go away with the idea that a waistcoat marked with
the name of Bradshaw must of necessity cover a scheming heart. It may,
however, be noticed that a good many members of the Bradshaw family
possess a keen and rather sinister sense of the humorous, inherited
doubtless from their great ancestor, the dry wag who wrote that
monument of quiet drollery, _Bradshaw's Railway Guide_. So with
the hero of my story.

Frederick Wackerbath Bradshaw was, as I have pointed out, my
contemporary at St Austin's. We were in the same House, and together we
sported on the green--and elsewhere--and did our best to turn the
majority of the staff of masters into confirmed pessimists, they in the
meantime endeavouring to do the same by us with every weapon that lay
to their hand. And the worst of these weapons were the end-of-term
examination papers. Mellish was our form-master, and once a term a
demon entered into Mellish. He brooded silently apart from the madding
crowd. He wandered through dry places seeking rest, and at intervals he
would smile evilly, and jot down a note on the back of an envelope.
These notes, collected and printed closely on the vilest paper, made up
the examination questions.

Our form read two authors a term, one Latin and one Greek. It was the
Greek that we feared most. Mellish had a sort of genius for picking out
absolutely untranslatable passages, and desiring us (in print) to
render the same with full notes. This term the book had been
Thucydides, Book II, with regard to which I may echo the words of a
certain critic when called upon to give his candid opinion of a
friend's first novel, 'I dare not say what I think about that book.'

About a week before the commencement of the examinations, the ordinary
night-work used to cease, and we were supposed, during that week, to be
steadily going over the old ground and arming ourselves for the
approaching struggle. There were, I suppose, people who actually did do
this, but for my own part I always used to regard those seven days as a
blessed period of rest, set apart specially to enable me to keep
abreast of the light fiction of the day. And most of the form, so far
as I know, thought the same. It was only on the night before the
examination that one began to revise in real earnest. One's methods on
that night resolved themselves into sitting in a chair and wondering
where to begin. Just as one came to a decision, it was bedtime.

'Bradshaw,' I said, as I reached page 103 without having read a line,
'do you know any likely bits?'

Bradshaw looked up from his book. He was attempting to get a general
idea of Thucydides' style by reading _Pickwick_.

'What?' he said.

I obliged with a repetition of my remark.

'Likely bits? Oh, you mean for the Thucydides. I don't know. Mellish
never sets the bits any decent ordinary individual would set. I should
take my chance if I were you.'

'What are you going to do?'

'I'm going to read _Pickwick_. Thicksides doesn't come within a
mile of it.'

I thought so too.

'But how about tomorrow?'

'Oh, I shan't be there,' he said, as if it were the most ordinary of
statements.

'Not there! Why, have you been sacked?'

This really seemed the only possible explanation. Such an event would
not have come as a surprise. It was always a matter for wonder to me
_why_ the authorities never sacked Bradshaw, or at the least
requested him to leave. Possibly it was another case of the ass and the
bundles of hay. They could not make up their minds which special
misdemeanour of his to attack first.

'No, I've not been sacked,' said Bradshaw.

A light dawned upon me.

'Oh,' I said, 'you're going to slumber in.' For the benefit of the
uninitiated, I may mention that to slumber in is to stay in the House
during school on a pretence of illness.

'That,' replied the man of mystery, with considerable asperity, 'is
exactly the silly rotten kid's idea that would come naturally to a
complete idiot like you.'

As a rule, I resent being called a complete idiot, but this was not the
time for asserting one's personal dignity. I had to know what
Bradshaw's scheme for evading the examination was. Perhaps there might
be room for two in it; in which case I should have been exceedingly
glad to have lent my moral support to it. I pressed for an explanation.

'You may jaw,' said Bradshaw at last, 'as much as you jolly well
please, but I'm not going to give this away. All you're going to know
is that I shan't be there tomorrow.'

'I bet you are, and I bet you do a jolly rank paper too,' I said,
remembering that the sceptic is sometimes vouchsafed revelations to
which the most devout believer may not aspire. It is, for instance,
always the young man who scoffs at ghosts that the family spectre
chooses as his audience. But it required more than a mere sneer or an
empty gibe to pump information out of Bradshaw. He took me up at once.

'What'll you bet?' he said.

Now I was prepared to wager imaginary sums to any extent he might have
cared to name, but as my actual worldly wealth at that moment consisted
of one penny, and my expectations were limited to the shilling
pocket-money which I should receive on the following Saturday--half of
which was already mortgaged--it behoved me to avoid doing anything rash
with my ready money. But, since a refusal would have meant the downfall
of my arguments, I was obliged to name a figure. I named an even
sixpence. After all, I felt, I must win. By what means, other than
illness, could Bradshaw possibly avoid putting in an appearance at the
Thucydides examination?

'All right,' said Bradshaw, 'an even sixpence. You'll lose.'

'Slumbering in barred.'

'Of course.'

'Real illness barred too,' I said. Bradshaw is a man of resource, and
has been known to make himself genuinely ill in similar emergencies.

'Right you are. Slumbering in and real illness both barred. Anything
else you'd like to bar?'

I thought.

'No. Unless--' an idea struck me--'You're not going to run away?'

Bradshaw scorned to answer the question.

'Now you'd better buck up with your work,' he said, opening his book
again. 'You've got about as long odds as anyone ever got. But you'll
lose all the same.'

It scarcely seemed possible. And yet--Bradshaw was generally right. If
he said he had a scheme for doing--though it was generally for not
doing--something, it rarely failed to come off. I thought of my
sixpence, my only sixpence, and felt a distinct pang of remorse. After
all, only the other day the chaplain had said how wrong it was to bet.
By Jove, so he had. Decent man the chaplain. Pity to do anything he
would disapprove of. I was on the point of recalling my wager, when
before my mind's eye rose a vision of Bradshaw rampant and sneering,
and myself writhing in my chair a crushed and scored-off wreck. I drew
the line at that. I valued my self-respect at more than sixpence. If it
had been a shilling now--. So I set my teeth and turned once more to my
Thucydides. Bradshaw, having picked up the thread of his story again,
emitted hoarse chuckles like minute guns, until I very nearly rose and
fell upon him. It is maddening to listen to a person laughing and not
to know the joke.

'You will be allowed two hours for this paper,' said Mellish on the
following afternoon, as he returned to his desk after distributing the
Thucydides questions. 'At five minutes to four I shall begin to collect
your papers, but those who wish may go on till ten past. Write only on
one side of the paper, and put your names in the top right-hand corner.
Marks will be given for neatness. Any boy whom I see looking at his
neighbour's--_where's Bradshaw?_'

It was already five minutes past the hour. The latest of the late
always had the decency to appear at least by three minutes past.

'Has anybody seen Bradshaw?' repeated Mellish. 'You,
what's-your-name--' (I am what's-your-name, very much at your
service) '--you are in his House. Have you seen him?'

I could have pointed out with some pleasure at this juncture that if
Cain expressed indignation at being asked where his brother was, I, by
a simple sum in proportion, might with even greater justice feel
annoyed at having to locate a person who was no relative of mine at
all. Did Mr Mellish expect me to keep an eye on every member of my
House? Did Mr Mellish--in short, what did he mean by it?

This was what I thought. I said, 'No, sir.'

'This is extraordinary,' said Mellish, 'most extraordinary. Why, the
boy was in school this morning.'

This was true. The boy had been in school that morning to some purpose,
having beaten all records (his own records) in the gentle sport of
Mellish-baiting. This evidently occurred to Mellish at the time, for he
dropped the subject at once, and told us to begin our papers.

Now I have remarked already that I dare not say what I think of
Thucydides, Book II. How then shall I frame my opinion of that
examination paper? It was Thucydides, Book II, with the few easy parts
left out. It was Thucydides, Book II, with special home-made
difficulties added. It was--well, in its way it was a masterpiece.
Without going into details--I dislike sensational and realistic
writing--I may say that I personally was not one of those who required
an extra ten minutes to finish their papers. I finished mine at
half-past two, and amused myself for the remaining hour and a half by
writing neatly on several sheets of foolscap exactly what I thought of
Mr Mellish, and precisely what I hoped would happen to him some day. It
was grateful and comforting.

At intervals I wondered what had become of Bradshaw. I was not
surprised at his absence. At first I had feared that he would keep his
word in that matter. As time went on I knew that he would. At more
frequent intervals I wondered how I should enjoy being a bankrupt.

Four o'clock came round, and found me so engrossed in putting the
finishing touches to my excursus of Mr Mellish's character, that I
stayed on in the form-room till ten past. Two other members of the form
stayed too, writing with the despairing energy of those who had five
minutes to say what they would like to spread over five hours. At last
Mellish collected the papers. He seemed a trifle surprised when I gave
up my modest three sheets. Brown and Morrison, who had their eye on the
form prize, each gave up reams. Brown told me subsequently that he had
only had time to do sixteen sheets, and wanted to know whether I had
adopted Rutherford's emendation in preference to the old reading in
Question II. My prolonged stay had made him regard me as a possible
rival.

I dwell upon this part of my story, because it has an important bearing
on subsequent events. If I had not waited in the form-room I should not
have gone downstairs just behind Mellish. And if I had not gone
downstairs just behind Mellish, I should not have been in at the death,
that is to say the discovery of Bradshaw, and this story would have
been all beginning and middle, and no ending, for I am certain that
Bradshaw would never have told me a word. He was a most secretive
animal.

I went downstairs, as I say, just behind Mellish. St Austin's, you must
know, is composed of three blocks of buildings, the senior, the middle,
and the junior, joined by cloisters. We left the senior block by the
door. To the captious critic this information may seem superfluous, but
let me tell him that I have left the block in my time, and entered it,
too, though never, it is true, in the company of a master, in other
ways. There are windows.

Our procession of two, Mellish leading by a couple of yards, passed
through the cloisters, and came to the middle block, where the Masters'
Common Room is. I had no particular reason for going to that block, but
it was all on my way to the House, and I knew that Mellish hated having
his footsteps dogged. That Thucydides paper rankled slightly.

In the middle block, at the top of the building, far from the haunts of
men, is the Science Museum, containing--so I have heard, I have never
been near the place myself--two stuffed rats, a case of mouldering
butterflies, and other objects of acute interest. The room has a
staircase all to itself, and this was the reason why, directly I heard
shouts proceeding from that staircase, I deduced that they came from
the Museum. I am like Sherlock Holmes, I don't mind explaining my
methods.

'Help!' shouted the voice. 'Help!'

The voice was Bradshaw's.

Mellish was talking to M. Gerard, the French master, at the moment. He
had evidently been telling him of Bradshaw's non-appearance, for at the
sound of his voice they both spun round, and stood looking at the
staircase like a couple of pointers.

'Help,' cried the voice again.

Mellish and Gerard bounded up the stairs. I had never seen a French
master run before. It was a pleasant sight. I followed. As we reached
the door of the Museum, which was shut, renewed shouts filtered through
it. Mellish gave tongue.

'Bradshaw!'

'Yes, sir,' from within.

'Are you there?' This I thought, and still think, quite a superfluous
question.

'Yes, sir,' said Bradshaw.

'What are you doing in there, Bradshaw? Why were you not in school this
afternoon? Come out at once.' This in deep and thrilling tones.

'Please, sir,' said Bradshaw complainingly, 'I can't open the door.'
Now, the immediate effect of telling a person that you are unable to
open a door is to make him try his hand at it. Someone observes that
there are three things which everyone thinks he can do better than
anyone else, namely poking a fire, writing a novel, and opening a door.

Gerard was no exception to the rule.

'Can't open the door?' he said. 'Nonsense, nonsense.' And, swooping at
the handle, he grasped it firmly, and turned it.

At this point he made an attempt, a very spirited attempt, to lower the
world's record for the standing high jump. I have spoken above of the
pleasure it gave me to see a French master run. But for good, square
enjoyment, warranted free from all injurious chemicals, give me a
French master jumping.

'My dear Gerard,' said the amazed Mellish.

'I have received a shock. Dear me, I have received a most terrible
shock.'

So had I, only of another kind. I really thought I should have expired
in my tracks with the effort of keeping my enjoyment strictly to
myself. I saw what had happened. The Museum is lit by electric light.
To turn it on one has to shoot the bolt of the door, which, like the
handle, is made of metal. It is on the killing two birds with one stone
principle. You lock yourself in and light yourself up with one
movement. It was plain that the current had gone wrong somehow, run
amock, as it were. Mellish meanwhile, instead of being warned by
Gerard's fate, had followed his example, and tried to turn the handle.
His jump, though quite a creditable effort, fell short of Gerard's by
some six inches. I began to feel as if some sort of round game were
going on. I hoped that they would not want me to take a hand. I also
hoped that the thing would continue for a good while longer. The
success of the piece certainly warranted the prolongation of its run.
But here I was disappointed. The disturbance had attracted another
spectator, Blaize, the science and chemistry master. The matter was
hastily explained to him in all its bearings. There was Bradshaw
entombed within the Museum, with every prospect of death by starvation,
unless he could support life for the next few years on the two stuffed
rats and the case of butterflies. The authorities did not see their way
to adding a human specimen (youth's size) to the treasures in the
Museum, _so_--how was he to be got out?

The scientific mind is equal to every emergency.

'Bradshaw,' shouted Blaize through the keyhole.

'Sir?'

'Are you there?'

I should imagine that Bradshaw was growing tired of this question by
this time. Besides, it cast aspersions on the veracity of Gerard and
Mellish. Bradshaw, with perfect politeness, hastened to inform the
gentleman that he was there.

'Have you a piece of paper?'

'Will an envelope do, sir?'

'Bless the boy, anything will do so long as it is paper.'

Dear me, I thought, is it as bad as all that? Is Blaize, in despair of
ever rescuing the unfortunate prisoner, going to ask him to draw up a
'last dying words' document, to be pushed under the door and despatched
to his sorrowing guardian?

'Put it over your hand, and then shoot back the bolt.'

'But, sir, the electricity.'

'Pooh, boy!'

The scientific mind is always intolerant of lay ignorance.

'Pooh, boy, paper is a non-conductor. You won't get hurt.'

Bradshaw apparently acted on his instructions. From the other side of
the door came the sharp sound of the bolt as it was shot back, and at
the same time the light ceased to shine through the keyhole. A moment
later the handle turned, and Bradshaw stepped forth--free!

'Dear me,' said Mellish. 'Now I never knew that before, Blaize.
Remarkable. But this ought to be seen to. In the meantime, I had better
ask the Headmaster to give out that the Museum is closed until further
notice, I think.'

And closed the Museum has been ever since. That further notice has
never been given. And yet nobody seems to feel as if an essential part
of their life had ceased to be, so to speak. Curious. Bradshaw, after a
short explanation, was allowed to go away without a stain--that is to
say, without any additional stain--on his character. We left the
authorities discussing the matter, and went downstairs.

'Sixpence isn't enough,' I said, 'take this penny. It's all I've got.
You shall have the sixpence on Saturday.'

'Thanks,' said Bradshaw.' Was the Thucydides paper pretty warm?'

'Warmish. But, I say, didn't you get a beastly shock when you locked
the door?'

'I did the week before last, the first time I ever went to the place.
This time I was more or less prepared for it. Blaize seems to think
that paper dodge a special invention of his own. He'll be taking out a
patent for it one of these days. Why, every kid knows that paper
doesn't conduct electricity.'

'I didn't,' I said honestly.

'You don't know much,' said Bradshaw, with equal honesty.

'I don't,' I replied. 'Bradshaw, you're a great man, but you missed the
best part of it all.'

'What, the Thucydides paper?' asked he with a grin.

'No, you missed seeing Gerard jump quite six feet.'

Bradshaw's face expressed keen disappointment.

'No, did he really? Oh, I say, I wish I'd seen it.'

The moral of which is that the wicked do not always prosper. If
Bradshaw had not been in the Museum, he might have seen Gerard jump six
feet, which would have made him happy for weeks. On second thoughts,
though, that does not work out quite right, for if Bradshaw had not
been in the Museum, Gerard would not have jumped at all. No, better put
it this way. I was virtuous, and I had the pleasure of witnessing the
sight I have referred to. But then there was the Thucydides paper,
which Bradshaw missed but which I did not. No. On consideration, the
moral of this story shall be withdrawn and submitted to a committee of
experts. Perhaps they will be able to say what it is.



[7]

THE BABE AND THE DRAGON


The annual inter-house football cup at St Austin's lay between Dacre's,
who were the holders, and Merevale's, who had been runner-up in the
previous year, and had won it altogether three times out of the last
five. The cup was something of a tradition in Merevale's, but of late
Dacre's had become serious rivals, and, as has been said before, were
the present holders.

This year there was not much to choose between the two teams. Dacre's
had three of the First Fifteen and two of the Second; Merevale's two of
the First and four of the Second. St Austin's being not altogether a
boarding-school, many of the brightest stars of the teams were day
boys, and there was, of course, always the chance that one of these
would suddenly see the folly of his ways, reform, and become a member
of a House.

This frequently happened, and this year it was almost certain to happen
again, for no less a celebrity than MacArthur, commonly known as the
Babe, had been heard to state that he was negotiating with his parents
to that end. Which House he would go to was at present uncertain. He
did not know himself, but it would, he said, probably be one of the two
favourites for the cup. This lent an added interest to the competition,
for the presence of the Babe would almost certainly turn the scale. The
Babe's nationality was Scots, and, like most Scotsmen, he could play
football more than a little. He was the safest, coolest centre
three-quarter the School had, or had had for some time. He shone in all
branches of the game, but especially in tackling. To see the Babe
spring apparently from nowhere, in the middle of an inter-school match,
and bring down with violence a man who had passed the back, was an
intellectual treat. Both Dacre's and Merevale's, therefore, yearned for
his advent exceedingly. The reasons which finally decided his choice
were rather curious. They arose in the following manner:

The Babe's sister was at Girton. A certain Miss Florence Beezley was
also at Girton. When the Babe's sister revisited the ancestral home at
the end of the term, she brought Miss Beezley with her to spend a week.
What she saw in Miss Beezley was to the Babe a matter for wonder, but
she must have liked her, or she would not have gone out of her way to
seek her company. Be that as it may, the Babe would have gone a very
long way out of his way to avoid her company. He led a fine, healthy,
out-of-doors life during that week, and doubtless did himself a lot of
good. But times will occur when it is imperative that a man shall be
under the family roof. Meal-times, for instance. The Babe could not
subsist without food, and he was obliged, Miss Beezley or no Miss
Beezley, to present himself on these occasions. This, by the way, was
in the Easter holidays, so that there was no school to give him an
excuse for absence.

Breakfast was a nightmare, lunch was rather worse, and as for dinner,
it was quite unspeakable. Miss Beezley seemed to gather force during
the day. It was not the actual presence of the lady that revolted the
Babe, for that was passable enough. It was her conversation that
killed. She refused to let the Babe alone. She was intensely learned
herself, and seemed to take a morbid delight in dissecting his
ignorance, and showing everybody the pieces. Also, she persisted in
calling him Mr MacArthur in a way that seemed somehow to point out and
emphasize his youthfulness. She added it to her remarks as a sort of
after-thought or echo.

'Do you read Browning, Mr MacArthur?' she would say suddenly, having
apparently waited carefully until she saw that his mouth was full.

The Babe would swallow convulsively, choke, blush, and finally say--

'No, not much.'

'Ah!' This in a tone of pity not untinged with scorn.

'When you say "not much", Mr MacArthur, what exactly do you mean? Have
you read any of his poems?'

'Oh, yes, one or two.'

'Ah! Have you read "Pippa Passes"?'

'No, I think not.'

'Surely you must know, Mr MacArthur, whether you have or not. Have you
read "Fifine at the Fair"?'

'No.'

'Have you read "Sordello"?'

'No.'

'What _have_ you read, Mr MacArthur?'

Brought to bay in this fashion, he would have to admit that he had read
'The Pied Piper of Hamelin', and not a syllable more, and Miss Beezley
would look at him for a moment and sigh softly. The Babe's subsequent
share in the conversation, provided the Dragon made no further
onslaught, was not large.

One never-to-be-forgotten day, shortly before the end of her visit, a
series of horrible accidents resulted in their being left to lunch
together alone. The Babe had received no previous warning, and when he
was suddenly confronted with this terrible state of affairs he almost
swooned. The lady's steady and critical inspection of his style of
carving a chicken completed his downfall. His previous experience of
carving had been limited to those entertainments which went by the name
of 'study-gorges', where, if you wanted to help a chicken, you took
hold of one leg, invited an accomplice to attach himself to the other,
and pulled.

But, though unskilful, he was plucky and energetic. He lofted the bird
out of the dish on to the tablecloth twice in the first minute.
Stifling a mad inclination to call out 'Fore!' or something to that
effect, he laughed a hollow, mirthless laugh, and replaced the errant
fowl. When a third attack ended in the same way, Miss Beezley asked
permission to try what she could do. She tried, and in two minutes the
chicken was neatly dismembered. The Babe re-seated himself in an
over-wrought state.

'Tell me about St Austin's, Mr MacArthur,' said Miss Beezley, as the
Babe was trying to think of something to say--not about the weather.
'Do you play football?'

'Yes.'

'Ah!'

A prolonged silence.

'Do you--' began the Babe at last.

'Tell me--' began Miss Beezley, simultaneously.

'I beg your pardon,' said the Babe; 'you were saying--?'

'Not at all, Mr MacArthur. _You_ were saying--?'

'I was only going to ask you if you played croquet?'

'Yes; do you?'

'No.'

'Ah!'

'If this is going to continue,' thought the Babe, 'I shall be
reluctantly compelled to commit suicide.'

There was another long pause.

'Tell me the names of some of the masters at St Austin's, Mr
MacArthur,' said Miss Beezley. She habitually spoke as if she were an
examination paper, and her manner might have seemed to some to verge
upon the autocratic, but the Babe was too thankful that the question
was not on Browning or the higher algebra to notice this. He reeled off
a list of names.

'... Then there's Merevale--rather a decent sort--and Dacre.'

'What sort of a man is Mr Dacre?'

'Rather a rotter, I think.'

'What is a rotter, Mr MacArthur?'

'Well, I don't know how to describe it exactly. He doesn't play cricket
or anything. He's generally considered rather a crock.'

'Really! This is very interesting, Mr MacArthur. And what is a crock? I
suppose what it comes to,' she added, as the Babe did his best to find
a definition, 'is this, that you yourself dislike him.' The Babe
admitted the impeachment. Mr Dacre had a finished gift of sarcasm which
had made him writhe on several occasions, and sarcastic masters are
rarely very popular.

'Ah!' said Miss Beezley. She made frequent use of that monosyllable. It
generally gave the Babe the same sort of feeling as he had been
accustomed to experience in the happy days of his childhood when he had
been caught stealing jam.

Miss Beezley went at last, and the Babe felt like a convict who has
just received a free pardon.

One afternoon in the following term he was playing fives with
Charteris, a prefect in Merevale's House. Charteris was remarkable from
the fact that he edited and published at his own expense an unofficial
and highly personal paper, called _The Glow Worm_, which was a
great deal more in demand than the recognized School magazine, _The
Austinian_, and always paid its expenses handsomely.

Charteris had the journalistic taint very badly. He was always the
first to get wind of any piece of School news. On this occasion he was
in possession of an exclusive item. The Babe was the first person to
whom he communicated it.

