A PUBLIC SCHOOL STORY
BY P. G. WODEHOUSE
CONTAINING TWELVE FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS BY T. M. R. WHITWELL
[Dedication] TO ALAN DURAND
CHAPTER I. MIKE
II. THE JOURNEY DOWN
III. MIKE FINDS A FRIENDLY NATIVE
IV. AT THE NETS
V. REVELRY BY NIGHT
VI. IN WHICH A TIGHT CORNER IS EVADED
VII. IN WHICH MIKE IS DISCUSSED
VIII. A ROW WITH THE TOWN
IX. BEFORE THE STORM
X. THE GREAT PICNIC
XI. THE CONCLUSION OF THE PICNIC
XII. MIKE GETS HIS CHANCE
XIII. THE M.C.C. MATCH
XIV. A SLIGHT IMBROGLIO
XV. MIKE CREATES A VACANCY
XVI. AN EXPERT EXAMINATION
XVII. ANOTHER VACANCY
XVIII. BOB HAS NEWS TO IMPART
XIX. MIKE GOES TO SLEEP AGAIN
XX. THE TEAM IS FILLED UP
XXI. MARJORY THE FRANK
XXII. WYATT IS REMINDED OF AN ENGAGEMENT
XXIII. A SURPRISE FOR MR. APPLEBY
XXV. MARCHING ORDERS
XXVI. THE AFTERMATH
XXVII. THE RIPTON MATCH
XXVIII. MIKE WINS HOME
XXIX. WYATT AGAIN
XXX. MR. JACKSON MAKES UP HIS MIND
XXXIII. STAKING OUT A CLAIM
XXXIV. GUERILLA WARFARE
XXXV. UNPLEASANTNESS IN THE SMALL HOURS
XXXVII. MIKE FINDS OCCUPATION
XXXVIII. THE FIRE BRIGADE MEETING
XXXIX. ACHILLES LEAVES HIS TENT
XL. THE MATCH WITH DOWNING'S
XLI. THE SINGULAR BEHAVIOUR OF JELLICOE
XLII. JELLICOE GOES ON THE SICK-LIST
XLIII. MIKE RECEIVES A COMMISSION
XLIV. AND FULFILS IT
XLVI. THE DECORATION OF SAMMY
XLVII. MR. DOWNING ON THE SCENT
XLVIII. THE SLEUTH-HOUND
XLIX. A CHECK
L. THE DESTROYER OF EVIDENCE
LI. MAINLY ABOUT BOOTS
LII. ON THE TRAIL AGAIN
LIII. THE KETTLE METHOD
LIV. ADAIR HAS A WORD WITH MIKE
LV. CLEARING THE AIR
LVI. IN WHICH PEACE IS DECLARED
LVII. MR. DOWNING MOVES
LVIII. THE ARTIST CLAIMS HIS WORK
LIX. SEDLEIGH v. WRYKYN
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
BY T. M. R. WHITWELL
"ARE YOU THE M. JACKSON, THEN, WHO HAD AN AVERAGE OF FIFTY-ONE POINT NOUGHT THREE LAST YEAR?"
THE DARK WATERS WERE LASHED INTO A MAELSTROM
"DON'T LAUGH, YOU GRINNING APE"
"DO—YOU—SEE, YOU FRIGHTFUL KID?"
"WHAT'S ALL THIS ABOUT JIMMY WYATT?"
MIKE AND THE BALL ARRIVED ALMOST SIMULTANEOUSLY
"WHAT THE DICKENS ARE YOU DOING HERE?"
PSMITH SEIZED AND EMPTIED JELLICOE'S JUG OVER SPILLER
"WHY DID YOU SAY YOU DIDN'T PLAY CRICKET?" HE ASKED
"WHO—" HE SHOUTED, "WHO HAS DONE THIS?"
MIKE DROPPED THE SOOT-COVERED OBJECT IN THE FENDER
It was a morning in the middle of April, and the Jackson family were consequently breakfasting in comparative silence. The cricket season had not begun, and except during the cricket season they were in the habit of devoting their powerful minds at breakfast almost exclusively to the task of victualling against the labours of the day. In May, June, July, and August the silence was broken. The three grown-up Jacksons played regularly in first-class cricket, and there was always keen competition among their brothers and sisters for the copy of the Sportsman which was to be found on the hall table with the letters. Whoever got it usually gloated over it in silence till urged wrathfully by the multitude to let them know what had happened; when it would appear that Joe had notched his seventh century, or that Reggie had been run out when he was just getting set, or, as sometimes occurred, that that ass Frank had dropped Fry or Hayward in the slips before he had scored, with the result that the spared expert had made a couple of hundred and was still going strong.
In such a case the criticisms of the family circle, particularly of the smaller Jackson sisters, were so breezy and unrestrained that Mrs. Jackson generally felt it necessary to apply the closure. Indeed, Marjory Jackson, aged fourteen, had on three several occasions been fined pudding at lunch for her caustic comments on the batting of her brother Reggie in important fixtures. Cricket was a tradition in the family, and the ladies, unable to their sorrow to play the game themselves, were resolved that it should not be their fault if the standard was not kept up.
On this particular morning silence reigned. A deep gasp from some small Jackson, wrestling with bread-and-milk, and an occasional remark from Mr. Jackson on the letters he was reading, alone broke it.
"Mike's late again," said Mrs. Jackson plaintively, at last.
"He's getting up," said Marjory. "I went in to see what he was doing, and he was asleep. So," she added with a satanic chuckle, "I squeezed a sponge over him. He swallowed an awful lot, and then he woke up, and tried to catch me, so he's certain to be down soon."
"Well, he was on his back with his mouth wide open. I had to. He was snoring like anything."
"You might have choked him."
"I did," said Marjory with satisfaction. "Jam, please, Phyllis, you pig."
Mr. Jackson looked up.
"Mike will have to be more punctual when he goes to Wrykyn," he said.
"Oh, father, is Mike going to Wrykyn?" asked Marjory. "When?"
"Next term," said Mr. Jackson. "I've just heard from Mr. Wain," he added across the table to Mrs. Jackson. "The house is full, but he is turning a small room into an extra dormitory, so he can take Mike after all."
The first comment on this momentous piece of news came from Bob Jackson. Bob was eighteen. The following term would be his last at Wrykyn, and, having won through so far without the infliction of a small brother, he disliked the prospect of not being allowed to finish as he had begun.
"I say!" he said. "What?"
"He ought to have gone before," said Mr. Jackson. "He's fifteen. Much too old for that private school. He has had it all his own way there, and it isn't good for him."
"He's got cheek enough for ten," agreed Bob.
"Wrykyn will do him a world of good."
"We aren't in the same house. That's one comfort."
Bob was in Donaldson's. It softened the blow to a certain extent that Mike should be going to Wain's. He had the same feeling for Mike that most boys of eighteen have for their fifteen-year-old brothers. He was fond of him in the abstract, but preferred him at a distance.
Marjory gave tongue again. She had rescued the jam from Phyllis, who had shown signs of finishing it, and was now at liberty to turn her mind to less pressing matters. Mike was her special ally, and anything that affected his fortunes affected her.
"Hooray! Mike's going to Wrykyn. I bet he gets into the first eleven his first term."
"Considering there are eight old colours left," said Bob loftily, "besides heaps of last year's seconds, it's hardly likely that a kid like Mike'll get a look in. He might get his third, if he sweats."
The aspersion stung Marjory.
"I bet he gets in before you, anyway," she said.
Bob disdained to reply. He was among those heaps of last year's seconds to whom he had referred. He was a sound bat, though lacking the brilliance of his elder brothers, and he fancied that his cap was a certainty this season. Last year he had been tried once or twice. This year it should be all right.
Mrs. Jackson intervened.
"Go on with your breakfast, Marjory," she said. "You mustn't say 'I bet' so much."
Marjory bit off a section of her slice of bread-and-jam.
"Anyhow, I bet he does," she muttered truculently through it.
There was a sound of footsteps in the passage outside. The door opened, and the missing member of the family appeared. Mike Jackson was tall for his age. His figure was thin and wiry. His arms and legs looked a shade too long for his body. He was evidently going to be very tall some day. In face, he was curiously like his brother Joe, whose appearance is familiar to every one who takes an interest in first-class cricket. The resemblance was even more marked on the cricket field. Mike had Joe's batting style to the last detail. He was a pocket edition of his century-making brother. "Hullo," he said, "sorry I'm late."
This was mere stereo. He had made the same remark nearly every morning since the beginning of the holidays.
"All right, Marjory, you little beast," was his reference to the sponge incident.
His third remark was of a practical nature.
"I say, what's under that dish?"
"Mike," began Mr. Jackson—this again was stereo—"you really must learn to be more punctual——"
He was interrupted by a chorus.
"Mike, you're going to Wrykyn next term," shouted Marjory.
"Mike, father's just had a letter to say you're going to Wrykyn next term." From Phyllis.
"Mike, you're going to Wrykyn." From Ella.
Gladys Maud Evangeline, aged three, obliged with a solo of her own composition, in six-eight time, as follows: "Mike Wryky. Mike Wryky. Mike Wryke Wryke Wryke Mike Wryke Wryke Mike Wryke Mike Wryke."
"Oh, put a green baize cloth over that kid, somebody," groaned Bob.
Whereat Gladys Maud, having fixed him with a chilly stare for some seconds, suddenly drew a long breath, and squealed deafeningly for more milk.
Mike looked round the table. It was a great moment. He rose to it with the utmost dignity.
"Good," he said. "I say, what's under that dish?"
* * * * *
After breakfast, Mike and Marjory went off together to the meadow at the end of the garden. Saunders, the professional, assisted by the gardener's boy, was engaged in putting up the net. Mr. Jackson believed in private coaching; and every spring since Joe, the eldest of the family, had been able to use a bat a man had come down from the Oval to teach him the best way to do so. Each of the boys in turn had passed from spectators to active participants in the net practice in the meadow. For several years now Saunders had been the chosen man, and his attitude towards the Jacksons was that of the Faithful Old Retainer in melodrama. Mike was his special favourite. He felt that in him he had material of the finest order to work upon. There was nothing the matter with Bob. In Bob he would turn out a good, sound article. Bob would be a Blue in his third or fourth year, and probably a creditable performer among the rank and file of a county team later on. But he was not a cricket genius, like Mike. Saunders would lie awake at night sometimes thinking of the possibilities that were in Mike. The strength could only come with years, but the style was there already. Joe's style, with improvements.
Mike put on his pads; and Marjory walked with the professional to the bowling crease.
"Mike's going to Wrykyn next term, Saunders," she said. "All the boys were there, you know. So was father, ages ago."
"Is he, miss? I was thinking he would be soon."
"Do you think he'll get into the school team?"
"School team, miss! Master Mike get into a school team! He'll be playing for England in another eight years. That's what he'll be playing for."
"Yes, but I meant next term. It would be a record if he did. Even Joe only got in after he'd been at school two years. Don't you think he might, Saunders? He's awfully good, isn't he? He's better than Bob, isn't he? And Bob's almost certain to get in this term."
Saunders looked a little doubtful.
"Next term!" he said. "Well, you see, miss, it's this way. It's all there, in a manner of speaking, with Master Mike. He's got as much style as Mr. Joe's got, every bit. The whole thing is, you see, miss, you get these young gentlemen of eighteen, and nineteen perhaps, and it stands to reason they're stronger. There's a young gentleman, perhaps, doesn't know as much about what I call real playing as Master Mike's forgotten; but then he can hit 'em harder when he does hit 'em, and that's where the runs come in. They aren't going to play Master Mike because he'll be in the England team when he leaves school. They'll give the cap to somebody that can make a few then and there."
"But Mike's jolly strong."
"Ah, I'm not saying it mightn't be, miss. I was only saying don't count on it, so you won't be disappointed if it doesn't happen. It's quite likely that it will, only all I say is don't count on it. I only hope that they won't knock all the style out of him before they're done with him. You know these school professionals, miss."
"No, I don't, Saunders. What are they like?"
"Well, there's too much of the come-right-out-at-everything about 'em for my taste. Seem to think playing forward the alpha and omugger of batting. They'll make him pat balls back to the bowler which he'd cut for twos and threes if he was left to himself. Still, we'll hope for the best, miss. Ready, Master Mike? Play."
As Saunders had said, it was all there. Of Mike's style there could be no doubt. To-day, too, he was playing more strongly than usual. Marjory had to run to the end of the meadow to fetch one straight drive. "He hit that hard enough, didn't he, Saunders?" she asked, as she returned the ball.
"If he could keep on doing ones like that, miss," said the professional, "they'd have him in the team before you could say knife."
Marjory sat down again beside the net, and watched more hopefully.
THE JOURNEY DOWN
The seeing off of Mike on the last day of the holidays was an imposing spectacle, a sort of pageant. Going to a public school, especially at the beginning of the summer term, is no great hardship, more particularly when the departing hero has a brother on the verge of the school eleven and three other brothers playing for counties; and Mike seemed in no way disturbed by the prospect. Mothers, however, to the end of time will foster a secret fear that their sons will be bullied at a big school, and Mrs. Jackson's anxious look lent a fine solemnity to the proceedings.
And as Marjory, Phyllis, and Ella invariably broke down when the time of separation arrived, and made no exception to their rule on the present occasion, a suitable gloom was the keynote of the gathering. Mr. Jackson seemed to bear the parting with fortitude, as did Mike's Uncle John (providentially roped in at the eleventh hour on his way to Scotland, in time to come down with a handsome tip). To their coarse-fibred minds there was nothing pathetic or tragic about the affair at all. (At the very moment when the train began to glide out of the station Uncle John was heard to remark that, in his opinion, these Bocks weren't a patch on the old shaped Larranaga.) Among others present might have been noticed Saunders, practising late cuts rather coyly with a walking-stick in the background; the village idiot, who had rolled up on the chance of a dole; Gladys Maud Evangeline's nurse, smiling vaguely; and Gladys Maud Evangeline herself, frankly bored with the whole business.
The train gathered speed. The air was full of last messages. Uncle John said on second thoughts he wasn't sure these Bocks weren't half a bad smoke after all. Gladys Maud cried, because she had taken a sudden dislike to the village idiot; and Mike settled himself in the corner and opened a magazine.
He was alone in the carriage. Bob, who had been spending the last week of the holidays with an aunt further down the line, was to board the train at East Wobsley, and the brothers were to make a state entry into Wrykyn together. Meanwhile, Mike was left to his milk chocolate, his magazines, and his reflections.
The latter were not numerous, nor profound. He was excited. He had been petitioning the home authorities for the past year to be allowed to leave his private school and go to Wrykyn, and now the thing had come about. He wondered what sort of a house Wain's was, and whether they had any chance of the cricket cup. According to Bob they had no earthly; but then Bob only recognised one house, Donaldson's. He wondered if Bob would get his first eleven cap this year, and if he himself were likely to do anything at cricket. Marjory had faithfully reported every word Saunders had said on the subject, but Bob had been so careful to point out his insignificance when compared with the humblest Wrykynian that the professional's glowing prophecies had not had much effect. It might be true that some day he would play for England, but just at present he felt he would exchange his place in the team for one in the Wrykyn third eleven. A sort of mist enveloped everything Wrykynian. It seemed almost hopeless to try and compete with these unknown experts. On the other hand, there was Bob. Bob, by all accounts, was on the verge of the first eleven, and he was nothing special.
While he was engaged on these reflections, the train drew up at a small station. Opposite the door of Mike's compartment was standing a boy of about Mike's size, though evidently some years older. He had a sharp face, with rather a prominent nose; and a pair of pince-nez gave him a supercilious look. He wore a bowler hat, and carried a small portmanteau.
He opened the door, and took the seat opposite to Mike, whom he scrutinised for a moment rather after the fashion of a naturalist examining some new and unpleasant variety of beetle. He seemed about to make some remark, but, instead, got up and looked through the open window.
"Where's that porter?" Mike heard him say.
The porter came skimming down the platform at that moment.
"Are those frightful boxes of mine in all right?"
"Because, you know, there'll be a frightful row if any of them get lost."
"No chance of that, sir."
"Here you are, then."
"Thank you, sir."
The youth drew his head and shoulders in, stared at Mike again, and finally sat down. Mike noticed that he had nothing to read, and wondered if he wanted anything; but he did not feel equal to offering him one of his magazines. He did not like the looks of him particularly. Judging by appearances, he seemed to carry enough side for three. If he wanted a magazine, thought Mike, let him ask for it.
The other made no overtures, and at the next stop got out. That explained his magazineless condition. He was only travelling a short way.
"Good business," said Mike to himself. He had all the Englishman's love of a carriage to himself.
The train was just moving out of the station when his eye was suddenly caught by the stranger's bag, lying snugly in the rack.
And here, I regret to say, Mike acted from the best motives, which is always fatal.
He realised in an instant what had happened. The fellow had forgotten his bag.
Mike had not been greatly fascinated by the stranger's looks; but, after all, the most supercilious person on earth has a right to his own property. Besides, he might have been quite a nice fellow when you got to know him. Anyhow, the bag had better be returned at once. The trainwas already moving quite fast, and Mike's compartment was nearing the end of the platform.
He snatched the bag from the rack and hurled it out of the window. (Porter Robinson, who happened to be in the line of fire, escaped with a flesh wound.) Then he sat down again with the inward glow of satisfaction which comes to one when one has risen successfully to a sudden emergency.
* * * * *
The glow lasted till the next stoppage, which did not occur for a good many miles. Then it ceased abruptly, for the train had scarcely come to a standstill when the opening above the door was darkened by a head and shoulders. The head was surmounted by a bowler, and a pair of pince-nez gleamed from the shadow.
"Hullo, I say," said the stranger. "Have you changed carriages, or what?"
"No," said Mike.
"Then, dash it, where's my frightful bag?"
Life teems with embarrassing situations. This was one of them.
"The fact is," said Mike, "I chucked it out."
"Chucked it out! what do you mean? When?"
"At the last station."
The guard blew his whistle, and the other jumped into the carriage.
"I thought you'd got out there for good," explained Mike. "I'm awfully sorry."
"Where is the bag?"
"On the platform at the last station. It hit a porter."
Against his will, for he wished to treat the matter with fitting solemnity, Mike grinned at the recollection. The look on Porter Robinson's face as the bag took him in the small of the back had been funny, though not intentionally so.
The bereaved owner disapproved of this levity; and said as much.