'Have you heard the latest romance in high life, Babe?' he observed, as
they were leaving the court. 'But of course you haven't. You never do
hear anything.'

'Well?' asked the Babe, patiently.

'You know Dacre?'

'I seem to have heard the name somewhere.'

'He's going to be married.'

'Yes. Don't trouble to try and look interested. You're one of those
offensive people who mind their own business and nobody else's. Only I
thought I'd tell you. Then you'll have a remote chance of understanding
my quips on the subject in next week's _Glow Worm_. You laddies
frae the north have to be carefully prepared for the subtler flights of
wit.'

'Thanks,' said the Babe, placidly. 'Good-night.'

The Headmaster intercepted the Babe a few days after he was going home
after a scratch game of football. 'MacArthur,' said he, 'you pass Mr
Dacre's House, do you not, on your way home? Then would you mind asking
him from me to take preparation tonight? I find I shall be unable to be
there.' It was the custom at St Austin's for the Head to preside at
preparation once a week; but he performed this duty, like the
celebrated Irishman, as often as he could avoid it.

The Babe accepted the commission. He was shown into the drawing-room.
To his consternation, for he was not a society man, there appeared to
be a species of tea-party going on. As the door opened, somebody was
just finishing a remark.

'... faculty which he displayed in such poems as "Sordello",' said the
voice.

The Babe knew that voice.

He would have fled if he had been able, but the servant was already
announcing him. Mr Dacre began to do the honours.

'Mr MacArthur and I have met before,' said Miss Beezley, for it was
she. 'Curiously enough, the subject which we have just been discussing
is one in which he takes, I think, a great interest. I was saying, Mr
MacArthur, when you came in, that few of Tennyson's works show the
poetic faculty which Browning displays in "Sordello".'

The Babe looked helplessly at Mr Dacre.

'I think you are taking MacArthur out of his depth there,' said Mr
Dacre. 'Was there something you wanted to see me about, MacArthur?'

The Babe delivered his message.

'Oh, yes, certainly,' said Mr Dacre. 'Shall you be passing the School
House tonight? If so, you might give the Headmaster my compliments, and
say I shall be delighted.'

The Babe had had no intention of going out of his way to that extent,
but the chance of escape offered by the suggestion was too good to be
missed. He went.

On his way he called at Merevale's, and asked to see Charteris.

'Look here, Charteris,' he said, 'you remember telling me that Dacre
was going to be married?'

'Yes.'

'Well, do you know her name by any chance?'

'I ken it weel, ma braw Hielander. She is a Miss Beezley.'

'Great Scott!' said the Babe.

'Hullo! Why, was your young heart set in that direction? You amaze and
pain me, Babe. I think we'd better have a story on the subject in
_The Glow Worm_, with you as hero and Dacre as villain. It shall
end happily, of course. I'll write it myself.'

'You'd better,' said the Babe, grimly. 'Oh, I say, Charteris.'

'Well?'

'When I come as a boarder, I shall be a House-prefect, shan't I, as I'm
in the Sixth?'

'Yes.'

'And prefects have to go to breakfast and supper, and that sort of
thing, pretty often with the House-beak, don't they?'

'Such are the facts of the case.'

'Thanks. That's all. Go away and do some work. Good-night.'

The cup went to Merevale's that year. The Babe played a singularly
brilliant game for them.



[8]

THE MANOEUVRES OF CHARTERIS



_Chapter 1_

'Might I observe, sir--'

'You may observe whatever you like,' said the referee kindly.
'Twenty-five.'

'The rules say--'

'I have given my decision. Twenty-_five_!' A spot of red appeared
on the official cheek. The referee, who had been heckled since the
kick-off, was beginning to be annoyed.

'The ball went behind without bouncing, and the rules say--'

'Twenty-FIVE!!' shouted the referee. 'I am perfectly well aware what
the rules say.' And he blew his whistle with an air of finality. The
secretary of the Bargees' F.C. subsided reluctantly, and the game was
restarted.

The Bargees' match was a curious institution. Their real name was the
Old Crockfordians. When, a few years before, the St Austin's secretary
had received a challenge from them, dated from Stapleton, where their
secretary happened to reside, he had argued within himself as follows:
'This sounds all right. Old Crockfordians? Never heard of Crockford.
Probably some large private school somewhere. Anyhow, they're certain
to be decent fellows.' And he arranged the fixture. It then transpired
that Old Crockford was a village, and, from the appearance of the team
on the day of battle, the Old Crockfordians seemed to be composed
exclusively of the riff-raff of same. They wore green shirts with a
bright yellow leopard over the heart, and C.F.C. woven in large letters
about the chest. One or two of the outsides played in caps, and the
team to a man criticized the referee's decisions with point and
pungency. Unluckily, the first year saw a weak team of Austinians
rather badly beaten, with the result that it became a point of honour
to wipe this off the slate before the fixture could be cut out of the
card. The next year was also unlucky. The Bargees managed to score a
penalty goal in the first half, and won on that. The match resulted in
a draw in the following season, and by this time the thing had become
an annual event.

Now, however, the School was getting some of its own back. The Bargees
had brought down a player of some reputation from the North, and were
as strong as ever in the scrum. But St Austin's had a great team, and
were carrying all before them. Charteris and Graham at half had the
ball out to their centres in a way which made Merevale, who looked
after the football of the School, feel that life was worth living. And
when once it was out, things happened rapidly. MacArthur, the captain
of the team, with Thomson as his fellow-centre, and Welch and Bannister
on the wings, did what they liked with the Bargees' three-quarters. All
the School outsides had scored, even the back, who dropped a neat goal.
The player from the North had scarcely touched the ball during the
whole game, and altogether the Bargees were becoming restless and
excited.

The kick-off from the twenty-five line which followed upon the small
discussion alluded to above, reached Graham. Under ordinary
circumstances he would have kicked, but in a winning game original
methods often pay. He dodged a furious sportsman in green and yellow,
and went away down the touch-line. He was almost through when he
stumbled. He recovered himself, but too late. Before he could pass,
someone was on him. Graham was not heavy, and his opponent was
muscular. He was swung off his feet, and the next moment the two came
down together, Graham underneath. A sharp pain shot through his
shoulder.

A doctor emerged from the crowd--there is always a doctor in a
crowd--and made an examination.

'Anything bad?' asked the referee.

'Collar-bone,' said the doctor. 'The usual, you know. Rather badly
smashed. Nothing dangerous, of course. Be all right in a month or so.
Stop his playing. Rather a pity. Much longer before half-time?'

'No. I was just going to blow the whistle when this happened.'

The injured warrior was carried off, and the referee blew his whistle
for half-time.

'I say, Charteris,' said MacArthur, 'who the deuce am I to put half
instead of Graham?'

'Rogers used to play half in his childhood, I believe. But, I say, did
you ever see such a scrag? Can't you protest, or something?'

'My dear chap, how can I? It's on our own ground. These Bargee beasts
are visitors, if you come to think of it. I'd like to wring the chap's
neck who did it. I didn't spot who it was. Did you see?'

'Rather. Their secretary. That man with the beard. I'll get Prescott to
mark him this half.'

Prescott was the hardest tackler in the School. He accepted the
commission cheerfully, and promised to do his best by the bearded one.

Charteris certainly gave him every opportunity. When he threw the ball
out of touch, he threw it neatly to the criminal with the beard, and
Prescott, who stuck to him closer than a brother, had generally tackled
him before he knew what had happened. After a time he began to grow
thoughtful, and when there was a line-out went and stood among the
three-quarters. In this way much of Charteris's righteous retribution
miscarried, but once or twice he had the pleasure and privilege of
putting in a piece of tackling on his own account. The match ended with
the enemy still intact, but considerably shaken. He was also rather
annoyed. He spoke to Charteris on the subject as they were leaving the
field.

'I was watching you,' he said, _apropos_ of nothing apparently.

'That must have been nice for you,' said Charteris.

'You wait.'

'Certainly. Any time you're passing, I'm sure--'

'You ain't 'eard the last of me yet.'

'That's something of a blow,' said Charteris cheerfully, and they
parted.

Charteris, having got into his blazer, ran after Welch and MacArthur,
and walked back with them to the House. All three of them were at
Merevale's.

'Poor old Tony,' said MacArthur. 'Where have they taken him to? The
House?'

'Yes,' said Welch. 'I say, Babe, you ought to scratch this match next
year. Tell 'em the card's full up or something.'

'Oh, I don't know. One expects fairly rough play in this sort of game.
After all, we tackle pretty hard ourselves. I know I always try and go
my hardest. If the man happens to be brittle, that's his lookout,'
concluded the bloodthirsty Babe.

'My dear man,' said Charteris, 'there's all the difference between a
decent tackle and a bally scrag like the one that doubled Tony up. You
can't break a chap's collar-bone without trying to.'

'Well, if you come to think of it, I suppose the man must have been
fairly riled. You can't expect a man to be in an angelic temper when
his side's been licked by thirty points.'

The Babe was one of those thoroughly excellent persons who always try,
when possible, to make allowances for everybody.

'Well, dash it,' said Charteris indignantly, 'if he had lost his hair
he might have drawn the line at falling on Tony like that. It wasn't
the tackling part of it that crocked him. The beast simply jumped on
him like a Hooligan. Anyhow, I made him sit up a bit before we
finished. I gave Prescott the tip to mark him out of touch. Have you
ever been collared by Prescott? It's a liberal education. Now, there
you are, you see. Take Prescott. He's never crocked a man seriously in
his life. I don't count being winded. That's absolutely an accident.
Well, there you are, then. Prescott weighs thirteen-ten, and he's all
muscle, and he goes like a battering-ram. You'll own that. He goes as
hard as he jolly well knows how, and yet the worst he has ever done is
to lay a man out for a couple of minutes while he gets his wind back.
Well, compare him with this Bargee man. The Bargee weighs a stone less
and isn't nearly as strong, and yet he smashes Tony's collar-bone. It's
all very well, Babe, but you can't get away from it. Prescott tackles
fairly and the Bargee scrags.'

'Yes,' said MacArthur, 'I suppose you're right.'

'Rather,' said Charteris. 'I wish I'd broken his neck.'

'By the way,' said Welch, 'you were talking to him after the match.
What was he saying?'

Charteris laughed.

'By Jove, I'd forgotten; he said I hadn't heard the last of him, and
that I was to wait.'

'What did you say?'

'Oh, I behaved beautifully. I asked him to be sure and look in any time
he was passing, and after a few chatty remarks we parted.'

'I wonder if he meant anything.'

'I believe he means to waylay me with a buckled belt. I shan't stir out
except with the Old Man or some other competent bodyguard. "'Orrible
outrage, shocking death of a St Austin's schoolboy." It would look
rather well on the posters.'

Welch stuck strenuously to the point.

'No, but, look here, Charteris,' he said seriously, 'I'm not rotting.
You see, the man lives in Stapleton, and if he knows anything of School
rules--'

'Which he doesn't probably. Why should he? Well?'--'If he knows
anything of the rules, he'll know that Stapleton's out of bounds, and
he may book you there and run you in to Merevale.'

'Yes,' said MacArthur. 'I tell you what, you'd do well to knock off a
few of your expeditions to Stapleton. You know you wouldn't go there
once a month if it wasn't out of bounds. You'll be a prefect next term.
I should wait till then, if I were you.'

'My dear chap, what does it matter? The worst that can happen to you
for breaking bounds is a couple of hundred lines, and I've got a
capital of four hundred already in stock. Besides, things would be so
slow if you always kept in bounds. I always feel like a cross between
Dick Turpin and Machiavelli when I go to Stapleton. It's an awfully
jolly feeling. Like warm treacle running down your back. It's cheap at
two hundred lines.'

'You're an awful fool,' said Welch, rudely but correctly.

Welch was a youth who treated the affairs of other people rather too
seriously. He worried over them. This is not a particularly common
trait in the character of either boy or man, but Welch had it highly
developed. He could not probably have explained exactly why he was
worried, but he undoubtedly was. Welch had a very grave and serious
mind. He shared a study with Charteris--for Charteris, though not yet a
School-prefect, was part owner of a study--and close observation had
convinced him that the latter was not responsible for his actions, and
that he wanted somebody to look after him. He had therefore elected
himself to the post of a species of modified and unofficial guardian
angel to him. The duties were heavy, and the remuneration exceedingly
light.

'Really, you know,' said MacArthur, 'I don't see what the point of all
your lunacy is. I don't know if you're aware of it, but the Old Man's
getting jolly sick with you.'

'I didn't know,' said Charteris, 'but I'm very glad to hear it. For
hist! I have a ger-rudge against the person. Beneath my ban that mystic
man shall suffer, _coute que coute_, Matilda. He sat upon
me--publicly, and the resultant blot on my scutcheon can only be wiped
out with blood, or broken rules,' he added.

This was true. To listen to Charteris on the subject, one might have
thought that he considered the matter rather amusing than otherwise.
This, however, was simply due to the fact that he treated everything
flippantly in conversation. But, like the parrot, he thought the more.
The actual _casus belli_ had been trivial. At least the mere
spectator would have considered it trivial. It had happened after this
fashion. Charteris was a member of the School corps. The orderly-room
of the School corps was in the junior part of the School buildings.
Charteris had been to replace his rifle in that shrine of Mars after a
mid-day drill, and on coming out into the passage had found himself in
the middle of a junior school 'rag' of the conventional type.
Somebody's cap had fallen off, and two hastily picked teams were
playing football with it (Association rules). Now, Charteris was not a
prefect (that, it may be observed in passing, was another source of
bitterness in him towards the Powers, for he was fairly high up in the
Sixth, and others of his set, Welch, Thomson, and Tony Graham, who were
also in the Sixth--the two last below him in form order--had already
received their prefects' caps). Not being a prefect, it would have been
officious in him to have stopped the game. So he was passing on with
what Mr Hurry Bungsho Jabberjee, B.A., would have termed a beaming
simper of indescribable suavity, when a member of one of the opposing
teams, in effecting a G. O. Smithian dribble, cannoned into him. To
preserve his balance--this will probably seem a very thin line of
defence, but 'I state but the facts'--he grabbed at the disciple of
Smith amidst applause, and at that precise moment a new actor appeared
on the scene--the Headmaster. Now, of all the things that lay in his
province, the Headmaster most disliked to see a senior 'ragging' with a
junior. He had a great idea of the dignity of the senior school, and
did all that in him lay to see that it was kept up. The greater number
of the juniors with whom the senior was found ragging, the more heinous
the offence. Circumstantial evidence was dead against Charteris. To all
outward appearances he was one of the players in the impromptu football
match. The soft and fascinating beams of the simper, to quote Mr
Jabberjee once more, had not yet faded from the act. A well-chosen word
or two from the Headmagisterial lips put a premature end to the
football match, and Charteris was proceeding on his way when the
Headmaster called him. He stopped. The Headmaster was angry. So angry,
indeed, that he did what in a more lucid interval he would not have
done. He hauled a senior over the coals in the hearing of a number of
juniors, one of whom (unidentified) giggled loudly. As Charteris had on
previous occasions observed, the Old Man, when he did start to take a
person's measure, didn't leave out much. The address was not long, but
it covered a great deal of ground. The section of it which chiefly
rankled in Charteris's mind, and which had continued to rankle ever
since, was that in which the use of the word 'buffoon' had occurred.
Everybody who has a gift of humour and (very naturally) enjoys
exercising it, hates to be called a buffoon. It was Charteris's one
weak spot. Every other abusive epithet in the language slid off him
without penetrating or causing him the least discomfort. The word
'buffoon' went home, right up to the hilt. And, to borrow from Mr
Jabberjee for positively the very last time, he had observed
(mentally): 'Henceforward I will perpetrate heaps of the lowest dregs
of vice.' He had, in fact, started a perfect bout of breaking rules,
simply because they were rules. The injustice of the thing rankled. No
one so dislikes being punished unjustly as the person who might have
been punished justly on scores of previous occasions, if he had only
been found out. To a certain extent, Charteris ran amok. He broke
bounds and did little work, and--he was beginning gradually to find
this out--got thoroughly tired of it all. Offended dignity, however,
still kept him at it, and much as he would have preferred to have
resumed a less feverish type of existence, he did not do so.

'I have a ger-rudge against the man,' he said.

'You _are_ an idiot, really,' said Welch.

'Welch,' said Charteris, by way of explanation to MacArthur, 'is a lad
of coarse fibre. He doesn't understand the finer feelings. He can't see
that I am doing this simply for the Old Man's good. Spare the rod,
spile the choild. Let's go and have a look at Tony when we're changed.
He'll be in the sick-room if he's anywhere.'

'All right,' said the Babe, as he went into his study. 'Buck up. I'll
toss you for first bath in a second.'

Charteris walked on with Welch to their sanctum.

'You know,' said Welch seriously, stooping to unlace his boots,
'rotting apart, you really are a most awful ass. I wish I could get you
to see it.'

'Never you mind, ducky,' said Charteris, 'I'm all right. I'll look
after myself.'



_Chapter 2_

It was about a week after the Bargees' match that the rules respecting
bounds were made stricter, much to the popular indignation. The penalty
for visiting Stapleton without leave was increased from two hundred
lines to two extra lessons. The venomous characteristic of extra lesson
was that it cut into one's football, for the criminal was turned into a
form-room from two till four on half-holidays, and so had to scratch
all athletic engagements for the day, unless he chose to go for a
solitary run afterwards. In the cricket term the effect of this was not
so deadly. It was just possible that you might get an innings somewhere
after four o'clock, even if only at the nets. But during the football
season--it was now February--to be in extra lesson meant a total loss
of everything that makes life endurable, and the School protested (to
one another, in the privacy of their studies) with no uncertain voice
against this barbarous innovation.

The reason for the change had been simple. At the corner of the High
Street at Stapleton was a tobacconist's shop, and Mr Prater, strolling
in one evening to renew his stock of Pioneer, was interested to observe
P. St H. Harrison, of Merevale's, purchasing a consignment of 'Girl of
my Heart' cigarettes (at twopence-halfpenny the packet of twenty,
including a coloured picture of Lord Kitchener). Now, Mr Prater was one
of the most sportsmanlike of masters. If he had merely met Harrison out
of bounds, and it had been possible to have overlooked him, he would
have done so. But such a proceeding in the interior of a small shop was
impossible. There was nothing to palliate the crime. The tobacconist
also kept the wolf from the door, and lured the juvenile population of
the neighbourhood to it, by selling various weird brands of sweets, but
it was only too obvious that Harrison was not after these. Guilt was in
his eye, and the packet of cigarettes in his hand. Also Harrison's
House cap was fixed firmly at the back of his head. Mr Prater finished
buying his Pioneer, and went out without a word. That night it was
announced to Harrison that the Headmaster wished to see him. The
Headmaster saw him, though for a certain period of the interview he did
not see the Headmaster, having turned his back on him by request. On
the following day Stapleton was placed doubly out of bounds.

Tony, who was still in bed, had not heard the news when Charteris came
to see him on the evening of the day on which the edict had gone forth.

'How are you getting on?' asked Charteris.

'Oh, fairly well. It's rather slow.'

'The grub seems all right.' Charteris absently reached out for a slice
of cake.

'Not bad.'

'And you don't have to do any work.'

'No.'

'Well, then, it seems to me you're having a jolly good time. What don't
you like about it?'

'It's so slow, being alone all day.'

'Makes you appreciate intellectual conversation all the more when you
get it. Mine, for instance.'

'I want something to read.'

'I'll bring you a Sidgwick's _Greek Prose Composition_, if you
like. Full of racy stories.'

'I've read 'em, thanks.'

'How about Jebb's _Homer_? You'd like that. Awfully interesting.
Proves that there never was such a man as Homer, you know, and that the
_Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ were produced by evolution. General
style, quietly funny. Make you roar.'

'Don't be an idiot. I'm simply starving for something to read. Haven't
you got anything?'

'You've read all mine.'

'Hasn't Welch got any books?'

'Not one. He bags mine when he wants to read. I'll tell you what I will
do if you like.'

'What?'

'Go into Stapleton, and borrow something from Adamson.' Adamson was the
College doctor.

'By Jove, that's not a bad idea.'

'It's a dashed good idea, which wouldn't have occurred to anybody but a
genius. I've been quite a pal of Adamson's ever since I had the flu. I
go to tea with him occasionally, and we talk medical shop. Have you
ever tried talking medical shop during tea? Nothing like it for giving
you an appetite.'

'Has he got anything readable?'

'Rather. Have you ever tried anything of James Payn's?'

'I've read _Terminations_, or something,' said Tony doubtfully,
'but he's so obscure.'

'Don't,' said Charteris sadly, 'please don't. _Terminations_ is by
one Henry James, and there is a substantial difference between him and
James Payn. Anyhow, if you want a short biography of James Payn, he
wrote a hundred books, and they're all simply ripping, and Adamson has
got a good many of them, and I'm hoping to borrow a couple--any two
will do--and you're going to read them. I know one always bars a book
that's recommended to one, but you've got no choice. You're not going
to get anything else till you've finished those two.'

'All right,' said Tony. 'But Stapleton's out of bounds. I suppose
Merevale'll give you leave to go in.'

'He won't,' said Charteris. 'I shan't ask him. On principle. So long.'

On the following afternoon Charteris went into Stapleton. The distance
by road was almost exactly one mile. If you went by the fields it was
longer, because you probably lost your way.

Dr Adamson's house was in the High Street. Charteris knocked at the
door. The servant was sorry, but the doctor was out. Her tone seemed to
suggest that, if she had had any say in the matter, he would have
remained in. Would Charteris come in and wait? Charteris rather thought
he would. He waited for half an hour, and then, as the absent medico
did not appear to be coming, took two books from the shelf, wrote a
succinct note explaining what he had done, and why he had done it,
hoping the doctor would not mind, and went out with his literary
trophies into the High Street again.

The time was now close on five o'clock. Lock-up was not till a quarter
past six--six o'clock nominally, but the doors were always left open
till a quarter past. It would take him about fifteen minutes to get
back, less if he trotted. Obviously, the thing to do here was to spend
a thoughtful quarter of an hour or so inspecting the sights of the
town. These were ordinarily not numerous, but this particular day
happened to be market day, and there was a good deal going on. The High
Street was full of farmers, cows, and other animals, the majority of
the former well on the road to intoxication. It is, of course,
extremely painful to see a man in such a condition, but when such a
person is endeavouring to count a perpetually moving drove of pigs, the
onlooker's pain is sensibly diminished. Charteris strolled along the
High Street observing these and other phenomena with an attentive eye.
Opposite the Town Hall he was button-holed by a perfect stranger, whom,
by his conversation, he soon recognized as the Stapleton 'character'.
There is a 'character' in every small country town. He is not a bad
character; still less is he a good character. He is just a 'character'
pure and simple. This particular man--or rather, this man, for he was
anything but particular--apparently took a great fancy to Charteris at
first sight. He backed him gently against a wall, and insisted on
telling him an interminable anecdote of his shady past, when, it
seemed, he had been a 'super' in some travelling company. The plot of
the story, as far as Charteris could follow it, dealt with a theatrical
tour in Dublin, where some person or persons unknown had, with malice
prepense, scattered several pounds of snuff on the stage previous to a
performance of _Hamlet_; and, according to the 'character', when
the ghost of Hamlet's father sneezed steadily throughout his great
scene, there was not a dry eye in the house. The 'character' had
concluded that anecdote, and was half-way through another, when
Charteris, looking at his watch, found that it was almost six o'clock.
He interrupted one of the 'character's' periods by diving past him and
moving rapidly down the street. The historian did not seem to object.
Charteris looked round and saw that he had button-holed a fresh victim.
He was still gazing in one direction and walking in another, when he
ran into somebody.

'Sorry,' said Charteris hastily. 'Hullo!'

It was the secretary of the Old Crockfordians, and, to judge from the
scowl on that gentleman's face, the recognition was mutual.

'It's you, is it?' said the secretary in his polished way.

'I believe so,' said Charteris.

'Out of bounds,' observed the man.

Charteris was surprised. This grasp of technical lore on the part of a
total outsider was as unexpected as it was gratifying.

'What do you know about bounds?' said Charteris.

'I know you ain't allowed to come 'ere, and you'll get it 'ot from your
master for coming.'

'Ah, but he won't know. I shan't tell him, and I'm sure you will
respect my secret.'

Charteris smiled in a winning manner.

'Ho!' said the man, 'Ho indeed!'

There is something very clinching about the word 'Ho'. It seems
definitely to apply the closure to any argument. At least, I have never
yet met anyone who could tell me the suitable repartee.

'Well,' said Charteris affably, 'don't let me keep you. I must be going
on.'

'Ho!' observed the man once more. 'Ho indeed!'

'That's a wonderfully shrewd remark,' said Charteris. 'I can see that,
but I wish you'd tell me exactly what it means.'

'You're out of bounds.'

'Your mind seems to run in a groove. You can't get off that bounds
business. How do you know Stapleton's out of bounds?'

'I have made enquiries,' said the man darkly.

'By Jove,' said Charteris delightedly, 'this is splendid. You're a
regular sleuth-hound. I dare say you've found out my name and House
too?'

'I may 'ave,' said the man, 'or I may not 'ave.'

'Well, now you mention it, I suppose one of the two contingencies is
probable. Well, I'm awfully glad to have met you. Good-bye. I must be
going.'

'You're goin' with me.'

'Arm in arm?'

'I don't want to _'ave_ to take you.'

'No,' said Charteris, 'I should jolly well advise you not to try. This
is my way.'

He walked on till he came to the road that led to St Austin's. The
secretary of the Old Crockfordians stalked beside him with determined
stride.

'Now,' said Charteris, when they were on the road, 'you mustn't mind if
I walk rather fast. I'm in a hurry.'

Charteris's idea of walking rather fast was to dash off down the road
at quarter-mile pace. The move took the man by surprise, but, after a
moment, he followed with much panting. It was evident that he was not
in training. Charteris began to feel that the walk home might be
amusing in its way. After they had raced some three hundred yards he
slowed down to a walk again. It was at this point that his companion
evinced a desire to do the rest of the journey with a hand on the
collar of his coat.

'If you touch me,' observed Charteris with a surprising knowledge of
legal _minutiae_, 'it'll be a technical assault, and you'll get
run in; and you'll get beans anyway if you try it on.'

The man reconsidered matters, and elected not to try it on.

Half a mile from the College Charteris began to walk rather fast again.
He was a good half-miler, and his companion was bad at every distance.
After a game struggle he dropped to the rear, and finished a hundred
yards behind in considerable straits. Charteris shot in at Merevale's
door with five minutes to spare, and went up to his study to worry
Welch by telling him about it.

'Welch, you remember the Bargee who scragged Tony? Well, there have
been all sorts of fresh developments. He's just been pacing me all the
way from Stapleton.'

'Stapleton! Have you been to Stapleton? Did Merevale give you leave?'

'No. I didn't ask him.'

'You _are_ an idiot. And now this Bargee man will go straight to
the Old Man and run you in. I wonder you didn't think of that.'

'Curious I didn't.'

'I suppose he saw you come in here?'

'Rather. He couldn't have had a better view if he'd paid for a seat.
Half a second; I must just run up with these volumes to Tony.'

When he came back he found Welch more serious than ever.

'I told you so,' said Welch. 'You're to go to the Old Man at once. He's
just sent over for you. I say, look here, if it's only lines I don't
mind doing some of them, if you like.'

Charteris was quite touched by this sporting offer.

'It's awfully good of you,' he said, 'but it doesn't matter, really. I
shall be all right.'

Ten minutes later he returned, beaming.

'Well,' said Welch, 'what's he given you?'

'Only his love, to give to you. It was this way. He first asked me if I
wasn't perfectly aware that Stapleton was out of bounds. "Sir," says I,
"I've known it from childhood's earliest hour." "Ah," says he to me,
"did Mr Merevale give you leave to go in this afternoon?" "No," says I,
"I never consulted the gent you mention."'

'Well?'

'Then he ragged me for ten minutes, and finally told me I must go into
extra the next two Saturdays.'

'I thought so.'

'Ah, but mark the sequel. When he had finished, I said that I was sorry
I had mistaken the rules, but I had thought that a chap was allowed to
go into Stapleton if he got leave from a master. "But you said that Mr
Merevale did not give you leave," said he. "Friend of my youth," I
replied courteously, "you are perfectly correct. As always. Mr Merevale
did not give me leave, but," I added suavely, "Mr Dacre did." And I
came away, chanting hymns of triumph in a mellow baritone, and leaving
him in a dead faint on the sofa. And the Bargee, who was present during
the conflict, swiftly and silently vanished away, his morale
considerably shattered. And that, my gentle Welch,' concluded Charteris
cheerfully, 'put me one up. So pass the biscuits, and let us rejoice if
we never rejoice again.'



_Chapter 3_

The Easter term was nearing its end. Football, with the exception of
the final House-match, which had still to come off, was over, and life
was in consequence a trifle less exhilarating than it might have been.
In some ways the last few weeks before the Easter holidays are quite
pleasant. You can put on running shorts and a blazer and potter about
the grounds, feeling strong and athletic, and delude yourself into the
notion that you are training for the sports. Ten minutes at the broad
jump, five with the weight, a few sprints on the track--it is all very
amusing and harmless, but it is apt to become monotonous after a time.
And if the weather is at all inclined to be chilly, such an occupation
becomes impossible.

Charteris found things particularly dull. He was a fair average runner,
but there were others far better at every distance, so that he saw no
use in mortifying the flesh with strict training. On the other hand, in
view of the fact that the final House-match had yet to be played, and
that Merevale's was one of the two teams that were going to play it, it
behoved him to keep himself at least moderately fit. The genial muffin
and the cheery crumpet were still things to be avoided. He thus found
himself in a position where, apparently, the few things which it was
possible for him to do were barred, and the net result was that he felt
slightly dull.

To make matters worse, all the rest of his set were working full time
at their various employments, and had no leisure for amusing him. Welch
practised hundred-yard sprints daily, and imagined that it would be
quite a treat for Charteris to be allowed to time him. So he gave him
the stopwatch, saw him safely to the end of the track, and at a given
signal dashed off in the approved American style. By the time he
reached the tape, dutifully held by two sporting Merevalian juniors,
Charteris's attention had generally been attracted elsewhere. 'What
time?' Welch would pant. 'By Jove,' Charteris would observe blandly, 'I
forgot to look. About a minute and a quarter, I fancy.' At which Welch,
who always had a notion that he had done it in ten and a fifth
_that_ time, at any rate, would dissemble his joy, and mildly
suggest that somebody else should hold the watch. Then there was Jim
Thomson, generally a perfect mine of elevating conversation. He was in
for the mile and also the half, and refused to talk about anything
except those distances, and the best methods for running them in the
minimum of time. Charteris began to feel a blue melancholy stealing
over him. The Babe, again. He might have helped to while away the long
hours, but unfortunately the Babe had been taken very bad with a notion
that he was going to win the 'cross-country run, and when, in addition
to this, he was seized with a panic with regard to the prospects of the
House team in the final, and began to throw out hints concerning strict
training, Charteris regarded him as a person to be avoided. If he fled
to the Babe for sympathy now, the Babe would be just as likely as not
to suggest that he should come for a ten-mile spin with him, to get him
into condition for the final Houser. The very thought of a ten-mile
spin made Charteris feel faint. Lastly, there was Tony. But Tony's
company was worse than none at all. He went about with his arm in a
sling, and declined to be comforted. But for his injury, he would by
now have been training hard for the Aldershot Boxing Competition, and
the fact that he was now definitely out of it had a very depressing
effect upon him. He lounged moodily about the gymnasium, watching
Menzies, who was to take his place, sparring with the instructor, and
refused consolation. Altogether, Charteris found life a distinct bore.

He was reduced to such straits for amusement, that one Wednesday
afternoon, finding himself with nothing else to do, he was working at a
burlesque and remarkably scurrilous article on 'The Staff, by one who
has suffered', which he was going to insert in _The Glow Worm_, an
unofficial periodical which he had started for the amusement of the
School and his own and his contributors' profit. He was just warming to
his work, and beginning to enjoy himself, when the door opened without
a preliminary knock. Charteris deftly slid a piece of blotting-paper
over his MS., for Merevale occasionally entered a study in this manner.
And though there was nothing about Merevale himself in the article, it
would be better perhaps, thought Charteris, if he did not see it. But
it was not Merevale. It was somebody far worse. The Babe.

The Babe was clothed as to his body in football clothes, and as to
face, in a look of holy enthusiasm. Charteris knew what that look
meant. It meant that the Babe was going to try and drag him out for a
run.

'Go away, Babe,' he said, 'I'm busy.'

'Why on earth are you slacking in here on this ripping afternoon?'

'Slacking!' said Charteris. 'I like that. I'm doing berrain work, Babe.
I'm writing an article on masters and their customs, which will cause a
profound sensation in the Common Room. At least it would, if they ever
saw it, but they won't. Or I hope they won't for their sake _and_
mine. So run away, my precious Babe, and don't disturb your uncle when
he's busy.'

'Rot,' said the Babe firmly, 'you haven't taken any exercise for a
week.'

Charteris replied proudly that he had wound up his watch only last
night. The Babe refused to accept the remark as relevant to the matter
in hand.

'Look here, Alderman,' he said, sitting down on the table, and gazing
sternly at his victim, 'it's all very well, you know, but the final
comes on in a few days, and you know you aren't in any too good
training.'

'I am,' said Charteris, 'I'm as fit as a prize fighter. Simply full of
beans. Feel my ribs.'

The Babe declined the offer.

'No, but I say,' he said plaintively, 'I wish you'd treat it seriously.
It's getting jolly serious, really. If Dacre's win that cup again this
year, that'll make four years running.'

'Not so,' said Charteris, like the mariner of
infinite-resource-and-sagacity; 'not so, but far otherwise. It'll only
make three.'

'Well, three's bad enough.'

'True, oh king, three is quite bad enough.'

'Well, then, there you are. Now you see.'

Charteris looked puzzled.

'Would you mind explaining that remark?' he said. 'Slowly.'

But the Babe had got off the table, and was prowling round the room,
opening cupboards and boxes.

'What are you playing at?' enquired Charteris.

'Where do you keep your footer things?'

'What do you want with my footer things, if you don't mind my asking?'

'I'm going to help you put them on, and then you're coming for a run.'

'Ah,' said Charteris.

'Yes. Just a gentle spin to keep you in training. Hullo, this looks
like them.'

He plunged both hands into a box near the window and flung out a mass
of football clothes. It reminded Charteris of a terrier digging at a
rabbit-hole.

He protested.

'Don't, Babe. Treat 'em tenderly. You'll be spoiling the crease in
those bags if you heave 'em about like that. I'm very particular about
how I look on the football field. _I_ was always taught to dress
myself like a little gentleman, so to speak. Well, now you've seen
them, put 'em away.'

'Put 'em on,' said the Babe firmly.

'You are a beast, Babe. I don't want to go for a run. I'm getting too
old for violent exercise.'

'Buck up,' said the Babe. 'We mustn't chuck any chances away. Now that
Tony can't play, we shall have to do all we know if we want to win.'

'I don't see what need there is to get nervous about it. Considering
we've got three of the First three-quarter line, and the Second Fifteen
back, we ought to do pretty well.'

'But look at Dacre's scrum. There's Prescott, to start with. He's worth
any two of our men put together. Then they've got Carter, Smith, and
Hemming out of the first, and Reeve-Jones out of the second. And their
outsides aren't so very bad, if you come to think of it. Bannister's in
the first, and the other three-quarters are all good. And they've got
both the second halves. You'll have practically to look after both of
them now that Tony's crocked. And Baddeley has come on a lot this
term.'

'Babe,' said Charteris, 'you have reason. I will turn over a new leaf.
I _will_ be good. Give me my things and I'll come for a run. Only
please don't let it be anything over twenty miles.'

'Good man,' said the gratified Babe. 'We won't go far, and will take it
quite easy.'

'I tell you what,' said Charteris. 'Do you know a place called Worbury?
I thought you wouldn't, probably. It's only a sort of hamlet, two
cottages, three public-houses, and a duck-pond, and that sort of thing.
I only know it because Welch and I ran there once last year. It's in
the Badgwick direction, about three miles by road, mostly along the
level. I vote we muffle up fairly well, blazers and sweaters and so on,
run to Worbury, tea at one of the cottages, and back in time for
lock-up. How does that strike you?'

'It sounds all right. How about tea though? Are you certain you can get
it?'

'Rather. The Oldest Inhabitant is quite a pal of mine.'

Charteris's circle of acquaintances was a standing wonder to the Babe
and other Merevalians. He seemed to know everybody in the county.

When once he was fairly started on any business, physical or mental,
Charteris generally shaped well. It was the starting that he found the
difficulty. Now that he was actually in motion, he was enjoying himself
thoroughly. He wondered why on earth he had been so reluctant to come
for this run. The knowledge that there were three miles to go, and that
he was equal to them, made him feel a new man. He felt fit. And there
is nothing like feeling fit for dispelling boredom. He swung along with
the Babe at a steady pace.

'There's the cottage,' he said, as they turned a bend of the road, and
Worbury appeared a couple of hundred yards away. 'Let's sprint.' They
sprinted, and arrived at the door of the cottage with scarcely a yard
between them, much to the admiration of the Oldest Inhabitant, who was
smoking a thoughtful pipe in his front garden. Mrs Oldest Inhabitant
came out of the cottage at the sound of voices, and Charteris broached
the subject of tea. The menu was sumptuous and varied, and even the
Babe, in spite of his devotion to strict training, could scarce forbear
to smile happily at the mention of hot cakes.

During the _mauvais quart d'heure_ before the meal, Charteris kept
up an animated conversation with the Oldest Inhabitant, the Babe
joining in from time to time when he could think of anything to say.
Charteris appeared to be quite a friend of the family. He enquired
after the Oldest Inhabitant's rheumatics. It was gratifying to find
that they were distinctly better. How had Mrs O. I. been since his last
visit? Prarper hearty? Excellent. How was the O. I.'s nevvy?

At the mention of his nevvy the O. I. became discursive. He told his
audience everything that had happened in connection with the said nevvy
for years back. After which he started to describe what he would
probably do in the future. Amongst other things, there were going to be
some sports at Rutton today week, and his nevvy was going to try and
win the cup for what the Oldest Inhabitant vaguely described as 'a
race'. He had won it last year. Yes, prarper good runner, his nevvy.
Where was Rutton? the Babe wanted to know. About eight miles out of
Stapleton, said Charteris, who was well up in local geography. You got
there by train. It was the next station.

Mrs O. I. came out to say that tea was ready, and, being drawn into the
conversation on the subject of the Rutton sports, produced a programme
of the same, which her nevvy had sent them. From this it seemed that
the nevvy's 'spot' event was the egg and spoon race. An asterisk
against his name pointed him out as the last year's winner.

'Hullo,' said Charteris, 'I see there's a strangers' mile. I'm a demon
at the mile when I'm roused. I think I shall go in for it.'

He handed the programme back and began his tea.

'You know, Babe,' he said, as they were going back that evening, 'I
really think I shall go in for that race. It would be a most awful rag.
It's the day before the House-match, so it'll just get me fit.'

'Don't be a fool,' said the Babe. 'There would be a fearful row about
it if you were found out. You'd get extras for the rest of your life.'

'Well, the final Houser comes off on a Thursday, so it won't affect
that.'

'Yes, but still--'

'I shall think about it,' said Charteris. 'You needn't go telling
anyone.'

'If you'll take my advice, you'll drop it.'

'Your suggestion has been noted, and will receive due attention,' said
Charteris. 'Put on the pace a bit.'

They lengthened their stride, and conversation came to an abrupt end.



_Chapter 4_

'I shall go, Babe,' said Charteris on the following night.

The Sixth Form had a slack day before them on the morrow, there being a
temporary lull in the form-work which occurred about once a week, when
there was no composition of any kind to be done. The Sixth did four
compositions a week, two Greek and two Latin, and except for these did
not bother themselves very much about overnight preparation. The Latin
authors which the form were doing were Livy and Virgil, and when either
of these were on the next day's programme, most of the Sixth considered
that they were justified in taking a night off. They relied on their
ability to translate both authors at sight and without previous
acquaintance. The popular notion that Virgil is hard rarely appeals to
a member of a public school. There are two ways of translating Virgil,
the conscientious and the other. He prefers the other.

On this particular night, therefore, work was 'off'. Merevale was over
at the Great Hall, taking preparation, and the Sixth-Form Merevalians
had assembled in Charteris's study to talk about things in general. It
was after a pause of some moments, that had followed upon a lively
discussion of the House's prospects in the forthcoming final, that
Charteris had spoken.

'I shall go, Babe,' said he.

'Go where?' asked Tony, from the depths of a deck-chair.

'Babe knows.'

The Babe turned to the company and explained.

'The lunatic's going in for the strangers' mile at some sports at
Rutton next week. He'll get booked for a cert. He can't see that. I
never saw such a man.'

'Rally round,' said Charteris, 'and reason with me. I'll listen. Tony,
what do you think about it?'

Tony expressed his opinion tersely, and Charteris thanked him. Welch,
who had been reading, now awoke to the fact that a discussion was in
progress, and asked for details. The Babe explained once more, and
Welch heartily corroborated Tony's remarks. Charteris thanked him too.

'You aren't really going, are you?' asked Welch.

'Rather,' said Charteris.

'The Old Man won't give you leave.'

'Shan't worry the poor man with such trifles.'

'But it's miles out of bounds. Stapleton station is out of bounds to
start with. It's against rules to go in a train, and Rutton's even more
out of bounds than Stapleton.'

'And as there are sports there,' said Tony, 'the Old Man is certain to
put Rutton specially out of bounds for that day. He always bars a St
Austin's chap going to a place when there's anything going on there.'

'I don't care. What have I to do with the Old Man's petty prejudices?
Now, let me get at my time-table. Here we are. Now then.'

'Don't be a fool,' said Tony,

'Certainly not. Look here, there's a train starts from Stapleton at
three. I can catch that all right. Gets to Rutton at three-twenty.
Sports begin at three-fifteen. At least, they are supposed to. Over
before five, I should think. At least, my race will be, though I must
stop to see the Oldest Inhabitant's nevvy win the egg and spoon canter.
But that ought to come on before the strangers' race. Train back at a
quarter past five. Arrives at a quarter to six. Lock up six-fifteen.
That gives me half an hour to get here from Stapleton. What more do you
want? I shall do it easily, and ... the odds against my being booked
are about twenty-five to one. At which price if any gent present cares
to deposit his money, I am willing to take him. Now I'll treat you to a
tune, if you're good.'

He went to the cupboard and produced his gramophone. Charteris's
musical instruments had at one time been strictly suppressed by the
authorities, and, in consequence, he had laid in a considerable stock
of them. At last, when he discovered that there was no rule against the
use of musical instruments in the House, Merevale had yielded. The
stipulation that Charteris should play only before prep. was rigidly
observed, except when Merevale was over at the Hall, and the Sixth had
no work. On such occasions Charteris felt justified in breaking through
the rule. He had a gramophone, a banjo, a penny whistle, and a mouth
organ. The banjo, which he played really well, was the most in request,
but the gramophone was also popular.

'Turn on "Whistling Rufus",' observed Thomson.

'Whistling Rufus' was duly turned on, giving way after an encore to
'Bluebells'.

'I always weep when I hear this,' said Tony.

'It _is_ beautiful, isn't it?' said Charteris.

    I'll be your sweetheart, if you--will be--mine,
    All my life, I'll be your valentine.
    Bluebells I've gathered--grrhhrh.

The needle of the gramophone, after the manner of its kind, slipped
raspingly over the surface of the wax, and the rest of the ballad was
lost.

'That,' said Charteris, 'is how I feel with regard to the Old Man. I'd
be his sweetheart, if he'd be mine. But he makes no advances, and the
stain on my scutcheon is not yet wiped out. I must say I haven't tried
gathering bluebells for him yet, nor have I offered my services as a
perpetual valentine, but I've been very kind to him in other ways.'

'Is he still down on you?' asked the Babe.

'He hasn't done much lately. We're in a state of truce at present. Did
I tell you how I scored about Stapleton?'

'You've only told us about a hundred times,' said the Babe brutally. 'I
tell you what, though, he'll score off you if he finds you going to
Rutton.'

'Let's hope he won't.'

'He won't,' said Welch suddenly.

'Why?'

'Because you won't go. I'll bet you anything you like that you won't
go.'

That settled Charteris. It was the sort of remark that always acted on
him like a tonic. He had been intending to go all the time, but it was
this speech of Welch's that definitely clinched the matter. One of his
mottoes for everyday use was 'Let not thyself be scored off by Welch.'

'That's all right,' he said. 'Of course I shall go. What's the next
item you'd like on this machine?'

The day of the sports arrived, and the Babe, meeting Charteris at
Merevale's gate, made a last attempt to head him off from his purpose.

'How are you going to take your things?' he asked. 'You can't carry a
bag. The first beak you met would ask questions.'

If he had hoped that this would be a crushing argument, he was
disappointed.

Charteris patted a bloated coat pocket.

'Bags,' he said laconically. 'Vest,' he added, doing the same to his
other pocket. 'Shoes,' he concluded, 'you will observe I am carrying in
a handy brown paper parcel, and if anybody wants to know what's in it,
I shall tell them it's acid drops. Sure you won't come, too?'

'Quite, thanks.'

'All right. So long then. Be good while I'm gone.'

And he passed on down the road that led to Stapleton.

The Rutton Recreation Ground presented, as the _Stapleton Herald_
justly remarked in its next week's issue, 'a gay and animated
appearance'. There was a larger crowd than Charteris had expected. He
made his way through them, resisting without difficulty the entreaties
of a hoarse gentleman in a check suit to have three to two on 'Enery
something for the hundred yards, and came at last to the dressing-tent.

At this point it occurred to him that it would be judicious to find out
when his race was to start. It was rather a chilly day, and the less
time he spent in the undress uniform of shorts the better. He bought a
correct card for twopence, and scanned it. The strangers' mile was down
for four-fifty. There was no need to change for an hour yet. He wished
the authorities could have managed to date the event earlier.

Four-fifty was running it rather fine. The race would be over by about
five to five, and it was a walk of some ten minutes to the station,
less if he hurried. That would give him ten minutes for recovering from
the effects of the race, and changing back into his ordinary clothes
again. It would be quick work. But, having come so far, he was not
inclined to go back without running in the race. He would never be able
to hold his head up again if he did that. He left the dressing-tent,
and started on a tour of the field.