"Don't grin, you little beast," he shouted. "There's nothing to laugh at. You go chucking bags that don't belong to you out of the window, and then you have the frightful cheek to grin about it."
"It wasn't that," said Mike hurriedly. "Only the porter looked awfully funny when it hit him."
"Dash the porter! What's going to happen about my bag? I can't get out for half a second to buy a magazine without your flinging my things about the platform. What you want is a frightful kicking."
The situation was becoming difficult. But fortunately at this moment the train stopped once again; and, looking out of the window, Mike saw a board with East Wobsley upon it in large letters. A moment later Bob's head appeared in the doorway.
"Hullo, there you are," said Bob.
His eye fell upon Mike's companion.
"Hullo, Gazeka!" he exclaimed. "Where did you spring from? Do you know my brother? He's coming to Wrykyn this term. By the way, rather lucky you've met. He's in your house. Firby-Smith's head of Wain's, Mike."
Mike gathered that Gazeka and Firby-Smith were one and the same person. He grinned again. Firby-Smith continued to look ruffled, though not aggressive.
"Oh, are you in Wain's?" he said.
"I say, Bob," said Mike, "I've made rather an ass of myself."
"I mean, what happened was this. I chucked Firby-Smith's portmanteau out of the window, thinking he'd got out, only he hadn't really, and it's at a station miles back."
"You're a bit of a rotter, aren't you? Had it got your name and address on it, Gazeka?"
"Oh, then it's certain to be all right. It's bound to turn up some time. They'll send it on by the next train, and you'll get it either to-night or to-morrow."
"Frightful nuisance, all the same. Lots of things in it I wanted."
"Oh, never mind, it's all right. I say, what have you been doing in the holidays? I didn't know you lived on this line at all."
From this point onwards Mike was out of the conversation altogether. Bob and Firby-Smith talked of Wrykyn, discussing events of the previous term of which Mike had never heard. Names came into their conversation which were entirely new to him. He realised that school politics were being talked, and that contributions from him to the dialogue were not required. He took up his magazine again, listening the while. They were discussing Wain's now. The name Wyatt cropped up with some frequency. Wyatt was apparently something of a character. Mention was made of rows in which he had played a part in the past.
"It must be pretty rotten for him," said Bob. "He and Wain never get on very well, and yet they have to be together, holidays as well as term. Pretty bad having a step-father at all—I shouldn't care to—and when your house-master and your step-father are the same man, it's a bit thick."
"Frightful," agreed Firby-Smith.
"I swear, if I were in Wyatt's place, I should rot about like anything. It isn't as if he'd anything to look forward to when he leaves. He told me last term that Wain had got a nomination for him in some beastly bank, and that he was going into it directly after the end of this term. Rather rough on a chap like Wyatt. Good cricketer and footballer, I mean, and all that sort of thing. It's just the sort of life he'll hate most. Hullo, here we are."
Mike looked out of the window. It was Wrykyn at last.
MIKE FINDS A FRIENDLY NATIVE
Mike was surprised to find, on alighting, that the platform was entirely free from Wrykynians. In all the stories he had read the whole school came back by the same train, and, having smashed in one another's hats and chaffed the porters, made their way to the school buildings in a solid column. But here they were alone.
A remark of Bob's to Firby-Smith explained this. "Can't make out why none of the fellows came back by this train," he said. "Heaps of them must come by this line, and it's the only Christian train they run,"
"Don't want to get here before the last minute they can possibly manage. Silly idea. I suppose they think there'd be nothing to do."
"What shall we do?" said Bob. "Come and have some tea at Cook's?"
Bob looked at Mike. There was no disguising the fact that he would be in the way; but how convey this fact delicately to him?
"Look here, Mike," he said, with a happy inspiration, "Firby-Smith and I are just going to get some tea. I think you'd better nip up to the school. Probably Wain will want to see you, and tell you all about things, which is your dorm. and so on. See you later," he concluded airily. "Any one'll tell you the way to the school. Go straight on. They'll send your luggage on later. So long." And his sole prop in this world of strangers departed, leaving him to find his way for himself.
There is no subject on which opinions differ so widely as this matter of finding the way to a place. To the man who knows, it is simplicity itself. Probably he really does imagine that he goes straight on, ignoring the fact that for him the choice of three roads, all more or less straight, has no perplexities. The man who does not know feels as if he were in a maze.
Mike started out boldly, and lost his way. Go in which direction he would, he always seemed to arrive at a square with a fountain and an equestrian statue in its centre. On the fourth repetition of this feat he stopped in a disheartened way, and looked about him. He was beginning to feel bitter towards Bob. The man might at least have shown him where to get some tea.
At this moment a ray of hope shone through the gloom. Crossing the square was a short, thick-set figure clad in grey flannel trousers, a blue blazer, and a straw hat with a coloured band. Plainly a Wrykynian. Mike made for him.
"Can you tell me the way to the school, please," he said.
"Oh, you're going to the school," said the other. He had a pleasant, square-jawed face, reminiscent of a good-tempered bull-dog, and a pair of very deep-set grey eyes which somehow put Mike at his ease. There was something singularly cool and genial about them. He felt that they saw the humour in things, and that their owner was a person who liked most people and whom most people liked.
"You look rather lost," said the stranger. "Been hunting for it long?"
"Yes," said Mike.
"Which house do you want?"
"Wain's? Then you've come to the right man this time. What I don't know about Wain's isn't worth knowing."
"Are you there, too?"
"Am I not! Term and holidays. There's no close season for me."
"Oh, are you Wyatt, then?" asked Mike.
"Hullo, this is fame. How did you know my name, as the ass in the detective story always says to the detective, who's seen it in the lining of his hat? Who's been talking about me?"
"I heard my brother saying something about you in the train."
"Who's your brother?"
"Jackson. He's in Donaldson's."
"I know. A stout fellow. So you're the newest make of Jackson, latest model, with all the modern improvements? Are there any more of you?"
"Not brothers," said Mike.
"Pity. You can't quite raise a team, then? Are you a sort of young Tyldesley, too?"
"I played a bit at my last school. Only a private school, you know," added Mike modestly.
"Make any runs? What was your best score?"
"Hundred and twenty-three," said Mike awkwardly. "It was only against kids, you know." He was in terror lest he should seem to be bragging.
"That's pretty useful. Any more centuries?"
"Yes," said Mike, shuffling.
"Seven altogether. You know, it was really awfully rotten bowling. And I was a good bit bigger than most of the chaps there. And my pater always has a pro. down in the Easter holidays, which gave me a bit of an advantage."
"All the same, seven centuries isn't so dusty against any bowling. We shall want some batting in the house this term. Look here, I was just going to have some tea. You come along, too."
"Oh, thanks awfully," said Mike. "My brother and Firby-Smith have gone to a place called Cook's."
"The old Gazeka? I didn't know he lived in your part of the world. He's head of Wain's."
"Yes, I know," said Mike. "Why is he called Gazeka?" he asked after a pause.
"Don't you think he looks like one? What did you think of him?"
"I didn't speak to him much," said Mike cautiously. It is always delicate work answering a question like this unless one has some sort of an inkling as to the views of the questioner.
"He's all right," said Wyatt, answering for himself. "He's got a habit of talking to one as if he were a prince of the blood dropping a gracious word to one of the three Small-Heads at the Hippodrome, but that's his misfortune. We all have our troubles. That's his. Let's go in here. It's too far to sweat to Cook's."
It was about a mile from the tea-shop to the school. Mike's first impression on arriving at the school grounds was of his smallness and insignificance. Everything looked so big—the buildings, the grounds, everything. He felt out of the picture. He was glad that he had met Wyatt. To make his entrance into this strange land alone would have been more of an ordeal than he would have cared to face.
"That's Wain's," said Wyatt, pointing to one of half a dozen large houses which lined the road on the south side of the cricket field. Mike followed his finger, and took in the size of his new home.
"I say, it's jolly big," he said. "How many fellows are there in it?"
"Thirty-one this term, I believe."
"That's more than there were at King-Hall's."
"The private school I was at. At Emsworth."
Emsworth seemed very remote and unreal to him as he spoke.
They skirted the cricket field, walking along the path that divided the two terraces. The Wrykyn playing-fields were formed of a series of huge steps, cut out of the hill. At the top of the hill came the school. On the first terrace was a sort of informal practice ground, where, though no games were played on it, there was a good deal of punting and drop-kicking in the winter and fielding-practice in the summer. The next terrace was the biggest of all, and formed the first eleven cricket ground, a beautiful piece of turf, a shade too narrow for its length, bounded on the terrace side by a sharply sloping bank, some fifteen feet deep, and on the other by the precipice leading to the next terrace. At the far end of the ground stood the pavilion, and beside it a little ivy-covered rabbit-hutch for the scorers. Old Wrykynians always claimed that it was the prettiest school ground in England. It certainly had the finest view. From the verandah of the pavilion you could look over three counties.
Wain's house wore an empty and desolate appearance. There were signs of activity, however, inside; and a smell of soap and warm water told of preparations recently completed.
Wyatt took Mike into the matron's room, a small room opening out of the main passage.
"This is Jackson," he said. "Which dormitory is he in, Miss Payne?"
The matron consulted a paper.
"He's in yours, Wyatt."
"Good business. Who's in the other bed? There are going to be three of us, aren't there?"
"Fereira was to have slept there, but we have just heard that he is not coming back this term. He has had to go on a sea-voyage for his health."