The scene was quite different from anything he had ever witnessed
before in the way of sports. The sports at St Austin's were decorous to
a degree. These leaned more to the rollickingly convivial. It was like
an ordinary race-meeting, except that men were running instead of
horses. Rutton was a quiet little place for the majority of the year,
but it woke up on this day, and was evidently out to enjoy itself. The
Rural Hooligan was a good deal in evidence, and though he was
comparatively quiet just at present, the frequency with which he
visited the various refreshment stalls that dotted the ground gave
promise of livelier times in the future. Charteris felt that the
afternoon would not be dull.

The hour soon passed, and Charteris, having first seen the Oldest
Inhabitant's nevvy romp home in the egg and spoon event, took himself
off to the dressing-tent, and began to get into his running clothes.
The bell for his race was just ringing when he left the tent. He
trotted over to the starting place.

Apparently there was not a very large 'field'. Two weedy-looking youths
of about Charteris's age, dressed in blushing pink, put in an
appearance, and a very tall, thin man came up almost immediately
afterwards. Charteris had just removed his coat, and was about to get
to his place on the line, when another competitor arrived, and, to
judge by the applause that greeted his appearance, he was evidently a
favourite in the locality. It was with shock that Charteris recognized
his old acquaintance, the Bargees' secretary.

He was clad in running clothes of a bright orange and a smile of
conscious superiority, and when somebody in the crowd called out 'Go
it, Jarge!' he accepted the tribute as his due, and waved a
condescending hand in the speaker's direction.

Some moments elapsed before he recognized Charteris, and the latter had
time to decide upon his line of action. If he attempted concealment in
any way, the man would recognize that on this occasion, at any rate, he
had, to use an adequate if unclassical expression, got the bulge, and
then there would be trouble. By brazening things out, however, there
was just a chance that he might make him imagine that there was more in
the matter than met the eye, and that, in some mysterious way, he had
actually obtained leave to visit Rutton that day. After all, the man
didn't know very much about School rules, and the recollection of the
recent fiasco in which he had taken part would make him think twice
about playing the amateur policeman again, especially in connection
with Charteris.

So he smiled genially, and expressed a hope that the man enjoyed robust
health.

The man replied by glaring in a simple and unaffected manner.

'Looked up the Headmaster lately?' asked Charteris.

'What are you doing here?'

'I'm going to run. Hope you don't mind.'

'You're out of bounds.'

'That's what you said before. You'd better enquire a bit before you
make rash statements. Otherwise, there's no knowing what may happen.
Perhaps Mr Dacre has given me leave.'

The man said something objurgatory under his breath, but forbore to
continue the discussion. He was wondering, as Charteris had expected
that he would, whether the latter had really got leave or not. It was a
difficult problem.

Whether such a result was due to his mental struggles, or whether it
was simply to be attributed to his poor running, is open to question,
but the fact remains that the secretary of the Old Crockfordians did
not shine in the strangers' mile. He came in last but one, vanquishing
the pink sportsman by a foot. Charteris, after a hot finish, was beaten
on the tape by one of the weedy youths, who exhibited astounding
sprinting powers in the last two hundred yards, overhauling Charteris,
who had led all the time, in fine style, and scoring what the
_Stapleton Herald_ described as a 'highly popular victory'.

As soon as he had recovered his normal stock of wind--which was not
immediately--it was borne in upon Charteris that if he wanted to catch
the five-fifteen back to Stapleton, he had better be beginning to
change. He went to the dressing-tent, and on examining his watch was
horrified to find that he had just ten minutes in which to do
everything, and the walk to the station, he reflected, was a long five
minutes. He literally hurled himself into his clothes, and,
disregarding the Bargee, who had entered the tent and seemed to wish to
continue the discussion at the point where they had left off, shot off
towards the gate nearest the station. He had exactly four minutes and
twenty-five seconds in which to complete the journey, and he had just
run a mile.



_Chapter 5_

Fortunately the road was mainly level. On the other hand, he was
hampered by an overcoat. After the first hundred yards he took this
off, and carried it in an unwieldy parcel. This, he found, answered
admirably. Running became easier. He had worked the stiffness out of
his legs by this time, and was going well. Three hundred yards from the
station it was anybody's race. The exact position of the other
competitor, the train, could not be defined. It was at any rate not yet
within earshot, which meant that it still had at least a quarter of a
mile to go. Charteris considered that he had earned a rest. He slowed
down to a walk, but after proceeding at this pace for a few yards,
thought that he heard a distant whistle, and dashed on again. Suddenly
a raucous bellow of laughter greeted his ears from a spot in front of
him, hidden from his sight by a bend in the road.

'Somebody slightly tight,' thought Charteris, rapidly diagnosing the
case. 'By Jove, if he comes rotting about with me I'll kill him.'
Having to do anything in a desperate hurry always made Charteris's
temper slightly villainous. He turned the corner at a sharp trot, and
came upon two youths who seemed to be engaged in the harmless
occupation of trying to ride a bicycle. They were of the type which he
held in especial aversion, the Rural Hooligan type, and one at least of
the two had evidently been present at a recent circulation of the
festive bowl. He was wheeling the bicycle about the road in an aimless
manner, and looked as if he wondered what was the matter with it that
it would not stay in the same place for two consecutive seconds. The
other youth was apparently of the 'Charles-his-friend' variety, content
to look on and applaud, and generally to play chorus to his companion's
'lead'. He was standing at the side of the road, smiling broadly in a
way that argued feebleness of mind. Charteris was not quite sure which
of the two types he loathed the more. He was inclined to call it a tie.

However, there seemed to be nothing particularly lawless in what they
were doing now. If they were content to let him pass without hindrance,
he, for his part, was content generously to overlook the insult they
offered him in daring to exist, and to maintain a state of truce. But,
as he drew nearer, he saw that there was more in this business than the
casual spectator might at first have supposed. A second and keener
inspection of the reptiles revealed fresh phenomena. In the first
place, the bicycle which Hooligan number one was playing with was a
lady's bicycle, and a small one at that. Now, up to the age of fourteen
and the weight of ten stone, a beginner at cycling often finds it more
convenient to learn to ride on a lady's machine than on a gentleman's.
The former offers greater facilities for rapid dismounting, a quality
not to be despised in the earlier stages of initiation. But, though
this is undoubtedly the case, and though Charteris knew that it was so,
yet he felt instinctively that there was something wrong here.
Hooligans of twenty years and twelve stone do not learn to ride on
small ladies' machines, or, if they do, it is probably without the
permission of the small lady who owns the same. Valuable as his time
was, Charteris felt that it behoved him to spend a thoughtful minute or
so examining into this affair. He slowed down once again to a walk,
and, as he did so, his eye fell upon the character in the drama whose
absence had puzzled him, the owner of the bicycle. And from that moment
he felt that life would be a hollow mockery if he failed to fall upon
those revellers and slay them. She stood by the hedge on the right, a
forlorn little figure in grey, and she gazed sadly and helplessly at
the manoeuvres that were going on in the middle of the road. Her age
Charteris put down at a venture at twelve--a correct guess. Her state
of mind he also conjectured. She was letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I
would', like the late Macbeth, the cat i' the adage, and numerous other
celebrities. She evidently had plenty of remarks to make on the subject
in hand, but refrained from motives of prudence.

Charteris had no such scruples. The feeling of fatigue that had been
upon him had vanished, and his temper, which had been growing steadily
worse for some twenty minutes, now boiled over gleefully at the
prospect of something solid to work itself off upon. Even without a
cause Charteris detested the Rural Hooligan. Now that a real,
copper-bottomed motive for this dislike had been supplied to him, he
felt himself capable of dealing with a whole regiment of the breed. The
criminal with the bicycle had just let it fall with a crash to the
ground when Charteris went for him low, in the style which the Babe
always insisted on seeing in members of the First Fifteen on the
football field, and hove him without comment into a damp ditch.
'Charles his friend' uttered a shout of disapproval and rushed into the
fray. Charteris gave him the straight left, of the type to which the
great John Jackson is reported to have owed so much in the days of the
old Prize Ring, and Charles, taking it between the eyes, stopped in a
discouraged and discontented manner, and began to rub the place.
Whereupon Charteris dashed in, and, to use an expression suitable to
the deed, 'swung his right at the mark'. The 'mark', it may be
explained for the benefit of the non-pugilistic, is that portion of the
anatomy which lies hid behind the third button of the human waistcoat.
It covers--in a most inadequate way--the wind, and even a gentle tap in
the locality is apt to produce a fleeting sense of discomfort. A
genuine flush hit on the spot, shrewdly administered by a muscular arm
with the weight of the body behind it, causes the passive agent in the
transaction to wish fervently, as far as he is at the moment physically
capable of wishing anything, that he had never been born. 'Charles his
friend' collapsed like an empty sack, and Charteris, getting a grip of
the outlying portions of his costume, dragged him to the ditch and
rolled him in on top of his friend, who had just recovered sufficiently
to be thinking about getting out again. The pair of them lay there in a
tangled heap. Charteris picked up the bicycle and gave it a cursory
examination. The enamel was a good deal scratched, but no material
damage had been done. He wheeled it across to its owner.

'It isn't much hurt,' he said, as they walked on slowly together. 'Bit
scratched, that's all.'

'Thanks _awfully_,' said the small lady.

'Oh, not at all,' replied Charteris. 'I enjoyed it.' (He felt he had
said the right thing there. Your real hero always 'enjoys it'.) 'I'm
sorry those bargees frightened you.'

'They did rather. But'--she added triumphantly after a pause--'I didn't
cry.'

'Rather not,' said Charteris. 'You were awfully plucky. I noticed. But
hadn't you better ride on? Which way were you going?'

'I wanted to get to Stapleton.'

'Oh. That's simple enough. You've merely got to go straight on down
this road, as straight as ever you can go. But, look here, you know,
you shouldn't be out alone like this. It isn't safe. Why did they let
you?'

The lady avoided his eye. She bent down and inspected the left pedal.

'They shouldn't have sent you out alone,' said Charteris, 'why did
they?'

'They--they didn't. I came.'

There was a world of meaning in the phrase. Charteris felt that he was
in the same case. They had not let _him_. He had come. Here was a
kindred spirit, another revolutionary soul, scorning the fetters of
convention and the so-called authority of self-constituted rules, aha!
Bureaucrats!

'Shake hands,' he said, 'I'm in just the same way.'

They shook hands gravely.

'You know,' said the lady, 'I'm awfully sorry I did it now. It was very
naughty.'

'I'm not sorry yet,' said Charteris, 'I'm rather glad than otherwise.
But I expect I shall be sorry before long.'

'Will you be sent to bed?'

'I don't think so.'

'Will you have to learn beastly poetry?'

'Probably not.'

She looked at him curiously, as if to enquire, 'then if you won't have
to learn poetry and you won't get sent to bed, what on earth is there
for you to worry about?'

She would probably have gone on to investigate the problem further, but
at that moment there came the sound of a whistle. Then another, closer
this time. Then a faint rumbling, which increased in volume steadily.
Charteris looked back. The railway line ran by the side of the road. He
could see the smoke of a train through the trees. It was quite close
now, and coming closer every minute, and he was still quite a hundred
and fifty yards from the station gates.

'I say,' he cried. 'Great Scott, here comes my train. I must rush.
Good-bye. You keep straight on.'

His legs had had time to grow stiff again. For the first few strides
running was painful. But his joints soon adapted themselves to the
strain, and in ten seconds he was sprinting as fast as he had ever
sprinted off the running-track. When he had travelled a quarter of the
distance the small cyclist overtook him.

'Be quick,' she said, 'it's just in sight.'

Charteris quickened his stride, and, paced by the bicycle, spun along
in fine style. Forty yards from the station the train passed him. He
saw it roll into the station. There were still twenty yards to go,
exclusive of the station's steps, and he was already running as fast as
it lay in him to run. Now there were only ten. Now five. And at last,
with a hurried farewell to his companion, he bounded up the steps and
on to the platform. At the end of the platform the line took a sharp
curve to the left. Round that curve the tail end of the guard's van was
just disappearing.

'Missed it, sir,' said the solitary porter, who managed things at
Rutton, cheerfully. He spoke as if he was congratulating Charteris on
having done something remarkably clever.

'When's the next?' panted Charteris.

'Eight-thirty,' was the porter's appalling reply.

For a moment Charteris felt quite ill. No train till eight-thirty! Then
was he indeed lost. But it couldn't be true. There must be some sort of
a train between now and then.

'Are you certain?' he said. 'Surely there's a train before that?'

'Why, yes, sir,' said the porter gleefully, 'but they be all exprusses.
Eight-thirty be the only 'un what starps at Rootton.'

'Thanks,' said Charteris with marked gloom, 'I don't think that'll be
much good to me. My aunt, what a hole I'm in.'

 The porter made a sympathetic and interrogative noise at the back of
his throat, as if inviting him to explain everything. But Charteris
felt unequal to conversation. There are moments when one wants to be
alone. He went down the steps again. When he got out into the road, his
small cycling friend had vanished. Charteris was conscious of a feeling
of envy towards her. She was doing the journey comfortably on a
bicycle. He would have to walk it. Walk it! He didn't believe he could.
The strangers' mile, followed by the Homeric combat with the two
Hooligans and that ghastly sprint to wind up with, had left him
decidedly unfit for further feats of pedestrianism. And it was eight
miles to Stapleton, if it was a yard, and another mile from Stapleton
to St Austin's. Charteris, having once more invoked the name of his
aunt, pulled himself together with an effort, and limped gallantly on
in the direction of Stapleton. But fate, so long hostile to him, at
last relented. A rattle of wheels approached him from behind. A thrill
of hope shot through him at the sound. There was the prospect of a
lift. He stopped, and waited for the dog-cart--it sounded like a
dog-cart--to arrive. Then he uttered a shout of rapture, and began to
wave his arms like a semaphore. The man in the dog-cart was Dr Adamson.

'Hullo, Charteris,' said the Doctor, pulling up his horse, 'what are
you doing here?'

'Give me a lift,' said Charteris, 'and I'll tell you. It's a long yarn.
Can I get in?'

'Come along. Plenty of room.'

Charteris climbed up, and sank on to the cushioned seat with a sigh of
pleasure. What glorious comfort. He had never enjoyed anything more in
his life.

'I'm nearly dead,' he said, as the dog-cart went on again. 'This is how
it all happened. You see, it was this way--'

And he embarked forthwith upon his narrative.



_Chapter 6_

By special request the Doctor dropped Charteris within a hundred yards
of Merevale's door.

'Good-night,' he said. 'I don't suppose you will value my advice at
all, but you may have it for what it is worth. I recommend you stop
this sort of game. Next time something will happen.'

'By Jove, yes,' said Charteris, climbing painfully down from the
dog-cart, 'I'll take that advice. I'm a reformed character from this
day onwards. This sort of thing isn't good enough. Hullo, there's the
bell for lock-up. Good-night, Doctor, and thanks most awfully for the
lift. It was frightfully kind of you.'

'Don't mention it,' said Dr Adamson, 'it is always a privilege to be in
your company. When are you coming to tea with me again?'

'Whenever you'll have me. I must get leave, though, this time.'

'Yes. By the way, how's Graham? It is Graham, isn't it? The fellow who
broke his collar-bone?'

'Oh, he's getting on splendidly. Still in a sling, but it's almost well
again now. But I must be off. Good-night.'

'Good-night. Come to tea next Monday.'

'Right,' said Charteris; 'thanks awfully.'

He hobbled in at Merevale's gate, and went up to his study. The Babe
was in there talking to Welch.

'Hullo,' said the Babe, 'here's Charteris.'

'What's left of him,' said Charteris.

'How did it go off?'

'Don't, please.'

'Did you win?' asked Welch.

'No. Second. By a yard. Oh, Lord, I am dead.'

'Hot race?'

'Rather. It wasn't that, though. I had to sprint all the way to the
station, and missed my train by ten seconds at the end of it all.'

'Then how did you get here?'

'That was the one stroke of luck I've had this afternoon. I started to
walk back, and after I'd gone about a quarter of a mile, Adamson caught
me up in his dog-cart. I suggested that it would be a Christian act on
his part to give me a lift, and he did. I shall remember Adamson in my
will.'

'Tell us what happened.'

'I'll tell thee everything I can,' said Charteris. 'There's little to
relate. I saw an aged, aged man a-sitting on a gate. Where do you want
me to begin?'

'At the beginning. Don't rot.'

'I was born,' began Charteris, 'of poor but honest parents, who sent
me to school at an early age in order that I might acquire a grasp of
the Greek and Latin languages, now obsolete. I--'

'How did you lose?' enquired the Babe.

'The other man beat me. If he hadn't, I should have won hands down. Oh,
I say, guess who I met at Rutton.'

'Not a beak?'

'No. Almost as bad, though. The Bargee man who paced me from Stapleton.
Man who crocked Tony.'

'Great _Scott_!' cried the Babe. 'Did he recognize you?'

'Rather. We had a very pleasant conversation.'

'If he reports you,' began the Babe.

'Who's that?'

Charteris looked up. Tony Graham had entered the study.

'Hullo, Tony! Adamson told me to remember him to you.'

'So you've got back?'

Charteris confirmed the hasty guess.

'But what are you talking about, Babe?' said Tony. 'Who's going to be
reported, and who's going to report?'

The Babe briefly explained the situation.

'If the man,' he said, 'reports Charteris, he may get run in tomorrow,
and then we shall have both our halves away against Dacre's. Charteris,
you are a fool to go rotting about out of bounds like this.'

'Nay, dry the starting tear,' said Charteris cheerfully. 'In the first
place, I shouldn't get kept in on a Thursday anyhow. I should be shoved
into extra on Saturday. Also, I shrewdly conveyed to the Bargee the
impression that I was at Rutton by special permission.'

'He's bound to know that that can't be true,' said Tony.

'Well, I told him to think it over. You see, he got so badly left last
time he tried to compass my downfall, that I shouldn't be a bit
surprised if he let the job alone this journey.'

'Let's hope so,' said the Babe gloomily.

'That's right, Babby,' remarked Charteris encouragingly, nodding at the
pessimist.

'You buck up and keep looking on the bright side. It'll be all right.
You see if it won't. If there's any running in to be done, I shall do
it. I shall be frightfully fit tomorrow after all this dashing about
today. I haven't an ounce of superfluous flesh on me. I'm a fine,
strapping specimen of sturdy young English manhood. And I'm going to
play a _very_ selfish game tomorrow, Babe.'

'Oh, my dear chap, you mustn't.' The Babe's face wore an expression of
horror. The success of the House-team in the final was very near to his
heart. He could not understand anyone jesting on the subject. Charteris
respected his anguish, and relieved it speedily.

'I was only ragging,' he said. 'Considering that our three-quarter line
is our one strong point, I'm not likely to keep the ball from it, if I
get a chance of getting it out. Make your mind easy, Babe.'

The final House-match was always a warmish game. The rivalry between
the various Houses was great, and the football cup especially was
fought for with immense keenness. Also, the match was the last fixture
of the season, and there was a certain feeling in the teams that if
they _did_ happen to disable a man or two, it would not matter
much. The injured sportsman would not be needed for School-match
purposes for another six months. As a result of which philosophical
reflection, the tackling was ruled slightly energetic, and the
handing-off was done with vigour.

This year, to add a sort of finishing touch, there was just a little
ill-feeling between Dacre's and Merevale's. The cause of it was the
Babe. Until the beginning of the term he had been a day boy. Then the
news began to circulate that he was going to become a boarder, either
at Dacre's or at Merevale's. He chose the latter, and Dacre's felt
slightly aggrieved. Some of the less sportsmanlike members of the House
had proposed that a protest should be made against his being allowed to
play, but, fortunately for the credit of Dacre's, Prescott, the captain
of the House Fifteen, had put his foot down with an emphatic bang at
the suggestion. As he sagely pointed out, there were some things which
were bad form, and this was one of them. If the team wanted to express
their disapproval, said he, let them do it on the field by tackling
their very hardest. He personally was going to do his best, and he
advised them to do the same.

The rumour of this bad blood had got about the School in some
mysterious manner, and when Swift, Merevale's only First Fifteen
forward, kicked off up the hill, a large crowd was lining the ropes. It
was evident from the outset that it would be a good game.

Dacre's were the better side--as a team. They had no really weak spot.
But Merevale's extraordinarily strong three-quarter line somewhat made
up for an inferior scrum. And the fact that the Babe was in the centre
was worth much.

At first Dacre's pressed. Their pack was unusually heavy for a
House-team, and they made full use of it. They took the ball down the
field in short rushes till they were in Merevale's twenty-five. Then
they began to heel, and, if things had been more or less exciting for
the Merevalians before, they became doubly so now. The ground was dry,
and so was the ball, and the game consequently waxed fast. Time after
time the ball went along Dacre's three-quarter line, only to end by
finding itself hurled, with the wing who was carrying it, into touch.
Occasionally the centres, instead of feeding their wings, would try to
dodge through themselves. And that was where the Babe came in. He was
admittedly the best tackler in the School, but on this occasion he
excelled himself. His man never had a chance of getting past. At last a
lofty kick into touch over the heads of the spectators gave the players
a few seconds' rest.

The Babe went up to Charteris.

'Look here,' he said, 'it's risky, but I think we'll try having the
ball out a bit.'

'In our own twenty-five?' said Charteris.

'Wherever we are. I believe it will come off all right. Anyway, we'll
try it. Tell the forwards.'

For forwards playing against a pack much heavier than themselves, it is
easier to talk about letting the ball out than to do it. The first half
dozen times that Merevale's scrum tried to heel they were shoved off
their feet, and it was on the enemy's side that the ball went out. But
the seventh attempt succeeded. Out it came, cleanly and speedily.
Daintree, who was playing instead of Tony, switched it across to
Charteris. Charteris dodged the half who was marking him, and ran.
Heeling and passing in one's own twenty-five is like smoking--an
excellent practice if indulged in in moderation. On this occasion it
answered perfectly. Charteris ran to the half-way line, and handed the
ball on to the Babe. The Babe was tackled from behind, and passed to
Thomson. Thomson dodged his man, and passed to Welch on the wing. Welch
was the fastest sprinter in the School. It was a pleasure--if you did
not happen to be one of the opposing side--to see him race down the
touch-line. He was off like an arrow. Dacre's back made a futile
attempt to get at him. Welch could have given the back fifteen yards in
a hundred. He ran round him, and, amidst terrific applause from the
Merevale's-supporting section of the audience, scored between the
posts. The Babe took the kick and converted without difficulty. Five
minutes afterwards the whistle blew for half-time.

The remainder of the game does not call for detailed description.
Dacre's pressed nearly the whole of the last half hour, but twice more
the ball came out and went down Merevale's three-quarter line. Once it
was the Babe who scored with a run from his own goal-line, and once
Charteris, who got in from half-way, dodging through the whole team.
The last ten minutes of the game was marked by a slight excess of
energy on both sides. Dacre's forwards were in a decidedly bad temper,
and fought like tigers to break through, and Merevale's played up to
them with spirit. The Babe seemed continually to be precipitating
himself at the feet of rushing forwards, and Charteris felt as if at
least a dozen bones were broken in various portions of his anatomy. The
game ended on Merevale's line, but they had won the match and the cup
by two goals and a try to nothing.

Charteris limped off the field, cheerful but damaged. He ached all
over, and there was a large bruise on his left cheek-bone. He and Babe
were going to the House, when they were aware that the Headmaster was
beckoning to them.