"Seems queer any one actually taking the trouble to keep Fereira in the world," said Wyatt. "I've often thought of giving him Rough On Rats myself. Come along, Jackson, and I'll show you the room."
They went along the passage, and up a flight of stairs.
"Here you are," said Wyatt.
It was a fair-sized room. The window, heavily barred, looked out over a large garden.
"I used to sleep here alone last term," said Wyatt, "but the house is so full now they've turned it into a dormitory."
"I say, I wish these bars weren't here. It would be rather a rag to get out of the window on to that wall at night, and hop down into the garden and explore," said Mike.
Wyatt looked at him curiously, and moved to the window.
"I'm not going to let you do it, of course," he said, "because you'd go getting caught, and dropped on, which isn't good for one in one's first term; but just to amuse you——"
He jerked at the middle bar, and the next moment he was standing with it in his hand, and the way to the garden was clear.
"By Jove!" said Mike.
"That's simply an object-lesson, you know," said Wyatt, replacing the bar, and pushing the screws back into their putty. "I get out at night myself because I think my health needs it. Besides, it's my last term, anyhow, so it doesn't matter what I do. But if I find you trying to cut out in the small hours, there'll be trouble. See?"
"All right," said Mike, reluctantly. "But I wish you'd let me."
"Not if I know it. Promise you won't try it on."
"All right. But, I say, what do you do out there?"
"I shoot at cats with an air-pistol, the beauty of which is that even if you hit them it doesn't hurt—simply keeps them bright and interested in life; and if you miss you've had all the fun anyhow. Have you ever shot at a rocketing cat? Finest mark you can have. Society's latest craze. Buy a pistol and see life."
"I wish you'd let me come."
"I daresay you do. Not much, however. Now, if you like, I'll take you over the rest of the school. You'll have to see it sooner or later, so you may as well get it over at once."
AT THE NETS
There are few better things in life than a public school summer term. The winter term is good, especially towards the end, and there are points, though not many, about the Easter term: but it is in the summer that one really appreciates public school life. The freedom of it, after the restrictions of even the most easy-going private school, is intoxicating. The change is almost as great as that from public school to 'Varsity.
For Mike the path was made particularly easy. The only drawback to going to a big school for the first time is the fact that one is made to feel so very small and inconspicuous. New boys who have been leading lights at their private schools feel it acutely for the first week. At one time it was the custom, if we may believe writers of a generation or so back, for boys to take quite an embarrassing interest in the newcomer. He was asked a rain of questions, and was, generally, in the very centre of the stage. Nowadays an absolute lack of interest is the fashion. A new boy arrives, and there he is, one of a crowd.
Mike was saved this salutary treatment to a large extent, at first by virtue of the greatness of his family, and, later, by his own performances on the cricket field. His three elder brothers were objects of veneration to most Wrykynians, and Mike got a certain amount of reflected glory from them. The brother of first-class cricketers has a dignity of his own. Then Bob was a help. He was on the verge of the cricket team and had been the school full-back for two seasons. Mike found that people came up and spoke to him, anxious to know if he were Jackson's brother; and became friendly when he replied in the affirmative. Influential relations are a help in every stage of life.
It was Wyatt who gave him his first chance at cricket. There were nets on the first afternoon of term for all old colours of the three teams and a dozen or so of those most likely to fill the vacant places. Wyatt was there, of course. He had got his first eleven cap in the previous season as a mighty hitter and a fair slow bowler. Mike met him crossing the field with his cricket bag.
"Hullo, where are you off to?" asked Wyatt. "Coming to watch the nets?"
Mike had no particular programme for the afternoon. Junior cricket had not begun, and it was a little difficult to know how to fill in the time.
"I tell you what," said Wyatt, "nip into the house and shove on some things, and I'll try and get Burgess to let you have a knock later on."
This suited Mike admirably. A quarter of an hour later he was sitting at the back of the first eleven net, watching the practice.
Burgess, the captain of the Wrykyn team, made no pretence of being a bat. He was the school fast bowler and concentrated his energies on that department of the game. He sometimes took ten minutes at the wicket after everybody else had had an innings, but it was to bowl that he came to the nets.
He was bowling now to one of the old colours whose name Mike did not know. Wyatt and one of the professionals were the other two bowlers. Two nets away Firby-Smith, who had changed his pince-nez for a pair of huge spectacles, was performing rather ineffectively against some very bad bowling. Mike fixed his attention on the first eleven man.
He was evidently a good bat. There was style and power in his batting. He had a way of gliding Burgess's fastest to leg which Mike admired greatly. He was succeeded at the end of a quarter of an hour by another eleven man, and then Bob appeared.
It was soon made evident that this was not Bob's day. Nobody is at his best on the first day of term; but Bob was worse than he had any right to be. He scratched forward at nearly everything, and when Burgess, who had been resting, took up the ball again, he had each stump uprooted in a regular series in seven balls. Once he skied one of Wyatt's slows over the net behind the wicket; and Mike, jumping up, caught him neatly.
"Thanks," said Bob austerely, as Mike returned the ball to him. He seemed depressed.
Towards the end of the afternoon, Wyatt went up to Burgess.
"Burgess," he said, "see that kid sitting behind the net?"
"With the naked eye," said Burgess. "Why?"
"He's just come to Wain's. He's Bob Jackson's brother, and I've a sort of idea that he's a bit of a bat. I told him I'd ask you if he could have a knock. Why not send him in at the end net? There's nobody there now."
Burgess's amiability off the field equalled his ruthlessness when bowling.
"All right," he said. "Only if you think that I'm going to sweat to bowl to him, you're making a fatal error."
"You needn't do a thing. Just sit and watch. I rather fancy this kid's something special."
* * * * *
Mike put on Wyatt's pads and gloves, borrowed his bat, and walked round into the net.
"Not in a funk, are you?" asked Wyatt, as he passed.
Mike grinned. The fact was that he had far too good an opinion of himself to be nervous. An entirely modest person seldom makes a good batsman. Batting is one of those things which demand first and foremost a thorough belief in oneself. It need not be aggressive, but it must be there.
Wyatt and the professional were the bowlers. Mike had seen enough of Wyatt's bowling to know that it was merely ordinary "slow tosh," and the professional did not look as difficult as Saunders. The first half-dozen balls he played carefully. He was on trial, and he meant to take no risks. Then the professional over-pitched one slightly on the off. Mike jumped out, and got the full face of the bat on to it. The ball hit one of the ropes of the net, and nearly broke it.
"How's that?" said Wyatt, with the smile of an impresario on the first night of a successful piece.
"Not bad," admitted Burgess.
A few moments later he was still more complimentary. He got up and took a ball himself.
Mike braced himself up as Burgess began his run. This time he was more than a trifle nervous. The bowling he had had so far had been tame. This would be the real ordeal.
As the ball left Burgess's hand he began instinctively to shape for a forward stroke. Then suddenly he realised that the thing was going to be a yorker, and banged his bat down in the block just as the ball arrived. An unpleasant sensation as of having been struck by a thunderbolt was succeeded by a feeling of relief that he had kept the ball out of his wicket. There are easier things in the world than stopping a fast yorker.
"Well played," said Burgess.
Mike felt like a successful general receiving the thanks of the nation.
The fact that Burgess's next ball knocked middle and off stumps out of the ground saddened him somewhat; but this was the last tragedy that occurred. He could not do much with the bowling beyond stopping it and feeling repetitions of the thunderbolt experience, but he kept up his end; and a short conversation which he had with Burgess at the end of his innings was full of encouragement to one skilled in reading between the lines.
"Thanks awfully," said Mike, referring to the square manner in which the captain had behaved in letting him bat.
"What school were you at before you came here?" asked Burgess.
"A private school in Hampshire," said Mike. "King-Hall's. At a place called Emsworth."
"Get much cricket there?"
"Yes, a good lot. One of the masters, a chap called Westbrook, was an awfully good slow bowler."
"You don't run away, which is something," he said.
Mike turned purple with pleasure at this stately compliment. Then, having waited for further remarks, but gathering from the captain's silence that the audience was at an end, he proceeded to unbuckle his pads. Wyatt overtook him on his way to the house.
"Well played," he said. "I'd no idea you were such hot stuff. You're a regular pro."
"I say," said Mike gratefully, "it was most awfully decent of you getting Burgess to let me go in. It was simply ripping of you."
"Oh, that's all right. If you don't get pushed a bit here you stay for ages in the hundredth game with the cripples and the kids. Now you've shown them what you can do you ought to get into the Under Sixteen team straight away. Probably into the third, too."
"By Jove, that would be all right."
"I asked Burgess afterwards what he thought of your batting, and he said, 'Not bad.' But he says that about everything. It's his highest form of praise. He says it when he wants to let himself go and simply butter up a thing. If you took him to see N. A. Knox bowl, he'd say he wasn't bad. What he meant was that he was jolly struck with your batting, and is going to play you for the Under Sixteen."
"I hope so," said Mike.
The prophecy was fulfilled. On the following Wednesday there was a match between the Under Sixteen and a scratch side. Mike's name was among the Under Sixteen. And on the Saturday he was playing for the third eleven in a trial game.
"This place is ripping," he said to himself, as he saw his name on the list. "Thought I should like it."
And that night he wrote a letter to his father, notifying him of the fact.
REVELRY BY NIGHT
A succession of events combined to upset Mike during his first fortnight at school. He was far more successful than he had any right to be at his age. There is nothing more heady than success, and if it comes before we are prepared for it, it is apt to throw us off our balance. As a rule, at school, years of wholesome obscurity make us ready for any small triumphs we may achieve at the end of our time there. Mike had skipped these years. He was older than the average new boy, and his batting was undeniable. He knew quite well that he was regarded as a find by the cricket authorities; and the knowledge was not particularly good for him. It did not make him conceited, for his was not a nature at all addicted to conceit. The effect it had on him was to make him excessively pleased with life. And when Mike was pleased with life he always found a difficulty in obeying Authority and its rules. His state of mind was not improved by an interview with Bob.
Some evil genius put it into Bob's mind that it was his duty to be, if only for one performance, the Heavy Elder Brother to Mike; to give him good advice. It is never the smallest use for an elder brother to attempt to do anything for the good of a younger brother at school, for the latter rebels automatically against such interference in his concerns; but Bob did not know this. He only knew that he had received a letter from home, in which his mother had assumed without evidence that he was leading Mike by the hand round the pitfalls of life at Wrykyn; and his conscience smote him. Beyond asking him occasionally, when they met, how he was getting on (a question to which Mike invariably replied, "Oh, all right"), he was not aware of having done anything brotherly towards the youngster. So he asked Mike to tea in his study one afternoon before going to the nets.
Mike arrived, sidling into the study in the half-sheepish, half-defiant manner peculiar to small brothers in the presence of their elders, and stared in silence at the photographs on the walls. Bob was changing into his cricket things. The atmosphere was one of constraint and awkwardness.
The arrival of tea was the cue for conversation.
"Well, how are you getting on?" asked Bob.
"Oh, all right," said Mike.
"Sugar?" asked Bob.
"Thanks," said Mike.
"How many lumps?"
Bob pulled himself together.
"I asked Firby-Smith to keep an eye on you," said Bob.
"What!" said Mike.
The mere idea of a worm like the Gazeka being told to keep an eye on him was degrading.
"He said he'd look after you," added Bob, making things worse.
Look after him! Him!! M. Jackson, of the third eleven!!!
Mike helped himself to another chunk of cake, and spoke crushingly.
"He needn't trouble," he said. "I can look after myself all right, thanks."
Bob saw an opening for the entry of the Heavy Elder Brother.
"Look here, Mike," he said, "I'm only saying it for your good——"
I should like to state here that it was not Bob's habit to go about the world telling people things solely for their good. He was only doing it now to ease his conscience.
"Yes?" said Mike coldly.
"It's only this. You know, I should keep an eye on myself if I were you. There's nothing that gets a chap so barred here as side."
"What do you mean?" said Mike, outraged.
"Oh, I'm not saying anything against you so far," said Bob. "You've been all right up to now. What I mean to say is, you've got on so well at cricket, in the third and so on, there's just a chance you might start to side about a bit soon, if you don't watch yourself. I'm not saying a word against you so far, of course. Only you see what I mean."
Mike's feelings were too deep for words. In sombre silence he reached out for the jam; while Bob, satisfied that he had delivered his message in a pleasant and tactful manner, filled his cup, and cast about him for further words of wisdom.
"Seen you about with Wyatt a good deal," he said at length.
"Yes," said Mike.
"Yes," said Mike cautiously.
"You know," said Bob, "I shouldn't—I mean, I should take care what you're doing with Wyatt."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he's an awfully good chap, of course, but still——"
"Well, I mean, he's the sort of chap who'll probably get into some thundering row before he leaves. He doesn't care a hang what he does. He's that sort of chap. He's never been dropped on yet, but if you go on breaking rules you're bound to be sooner or later. Thing is, it doesn't matter much for him, because he's leaving at the end of the term. But don't let him drag you into anything. Not that he would try to. But you might think it was the blood thing to do to imitate him, and the first thing you knew you'd be dropped on by Wain or somebody. See what I mean?"
Bob was well-intentioned, but tact did not enter greatly into his composition.
"What rot!" said Mike.
"All right. But don't you go doing it. I'm going over to the nets. I see Burgess has shoved you down for them. You'd better be going and changing. Stick on here a bit, though, if you want any more tea. I've got to be off myself."
Mike changed for net-practice in a ferment of spiritual injury. It was maddening to be treated as an infant who had to be looked after. He felt very sore against Bob.
A good innings at the third eleven net, followed by some strenuous fielding in the deep, soothed his ruffled feelings to a large extent; and all might have been well but for the intervention of Firby-Smith.
That youth, all spectacles and front teeth, met Mike at the door of Wain's.
"Ah, I wanted to see you, young man," he said. (Mike disliked being called "young man.") "Come up to my study."
Mike followed him in silence to his study, and preserved his silence till Firby-Smith, having deposited his cricket-bag in a corner of the room and examined himself carefully in a looking-glass that hung over the mantelpiece, spoke again.
"I've been hearing all about you, young man." Mike shuffled.
"You're a frightful character from all accounts." Mike could not think of anything to say that was not rude, so said nothing.
"Your brother has asked me to keep an eye on you."
Mike's soul began to tie itself into knots again. He was just at the age when one is most sensitive to patronage and most resentful of it.
"I promised I would," said the Gazeka, turning round and examining himself in the mirror again. "You'll get on all right if you behave yourself. Don't make a frightful row in the house. Don't cheek your elders and betters. Wash. That's all. Cut along."
Mike had a vague idea of sacrificing his career to the momentary pleasure of flinging a chair at the head of the house. Overcoming this feeling, he walked out of the room, and up to his dormitory to change.
* * * * *
In the dormitory that night the feeling of revolt, of wanting to do something actively illegal, increased. Like Eric, he burned, not with shame and remorse, but with rage and all that sort of thing. He dropped off to sleep full of half-formed plans for asserting himself. He was awakened from a dream in which he was batting against Firby-Smith's bowling, and hitting it into space every time, by a slight sound. He opened his eyes, and saw a dark figure silhouetted against the light of the window. He sat up in bed.
"Hullo," he said. "Is that you, Wyatt?"
"Are you awake?" said Wyatt. "Sorry if I've spoiled your beauty sleep."
"Are you going out?"
"I am," said Wyatt. "The cats are particularly strong on the wing just now. Mustn't miss a chance like this. Specially as there's a good moon, too. I shall be deadly."
"I say, can't I come too?"
A moonlight prowl, with or without an air-pistol, would just have suited Mike's mood.
"No, you can't," said Wyatt. "When I'm caught, as I'm morally certain to be some day, or night rather, they're bound to ask if you've ever been out as well as me. Then you'll be able to put your hand on your little heart and do a big George Washington act. You'll find that useful when the time comes."
"Do you think you will be caught?"
"Shouldn't be surprised. Anyhow, you stay where you are. Go to sleep and dream that you're playing for the school against Ripton. So long."
And Wyatt, laying the bar he had extracted on the window-sill, wriggled out. Mike saw him disappearing along the wall.
* * * * *
It was all very well for Wyatt to tell him to go to sleep, but it was not so easy to do it. The room was almost light; and Mike always found it difficult to sleep unless it was dark. He turned over on his side and shut his eyes, but he had never felt wider awake. Twice he heard the quarters chime from the school clock; and the second time he gave up the struggle. He got out of bed and went to the window. It was a lovely night, just the sort of night on which, if he had been at home, he would have been out after moths with a lantern.
A sharp yowl from an unseen cat told of Wyatt's presence somewhere in the big garden. He would have given much to be with him, but he realised that he was on parole. He had promised not to leave the house, and there was an end of it.
He turned away from the window and sat down on his bed. Then a beautiful, consoling thought came to him. He had given his word that he would not go into the garden, but nothing had been said about exploring inside the house. It was quite late now. Everybody would be in bed. It would be quite safe. And there must be all sorts of things to interest the visitor in Wain's part of the house. Food, perhaps. Mike felt that he could just do with a biscuit. And there were bound to be biscuits on the sideboard in Wain's dining-room.
He crept quietly out of the dormitory.
He had been long enough in the house to know the way, in spite of the fact that all was darkness. Down the stairs, along the passage to the left, and up a few more stairs at the end The beauty of the position was that the dining-room had two doors, one leading into Wain's part of the house, the other into the boys' section. Any interruption that there might be would come from the further door.
To make himself more secure he locked that door; then, turning up the incandescent light, he proceeded to look about him.
Mr. Wain's dining-room repaid inspection. There were the remains of supper on the table. Mike cut himself some cheese and took some biscuits from the box, feeling that he was doing himself well. This was Life. There was a little soda-water in the syphon. He finished it. As it swished into the glass, it made a noise that seemed to him like three hundred Niagaras; but nobody else in the house appeared to have noticed it.
He took some more biscuits, and an apple.
After which, feeling a new man, he examined the room.
And this was where the trouble began.
On a table in one corner stood a small gramophone. And gramophones happened to be Mike's particular craze.
All thought of risk left him. The soda-water may have got into his head, or he may have been in a particularly reckless mood, as indeed he was. The fact remains that he inserted the first record that came to hand, wound the machine up, and set it going.
The next moment, very loud and nasal, a voice from the machine announced that Mr. Godfrey Field would sing "The Quaint Old Bird." And, after a few preliminary chords, Mr. Field actually did so.