'Well, MacArthur, and what was the result of the match?'

'We won, sir,' boomed the Babe. 'Two goals and a try to _nil_.'

'You have hurt your cheek, Charteris?'

'Yes, sir.'

'How did you do that?'

'I got a kick, sir, in one of the rushes.'

'Ah. I should bathe it, Charteris. Bathe it well. I hope it will not be
very painful. Bathe it well in warm water.'

He walked on.

'You know,' said Charteris to the Babe, as they went into the House,
'the Old Man isn't such a bad sort after all. He has his points, don't
you think?'

The Babe said that he did.

'I'm going to reform, you know,' continued Charteris confidentially.

'It's about time,' said the Babe. 'You can have the bath first if you
like. Only buck up.'

Charteris boiled himself for ten minutes, and then dragged his weary
limbs to his study. It was while he was sitting in a deck-chair eating
mixed biscuits, and wondering if he would ever be able to summon up
sufficient energy to put on garments of civilization, that somebody
knocked at the door.

'Yes,' shouted Charteris. 'What is it? Don't come in. I'm changing.'

The melodious treble of Master Crowinshaw, his fag, made itself heard
through the keyhole.

'The Head told me to tell you that he wanted to see you at the School
House as soon as you can go.'

'All right,' shouted Charteris. 'Thanks.'

'Now what,' he continued to himself, 'does the Old Man want to see me
for? Perhaps he wants to make certain that I've bathed my cheek in warm
water. Anyhow, I suppose I must go.'

A quarter of an hour later he presented himself at the Headmagisterial
door. The sedate Parker, the Head's butler, who always filled Charteris
with a desire to dig him hard in the ribs just to see what would
happen, ushered him into the study.

The Headmaster was reading by the light of a lamp when Charteris came
in. He laid down his book, and motioned him to a seat; after which
there was an awkward pause.

'I have just received,' began the Head at last, 'a most unpleasant
communication. Most unpleasant. From whom it comes I do not know. It
is, in fact--er--anonymous. I am sorry that I ever read it.'

He stopped. Charteris made no comment. He guessed what was coming. He,
too, was sorry that the Head had ever read the letter.

'The writer says that he saw you, that he actually spoke to you, at the
athletic sports at Rutton yesterday. I have called you in to tell me if
that is true.' The Head fastened an accusing eye on his companion.

'It is quite true, sir,' said Charteris steadily.

'What!' said the Head sharply. 'You were at Rutton?'

'Yes, sir.'

'You were perfectly aware, I suppose, that you were breaking the School
rules by going there, Charteris?' enquired the Head in a cold voice.

'Yes, sir.' There was another pause.

'This is very serious,' began the Head. 'I cannot overlook this. I--'

There was a slight scuffle of feet in the passage outside. The door
flew open vigorously, and a young lady entered. It was, as Charteris
recognized in a minute, his acquaintance of the afternoon, the young
lady of the bicycle.

'Uncle,' she said, 'have you seen my book anywhere?'

'Hullo!' she broke off as her eye fell on Charteris.

'Hullo!' said Charteris, affably, not to be outdone in the courtesies.

'Did you catch your train?'

'No. Missed it.'

'Hullo! what's the matter with your cheek?'

'I got a kick on it.'

'Oh, does it hurt?'

'Not much, thanks.'

Here the Head, feeling perhaps a little out of it, put in his oar.

'Dorothy, you must not come here now. I am busy. And how, may I ask, do
you and Charteris come to be acquainted?'

'Why, he's him,' said Dorothy lucidly.

The Head looked puzzled.

'Him. The chap, you know.'

It is greatly to the Head's credit that he grasped the meaning of these
words. Long study of the classics had quickened his faculty for seeing
sense in passages where there was none. The situation dawned upon him.

'Do you mean to tell me, Dorothy, that it was Charteris who came to
your assistance yesterday?'

Dorothy nodded energetically.

'He gave the men beans,' she said. 'He did, really,' she went on,
regardless of the Head's look of horror. 'He used right and left with
considerable effect.'

Dorothy's brother, a keen follower of the Ring, had been good enough
some days before to read her out an extract from an account in _The
Sportsman_ of a match at the National Sporting Club, and the account
had been much to her liking. She regarded it as a masterpiece of
English composition.

'Dorothy,' said the Headmaster, 'run away to bed.' A suggestion which
she treated with scorn, it wanting a clear two hours to her legal
bedtime. 'I must speak to your mother about your deplorable habit of
using slang. Dear me, I must certainly speak to her.'

And, shamefully unabashed, Dorothy retired.

The Head was silent for a few minutes after she had gone; then he
turned to Charteris again.

'In consideration of this, Charteris, I shall--er--mitigate slightly
the punishment I had intended to give you.'

Charteris murmured his gratification.

'But,' continued the Head sternly, 'I cannot overlook the offence. I
have my duty to consider. You will therefore write me--er--ten lines of
Virgil by tomorrow evening, Charteris.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Latin _and_ English,' said the relentless pedagogue.

'Yes, sir.'

'And, Charteris--I am speaking now--er--unofficially, not as a
headmaster, you understand--if in future you would cease to break
School rules simply as a matter of principle, for that, I fancy, is what
it amounts to, I--er--well, I think we should get on better together.
And that is, on my part at least, a consummation--er--devoutly to be
wished. Good-night, Charteris.'

'Good-night, sir.'

The Head extended a large hand. Charteris took it, and his departure.

The Headmaster opened his book again, and turned over a new leaf.
Charteris at the same moment, walking slowly in the direction of
Merevale's, was resolving for the future to do the very same thing. And
he did.



[9]

HOW PAYNE BUCKED UP


It was Walkinshaw's affair from the first. Grey, the captain of the St
Austin's Fifteen, was in the infirmary nursing a bad knee. To him came
Charles Augustus Walkinshaw with a scheme. Walkinshaw was football
secretary, and in Grey's absence acted as captain. Besides these two
there were only a couple of last year's team left--Reade and Barrett,
both of Philpott's House.

'Hullo, Grey, how's the knee?' said Walkinshaw.

'How's the team getting on?' he said.

'Well, as far as I can see,' said Walkinshaw, 'we ought to have a
rather good season, if you'd only hurry up and come back. We beat a
jolly hot lot of All Comers yesterday. Smith was playing for them. The
Blue, you know. And lots of others. We got a goal and a try to
_nil_.'

'Good,' said Grey. 'Who did anything for us? Who scored?'

'I got in once. Payne got the other.'

'By Jove, did he? What sort of a game is he playing this year?'

The moment had come for Walkinshaw to unburden himself to his scheme.
He proceeded to do so.

'Not up to much,' he said. 'Look here, Grey, I've got rather an idea.
It's my opinion Payne's not bucking up nearly as much as he might. Do
you mind if I leave him out of the next game?'

Grey stared. The idea was revolutionary.

'What! Leave him out? My good man, he'll be the next chap to get his
colours. He's a cert. for his cap.'

'That's just it. He knows he's a cert., and he's slacking on the
strength of it. Now, my idea is that if you slung him out for a match
or two, he'd buck up extra hard when he came into the team again. Can't
I have a shot at it?'

Grey weighed the matter. Walkinshaw pressed home his arguments.

'You see, it isn't like cricket. At cricket, of course, it might put a
chap off awfully to be left out, but I don't see how it can hurt a
man's play at footer. Besides, he's beginning to stick on side
already.'

'Is he, by Jove?' said Grey. This was the unpardonable sin. 'Well, I'll
tell you what you can do if you like. Get up a scratch game, First
Fifteen _v._ Second, and make him captain of the Second.'

'Right,' said Walkinshaw, and retired beaming.

Walkinshaw, it may be remarked at once, to prevent mistakes, was a
well-meaning idiot. There was no doubt about his being well-meaning.
Also, there was no doubt about his being an idiot. He was continually
getting insane ideas into his head, and being unable to get them out
again. This matter of Payne was a good example of his customary
methods. He had put his hand on the one really first-class forward St
Austin's possessed, and proposed to remove him from the team. And yet
through it all he was perfectly well-meaning. The fact that personally
he rather disliked Payne had, to do him justice, no weight at all with
him. He would have done the same by his bosom friend under like
circumstances. This is the only excuse that can be offered for him. It
was true that Payne regarded himself as a certainty for his colours, as
far as anything can be considered certain in this vale of sorrow. But
to accuse him of trading on this, and, to use the vernacular, of
putting on side, was unjust to a degree.

On the afternoon following this conversation Payne, who was a member of
Dacre's House, came into his study and banged his books down on the
table with much emphasis. This was a sign that he was feeling
dissatisfied with the way in which affairs were conducted in the world.
Bowden, who was asleep in an armchair--he had been staying in with a
cold--woke with a start. Bowden shared Payne's study. He played centre
three-quarter for the Second Fifteen.

'Hullo!' he said.

Payne grunted. Bowden realized that matters had not been going well
with him. He attempted to soothe him with conversation, choosing what
he thought would be a congenial topic.

'What's on on Saturday?' he asked.

'Scratch game. First _v._ Second.'

Bowden groaned.

'I know those First _v._ Second games,' he said. 'They turn the
Second out to get butchered for thirty-five minutes each way, to
improve the First's combination. It may be fun for the First, but it's
not nearly so rollicking for us. Look here, Payne, if you find me with
the pill at any time, you can let me down easy, you know. You needn't
go bringing off any of your beastly gallery tackles.'

'I won't,' said Payne. 'To start with, it would be against rules. We
happen to be on the same side.'

'Rot, man; I'm not playing for the First.' This was the only
explanation that occurred to him.

'I'm playing for the Second.'

'What! Are you certain?'

'I've seen the list. They're playing Babington instead of me.'

'But why? Babington's no good.'

'I think they have a sort of idea I'm slacking or something. At any
rate, Walkinshaw told me that if I bucked up I might get tried again.'

'Silly goat,' said Bowden. 'What are you going to do?'

'I'm going to take his advice, and buck up.'

II

He did. At the beginning of the game the ropes were lined by some
thirty spectators, who had come to derive a languid enjoyment from
seeing the First pile up a record score. By half-time their numbers had
risen to an excited mob of something over three hundred, and the second
half of the game was fought out to the accompaniment of a storm of
yells and counter yells such as usually only belonged to
school-matches. The Second Fifteen, after a poor start, suddenly awoke
to the fact that this was not going to be the conventional massacre by
any means. The First had scored an unconverted try five minutes after
the kick-off, and it was after this that the Second began to get
together. The school back bungled the drop out badly, and had to find
touch in his own twenty-five, and after that it was anyone's game. The
scrums were a treat to behold. Payne was a monument of strength. Time
after time the Second had the ball out to their three-quarters, and
just after half-time Bowden slipped through in the corner. The kick
failed, and the two teams, with their scores equal now, settled down
grimly to fight the thing out to a finish. But though they remained on
their opponents' line for most of the rest of the game, the Second did
not add to their score, and the match ended in a draw of three points
all.

The first intimation Grey received of this came to him late in the
evening. He had been reading a novel which, whatever its other merits
may have been, was not interesting, and it had sent him to sleep. He
awoke to hear a well-known voice observe with some unction: 'Ah! M'yes.
Leeches and hot fomentations.' This effectually banished sleep. If
there were two things in the world that he loathed, they were leeches
and hot fomentations, and the School doctor apparently regarded them as
a panacea for every kind of bodily ailment, from a fractured skull to a
cold in the head. It was this gentleman who had just spoken, but Grey's
alarm vanished as he perceived that the words had no personal
application to himself. The object of the remark was a fellow-sufferer
in the next bed but one. Now Grey was certain that when he had fallen
asleep there had been nobody in that bed. When, therefore, the medical
expert had departed on his fell errand, the quest of leeches and hot
fomentations, he sat up and gave tongue.

'Who's that in that bed?' he asked.

'Hullo, Grey,' replied a voice. 'Didn't know you were awake. I've come
to keep you company.'

'That you, Barrett? What's up with you?'

'Collar-bone. Dislocated it or something. Reade's over in that corner.
He has bust his ankle. Oh, yes, we've been having a nice, cheery
afternoon,' concluded Barrett bitterly.

'Great Scott! How did it happen?'

'Payne.'

'Where? In your collar-bone?'

'Yes. That wasn't what I meant, though. What I was explaining was that
Payne got hold of me in the middle of the field, and threw me into
touch. After which he fell on me. That was enough for my simple needs.
I'm not grasping.'

'How about Reade?'

'The entire Second scrum collapsed on top of Reade. When we dug him out
his ankle was crocked. Mainspring gone, probably. Then they gathered up
the pieces and took them gently away. I don't know how it all ended.'

Just then Walkinshaw burst into the room. He had a large bruise over
one eye, his arm was in a sling, and he limped. But he was in excellent
spirits.

'I knew I was right, by Jove,' he observed to Grey. 'I knew he could
buck up if he liked.'

'I know it now,' said Barrett.

'Who's this you're talking about?' said Grey.

'Payne. I've never seen anything like the game he played today. He was
everywhere. And, by Jove, his _tackling_!'

'Don't,' said Barrett, wearily.

'It's the best match I ever played in,' said Walkinshaw, bubbling over
with enthusiasm. 'Do you know, the Second had all the best of the
game.'

'What was the score?'

'Draw. One try all.'

'And now I suppose you're satisfied?' enquired Barrett. The great
scheme for the regeneration of Payne had been confided to him by its
proud patentee.

'Almost,' said Walkinshaw. 'We'll continue the treatment for one more
game, and then we'll have him simply fizzing for the Windybury match.
That's next Saturday. By the way, I'm afraid you'll hardly be fit again
in time for that, Barrett, will you?'

'I may possibly,' said Barrett, coldly, 'be getting about again in time
for the Windybury match of the year after next. This year I'm afraid I
shall not have the pleasure. And I should strongly advise you, if you
don't want to have to put a team of cripples into the field, to
discontinue the treatment, as you call it.'

'Oh, I don't know,' said Walkinshaw.

On the following Wednesday evening, at five o'clock, something was
carried in on a stretcher, and deposited in the bed which lay between
Grey and Barrett. Close scrutiny revealed the fact that it was what had
once been Charles Augustus Walkinshaw. He was slightly broken up.

'Payne?' enquired Grey in chilly tones.

Walkinshaw admitted the impeachment.

Grey took a pencil and a piece of paper from the table at his side. 'If
you want to know what I'm doing,' he said, 'I'm writing out the team
for the Windybury match, and I'm going to make Payne captain, as the
senior Second Fifteen man. And if we win I'm jolly well going to give
him his cap after the match. If we don't win, it'll be the fault of a
raving lunatic of the name of Walkinshaw, with his beastly Colney Hatch
schemes for reforming slack forwards. You utter rotter!'

Fortunately for the future peace of mind of C. A. Walkinshaw, the
latter contingency did not occur. The School, in spite of its
absentees, contrived to pull the match off by a try to _nil_.
Payne, as was only right and proper, scored the try, making his way
through the ranks of the visiting team with the quiet persistence of a
steam-roller. After the game he came to tea, by request, at the
infirmary, and was straightaway invested by Grey with his First Fifteen
colours. On his arrival he surveyed the invalids with interest.

'Rough game, footer,' he observed at length.

'Don't mention it,' said Barrett politely. 'Leeches,' he added
dreamily. 'Leeches and hot fomentations. _Boiling_ fomentations.
Will somebody kindly murder Walkinshaw!'

'Why?' asked Payne, innocently.



[10]

AUTHOR!


J. S. M. Babington, of Dacre's House, was on the horns of a dilemma.
Circumstances over which he had had no control had brought him, like
another Hercules, to the cross-roads, and had put before him the choice
between pleasure and duty, or, rather, between pleasure and what those
in authority called duty. Being human, he would have had little
difficulty in making his decision, had not the path of pleasure been so
hedged about by danger as to make him doubt whether after all the thing
could be carried through.

The facts in the case were these. It was the custom of the mathematical
set to which J. S. M. Babington belonged, 4B to wit, to relieve the
tedium of the daily lesson with a species of round game which was
played as follows. As soon as the master had taken his seat, one of the
players would execute a manoeuvre calculated to draw attention on
himself, such as dropping a book or upsetting the blackboard. Called up
to the desk to give explanation, he would embark on an eloquent speech
for the defence. This was the cue for the next player to begin. His
part consisted in making his way to the desk and testifying to the
moral excellence of his companion, and giving in full the reasons why
he should be discharged without a stain upon his character. As soon as
he had warmed to his work he would be followed by a third player, and
so on until the standing room around the desk was completely filled
with a great cloud of witnesses. The duration of the game varied, of
course, considerably. On some occasions it could be played through with
such success, that the master would enter into the spirit of the thing,
and do his best to book the names of all offenders at one and the same
time, a feat of no inconsiderable difficulty. At other times matters
would come to a head more rapidly. In any case, much innocent fun was
to be derived from it, and its popularity was great. On the day,
however, on which this story opens, a new master had been temporarily
loosed into the room in place of the Rev. Septimus Brown, who had been
there as long as the oldest inhabitant could remember. The Rev.
Septimus was a wrangler, but knew nothing of the ways of the human boy.
His successor, Mr Reginald Seymour, was a poor mathematician, but a
good master. He had been, moreover, a Cambridge Rugger Blue. This fact
alone should have ensured him against the customary pleasantries, for a
Blue is a man to be respected. It was not only injudicious, therefore,
but positively wrong of Babington to plunge against the blackboard on
his way to his place. If he had been a student of Tennyson, he might
have remembered that the old order is in the habit of changing and
yielding place to the new.

Mr Seymour looked thoughtfully for a moment
at the blackboard.

'That was rather a crude effort,' he said pleasantly to Babington, 'you
lack _finesse_. Pick it up again, please.'

Babington picked it up without protest. Under the rule of the Rev.
Septimus this would have been the signal for the rest of the class to
leave their places and assist him, but now they seemed to realize that
there was a time for everything, and that this was decidedly no time
for indoor games.

'Thank you,' said Mr Seymour, when the board was in its place again.
'What is your name? Eh, what? I didn't quite hear.'

'Babington, sir.'

'Ah. You had better come in tomorrow at two and work out examples three
hundred to three-twenty in "Hall and Knight". There is really plenty of
room to walk in between that desk and the blackboard. It only wants
practice.'

What was left of Babington then went to his seat. He felt that his
reputation as an artistic player of the game had received a shattering
blow. Then there was the imposition. This in itself would have troubled
him little. To be kept in on a half-holiday is annoying, but it is one
of those ills which the flesh is heir to, and your true philosopher can
always take his gruel like a man.

But it so happened that by the evening post he had received a letter
from a cousin of his, who was a student at Guy's, and from all accounts
was building up a great reputation in the medical world. From this
letter it appeared that by a complicated process of knowing people who
knew other people who had influence with the management, he had
contrived to obtain two tickets for a morning performance of the new
piece that had just been produced at one of the theatres. And if Mr J.
S. M. Babington wished to avail himself of the opportunity, would he
write by return, and be at Charing Cross Underground bookstall at
twenty past two.

Now Babington, though he objected strongly to the drama of ancient
Greece, was very fond of that of the present day, and he registered a
vow that if the matter could possibly be carried through, it should be.
His choice was obvious. He could cut his engagement with Mr Seymour, or
he could keep it. The difficulty lay rather in deciding upon one or
other of the alternatives. The whole thing turned upon the extent of
the penalty in the event of detection.

That was his dilemma. He sought advice.

'I should risk it,' said his bosom friend Peterson.

'I shouldn't advise you to,' remarked Jenkins.

Jenkins was equally a bosom friend, and in the matter of wisdom in no
way inferior to Peterson.

'What would happen, do you think?' asked Babington.

'Sack,' said one authority.

'Jaw, and double impot,' said another.

'The _Daily Telegraph_,' muttered the tempter in a stage aside,
'calls it the best comedy since Sheridan.'

'So it does,' thought Babington. 'I'll risk it.'

'You'll be a fool if you do,' croaked the gloomy Jenkins. 'You're bound
to be caught.' But the Ayes had it. Babington wrote off that night
accepting the invitation.

It was with feelings of distinct relief that he heard Mr Seymour
express to another master his intention of catching the twelve-fifteen
train up to town. It meant that he would not be on the scene to see him
start on the 'Hall and Knight'. Unless luck were very much against him,
Babington might reasonably hope that he would accept the imposition
without any questions. He had taken the precaution to get the examples
finished overnight, with the help of Peterson and Jenkins, aided by a
weird being who actually appeared to like algebra, and turned out ten
of the twenty problems in an incredibly short time in exchange for a
couple of works of fiction (down) and a tea (at a date). He himself
meant to catch the one-thirty, which would bring him to town in good
time. Peterson had promised to answer his name at roll-call, a delicate
operation, in which long practice had made him, like many others of the
junior members of the House, no mean proficient.

It would be pleasant for a conscientious historian to be able to say
that the one-thirty broke down just outside Victoria, and that
Babington arrived at the theatre at the precise moment when the curtain
fell and the gratified audience began to stream out. But truth, though
it crush me. The one-thirty was so punctual that one might have thought
that it belonged to a line other than the line to which it did belong.
From Victoria to Charing Cross is a journey that occupies no
considerable time, and Babington found himself at his destination with
five minutes to wait. At twenty past his cousin arrived, and they made
their way to the theatre. A brief skirmish with a liveried menial in
the lobby, and they were in their seats.

Some philosopher, of extraordinary powers of intuition, once informed
the world that the best of things come at last to an end. The statement
was tested, and is now universally accepted as correct. To apply the
general to the particular, the play came to an end amidst uproarious
applause, to which Babington contributed an unstinted quotum, about
three hours after it had begun.

'What do you say to going and grubbing somewhere?' asked Babington's
cousin, as they made their way out.

'Hullo, there's that man Richards,' he continued, before Babington
could reply that of all possible actions he considered that of going
and grubbing somewhere the most desirable. 'Fellow I know at Guy's, you
know,' he added, in explanation. 'I'll get him to join us. You'll like
him, I expect.'

Richards professed himself delighted, and shook hands with Babington
with a fervour which seemed to imply that until he had met him life had
been a dreary blank, but that now he could begin to enjoy himself
again. 'I should like to join you, if you don't mind including a friend
of mine in the party,' said Richards. 'He was to meet me here. By the
way, he's the author of that new piece--_The Way of the World.'_

'Why, we've just been there.'

'Oh, then you will probably like to meet him. Here he is.'

As he spoke a man came towards them, and, with a shock that sent all
the blood in his body to the very summit of his head, and then to the
very extremities of his boots, Babington recognized Mr Seymour. The
assurance of the programme that the play was by Walter Walsh was a
fraud. Nay worse, a downright and culpable lie. He started with the
vague idea of making a rush for safety, but before his paralysed limbs
could be induced to work, Mr Seymour had arrived, and he was being
introduced (oh, the tragic irony of it) to the man for whose benefit he
was at that very moment supposed to be working out examples three
hundred to three-twenty in 'Hall and Knight'.

Mr Seymour shook hands, without appearing to recognize him. Babington's
blood began to resume its normal position again, though he felt that
this seeming ignorance of his identity might be a mere veneer, a wile
of guile, as the bard puts it. He remembered, with a pang, a story in
some magazine where a prisoner was subjected to what the light-hearted
inquisitors called the torture of hope. He was allowed to escape from
prison, and pass guards and sentries apparently without their noticing
him. Then, just as he stepped into the open air, the chief inquisitor
tapped him gently on the shoulder, and, more in sorrow than in anger,
reminded him that it was customary for condemned men to remain
_inside_ their cells. Surely this was a similar case. But then the
thought came to him that Mr Seymour had only seen him once, and so
might possibly have failed to remember him, for there was nothing
special about Babington's features that arrested the eye, and stamped
them on the brain for all time. He was rather ordinary than otherwise
to look at. At tea, as bad luck would have it, the two sat opposite one
another, and Babington trembled. Then the worst happened. Mr Seymour,
who had been looking attentively at him for some time, leaned forward
and said in a tone evidently devoid of suspicion: 'Haven't we met
before somewhere? I seem to remember your face.'

'Er--no, no,' replied Babington. 'That is, I think not. We may have.'

'I feel sure we have. What school are you at?'

Babington's soul began to writhe convulsively.

'What, what school? Oh, what _school_? Why, er--I'm
at--er--Uppingham.'

Mr Seymour's face assumed a pleased expression.

'Uppingham? Really. Why, I know several Uppingham fellows. Do you know
Mr Morton? He's a master at Uppingham, and a great friend of mine.'

The room began to dance briskly before Babington's eyes, but he
clutched at a straw, or what he thought was a straw.

'Uppingham? Did I say Uppingham? Of course, I mean Rugby, you know,
Rugby. One's always mixing the two up, you know. Isn't one?'

Mr Seymour looked at him in amazement. Then he looked at the others as
if to ask which of the two was going mad, he or the youth opposite him.
Babington's cousin listened to the wild fictions which issued from his
lips in equal amazement. He thought he must be ill. Even Richards had a
fleeting impression that it was a little odd that a fellow should
forget what school he was at, and mistake the name Rugby for that of
Uppingham, or _vice versa_. Babington became an object of
interest.

'I say, Jack,' said the cousin, 'you're feeling all right, aren't you?
I mean, you don't seem to know what you're talking about. If you're
going to be ill, say so, and I'll prescribe for you.'

'Is he at Rugby?' asked Mr Seymour.

'No, of course he's not. How could he have got from Rugby to London in
time for a morning performance? Why, he's at St Austin's.'

Mr Seymour sat for a moment in silence, taking this in. Then he
chuckled. 'It's all right,' he said, 'he's not ill. We have met before,
but under such painful circumstances that Master Babington very
thoughtfully dissembled, in order not to remind me of them.'

He gave a brief synopsis of what had occurred. The audience, exclusive
of Babington, roared with laughter.

'I suppose,' said the cousin, 'you won't prosecute, will you? It's
really such shocking luck, you know, that you ought to forget you're a
master.'

Mr Seymour stirred his tea and added another lump of sugar very
carefully before replying. Babington watched him in silence, and wished
that he would settle the matter quickly, one way or the other.

'Fortunately for Babington,' said Mr Seymour, 'and unfortunately for
the cause of morality, I am not a master. I was only a stop-gap, and my
term of office ceased today at one o'clock. Thus the prisoner at the
bar gets off on a technical point of law, and I trust it will be a
lesson to him. I suppose you had the sense to do the imposition?'

'Yes, sir, I sat up last night.'

'Good. Now, if you'll take my advice, you'll reform, or another
day you'll come to a bad end. By the way, how did you manage about
roll-call today?'

'I thought that was an awfully good part just at the end of the first
act,' said Babington.

Mr Seymour smiled. Possibly from gratification.

'Well, how did it go off?' asked Peterson that night.

'Don't, old chap,' said Babington, faintly.

'I told you so,' said Jenkins at a venture.

But when he had heard the whole story he withdrew the remark, and
commented on the wholly undeserved good luck some people seemed to
enjoy.



[11]

'THE TABBY TERROR'


The struggle between Prater's cat and Prater's cat's conscience was
short, and ended in the hollowest of victories for the former. The
conscience really had no sort of chance from the beginning. It was weak
by nature and flabby from long want of exercise, while the cat was in
excellent training, and was, moreover, backed up by a strong
temptation. It pocketed the stakes, which consisted of most of the
contents of a tin of sardines, and left unostentatiously by the window.
When Smith came in after football, and found the remains, he was
surprised, and even pained. When Montgomery entered soon afterwards, he
questioned him on the subject.

'I say, have you been having a sort of preliminary canter with the
banquet?'

'No,' said Montgomery. 'Why?'

'Somebody has,' said Smith, exhibiting the empty tin. 'Doesn't seem to
have had such a bad appetite, either.'

'This reminds me of the story of the great bear, the medium bear, and
the little ditto,' observed Montgomery, who was apt at an analogy. 'You
may remember that when the great bear found his porridge tampered with,
he--'

At this point Shawyer entered. He had been bidden to the feast, and was
feeling ready for it.

'Hullo, tea ready?' he asked.

Smith displayed the sardine tin in much the same manner as the conjurer
shows a pack of cards when he entreats you to choose one, and remember
the number.

'You haven't finished already, surely? Why, it's only just five.'

'We haven't even begun,' said Smith. 'That's just the difficulty. The
question is, who has been on the raid in here?'

'No human being has done this horrid thing,' said Montgomery. He always
liked to introduce a Holmes-Watsonian touch into the conversation. 'In
the first place, the door was locked, wasn't it, Smith?'

'By Jove, so it was. Then how on earth--?'

'Through the window, of course. The cat, equally of course. I should
like a private word with that cat.'

'I suppose it must have been.'

'Of course it was. Apart from the merely circumstantial evidence, which
is strong enough to hang it off its own bat, we have absolute proof of
its guilt. Just cast your eye over that butter. You follow me, Watson?'

The butter was submitted to inspection. In the very centre of it there
was a footprint.

'_I_ traced his little footprints in the butter,' said Montgomery.
'Now, is that the mark of a human foot?'

The jury brought in a unanimous verdict of guilty against the missing
animal, and over a sorrowful cup of tea, eked out with bread and
jam--butter appeared to be unpopular--discussed the matter in all its
bearings. The cat had not been an inmate of Prater's House for a very
long time, and up till now what depredation it had committed had been
confined to the official larder. Now, however, it had evidently got its
hand in, and was about to commence operations upon a more extensive
scale. The Tabby Terror had begun. Where would it end? The general
opinion was that something would have to be done about it. No one
seemed to know exactly what to do. Montgomery spoke darkly of bricks,
bits of string, and horse-ponds. Smith rolled the word 'rat-poison'
luxuriously round his tongue. Shawyer, who was something of an expert
on the range, babbled of air-guns.

At tea on the following evening the first really serious engagement of
the campaign took place. The cat strolled into the tea-room in the
patronizing way characteristic of his kind, but was heavily shelled
with lump-sugar, and beat a rapid retreat. That was the signal for the
outbreak of serious hostilities. From that moment its paw was against
every man, and the tale of the things it stole is too terrible to
relate in detail. It scored all along the line. Like Death in the poem,
it knocked at the doors of the highest and the lowest alike. Or rather,
it did not exactly knock. It came in without knocking. The palace of
the prefect and the hovel of the fag suffered equally. Trentham, the
head of the House, lost sausages to an incredible amount one evening,
and the next day Ripton, of the Lower Third, was robbed of his one ewe
lamb in the shape of half a tin of anchovy paste. Panic reigned.

It was after this matter of the sausages that a luminous idea occurred
to Trentham. He had been laid up with a slight football accident, and
his family, reading between the lines of his written statement that he
'had got crocked at footer, nothing much, only (rather a nuisance)
might do him out of the House-matches', a notification of mortal
injuries, and seeming to hear a death-rattle through the words 'felt
rather chippy yesterday', had come down _en masse_ to investigate.
_En masse,_ that is to say, with the exception of his father, who
said he was too busy, but felt sure it was nothing serious. ('Why, when
I was a boy, my dear, I used to think nothing of an occasional tumble.
There's nothing the matter with Dick. Why, etc., etc.')

Trentham's sister was his first visitor.

'I say,' said he, when he had satisfied her on the subject of his
health, 'would you like to do me a good turn?'

She intimated that she would be delighted, and asked for details.

_'Buy the beak's cat,'_ hissed Trentham, in a hoarse whisper.

'Dick, it _was_ your leg that you hurt, wasn't it? Not--not your
head?' she replied. 'I mean--'

'No, I really mean it. Why can't you? It's a perfectly simple thing to
do.'

'But what _is_ a beak? And why should I buy its cat?'

'A beak's a master. Surely you know that. You see, Prater's got a cat
lately, and the beast strolls in and raids the studies. Got round over
half a pound of prime sausages in here the other night, and he's always
bagging things everywhere. You'd be doing everyone a kindness if you
would take him on. He'll get lynched some day if you don't. Besides,
you want a cat for your new house, surely. Keep down the mice, and that
sort of thing, you know. This animal's a demon for mice.' This was a
telling argument. Trentham's sister had lately been married, and she
certainly had had some idea of investing in a cat to adorn her home.
'As for beetles,' continued the invalid, pushing home his advantage,
'they simply daren't come out of their lairs for fear of him.'

'If he eats beetles,' objected his sister, 'he can't have a very good
coat.'

'He doesn't eat them. Just squashes them, you know, like a policeman.
He's a decent enough beast as far as looks go.'

'But if he steals things--'

'No, don't you see, he only does that here, because the Praters don't
interfere with him and don't let us do anything to him. He won't try
that sort of thing on with you. If he does, get somebody to hit him
over the head with a boot-jack or something. He'll soon drop it then.
You might as well, you know. The House'll simply black your boots if
you do.'

'But would Mr Prater let me have the cat?'

'Try him, anyhow. Pitch it fairly warm, you know. Only cat you ever
loved, and that sort of thing.'

'Very well. I'll try.'

'Thanks, awfully. And, I say, you might just look in here on your way
out and report.'

Mrs James Williamson, nee Miss Trentham, made her way dutifully to the
Merevale's part of the House. Mrs Prater had expressed a hope that she
would have some tea before catching her train. With tea it is usual to
have milk, and with milk it is usual, if there is a cat in the house,
to have feline society. Captain Kettle, which was the name thought
suitable to this cat by his godfathers and godmothers, was on hand
early. As he stood there pawing the mat impatiently, and mewing in a
minor key, Mrs Williamson felt that here was the cat for her. He
certainly was good to look upon. His black heart was hidden by a sleek
coat of tabby fur, which rendered stroking a luxury. His scheming brain
was out of sight in a shapely head.

'Oh, what a lovely cat!' said Mrs Williamson.

'Yes, isn't he,' agreed Mrs Prater. 'We are very proud of him.'

'Such a beautiful coat!'

'And such a sweet purr!'

'He looks so intelligent. Has he any tricks?'

Had he any tricks! Why, Mrs Williamson, he could do everything except
speak. Captain Kettle, you bad boy, come here and die for your country.
Puss, puss.

Captain Kettle came at last reluctantly, died for his country in record
time, and flashed back again to the saucer. He had an important
appointment. Sorry to appear rude and all that sort of thing, don't you
know, but he had to see a cat about a mouse.

'Well?' said Trentham, when his sister looked in upon him an hour
later.

'Oh, Dick, it's the nicest cat I ever saw. I shall never be happy if I
don't get it.'

'Have you bought it?' asked the practical Trentham.

'My dear Dick, I couldn't. We couldn't bargain about a cat during tea.
Why, I never met Mrs Prater before this afternoon.'

'No, I suppose not,' admitted Trentham, gloomily. 'Anyhow, look here,
if anything turns up to make the beak want to get rid of it, I'll tell
him you're dead nuts on it. See?'

For a fortnight after this episode matters went on as before. Mrs
Williamson departed, thinking regretfully of the cat she had left
behind her.

Captain Kettle died for his country with moderate regularity, and on
one occasion, when he attempted to extract some milk from the very
centre of a fag's tea-party, almost died for another reason. Then the
end came suddenly.

Trentham had been invited to supper one Sunday by Mr Prater. When he
arrived it became apparent to him that the atmosphere was one of
subdued gloom. At first he could not understand this, but soon the
reason was made clear. Captain Kettle had, in the expressive language
of the man in the street, been and gone and done it. He had been left
alone that evening in the drawing-room, while the House was at church,
and his eye, roaming restlessly about in search of evil to perform, had
lighted upon a cage. In that cage was a special sort of canary, in its
own line as accomplished an artiste as Captain Kettle himself. It sang
with taste and feeling, and made itself generally agreeable in a number
of little ways. But to Captain Kettle it was merely a bird. One of the
poets sings of an acquaintance of his who was so constituted that 'a
primrose by the river's brim a simple primrose was to him, and it was
nothing more'. Just so with Captain Kettle. He was not the cat to make
nice distinctions between birds. Like the cat in another poem, he only
knew they made him light and salutary meals. So, with the exercise of
considerable ingenuity, he extracted that canary from its cage and ate
it. He was now in disgrace.

'We shall have to get rid of him,' said Mr Prater.

'I'm afraid so,' said Mrs Prater.

'If you weren't thinking of giving him to anyone in particular, sir,'
said Trentham, 'my sister would be awfully glad to take him, I know.
She was very keen on him when she came to see me.'

'That's excellent,' said Prater. 'I was afraid we should have to send
him to a home somewhere.'

'I suppose we can't keep him after all?' suggested Mrs Prater.

Trentham waited in suspense.

'No,' said Prater, decidedly. 'I think _not_.' So Captain Kettle
went, and the House knew him no more, and the Tabby Terror was at an
end.



[12]

THE PRIZE POEM


Some quarter of a century before the period with which this story
deals, a certain rich and misanthropic man was seized with a bright
idea for perpetuating his memory after death, and at the same time
harassing a certain section of mankind. So in his will he set aside a
portion of his income to be spent on an annual prize for the best poem
submitted by a member of the Sixth Form of St Austin's College, on a
subject to be selected by the Headmaster. And, he added--one seems to
hear him chuckling to himself--every member of the form must compete.
Then he died. But the evil that men do lives after them, and each year
saw a fresh band of unwilling bards goaded to despair by his bequest.
True, there were always one or two who hailed this ready market for
their sonnets and odes with joy. But the majority, being barely able to
rhyme 'dove' with 'love', regarded the annual announcement of the
subject chosen with feelings of the deepest disgust.

The chains were thrown off after a period of twenty-seven years in this
fashion.

Reynolds of the Remove was indirectly the cause of the change. He was
in the infirmary, convalescing after an attack of German measles, when
he received a visit from Smith, an ornament of the Sixth.

'By Jove,' remarked that gentleman, gazing enviously round the
sick-room, 'they seem to do you pretty well here.'

'Yes, not bad, is it? Take a seat. Anything been happening lately?'

'Nothing much. I suppose you know we beat the M.C.C. by a wicket?'

'Yes, so I heard. Anything else?'

'Prize poem,' said Smith, without enthusiasm. He was not a poet.

Reynolds became interested at once. If there was one role in which he
fancied himself (and, indeed, there were a good many), it was that of a
versifier. His great ambition was to see some of his lines in print,
and he had contracted the habit of sending them up to various
periodicals, with no result, so far, except the arrival of rejected
MSS. at meal-times in embarrassingly long envelopes. Which he
blushingly concealed with all possible speed.

'What's the subject this year?' he asked.

'The College--of all idiotic things.'

'Couldn't have a better subject for an ode. By Jove, I wish I was in
the Sixth.'

'Wish I was in the infirmary,' said Smith.

Reynolds was struck with an idea.

'Look here, Smith,' he said, 'if you like I'll do you a poem, and you
can send it up. If it gets the prize--'

'Oh, it won't get the prize,' Smith put in eagerly. 'Rogers is a cert.
for that.'

'If it gets the prize,' repeated Reynolds, with asperity, 'you'll have
to tell the Old Man all about it. He'll probably curse a bit, but that
can't be helped. How's this for a beginning?

    "Imposing pile, reared up 'midst pleasant grounds,
    The scene of many a battle, lost or won,
    At cricket or at football; whose red walls
    Full many a sun has kissed 'ere day is done."'

'Grand. Couldn't you get in something about the M.C.C. match? You could
make cricket rhyme with wicket.' Smith sat entranced with his
ingenuity, but the other treated so material a suggestion with scorn.

'Well,' said Smith, 'I must be off now. We've got a House-match on.
Thanks awfully about the poem.'

Left to himself, Reynolds set himself seriously to the composing of an
ode that should do him justice. That is to say, he drew up a chair and
table to the open window, wrote down the lines he had already composed,
and began chewing a pen. After a few minutes he wrote another four
lines, crossed them out, and selected a fresh piece of paper. He then
copied out his first four lines again. After eating his pen to a stump,
he jotted down the two words 'boys' and 'joys' at the end of separate
lines. This led him to select a third piece of paper, on which he
produced a sort of _edition de luxe_ in his best handwriting, with
the title 'Ode to the College' in printed letters at the top. He was
admiring the neat effect of this when the door opened suddenly and
violently, and Mrs Lee, a lady of advanced years and energetic habits,
whose duty it was to minister to the needs of the sick and wounded in
the infirmary, entered with his tea. Mrs Lee's method of entering a
room was in accordance with the advice of the Psalmist, where he says,
'Fling wide the gates'. She flung wide the gate of the sick-room, and
the result was that what is commonly called 'a thorough draught' was
established. The air was thick with flying papers, and when calm at
length succeeded storm, two editions of 'Ode to the College' were lying
on the grass outside.

Reynolds attacked the tea without attempting to retrieve his vanished
work. Poetry is good, but tea is better. Besides, he argued within
himself, he remembered all he had written, and could easily write it
out again. So, as far as he was concerned, those three sheets of paper
were a closed book.

Later on in the afternoon, Montgomery of the Sixth happened to be
passing by the infirmary, when Fate, aided by a sudden gust of wind,
blew a piece of paper at him. 'Great Scott,' he observed, as his eye
fell on the words 'Ode to the College'. Montgomery, like Smith, was no
expert in poetry. He had spent a wretched afternoon trying to hammer
out something that would pass muster in the poem competition, but
without the least success. There were four lines on the paper. Two
more, and it would be a poem, and capable of being entered for the
prize as such. The words 'imposing pile', with which the fragment in
his hand began, took his fancy immensely. A poetic afflatus seized him,
and in less than three hours he had added the necessary couplet,

    How truly sweet it is for such as me
    To gaze on thee.

'And dashed neat, too,' he said, with satisfaction, as he threw the
manuscript into his drawer. 'I don't know whether "me" shouldn't be
"I", but they'll have to lump it. It's a poem, anyhow, within the
meaning of the act.' And he strolled off to a neighbour's study to
borrow a book.

Two nights afterwards, Morrison, also of the Sixth, was enjoying his
usual during prep siesta in his study. A tap at the door roused him.
Hastily seizing a lexicon, he assumed the attitude of the seeker after
knowledge, and said, 'Come in.' It was not the House-master, but Evans,
Morrison's fag, who entered with pride on his face and a piece of paper
in his hand.

'I say,' he began, 'you remember you told me to hunt up some tags for
the poem. Will this do?'

Morrison took the paper with a judicial air. On it were the words:

    Imposing pile, reared up 'midst pleasant grounds,
    The scene of many a battle, lost or won,
    At cricket or at football; whose red walls
    Full many a sun has kissed 'ere day is done.

'That's ripping, as far as it goes,' said Morrison. 'Couldn't be
better. You'll find some apples in that box. Better take a few. But
look here,' with sudden suspicion, 'I don't believe you made all this
up yourself. Did you?'

Evans finished selecting his apples before venturing on a reply. Then
he blushed, as much as a member of the junior school is capable of
blushing.

'Well,' he said, 'I didn't exactly. You see, you only told me to get
the tags. You didn't say how.'

'But how did you get hold of this? Whose is it?'

'Dunno. I found it in the field between the Pavilion and the
infirmary.'

'Oh! well, it doesn't matter much. They're just what I wanted, which is
the great thing. Thanks. Shut the door, will you?' Whereupon Evans
retired, the richer by many apples, and Morrison resumed his siesta at
the point where he had left off.

'Got that poem done yet?' said Smith to Reynolds, pouring out a cup of
tea for the invalid on the following Sunday.

'Two lumps, please. No, not quite.'

'Great Caesar, man, when'll it be ready, do you think? It's got to go
in tomorrow.'

'Well, I'm really frightfully sorry, but I got hold of a grand book.
Ever read--?'

'Isn't any of it done?' asked Smith.

'Only the first verse, I'm afraid. But, look here, you aren't keen on
getting the prize. Why not send in only the one verse? It makes a
fairly decent poem.'

'Hum! Think the Old 'Un'll pass it?'

'He'll have to. There's nothing in the rules about length. Here it is
if you want it.'

'Thanks. I suppose it'll be all right? So long! I must be off.'

The Headmaster, known to the world as the Rev. Arthur James Perceval,
M.A., and to the School as the Old 'Un, was sitting at breakfast,
stirring his coffee, with a look of marked perplexity upon his
dignified face. This was not caused by the coffee, which was excellent,
but by a letter which he held in his left hand.

'Hum!' he said. Then 'Umph!' in a protesting tone, as if someone had
pinched him. Finally, he gave vent to a long-drawn 'Um-m-m,' in a deep
bass. 'Most extraordinary. Really, most extraordinary. Exceedingly.
Yes. Um. Very.' He took a sip of coffee.

'My dear,' said he, suddenly. Mrs Perceval started violently. She had
been sketching out in her mind a little dinner, and wondering whether
the cook would be equal to it.

'Yes,' she said.

'My dear, this is a very extraordinary communication. Exceedingly so.
Yes, very.'

'Who is it from?'

Mr Perceval shuddered. He was a purist in speech. '_From whom_,
you should say. It is from Mr Wells, a great College friend of mine.
I--ah--submitted to him for examination the poems sent in for the Sixth
Form Prize. He writes in a very flippant style. I must say, very
flippant. This is his letter:--"Dear Jimmy (really, really, he should
remember that we are not so young as we were); dear--ahem--Jimmy. The
poems to hand. I have read them, and am writing this from my sick-bed.
The doctor tells me I may pull through even yet. There was only one any
good at all, that was Rogers's, which, though--er--squiffy (tut!) in
parts, was a long way better than any of the others. But the most
taking part of the whole programme was afforded by the three comedians,
whose efforts I enclose. You will notice that each begins with exactly
the same four lines. Of course, I deprecate cribbing, but you really
can't help admiring this sort of thing. There is a reckless daring
about it which is simply fascinating. A horrible thought--have they
been pulling your dignified leg? By the way, do you remember"--the rest
of the letter is--er--on different matters.'

'James! How extraordinary!'

'Um, yes. I am reluctant to suspect--er--collusion, but really here
there can be no doubt. No doubt at all. No.'

'Unless,' began Mrs Perceval, tentatively. 'No doubt at all, my dear,'
snapped Reverend Jimmy. He did not wish to recall the other
possibility, that his dignified leg was being pulled.

'Now, for what purpose did I summon you three boys?' asked Mr Perceval,
of Smith, Montgomery, and Morrison, in his room after morning school
that day. He generally began a painful interview with this question.
The method had distinct advantages. If the criminal were of a nervous
disposition, he would give himself away upon the instant. In any case,
it was likely to startle him. 'For what purpose?' repeated the
Headmaster, fixing Smith with a glittering eye.