"Auntie went to Aldershot in a Paris pom-pom hat."
Mike stood and drained it in.
"... Good gracious (sang Mr. Field), what was that?"
It was a rattling at the handle of the door. A rattling that turned almost immediately into a spirited banging. A voice accompanied the banging. "Who is there?" inquired the voice. Mike recognised it as Mr. Wain's. He was not alarmed. The man who holds the ace of trumps has no need to be alarmed. His position was impregnable. The enemy was held in check by the locked door, while the other door offered an admirable and instantaneous way of escape.
Mike crept across the room on tip-toe and opened the window. It had occurred to him, just in time, that if Mr. Wain, on entering the room, found that the occupant had retired by way of the boys' part of the house, he might possibly obtain a clue to his identity. If, on the other hand, he opened the window, suspicion would be diverted. Mike had not read his "Raffles" for nothing.
The handle-rattling was resumed. This was good. So long as the frontal attack was kept up, there was no chance of his being taken in the rear—his only danger.
He stopped the gramophone, which had been pegging away patiently at "The Quaint Old Bird" all the time, and reflected. It seemed a pity to evacuate the position and ring down the curtain on what was, to date, the most exciting episode of his life; but he must not overdo the thing, and get caught. At any moment the noise might bring reinforcements to the besieging force, though it was not likely, for the dining-room was a long way from the dormitories; and it might flash upon their minds that there were two entrances to the room. Or the same bright thought might come to Wain himself.
"Now what," pondered Mike, "would A. J. Raffles have done in a case like this? Suppose he'd been after somebody's jewels, and found that they were after him, and he'd locked one door, and could get away by the other."
The answer was simple.
"He'd clear out," thought Mike.
Two minutes later he was in bed.
He lay there, tingling all over with the consciousness of having played a masterly game, when suddenly a gruesome idea came to him, and he sat up, breathless. Suppose Wain took it into his head to make a tour of the dormitories, to see that all was well! Wyatt was still in the garden somewhere, blissfully unconscious of what was going on indoors. He would be caught for a certainty!
IN WHICH A TIGHT CORNER IS EVADED
For a moment the situation paralysed Mike. Then he began to be equal to it. In times of excitement one thinks rapidly and clearly. The main point, the kernel of the whole thing, was that he must get into the garden somehow, and warn Wyatt. And at the same time, he must keep Mr. Wain from coming to the dormitory. He jumped out of bed, and dashed down the dark stairs.
He had taken care to close the dining-room door after him. It was open now, and he could hear somebody moving inside the room. Evidently his retreat had been made just in time.
He knocked at the door, and went in.
Mr. Wain was standing at the window, looking out. He spun round at the knock, and stared in astonishment at Mike's pyjama-clad figure. Mike, in spite of his anxiety, could barely check a laugh. Mr. Wain was a tall, thin man, with a serious face partially obscured by a grizzled beard. He wore spectacles, through which he peered owlishly at Mike. His body was wrapped in a brown dressing-gown. His hair was ruffled. He looked like some weird bird.
"Please, sir, I thought I heard a noise," said Mike.
Mr. Wain continued to stare.
"What are you doing here?" said he at last.
"Thought I heard a noise, please, sir."
"Please, sir, a row."
"You thought you heard——!"
The thing seemed to be worrying Mr. Wain.
"So I came down, sir," said Mike.
The house-master's giant brain still appeared to be somewhat clouded. He looked about him, and, catching sight of the gramophone, drew inspiration from it.
"Did you turn on the gramophone?" he asked.
"Me, sir!" said Mike, with the air of a bishop accused of contributing to the Police News.
"Of course not, of course not," said Mr. Wain hurriedly. "Of course not. I don't know why I asked. All this is very unsettling. What are you doing here?"
"Thought I heard a noise, please, sir."
"A row, sir."
If it was Mr. Wain's wish that he should spend the night playing Massa Tambo to his Massa Bones, it was not for him to baulk the house-master's innocent pleasure. He was prepared to continue the snappy dialogue till breakfast time.
"I think there must have been a burglar in here, Jackson."
"Looks like it, sir."
"I found the window open."
"He's probably in the garden, sir."
Mr. Wain looked out into the garden with an annoyed expression, as if its behaviour in letting burglars be in it struck him as unworthy of a respectable garden.
"He might be still in the house," said Mr. Wain, ruminatively.
"Not likely, sir."
"You think not?"
"Wouldn't be such a fool, sir. I mean, such an ass, sir."
"Perhaps you are right, Jackson."
"I shouldn't wonder if he was hiding in the shrubbery, sir."
Mr. Wain looked at the shrubbery, as who should say, "Et tu, Brute!"
"By Jove! I think I see him," cried Mike. He ran to the window, and vaulted through it on to the lawn. An inarticulate protest from Mr. Wain, rendered speechless by this move just as he had been beginning to recover his faculties, and he was running across the lawn into the shrubbery. He felt that all was well. There might be a bit of a row on his return, but he could always plead overwhelming excitement.
Wyatt was round at the back somewhere, and the problem was how to get back without being seen from the dining-room window. Fortunately a belt of evergreens ran along the path right up to the house. Mike worked his way cautiously through these till he was out of sight, then tore for the regions at the back.
The moon had gone behind the clouds, and it was not easy to find a way through the bushes. Twice branches sprang out from nowhere, and hit Mike smartly over the shins, eliciting sharp howls of pain.
On the second of these occasions a low voice spoke from somewhere on his right.
"Who on earth's that?" it said.
"Is that you, Wyatt? I say——"
The moon came out again, and Mike saw Wyatt clearly. His knees were covered with mould. He had evidently been crouching in the bushes on all fours.
"You young ass," said Wyatt. "You promised me that you wouldn't get out."
"Yes, I know, but——"
"I heard you crashing through the shrubbery like a hundred elephants. If you must get out at night and chance being sacked, you might at least have the sense to walk quietly."
"Yes, but you don't understand."
And Mike rapidly explained the situation.
"But how the dickens did he hear you, if you were in the dining-room?" asked Wyatt. "It's miles from his bedroom. You must tread like a policeman."
"It wasn't that. The thing was, you see, it was rather a rotten thing to do, I suppose, but I turned on the gramophone."
"The gramophone. It started playing 'The Quaint Old Bird.' Ripping it was, till Wain came along."
Wyatt doubled up with noiseless laughter.
"You're a genius," he said. "I never saw such a man. Well, what's the game now? What's the idea?"
"I think you'd better nip back along the wall and in through the window, and I'll go back to the dining-room. Then it'll be all right if Wain comes and looks into the dorm. Or, if you like, you might come down too, as if you'd just woke up and thought you'd heard a row."
"That's not a bad idea. All right. You dash along then. I'll get back."
Mr. Wain was still in the dining-room, drinking in the beauties of the summer night through the open window. He gibbered slightly when Mike reappeared.
"Jackson! What do you mean by running about outside the house in this way! I shall punish you very heavily. I shall certainly report the matter to the headmaster. I will not have boys rushing about the garden in their pyjamas. You will catch an exceedingly bad cold. You will do me two hundred lines, Latin and English. Exceedingly so. I will not have it. Did you not hear me call to you?"
"Please, sir, so excited," said Mike, standing outside with his hands on the sill.
"You have no business to be excited. I will not have it. It is exceedingly impertinent of you."
"Please, sir, may I come in?"
"Come in! Of course, come in. Have you no sense, boy? You are laying the seeds of a bad cold. Come in at once."
Mike clambered through the window.
"I couldn't find him, sir. He must have got out of the garden."
"Undoubtedly," said Mr. Wain. "Undoubtedly so. It was very wrong of you to search for him. You have been seriously injured. Exceedingly so"
He was about to say more on the subject when Wyatt strolled into the room. Wyatt wore the rather dazed expression of one who has been aroused from deep sleep. He yawned before he spoke.
"I thought I heard a noise, sir," he said.
He called Mr. Wain "father" in private, "sir" in public. The presence of Mike made this a public occasion.
"Has there been a burglary?"
"Yes," said Mike, "only he has got away."
"Shall I go out into the garden, and have a look round, sir?" asked Wyatt helpfully.
The question stung Mr. Wain into active eruption once more.
"Under no circumstances whatever," he said excitedly. "Stay where you are, James. I will not have boys running about my garden at night. It is preposterous. Inordinately so. Both of you go to bed immediately. I shall not speak to you again on this subject. I must be obeyed instantly. You hear me, Jackson? James, you understand me? To bed at once. And, if I find you outside your dormitory again to-night, you will both be punished with extreme severity. I will not have this lax and reckless behaviour."
"But the burglar, sir?" said Wyatt.
"We might catch him, sir," said Mike.
Mr. Wain's manner changed to a slow and stately sarcasm, in much the same way as a motor-car changes from the top speed to its first.
"I was under the impression," he said, in the heavy way almost invariably affected by weak masters in their dealings with the obstreperous, "I was distinctly under the impression that I had ordered you to retire immediately to your dormitory. It is possible that you mistook my meaning. In that case I shall be happy to repeat what I said. It is also in my mind that I threatened to punish you with the utmost severity if you did not retire at once. In these circumstances, James—and you, Jackson—you will doubtless see the necessity of complying with my wishes."
They made it so.