'I will tell you,' continued Mr Perceval. 'It was because I desired
information, which none but you can supply. How comes it that each of
your compositions for the Poetry Prize commences with the same four
lines?' The three poets looked at one another in speechless
astonishment.

'Here,' he resumed, 'are the three papers. Compare them. Now,'--after
the inspection was over--' what explanation have you to offer? Smith,
are these your lines?'

'I--er--ah--_wrote_ them, sir.'

'Don't prevaricate, Smith. Are you the author of those lines?'

'No, sir.'

'Ah! Very good. Are you, Montgomery?'

'No, sir.'

'Very good. Then you, Morrison, are exonerated from all blame. You have
been exceedingly badly treated. The first-fruit of your brain has
been--ah--plucked by others, who toiled not neither did they spin. You
can go, Morrison.'

'But, sir--'

'Well, Morrison?'

'I didn't write them, sir.'

'I--ah--don't quite understand you, Morrison. You say that you are
indebted to another for these lines?'

'Yes, sir.'

'To Smith?'

'No, sir.'

'To Montgomery?'

'No, sir.'

'Then, Morrison, may I ask to whom you are indebted?'

'I found them in the field on a piece of paper, sir.' He claimed the
discovery himself, because he thought that Evans might possibly prefer
to remain outside this tangle.

'So did I, sir.' This from Montgomery. Mr Perceval looked bewildered,
as indeed he was.

'And did you, Smith, also find this poem on a piece of paper in the
field?' There was a metallic ring of sarcasm in his voice.

'No, sir.'

'Ah! Then to what circumstance were you indebted for the lines?'

'I got Reynolds to do them for me, sir.'

Montgomery spoke. 'It was near the infirmary that I found the paper,
and Reynolds is in there.'

'So did I, sir,' said Morrison, incoherently.

'Then am I to understand, Smith, that to gain the prize you resorted to
such underhand means as this?'

'No, sir, we agreed that there was no danger of my getting the prize.
If I had got it, I should have told you everything. Reynolds will tell
you that, sir.'

'Then what object had you in pursuing this deception?'

'Well, sir, the rules say everyone must send in something, and I can't
write poetry at all, and Reynolds likes it, so I asked him to do it.'

And Smith waited for the storm to burst. But it did not burst. Far down
in Mr Perceval's system lurked a quiet sense of humour. The situation
penetrated to it. Then he remembered the examiner's letter, and it
dawned upon him that there are few crueller things than to make a
prosaic person write poetry.

'You may go,' he said, and the three went.

And at the next Board Meeting it was decided, mainly owing to the
influence of an exceedingly eloquent speech from the Headmaster, to
alter the rules for the Sixth Form Poetry Prize, so that from thence
onward no one need compete unless he felt himself filled with the
immortal fire.



[13]

WORK


    With a pleasure that's emphatic
    We retire to our attic
    With the satisfying feeling that our duty has been done.

    Oh! philosophers may sing
    Of the troubles of a king
    But of pleasures there are many and of troubles there are none,
    And the culminating pleasure
    Which we treasure beyond measure
    Is the satisfying feeling that our duty has been done.

                                           _W. S. Gilbert_

Work is supposed to be the centre round which school life revolves--the
hub of the school wheel, the lode-star of the schoolboy's existence,
and a great many other things. 'You come to school to work', is the
formula used by masters when sentencing a victim to the wailing and
gnashing of teeth provided by two hours' extra tuition on a hot
afternoon. In this, I think, they err, and my opinion is backed up by
numerous scholars of my acquaintance, who have even gone so far--on
occasions when they themselves have been the victims--as to express
positive disapproval of the existing state of things. In the dear, dead
days (beyond recall), I used often to long to put the case to my
form-master in its only fair aspect, but always refrained from motives
of policy. Masters are so apt to take offence at the well-meant
endeavours of their form to instruct them in the way they should go.

What I should have liked to have done would have been something after
this fashion. Entering the sanctum of the Headmaster, I should have
motioned him to his seat--if he were seated already, have assured him
that to rise was unnecessary. I should then have taken a seat myself,
taking care to preserve a calm fixity of demeanour, and finally, with a
preliminary cough, I should have embarked upon the following moving
address: 'My dear sir, my dear Reverend Jones or Brown (as the case may
be), believe me when I say that your whole system of work is founded on
a fallacious dream and reeks of rottenness. No, no, I beg that you will
not interrupt me. The real state of the case, if I may say so, is
briefly this: a boy goes to school to enjoy himself, and, on arriving,
finds to his consternation that a great deal more work is expected of
him than he is prepared to do. What course, then, Reverend Jones or
Brown, does he take? He proceeds to do as much work as will steer him
safely between the, ah--I may say, the Scylla of punishment and the
Charybdis of being considered what my, er--fellow-pupils euphoniously
term a swot. That, I think, is all this morning. _Good_ day. Pray
do not trouble to rise. I will find my way out.' I should then have
made for the door, locked it, if possible, on the outside, and, rushing
to the railway station, have taken a through ticket to Spitzbergen or
some other place where Extradition treaties do not hold good.

But 'twas not mine to play the Tib. Gracchus, to emulate the O.
Cromwell. So far from pouring my opinions like so much boiling oil into
the ear of my task-master, I was content to play the part of audience
while _he_ did the talking, my sole remark being 'Yes'r' at fixed
intervals.

And yet I knew that I was in the right. My bosom throbbed with the
justice of my cause. For why? The ambition of every human new boy
is surely to become like J. Essop of the First Eleven, who can hit a
ball over two ponds, a wood, and seven villages, rather than to
resemble that pale young student, Mill-Stuart, who, though he can
speak Sanskrit like a native of Sanskritia, couldn't score a single
off a slow long-hop.

And this ambition is a laudable one. For the athlete is the product of
nature--a step towards the more perfect type of animal, while the
scholar is the outcome of artificiality. What, I ask, does the scholar
gain, either morally or physically, or in any other way, by knowing who
was tribune of the people in 284 BC or what is the precise difference
between the various constructions of _cum_? It is not as if
ignorance of the tribune's identity caused him any mental unrest. In
short, what excuse is there for the student? 'None,' shrieks Echo
enthusiastically. 'None whatever.'

Our children are being led to ruin by this system. They will become
dons and think in Greek. The victim of the craze stops at nothing. He
puns in Latin. He quips and quirks in Ionic and Doric. In the worst
stages of the disease he will edit Greek plays and say that Merry quite
misses the fun of the passage, or that Jebb is mediocre. Think, I beg
of you, paterfamilias, and you, mater ditto, what your feelings would
be were you to find Henry or Archibald Cuthbert correcting proofs of
_The Agamemnon_, and inventing 'nasty ones' for Mr Sidgwick! Very
well then. Be warned.

Our bright-eyed lads are taught insane constructions in Greek and Latin
from morning till night, and they come for their holidays, in many
cases, without the merest foundation of a batting style. Ask them what
a Yorker is, and they will say: 'A man from York, though I presume you
mean a Yorkshireman.' They will read Herodotus without a dictionary for
pleasure, but ask them to translate the childishly simple sentence:
'Trott was soon in his timber-yard with a length 'un that whipped
across from the off,' and they'll shrink abashed and swear they have
not skill at that, as Gilbert says.

The papers sometimes contain humorous forecasts of future education,
when cricket and football shall come to their own. They little know the
excellence of the thing they mock at. When we get schools that teach
nothing but games, then will the sun definitely refuse to set on the
roast beef of old England. May it be soon. Some day, mayhap, I shall
gather my great-great-grandsons round my knee, and tell them--as one
tells tales of Faery--that I can remember the time when Work was
considered the be-all and the end-all of a school career. Perchance,
when my great-great-grandson John (called John after the famous Jones
of that name) has brought home the prize for English Essay on 'Rugby
_v._ Association', I shall pat his head (gently) and the tears
will come to my old eyes as I recall the time when I, too, might have
won a prize--for that obsolete subject, Latin Prose--and was only
prevented by the superior excellence of my thirty-and-one fellow
students, coupled, indeed, with my own inability to conjugate
_sum._

Such days, I say, may come. But now are the Dark Ages. The only thing
that can possibly make Work anything but an unmitigated nuisance is the
prospect of a 'Varsity scholarship, and the thought that, in the event
of failure, a 'Varsity career will be out of the question.

With this thought constantly before him, the student can put a certain
amount of enthusiasm into his work, and even go to the length of rising
at five o'clock o' mornings to drink yet deeper of the cup of
knowledge. I have done it myself. 'Varsity means games and yellow
waistcoats and Proctors, and that sort of thing. It is worth working
for.

But for the unfortunate individual who is barred by circumstances from
participating in these joys, what inducement is there to work? Is such
a one to leave the school nets in order to stew in a stuffy room over a
Thucydides? I trow not.

Chapter one of my great forthcoming work, _The Compleat Slacker_,
contains minute instructions on the art of avoiding preparation from
beginning to end of term. Foremost among the words of advice ranks this
maxim: Get an official list of the books you are to do, and examine
them carefully with a view to seeing what it is possible to do unseen.
Thus, if Virgil is among these authors, you can rely on being able to
do him with success. People who ought to know better will tell you that
Virgil is hard. Such a shallow falsehood needs little comment. A
scholar who cannot translate ten lines of _The Aeneid_ between the
time he is put on and the time he begins to speak is unworthy of pity
or consideration, and if I meet him in the street I shall assuredly cut
him. Aeschylus, on the other hand, is a demon, and needs careful
watching, though in an emergency you can always say the reading is
wrong.

Sometimes the compleat slacker falls into a trap. The saddest case I
can remember is that of poor Charles Vanderpoop. He was a bright young
lad, and showed some promise of rising to heights as a slacker. He fell
in this fashion. One Easter term his form had half-finished a speech of
Demosthenes, and the form-master gave them to understand that they
would absorb the rest during the forthcoming term. Charles, being
naturally anxious to do as little work as possible during the summer
months, spent his Easter holidays carefully preparing this speech, so
as to have it ready in advance. What was his horror, on returning to
School at the appointed date, to find that they were going to throw
Demosthenes over altogether, and patronize Plato. Threats, entreaties,
prayers--all were accounted nothing by the master who had led him into
this morass of troubles. It is believed that the shock destroyed his
reason. At any rate, the fact remains that that term (the summer term,
mark you) he won two prizes. In the following term he won three. To
recapitulate his outrages from that time to the present were a
harrowing and unnecessary task. Suffice it that he is now a Regius
Professor, and I saw in the papers a short time ago that a lecture of
his on 'The Probable Origin of the Greek Negative', created quite a
_furore_. If this is not Tragedy with a big T, I should like to
know what it is.

As an exciting pastime, unseen translation must rank very high.
Everyone who has ever tried translating unseen must acknowledge that
all other forms of excitement seem but feeble makeshifts after it. I
have, in the course of a career of sustained usefulness to the human
race, had my share of thrills. I have asked a strong and busy porter,
at Paddington, when the Brighton train started. I have gone for the
broad-jump record in trying to avoid a motor-car. I have played
Spillikins and Ping-Pong. But never again have I felt the excitement
that used to wander athwart my moral backbone when I was put on to
translate a passage containing a notorious _crux_ and seventeen
doubtful readings, with only that innate genius, which is the wonder of
the civilized world, to pull me through. And what a glow of pride one
feels when it is all over; when one has made a glorious, golden guess
at the _crux_, and trampled the doubtful readings under foot with
inspired ease. It is like a day at the seaside.

Work is bad enough, but Examinations are worse, especially the Board
Examinations. By doing from ten to twenty minutes prep every night, the
compleat slacker could get through most of the term with average
success. Then came the Examinations. The dabbler in unseen translations
found himself caught as in a snare. Gone was the peaceful security in
which he had lulled to rest all the well-meant efforts of his guardian
angel to rouse him to a sense of his duties. There, right in front of
him, yawned the abyss of Retribution.

Alas! poor slacker. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of
most excellent fancy. Where be his gibes now? How is he to cope with
the fiendish ingenuity of the examiners? How is he to master the
contents of a book of Thucydides in a couple of days? It is a fearsome
problem. Perhaps he will get up in the small hours and work by candle
light from two till eight o'clock. In this case he will start his day a
mental and physical wreck. Perhaps he will try to work and be led away
by the love of light reading.

In any case he will fail to obtain enough marks to satisfy the
examiners, though whether examiners ever are satisfied, except by Harry
the hero of the school story (Every Lad's Library, uniform edition, 2s
6d), is rather a doubtful question.

In such straits, matters resolve themselves into a sort of drama with
three characters. We will call our hero Smith.

_Scene:_ a Study

_Dramatis Personae:_
            SMITH
            CONSCIENCE
            MEPHISTOPHELES

_Enter_ SMITH (_down centre_)

_He seats himself at table and opens a Thucydides._

_Enter_ CONSCIENCE _through ceiling_ (R.), MEPHISTOPHELES
_through floor_ (L.).

CONSCIENCE (_with a kindly smile_): Precisely what I was about to
remark, my dear lad. A little Thucydides would be a very good thing.
Thucydides, as you doubtless know, was a very famous Athenian
historian. Date?

SMITH: Er--um--let me see.

MEPH. (_aside_): Look in the Introduction and pretend you did it
by accident.

SMITH (_having done so_): 431 B.C. _circ_.

CONSCIENCE _wipes away a tear_.

CONSCIENCE: Thucydides made himself a thorough master of the concisest
of styles.

MEPH.: And in doing so became infernally obscure. Excuse shop.

SMITH (_gloomily_): Hum!

MEPH. (_sneeringly_): Ha!

_Long pause_.

CONSCIENCE (_gently_): Do you not think, my dear lad, that you had
better begin? Time and tide, as you are aware, wait for no man. And--

SMITH: Yes?

CONSCIENCE: You have not, I fear, a very firm grasp of the subject.
However, if you work hard till eleven--

SMITH (_gloomily_): Hum! Three hours!

MEPH. (_cheerily_): Exactly so. Three hours. A little more if
anything. By the way, excuse me asking, but have you prepared the
subject thoroughly during the term?

SMITH: My _dear_ sir! Of _course!_

CONSCIENCE (_reprovingly_):???!!??!

SMITH: Well, perhaps, not quite so much as I might have done. Such a
lot of things to do this term. Cricket, for instance.

MEPH.: Rather. Talking of cricket, you seemed to be shaping rather well
last Saturday. I had just run up on business, and someone told me you
made eighty not out. Get your century all right?

SMITH (_brightening at the recollection_): Just a bit--117 not
out. I hit--but perhaps you've heard?

MEPH.: Not at all, not at all. Let's hear all about it.

_CONSCIENCE seeks to interpose, but is prevented by MEPH., who eggs
SMITH on to talk cricket for over an hour._

CONSCIENCE _(at last; in an acid voice)_: That is a history of the
Peloponnesian War by Thucydides on the table in front of you. I thought
I would mention it, in case you had forgotten.

SMITH: Great Scott, yes! Here, I say, I must start.

CONSCIENCE: Hear! Hear!

MEPH. _(insinuatingly)_: One moment. Did you say you _had_
prepared this book during the term? Afraid I'm a little hard of
hearing. Eh, what?

SMITH: Well--er--no, I have not. Have you ever played billiards with a
walking-stick and five balls?

MEPH.: Quite so, quite so. I quite understand. Don't you distress
yourself, old chap. You obviously can't get through a whole book of
Thucydides in under two hours, can you?

CONSCIENCE _(severely)_: He might, by attentive application to
study, master a considerable portion of the historian's _chef
d'oeuvre_ in that time.

MEPH.: Yes, and find that not one of the passages he had prepared was
set in the paper.

CONSCIENCE: At the least, he would, if he were to pursue the course
which I have indicated, greatly benefit his mind.

MEPH. _gives a short, derisive laugh. Long pause._

MEPH. _(looking towards bookshelf)_: Hullo, you've got a decent
lot of books, pommy word you have. _Rodney Stone, Vice Versa, Many
Cargoes._ Ripping. Ever read _Many Cargoes?_

CONSCIENCE _(glancing at his watch)_: I am sorry, but I must
really go now. I will see you some other day.

_Exit sorrowfully._

MEPH.: Well, thank goodness _he's_ gone. Never saw such a fearful
old bore in my life. Can't think why you let him hang on to you so. We
may as well make a night of it now, eh? No use your trying to work at
this time of night.

SMITH: Not a bit.

MEPH.: Did you say you'd not read _Many Cargoes?_

SMITH: Never. Only got it today. Good?

MEPH.: Simply ripping. All short stories. Make you yell.

SMITH _(with a last effort)_: But don't you think--

MEPH.: Oh no. Besides, you can easily get up early tomorrow for the
Thucydides.

SMITH: Of course I can. Never thought of that. Heave us _Many
Cargoes._ Thanks.

_Begins to read. MEPH. grins fiendishly, and vanishes through floor
enveloped in red flame. Sobbing heard from the direction of the
ceiling.

Scene closes._

Next morning, of course, he will oversleep himself, and his Thucydides
paper will be of such a calibre that that eminent historian will writhe
in his grave.



[14]

NOTES


    Of all forms of lettered effusiveness, that which exploits the
    original work of others and professes to supply us with right
    opinions thereanent is the least wanted.

                                     _Kenneth Grahame_

It has always seemed to me one of the worst flaws in our mistaken
social system, that absolutely no distinction is made between the
master who forces the human boy to take down notes from dictation and
the rest of mankind. I mean that, if in a moment of righteous
indignation you rend such a one limb from limb, you will almost
certainly be subjected to the utmost rigour of the law, and you will be
lucky if you escape a heavy fine of five or ten shillings, exclusive of
the costs of the case. Now, this is not right on the face of it. It is
even wrong. The law should take into account the extreme provocation
which led to the action. Punish if you will the man who travels
second-class with a third-class ticket, or who borrows a pencil and
forgets to return it; but there are occasions when justice should be
tempered with mercy, and this murdering of pedagogues is undoubtedly
such an occasion.

It should be remembered, however, that there are two varieties of
notes. The printed notes at the end of your Thucydides or Homer are
distinctly useful when they aim at acting up to their true vocation,
namely, the translating of difficult passages or words. Sometimes,
however, the author will insist on airing his scholarship, and instead
of translations he supplies parallel passages, which neither interest,
elevate, nor amuse the reader. This, of course, is mere vanity. The
author, sitting in his comfortable chair with something short within
easy reach, recks nothing of the misery he is inflicting on hundreds of
people who have done him no harm at all. He turns over the pages of his
book of _Familiar Quotations_ with brutal callousness, and for
every tricky passage in the work which he is editing, finds and makes a
note of three or four even trickier ones from other works. Who has not
in his time been brought face to face with a word which defies
translation? There are two courses open to you on such an occasion, to
look the word up in the lexicon, or in the notes. You, of course, turn
up the notes, and find: 'See line 80.' You look up line 80, hoping to
see a translation, and there you are told that a rather similar
construction occurs in Xenophades' _Lyrics from a Padded Cell_. On
this, the craven of spirit will resort to the lexicon, but the man of
mettle will close his book with an emphatic bang, and refuse to have
anything more to do with it. Of a different sort are the notes which
simply translate the difficulty and subside. These are a boon to the
scholar. Without them it would be almost impossible to prepare one's
work during school, and we should be reduced to the prosaic expedient
of working in prep. time. What we want is the commentator who
translates _mensa_ as 'a table' without giving a page and a half
of notes on the uses of the table in ancient Greece, with an excursus
on the habit common in those times of retiring underneath it after
dinner, and a list of the passages in Apollonius Rhodius where the word
'table' is mentioned.

These voluminous notes are apt to prove a nuisance in more ways than
one. Your average master is generally inordinately fond of them, and
will frequently ask some member of the form to read his note on
so-and-so out to his fellows. This sometimes leads to curious results,
as it is hardly to be expected that the youth called upon will be
attending, even if he is awake, which is unlikely. On one occasion
an acquaintance of mine, 'whose name I am not at liberty to divulge',
was suddenly aware that he was being addressed, and, on giving the
matter his attention, found that it was the form-master asking him to
read out his note on _Balbus murum aedificavit_. My friend is a
kind-hearted youth and of an obliging disposition, and would willingly
have done what was asked of him, but there were obstacles, first and
foremost of which ranked the fact that, taking advantage of his
position on the back desk (whither he thought the basilisk eye of
Authority could not reach), he had substituted _Bab Ballads_ for
the words of Virgil, and was engrossed in the contents of that modern
classic. The subsequent explanations lasted several hours. In fact, it
is probable that the master does not understand the facts of the case
thoroughly even now. It is true that he called him a 'loathsome, slimy,
repulsive toad', but even this seems to fall short of the grandeur of
the situation.

Those notes, also, which are, alas! only too common nowadays, that deal
with peculiarities of grammar, how supremely repulsive they are! It is
impossible to glean any sense from them, as the Editor mixes up
Nipperwick's view with Sidgeley's reasoning and Spreckendzedeutscheim's
surmise with Donnerundblitzendorf's conjecture in a way that seems to
argue a thorough unsoundness of mind and morals, a cynical insanity
combined with a blatant indecency. He occasionally starts in a
reasonable manner by giving one view as (1) and the next as (2). So far
everyone is happy and satisfied. The trouble commences when he has
occasion to refer back to some former view, when he will say: 'Thus we
see (1) and (14) that,' etc. The unlucky student puts a finger on the
page to keep the place, and hunts up view one. Having found this, and
marked the spot with another finger, he proceeds to look up view
fourteen. He places another finger on this, and reads on, as follows:
'Zmpe, however, maintains that Schrumpff (see 3) is practically insane,
that Spleckzh (see 34) is only a little better, and that Rswkg (see 97
a (b) C3) is so far from being right that his views may be dismissed as
readily as those of Xkryt (see 5x).' At this point brain-fever sets in,
the victim's last coherent thought being a passionate wish for more
fingers. A friend of mine who was the wonder of all who knew him, in
that he was known to have scored ten per cent in one of these papers on
questions like the above, once divulged to an interviewer the fact that
he owed his success to his methods of learning rather than to his
ability. On the night before an exam, he would retire to some secret,
solitary place, such as the boot-room, and commence learning these
notes by heart. This, though a formidable task, was not so bad as the
other alternative. The result was that, although in the majority of
cases he would put down for one question an answer that would have been
right for another, yet occasionally, luck being with him, he would hit
the mark. Hence his ten per cent.

Another fruitful source of discomfort is provided by the type of master
who lectures on a subject for half an hour, and then, with a bland
smile, invites, or rather challenges, his form to write a 'good, long
note' on the quintessence of his discourse. For the inexperienced this
is an awful moment. They must write something--but what? For the last
half hour they have been trying to impress the master with the fact
that they belong to the class of people who can always listen best with
their eyes closed. Nor poppy, nor mandragora, nor all the drowsy syrups
of the world can ever medicine them to that sweet sleep that they have
just been enjoying. And now they must write a 'good, long note'. It is
in such extremities that your veteran shows up well. He does not betray
any discomfort. Not he. He rather enjoys the prospect, in fact, of
being permitted to place the master's golden eloquence on paper. So he
takes up his pen with alacrity. No need to think what to write. He
embarks on an essay concerning the master, showing up all his flaws in
a pitiless light, and analysing his thorough worthlessness of
character. On so congenial a subject he can, of course, write reams,
and as the master seldom, if ever, desires to read the 'good, long
note', he acquires a well-earned reputation for attending in school and
being able to express himself readily with his pen. _Vivat
floreatque_.