IN WHICH MIKE IS DISCUSSED
Trevor and Clowes, of Donaldson's, were sitting in their study a week after the gramophone incident, preparatory to going on the river. At least Trevor was in the study, getting tea ready. Clowes was on the window-sill, one leg in the room, the other outside, hanging over space. He loved to sit in this attitude, watching some one else work, and giving his views on life to whoever would listen to them. Clowes was tall, and looked sad, which he was not. Trevor was shorter, and very much in earnest over all that he did. On the present occasion he was measuring out tea with a concentration worthy of a general planning a campaign.
"One for the pot," said Clowes.
"All right," breathed Trevor. "Come and help, you slacker."
"You aren't doing a stroke."
"My lad, I'm thinking of Life. That's a thing you couldn't do. I often say to people, 'Good chap, Trevor, but can't think of Life. Give him a tea-pot and half a pound of butter to mess about with,' I say, 'and he's all right. But when it comes to deep thought, where is he? Among the also-rans.' That's what I say."
"Silly ass," said Trevor, slicing bread. "What particular rot were you thinking about just then? What fun it was sitting back and watching other fellows work, I should think."
"My mind at the moment," said Clowes, "was tensely occupied with the problem of brothers at school. Have you got any brothers, Trevor?"
"One. Couple of years younger than me. I say, we shall want some more jam to-morrow. Better order it to-day."
"See it done, Tigellinus, as our old pal Nero used to remark. Where is he? Your brother, I mean."
"That shows your sense. I have always had a high opinion of your sense, Trevor. If you'd been a silly ass, you'd have let your people send him here."
"Why not? Shouldn't have minded."
"I withdraw what I said about your sense. Consider it unsaid. I have a brother myself. Aged fifteen. Not a bad chap in his way. Like the heroes of the school stories. 'Big blue eyes literally bubbling over with fun.' At least, I suppose it's fun to him. Cheek's what I call it. My people wanted to send him here. I lodged a protest. I said, 'One Clowes is ample for any public school.'"
"You were right there," said Trevor.
"I said, 'One Clowes is luxury, two excess.' I pointed out that I was just on the verge of becoming rather a blood at Wrykyn, and that I didn't want the work of years spoiled by a brother who would think it a rag to tell fellows who respected and admired me——"
"Such as who?"
"——Anecdotes of a chequered infancy. There are stories about me which only my brother knows. Did I want them spread about the school? No, laddie, I did not. Hence, we see my brother two terms ago, packing up his little box, and tooling off to Rugby. And here am I at Wrykyn, with an unstained reputation, loved by all who know me, revered by all who don't; courted by boys, fawned upon by masters. People's faces brighten when I throw them a nod. If I frown——"
"Oh, come on," said Trevor.
Bread and jam and cake monopolised Clowes's attention for the next quarter of an hour. At the end of that period, however, he returned to his subject.
"After the serious business of the meal was concluded, and a simple hymn had been sung by those present," he said, "Mr. Clowes resumed his very interesting remarks. We were on the subject of brothers at school. Now, take the melancholy case of Jackson Brothers. My heart bleeds for Bob."
"Jackson's all right. What's wrong with him? Besides, naturally, young Jackson came to Wrykyn when all his brothers had been here."
"What a rotten argument. It's just the one used by chaps' people, too. They think how nice it will be for all the sons to have been at the same school. It may be all right after they're left, but while they're there, it's the limit. You say Jackson's all right. At present, perhaps, he is. But the term's hardly started yet."
"Look here, what's at the bottom of this sending young brothers to the same school as elder brothers?"
"Elder brother can keep an eye on him, I suppose."
"That's just it. For once in your life you've touched the spot. In other words, Bob Jackson is practically responsible for the kid. That's where the whole rotten trouble starts."
"Well, what happens? He either lets the kid rip, in which case he may find himself any morning in the pleasant position of having to explain to his people exactly why it is that little Willie has just received the boot, and why he didn't look after him better: or he spends all his spare time shadowing him to see that he doesn't get into trouble. He feels that his reputation hangs on the kid's conduct, so he broods over him like a policeman, which is pretty rotten for him and maddens the kid, who looks on him as no sportsman. Bob seems to be trying the first way, which is what I should do myself. It's all right, so far, but, as I said, the term's only just started."
"Young Jackson seems all right. What's wrong with him? He doesn't stick on side any way, which he might easily do, considering his cricket."
"There's nothing wrong with him in that way. I've talked to him several times at the nets, and he's very decent. But his getting into trouble hasn't anything to do with us. It's the masters you've got to consider."
"What's up? Does he rag?"
"From what I gather from fellows in his form he's got a genius for ragging. Thinks of things that don't occur to anybody else, and does them, too."
"He never seems to be in extra. One always sees him about on half-holidays."
"That's always the way with that sort of chap. He keeps on wriggling out of small rows till he thinks he can do anything he likes without being dropped on, and then all of a sudden he finds himself up to the eyebrows in a record smash. I don't say young Jackson will land himself like that. All I say is that he's just the sort who does. He's asking for trouble. Besides, who do you see him about with all the time?"
"He's generally with Wyatt when I meet him."
"Yes. Well, then!"
"What's wrong with Wyatt? He's one of the decentest men in the school."
"I know. But he's working up for a tremendous row one of these days, unless he leaves before it comes off. The odds are, if Jackson's so thick with him, that he'll be roped into it too. Wyatt wouldn't land him if he could help it, but he probably wouldn't realise what he was letting the kid in for. For instance, I happen to know that Wyatt breaks out of his dorm. every other night. I don't know if he takes Jackson with him. I shouldn't think so. But there's nothing to prevent Jackson following him on his own. And if you're caught at that game, it's the boot every time."
Trevor looked disturbed.
"Somebody ought to speak to Bob."
"What's the good? Why worry him? Bob couldn't do anything. You'd only make him do the policeman business, which he hasn't time for, and which is bound to make rows between them. Better leave him alone."
"I don't know. It would be a beastly thing for Bob if the kid did get into a really bad row."
"If you must tell anybody, tell the Gazeka. He's head of Wain's, and has got far more chance of keeping an eye on Jackson than Bob has."
"The Gazeka is a fool."
"All front teeth and side. Still, he's on the spot. But what's the good of worrying. It's nothing to do with us, anyhow. Let's stagger out, shall we?"
* * * * *
Trevor's conscientious nature, however, made it impossible for him to drop the matter. It disturbed him all the time that he and Clowes were on the river; and, walking back to the house, he resolved to see Bob about it during preparation.
He found him in his study, oiling a bat.
"I say, Bob," he said, "look here. Are you busy?"
"It's this way. Clowes and I were talking——"
"If Clowes was there he was probably talking. Well?"
"About your brother."
"Oh, by Jove," said Bob, sitting up. "That reminds me. I forgot to get the evening paper. Did he get his century all right?"
"Who?" asked Trevor, bewildered.
"My brother, J. W. He'd made sixty-three not out against Kent in this morning's paper. What happened?"
"I didn't get a paper either. I didn't mean that brother. I meant the one here."
"Oh, Mike? What's Mike been up to?"
"Nothing as yet, that I know of; but, I say, you know, he seems a great pal of Wyatt's."
"I know. I spoke to him about it."
"Oh, you did? That's all right, then."
"Not that there's anything wrong with Wyatt."
"Not a bit. Only he is rather mucking about this term, I hear. It's his last, so I suppose he wants to have a rag."
"Don't blame him."
"Nor do I. Rather rot, though, if he lugged your brother into a row by accident."
"I should get blamed. I think I'll speak to him again."
"I should, I think."
"I hope he isn't idiot enough to go out at night with Wyatt. If Wyatt likes to risk it, all right. That's his look out. But it won't do for Mike to go playing the goat too."
"Clowes suggested putting Firby-Smith on to him. He'd have more chance, being in the same house, of seeing that he didn't come a mucker than you would."
"I've done that. Smith said he'd speak to him."
"That's all right then. Is that a new bat?"
"Got it to-day. Smashed my other yesterday—against the school house."
Donaldson's had played a friendly with the school house during the last two days, and had beaten them.
"I thought I heard it go. You were rather in form."
"Better than at the beginning of the term, anyhow. I simply couldn't do a thing then. But my last three innings have been 33 not out, 18, and 51.
"I should think you're bound to get your first all right."
"Hope so. I see Mike's playing for the second against the O.W.s."
"Yes. Pretty good for his first term. You have a pro. to coach you in the holidays, don't you?"
"Yes. I didn't go to him much this last time. I was away a lot. But Mike fairly lived inside the net."
"Well, it's not been chucked away. I suppose he'll get his first next year. There'll be a big clearing-out of colours at the end of this term. Nearly all the first are leaving. Henfrey'll be captain, I expect."
"Saunders, the pro. at home, always says that Mike's going to be the star cricketer of the family. Better than J. W. even, he thinks. I asked him what he thought of me, and he said, 'You'll be making a lot of runs some day, Mr. Bob.' There's a subtle difference, isn't there? I shall have Mike cutting me out before I leave school if I'm not careful."
"Sort of infant prodigy," said Trevor. "Don't think he's quite up to it yet, though."
He went back to his study, and Bob, having finished his oiling and washed his hands, started on his Thucydides. And, in the stress of wrestling with the speech of an apparently delirious Athenian general, whose remarks seemed to contain nothing even remotely resembling sense and coherence, he allowed the question of Mike's welfare to fade from his mind like a dissolving view.