But all these forms of notes are as nothing compared with the notes
that youths even in this our boasted land of freedom are forced to take
down from dictation. Of the 'good, long note' your French scholar might
well remark: '_C'est terrible_', but justice would compel him to
add, as he thought of the dictation note: '_mais ce n'est pas le
diable_'. For these notes from dictation are, especially on a warm
day, indubitably _le diable_.

Such notes are always dictated so rapidly that it is impossible to do
anything towards understanding them as you go. You have to write your
hardest to keep up. The beauty of this, from one point of view, is
that, if you miss a sentence, you have lost the thread of the whole
thing, and it is useless to attempt to take it up again at once. The
only plan is to wait for some perceptible break in the flow of words,
and dash in like lightning. It is much the same sort of thing as
boarding a bus when in motion. And so you can take a long rest,
provided you are in an obscure part of the room. In passing, I might
add that a very pleasing indoor game can be played by asking the
master, 'what came after so-and-so?' mentioning a point of the oration
some half-hour back. This always provides a respite of a few minutes
while he is thinking of some bitter repartee worthy of the occasion,
and if repeated several times during an afternoon may cause much
innocent merriment.

Of course, the real venom that lurks hid within notes from dictation
does not appear until the time for examination arrives. Then you find
yourself face to face with sixty or seventy closely and badly written
pages of a note-book, all of which must be learnt by heart if you would
aspire to the dizzy heights of half-marks. It is useless to tell your
examiner that you had no chance of getting up the subject. 'Why,' he
will reply, 'I gave you notes on that very thing myself.' 'You did,
sir,' you say, as you advance stealthily upon him, 'but as you dictated
those notes at the rate of two hundred words a minute, and as my brain,
though large, is not capable of absorbing sixty pages of a note-book in
one night, how the suggestively asterisked aposiopesis do you expect me
to know them? Ah-h-h!' The last word is a war-cry, as you fling
yourself bodily on him, and tear him courteously, but firmly, into
minute fragments. Experience, which, as we all know, teaches, will in
time lead you into adopting some method by which you may evade this
taking of notes. A good plan is to occupy yourself with the composition
of a journal, an unofficial magazine not intended for the eyes of the
profane, but confined rigidly to your own circle of acquaintances. The
chief advantage of such a work is that you will continue to write while
the notes are being dictated. To throw your pen down with an air of
finality and begin reading some congenial work of fiction would be a
gallant action, but impolitic. No, writing of some sort is essential,
and as it is out of the question to take down the notes, what better
substitute than an unofficial journal could be found? To one whose
contributions to the School magazine are constantly being cut down to
mere skeletons by the hands of censors, there is a rapture otherwise
unattainable in a page of really scurrilous items about those in
authority. Try it yourselves, my beamish lads. Think of something
really bad about somebody. Write it down and gloat over it. Sometimes,
indeed, it is of the utmost use in determining your future career. You
will probably remember those Titanic articles that appeared at the
beginning of the war in _The Weekly Luggage-Train_, dealing with
all the crimes of the War Office--the generals, the soldiers, the
enemy--of everybody, in fact, except the editor, staff and office-boy
of _The W.L.T._ Well, the writer of those epoch-making articles
confesses that he owes all his skill to his early training, when, a
happy lad at his little desk in school, he used to write trenchantly in
his note-book on the subject of the authorities. There is an example
for you. Of course we can never be like him, but let, oh! let us be as
like him as we're able to be. A final word to those lost ones who
dictate the notes. Why are our ears so constantly assailed with
unnecessary explanations of, and opinions on, English literature? Prey
upon the Classics if you will. It is a revolting habit, but too common
to excite overmuch horror. But surely anybody, presupposing a certain
bias towards sanity, can understand the Classics of our own language,
with the exception, of course, of Browning. Take Tennyson, for example.
How often have we been forced to take down from dictation the miserable
maunderings of some commentator on the subject of _Maud_. A person
reads _Maud_, and either likes it or dislikes it. In any case his
opinion is not likely to be influenced by writing down at express speed
the opinions of somebody else concerning the methods or objectivity and
subjectivity of the author when he produced the work.

Somebody told me a short time ago that Shelley was an example of
supreme, divine, superhuman genius. It is the sort of thing Mr
Gilbert's 'rapturous maidens' might have said: 'How Botticellian! How
Fra Angelican! How perceptively intense and consummately utter!' There
is really no material difference.



[15]

NOW, TALKING ABOUT CRICKET--


In the days of yore, when these white hairs were brown--or was it
black? At any rate, they were not white--and I was at school, it was
always my custom, when Fate obliged me to walk to school with a casual
acquaintance, to whom I could not unburden my soul of those profound
thoughts which even then occupied my mind, to turn the struggling
conversation to the relative merits of cricket and football.

'Do you like cricket better than footer?' was my formula. Now, though
at the time, in order to save fruitless argument, I always agreed with
my companion, and praised the game he praised, in the innermost depths
of my sub-consciousness, cricket ranked a long way in front of all
other forms of sport. I may be wrong. More than once in my career it
has been represented to me that I couldn't play cricket for nuts. My
captain said as much when I ran him out in _the_ match of the
season after he had made forty-nine and looked like stopping. A bowling
acquaintance heartily endorsed his opinion on the occasion of my
missing three catches off him in one over. This, however, I attribute
to prejudice, for the man I missed ultimately reached his century,
mainly off the deliveries of my bowling acquaintance. I pointed out to
him that, had I accepted any one of the three chances, we should have
missed seeing the prettiest century made on the ground that season; but
he was one of those bowlers who sacrifice all that is beautiful in the
game to mere wickets. A sordid practice.

Later on, the persistence with which my county ignored my claims to
inclusion in the team, convinced me that I must leave cricket fame to
others. True, I did figure, rather prominently, too, in one county
match. It was at the Oval, Surrey _v_. Middlesex. How well I
remember that occasion! Albert Trott was bowling (Bertie we used to
call him); I forget who was batting. Suddenly the ball came soaring in
my direction. I was not nervous. I put down the sandwich I was eating,
rose from my seat, picked the ball up neatly, and returned it with
unerring aim to a fieldsman who was waiting for it with becoming
deference. Thunders of applause went up from the crowded ring.

That was the highest point I ever reached in practical cricket. But, as
the historian says of Mr Winkle, a man may be an excellent sportsman in
theory, even if he fail in practice. That's me. Reader (if any), have
you ever played cricket in the passage outside your study with a
walking-stick and a ball of paper? That's the game, my boy, for testing
your skill of wrist and eye. A century _v_. the M.C.C. is well
enough in its way, but give me the man who can watch 'em in a narrow
passage, lit only by a flickering gas-jet--one for every hit, four if
it reaches the end, and six if it goes downstairs full-pitch, any pace
bowling allowed. To make double figures in such a match is to taste
life. Only you had better do your tasting when the House-master is out
for the evening.

I like to watch the young cricket idea shooting. I refer to the lower
games, where 'next man in' umpires with his pads on, his loins girt,
and a bat in his hand. Many people have wondered why it is that no
budding umpire can officiate unless he holds a bat. For my part, I
think there is little foundation for the theory that it is part of a
semi-religious rite, on the analogy of the Freemasons' special
handshake and the like. Nor do I altogether agree with the authorities
who allege that man, when standing up, needs something as a prop or
support. There is a shadow of reason, I grant, in this supposition, but
after years of keen observation I am inclined to think that the umpire
keeps his bat by him, firstly, in order that no unlicensed hand shall
commandeer it unbeknownst, and secondly, so that he shall be ready to
go in directly his predecessor is out. There is an ill-concealed
restiveness about his movements, as he watches the batsmen getting set,
that betrays an overwrought spirit. Then of a sudden one of them plays
a ball on to his pad. '_'s that_?' asks the bowler, with an
overdone carelessness. 'Clean out. Now _I'm_ in,' and already he
is rushing up the middle of the pitch to take possession. When he gets
to the wicket a short argument ensues. 'Look here, you idiot, I hit it
hard.' 'Rot, man, out of the way.' '!!??!' 'Look here, Smith,
_are_ you going to dispute the umpire's decision?' Chorus of
fieldsmen: 'Get out, Smith, you ass. You've been given out years ago.'
Overwhelmed by popular execration, Smith reluctantly departs,
registering in the black depths of his soul a resolution to take on the
umpireship at once, with a view to gaining an artistic revenge by
giving his enemy run out on the earliest possible occasion. There is a
primeval _insouciance_ about this sort of thing which is as
refreshing to a mind jaded with the stiff formality of professional
umpires as a cold shower-bath.

I have made a special study of last-wicket men; they are divided into
two classes, the deplorably nervous, or the outrageously confident. The
nervous largely outnumber the confident. The launching of a last-wicket
man, when there are ten to make to win, or five minutes left to make a
draw of a losing game, is fully as impressive a ceremony as the
launching of the latest battleship. An interested crowd harasses the
poor victim as he is putting on his pads. 'Feel in a funk?' asks some
tactless friend. 'N-n-no, norrabit.' 'That's right,' says the captain
encouragingly, 'bowling's as easy as anything.'

This cheers the wretch up a little, until he remembers suddenly that
the captain himself was distinctly at sea with the despised trundling,
and succumbed to his second ball, about which he obviously had no idea
whatever. At this he breaks down utterly, and, if emotional, will sob
into his batting glove. He is assisted down the Pavilion steps, and
reaches the wickets in a state of collapse. Here, very probably, a
reaction will set in. The sight of the crease often comes as a positive
relief after the vague terrors experienced in the Pavilion.

The confident last-wicket man, on the other hand, goes forth to battle
with a light quip upon his lips. The lot of a last-wicket batsman, with
a good eye and a sense of humour, is a very enviable one. The
incredulous disgust of the fast bowler, who thinks that at last he may
safely try that slow head-ball of his, and finds it lifted genially
over the leg-boundary, is well worth seeing. I remember in one school
match, the last man, unfortunately on the opposite side, did this three
times in one over, ultimately retiring to a fluky catch in the slips
with forty-one to his name. Nervousness at cricket is a curious thing.
As the author of _Willow the King_, himself a county cricketer,
has said, it is not the fear of getting out that causes funk. It is a
sort of intangible _je ne sais quoi_. I trust I make myself clear.
Some batsmen are nervous all through a long innings. With others the
feeling disappears with the first boundary.

A young lady--it is, of course, not polite to mention her age to the
minute, but it ranged somewhere between eight and ten--was taken to see
a cricket match once. After watching the game with interest for some
time, she gave out this profound truth: 'They all attend specially to
one man.' It would be difficult to sum up the causes of funk more
lucidly and concisely. To be an object of interest is sometimes
pleasant, but when ten fieldsmen, a bowler, two umpires, and countless
spectators are eagerly watching your every movement, the thing becomes
embarrassing.

That is why it is, on the whole, preferable to be a cricket spectator
rather than a cricket player. No game affords the spectator such unique
opportunities of exerting his critical talents. You may have noticed
that it is always the reporter who knows most about the game. Everyone,
moreover, is at heart a critic, whether he represent the majesty of the
Press or not. From the lady of Hoxton, who crushes her friend's latest
confection with the words, 'My, wot an 'at!' down to that lowest class
of all, the persons who call your attention (in print) to the sinister
meaning of everything Clytemnestra says in _The Agamemnon_, the
whole world enjoys expressing an opinion of its own about something.

In football you are vouchsafed fewer chances. Practically all you can
do is to shout 'off-side' whenever an opponent scores, which affords
but meagre employment for a really critical mind. In cricket, however,
nothing can escape you. Everything must be done in full sight of
everybody. There the players stand, without refuge, simply inviting
criticism.

It is best, however, not to make one's remarks too loud. If you do, you
call down upon yourself the attention of others, and are yourself
criticized. I remember once, when I was of tender years, watching a
school match, and one of the batsmen lifted a ball clean over the
Pavilion. This was too much for my sensitive and critical young mind.
'On the carpet, sir,' I shouted sternly, well up in the treble clef,
'keep 'em on the carpet.' I will draw a veil. Suffice it to say that I
became a sport and derision, and was careful for the future to
criticize in a whisper. But the reverse by no means crushed me. Even
now I take a melancholy pleasure in watching school matches, and saying
So-and-So will make quite a fair _school-boy_ bat in time, but he
must get rid of that stroke of his on the off, and that shocking
leg-hit, and a few of those _awful_ strokes in the slips, but that
on the whole, he is by no means lacking in promise. I find it
refreshing. If, however, you feel compelled not merely to look on, but
to play, as one often does at schools where cricket is compulsory, it
is impossible to exaggerate the importance of white boots. The game you
play before you get white boots is not cricket, but a weak imitation.
The process of initiation is generally this. One plays in shoes for a
few years with the most dire result, running away to square leg from
fast balls, and so on, till despair seizes the soul. Then an angel in
human form, in the very effective disguise of the man at the school
boot-shop, hints that, for an absurdly small sum in cash, you may
become the sole managing director of a pair of _white buckskin_
boots with real spikes. You try them on. They fit, and the initiation
is complete. You no longer run away from fast balls. You turn them
neatly off to the boundary. In a word, you begin for the first time to
play the game, the whole game, and nothing but the game.

There are misguided people who complain that cricket is becoming a
business more than a game, as if that were not the most fortunate thing
that could happen. When it ceases to be a mere business and becomes a
religious ceremony, it will be a sign that the millennium is at hand.
The person who regards cricket as anything less than a business is no
fit companion, gentle reader, for the likes of you and me. As long as
the game goes in his favour the cloven hoof may not show itself. But
give him a good steady spell of leather-hunting, and you will know him
for what he is, a mere _dilettante_, a dabbler, in a word, a worm,
who ought never to be allowed to play at all. The worst of this species
will sometimes take advantage of the fact that the game in which they
happen to be playing is only a scratch game, upon the result of which
no very great issues hang, to pollute the air they breathe with verbal,
and the ground they stand on with physical, buffooneries. Many a time
have I, and many a time have you, if you are what I take you for, shed
tears of blood, at the sight of such. Careless returns, overthrows--but
enough of a painful subject. Let us pass on.

I have always thought it a better fate for a man to be born a bowler
than a bat. A batsman certainly gets a considerable amount of innocent
fun by snicking good fast balls just off his wicket to the ropes, and
standing stolidly in front against slow leg-breaks. These things are
good, and help one to sleep peacefully o' nights, and enjoy one's
meals. But no batsman can experience that supreme emotion of 'something
attempted, something done', which comes to a bowler when a ball pitches
in a hole near point's feet, and whips into the leg stump. It is one
crowded second of glorious life. Again, the words 'retired hurt' on the
score-sheet are far more pleasant to the bowler than the batsman. The
groan of a batsman when a loose ball hits him full pitch in the ribs is
genuine. But the 'Awfully-sorry-old-chap-it-slipped' of the bowler is
not. Half a loaf is better than no bread, as Mr Chamberlain might say,
and if he cannot hit the wicket, he is perfectly contented with hitting
the man. In my opinion, therefore, the bowler's lot, in spite of
billiard table wickets, red marl, and such like inventions of a
degenerate age, is the happier one.

And here, glowing with pride of originality at the thought that I have
written of cricket without mentioning Alfred Mynn or Fuller Pilch, I
heave a reminiscent sigh, blot my MS., and thrust my pen back into its
sheath.



[16]

THE TOM BROWN QUESTION


The man in the corner had been trying to worry me into a conversation
for some time. He had asked me if I objected to having the window open.
He had said something rather bitter about the War Office, and had hoped
I did not object to smoking. Then, finding that I stuck to my book
through everything, he made a fresh attack.

'I see you are reading _Tom Brown's Schooldays_,' he said.

This was a plain and uninteresting statement of fact, and appeared to
me to require no answer. I read on.

'Fine book, sir.'

'Very.'

'I suppose you have heard of the Tom Brown Question?'

I shut my book wearily, and said I had not.

'It is similar to the Homeric Question. You have heard of that, I
suppose?'

I knew that there was a discussion about the identity of the author of
the Iliad. When at school I had been made to take down notes on the
subject until I had grown to loathe the very name of Homer.

'You see,' went on my companion, 'the difficulty about _Tom Brown's
Schooldays_ is this. It is obvious that part one and part two were
written by different people. You admit that, I suppose?'

'I always thought Mr Hughes wrote the whole book.'

'Dear me, not really? Why, I thought everyone knew that he only wrote
the first half. The question is, who wrote the second. I know, but I
don't suppose ten other people do. No, sir.'

'What makes you think he didn't write the second part?'

'My dear sir, just read it. Read part one carefully, and then read part
two. Why, you can see in a minute.'

I said I had read the book three times, but had never noticed anything
peculiar about it, except that the second half was not nearly so
interesting as the first.

'Well, just tell me this. Do you think the same man created East and
Arthur? Now then.'

I admitted that it was difficult to understand such a thing.

'There was a time, of course,' continued my friend, 'when everybody
thought as you do. The book was published under Hughes's name, and it
was not until Professor Burkett-Smith wrote his celebrated monograph on
the subject that anybody suspected a dual, or rather a composite,
authorship. Burkett-Smith, if you remember, based his arguments on two
very significant points. The first of these was a comparison between
the football match in the first part and the cricket match in the
second. After commenting upon the truth of the former description, he
went on to criticize the latter. Do you remember that match? You do?
Very well. You recall how Tom wins the toss on a plumb wicket?'

'Yes.'

'Then with the usual liberality of young hands (I quote from the book)
he put the M.C.C. in first. Now, my dear sir, I ask you, would a school
captain do that? I am young, says one of Gilbert's characters, the
Grand Duke, I think, but, he adds, I am not so young as that. Tom may
have been young, but would he, _could_ he have been young enough
to put his opponents in on a true wicket, when he had won the toss?
Would the Tom Brown of part one have done such a thing?'

'Never,' I shouted, with enthusiasm.

'But that's nothing to what he does afterwards. He permits, he actually
sits there and permits, comic songs and speeches to be made during the
luncheon interval. Comic Songs! Do you hear me, sir? COMIC SONGS!! And
this when he wanted every minute of time he could get to save the
match. Would the Tom Brown of part one have done such a thing?'

'Never, never.' I positively shrieked the words this time.

'Burkett-Smith put that point very well. His second argument is founded
on a single remark of Tom's, or rather--'

'Or rather,' I interrupted, fiercely,' or rather of the wretched
miserable--'

'Contemptible,' said my friend.

'Despicable, scoundrelly, impostor who masquerades as Tom in the second
half of the book.'

'Exactly,' said he. 'Thank you very much. I have often thought the same
myself. The remark to which I refer is that which he makes to the
master while he is looking on at the M.C.C. match. In passing, sir,
might I ask you whether the Tom Brown of part one would have been on
speaking terms with such a master?'

I shook my head violently. I was too exhausted to speak.

'You remember the remark? The master commented on the fact that Arthur
is a member of the first eleven. I forget Tom's exact words, but the
substance of them is this, that, though on his merits Arthur was not
worth his place, he thought it would do him such a lot of good being in
the team. Do I make myself plain, sir? He--thought--it--would--do--
him--such--a--lot--of--good--being--in--the--team!!!'

There was a pause. We sat looking at one another, forming silently with
our lips the words that still echoed through the carriage.

'Burkett-Smith,' continued my companion, 'makes a great deal of that
remark. His peroration is a very fine piece of composition. "Whether
(concludes he) the captain of a school cricket team who could own
spontaneously to having been guilty of so horrible, so terrible an act
of favouritismical jobbery, who could sit unmoved and see his team
being beaten in the most important match of the season (and, indeed,
for all that the author tells us it may have been the only match of the
season), for no other reason than that he thought a first eleven cap
would prove a valuable tonic to an unspeakable personal friend of his,
whether, I say, the Tom Brown who acted thus could have been the Tom
Brown who headed the revolt of the fags in part one, is a question
which, to the present writer, offers no difficulties. I await with
confidence the verdict of a free, enlightened, and conscientious public
of my fellow-countrymen." Fine piece of writing, that, sir?'

'Very,' I said.

'That pamphlet, of course, caused a considerable stir. Opposing parties
began to be formed, some maintaining that Burkett-Smith was entirely
right, others that he was entirely wrong, while the rest said he might
have been more wrong if he had not been so right, but that if he had
not been so mistaken he would probably have been a great deal more
correct. The great argument put forward by the supporters of what I may
call the "One Author" view, was, that the fight in part two could not
have been written by anyone except the author of the fight with
Flashman in the school-house hall. And this is the point which has led
to all the discussion. Eliminate the Slogger Williams episode, and the
whole of the second part stands out clearly as the work of another
hand. But there is one thing that seems to have escaped the notice of
everybody.'

'Yes?' I said.

He leant forward impressively, and whispered. 'Only the actual fight is
the work of the genuine author. The interference of Arthur has been
interpolated!'

'By Jove!' I said. 'Not really?'

'Yes. Fact, I assure you. Why, think for a minute. Could a man capable
of describing a fight as that fight is described, also be capable of
stopping it just as the man the reader has backed all through is
winning? It would be brutal. Positively brutal, sir!'

'Then, how do you explain it?'

'A year ago I could not have told you. Now I can. For five years I have
been unravelling the mystery by the aid of that one clue. Listen. When
Mr Hughes had finished part one, he threw down his pen and started to
Wales for a holiday. He had been there a week or more, when one day, as
he was reclining on the peak of a mountain looking down a deep
precipice, he was aware of a body of men approaching him. They were
dressed soberly in garments of an inky black. Each had side whiskers,
and each wore spectacles. "Mr Hughes, I believe?" said the leader, as
they came up to him.

'"Your servant, sir," said he.

'"We have come to speak to you on an important matter, Mr Hughes. We
are the committee of the Secret Society For Putting Wholesome
Literature Within The Reach Of Every Boy, And Seeing That He Gets It.
I, sir, am the president of the S.S.F.P.W.L.W.T.R.O.E.B.A.S.T.H.G.I."
He bowed.

'"Really, sir, I--er--don't think I have the pleasure," began Mr
Hughes.

'"You shall have the pleasure, sir. We have come to speak to you about
your book. Our representative has read Part I, and reports unfavourably
upon it. It contains no moral. There are scenes of violence, and your
hero is far from perfect."

'"I think you mistake my object," said Mr Hughes; "Tom is a boy, not a
patent medicine. In other words, he is not supposed to be perfect."

'"Well, I am not here to bandy words. The second part of your book
must be written to suit the rules of our Society. Do you agree, or
shall we throw you over that precipice?"

'"Never. I mean, I don't agree."

'"Then we must write it for you. Remember, sir, that you will be
constantly watched, and if you attempt to write that second part
yourself--"' (he paused dramatically). 'So the second part was written
by the committee of the Society. So now you know.'

'But,' said I, 'how do you account for the fight with Slogger
Williams?'

'The president relented slightly towards the end, and consented to Mr
Hughes inserting a chapter of his own, on condition that the Society
should finish it. And the Society did. See?'

'But--'

'Ticket.'

'Eh?'

'Ticket, please, sir.'

I looked up. The guard was standing at the open door. My companion had
vanished.

'Guard,' said I, as I handed him my ticket, 'where's the gentleman who
travelled up with me?'

'Gentleman, sir? I haven't seen nobody.'

'Not a man in tweeds with red hair? I mean, in tweeds and owning red
hair.'

'No, sir. You've been alone in the carriage all the way up. Must have
dreamed it, sir.'

Possibly I did.





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