A ROW WITH THE TOWN
The beginning of a big row, one of those rows which turn a school upside down like a volcanic eruption and provide old boys with something to talk about, when they meet, for years, is not unlike the beginning of a thunderstorm.
You are walking along one seemingly fine day, when suddenly there is a hush, and there falls on you from space one big drop. The next moment the thing has begun, and you are standing in a shower-bath. It is just the same with a row. Some trivial episode occurs, and in an instant the place is in a ferment. It was so with the great picnic at Wrykyn.
The bare outlines of the beginning of this affair are included in a letter which Mike wrote to his father on the Sunday following the Old Wrykynian matches.
This was the letter:
"DEAR FATHER,—Thanks awfully for your letter. I hope you are quite well. I have been getting on all right at cricket lately. My scores since I wrote last have been 0 in a scratch game (the sun got in my eyes just as I played, and I got bowled); 15 for the third against an eleven of masters (without G. B. Jones, the Surrey man, and Spence); 28 not out in the Under Sixteen game; and 30 in a form match. Rather decent. Yesterday one of the men put down for the second against the O.W.'s second couldn't play because his father was very ill, so I played. Wasn't it luck? It's the first time I've played for the second. I didn't do much, because I didn't get an innings. They stop the cricket on O.W. matches day because they have a lot of rotten Greek plays and things which take up a frightful time, and half the chaps are acting, so we stop from lunch to four. Rot I call it. So I didn't go in, because they won the toss and made 215, and by the time we'd made 140 for 6 it was close of play. They'd stuck me in eighth wicket. Rather rot. Still, I may get another shot. And I made rather a decent catch at mid-on. Low down. I had to dive for it. Bob played for the first, but didn't do much. He was run out after he'd got ten. I believe he's rather sick about it.
"Rather a rummy thing happened after lock-up. I wasn't in it, but a fellow called Wyatt (awfully decent chap. He's Wain's step-son, only they bar one another) told me about it. He was in it all right. There's a dinner after the matches on O.W. day, and some of the chaps were going back to their houses after it when they got into a row with a lot of brickies from the town, and there was rather a row. There was a policeman mixed up in it somehow, only I don't quite know where he comes in. I'll find out and tell you next time I write. Love to everybody. Tell Marjory I'll write to her in a day or two.
"Your loving son,
"P.S.—I say, I suppose you couldn't send me five bob, could you? I'm rather broke.
"P.P.S.—Half-a-crown would do, only I'd rather it was five bob."
And, on the back of the envelope, these words: "Or a bob would be better than nothing."
* * * * *
The outline of the case was as Mike had stated. But there were certain details of some importance which had not come to his notice when he sent the letter. On the Monday they were public property.
The thing had happened after this fashion. At the conclusion of the day's cricket, all those who had been playing in the four elevens which the school put into the field against the old boys, together with the school choir, were entertained by the headmaster to supper in the Great Hall. The banquet, lengthened by speeches, songs, and recitations which the reciters imagined to be songs, lasted, as a rule, till about ten o'clock, when the revellers were supposed to go back to their houses by the nearest route, and turn in. This was the official programme. The school usually performed it with certain modifications and improvements.
About midway between Wrykyn, the school, and Wrykyn, the town, there stands on an island in the centre of the road a solitary lamp-post. It was the custom, and had been the custom for generations back, for the diners to trudge off to this lamp-post, dance round it for some minutes singing the school song or whatever happened to be the popular song of the moment, and then race back to their houses. Antiquity had given the custom a sort of sanctity, and the authorities, if they knew—which they must have done—never interfered.
But there were others.
Wrykyn, the town, was peculiarly rich in "gangs of youths." Like the vast majority of the inhabitants of the place, they seemed to have no work of any kind whatsoever to occupy their time, which they used, accordingly, to spend prowling about and indulging in a mild, brainless, rural type of hooliganism. They seldom proceeded to practical rowdyism and never except with the school. As a rule, they amused themselves by shouting rude chaff. The school regarded them with a lofty contempt, much as an Oxford man regards the townee. The school was always anxious for a row, but it was the unwritten law that only in special circumstances should they proceed to active measures. A curious dislike for school-and-town rows and most misplaced severity in dealing with the offenders when they took place, were among the few flaws in the otherwise admirable character of the headmaster of Wrykyn. It was understood that one scragged bargees at one's own risk, and, as a rule, it was not considered worth it.
But after an excellent supper and much singing and joviality, one's views are apt to alter. Risks which before supper seemed great, show a tendency to dwindle.
When, therefore, the twenty or so Wrykynians who were dancing round the lamp-post were aware, in the midst of their festivities, that they were being observed and criticised by an equal number of townees, and that the criticisms were, as usual, essentially candid and personal, they found themselves forgetting the headmaster's prejudices and feeling only that these outsiders must be put to the sword as speedily as possible, for the honour of the school.
Possibly, if the town brigade had stuck to a purely verbal form of attack, all might yet have been peace. Words can be overlooked.
But tomatoes cannot.
No man of spirit can bear to be pelted with over-ripe tomatoes for any length of time without feeling that if the thing goes on much longer he will be reluctantly compelled to take steps.
In the present crisis, the first tomato was enough to set matters moving.
As the two armies stood facing each other in silence under the dim and mysterious rays of the lamp, it suddenly whizzed out from the enemy's ranks, and hit Wyatt on the right ear.
There was a moment of suspense. Wyatt took out his handkerchief and wiped his face, over which the succulent vegetable had spread itself.
"I don't know how you fellows are going to pass the evening," he said quietly. "My idea of a good after-dinner game is to try and find the chap who threw that. Anybody coming?"
For the first five minutes it was as even a fight as one could have wished to see. It raged up and down the road without a pause, now in a solid mass, now splitting up into little groups. The science was on the side of the school. Most Wrykynians knew how to box to a certain extent. But, at any rate at first, it was no time for science. To be scientific one must have an opponent who observes at least the more important rules of the ring. It is impossible to do the latest ducks and hooks taught you by the instructor if your antagonist butts you in the chest, and then kicks your shins, while some dear friend of his, of whose presence you had no idea, hits you at the same time on the back of the head. The greatest expert would lose his science in such circumstances.
Probably what gave the school the victory in the end was the righteousness of their cause. They were smarting under a sense of injury, and there is nothing that adds a force to one's blows and a recklessness to one's style of delivering them more than a sense of injury.
Wyatt, one side of his face still showing traces of the tomato, led the school with a vigour that could not be resisted. He very seldom lost his temper, but he did draw the line at bad tomatoes.
Presently the school noticed that the enemy were vanishing little by little into the darkness which concealed the town. Barely a dozen remained. And their lonely condition seemed to be borne in upon these by a simultaneous brain-wave, for they suddenly gave the fight up, and stampeded as one man.
The leaders were beyond recall, but two remained, tackled low by Wyatt and Clowes after the fashion of the football-field.
* * * * *
The school gathered round its prisoners, panting. The scene of the conflict had shifted little by little to a spot some fifty yards from where it had started. By the side of the road at this point was a green, depressed looking pond. Gloomy in the daytime, it looked unspeakable at night. It struck Wyatt, whose finer feelings had been entirely blotted out by tomato, as an ideal place in which to bestow the captives.
"Let's chuck 'em in there," he said.
The idea was welcomed gladly by all, except the prisoners. A move was made towards the pond, and the procession had halted on the brink, when a new voice made itself heard.
"Now then," it said, "what's all this?"
A stout figure in policeman's uniform was standing surveying them with the aid of a small bull's-eye lantern.
"What's all this?"
"It's all right," said Wyatt.
"All right, is it? What's on?"
One of the prisoners spoke.
"Make 'em leave hold of us, Mr. Butt. They're a-going to chuck us in the pond."
"Ho!" said the policeman, with a change in his voice. "Ho, are they? Come now, young gentleman, a lark's a lark, but you ought to know where to stop."
"It's anything but a lark," said Wyatt in the creamy voice he used when feeling particularly savage. "We're the Strong Right Arm of Justice. That's what we are. This isn't a lark, it's an execution."
"I don't want none of your lip, whoever you are," said Mr. Butt, understanding but dimly, and suspecting impudence by instinct.
"This is quite a private matter," said Wyatt. "You run along on your beat. You can't do anything here."
"Shove 'em in, you chaps."
"Stop!" From Mr. Butt.
"Oo-er!" From prisoner number one.
There was a sounding splash as willing hands urged the first of the captives into the depths. He ploughed his way to the bank, scrambled out, and vanished.
Wyatt turned to the other prisoner.
"You'll have the worst of it, going in second. He'll have churned up the mud a bit. Don't swallow more than you can help, or you'll go getting typhoid. I expect there are leeches and things there, but if you nip out quick they may not get on to you. Carry on, you chaps."
It was here that the regrettable incident occurred. Just as the second prisoner was being launched, Constable Butt, determined to assert himself even at the eleventh hour, sprang forward, and seized the captive by the arm. A drowning man will clutch at a straw. A man about to be hurled into an excessively dirty pond will clutch at a stout policeman. The prisoner did.
Constable Butt represented his one link with dry land. As he came within reach he attached himself to his tunic with the vigour and concentration of a limpet.
At the same moment the executioners gave their man the final heave. The policeman realised his peril too late. A medley of noises made the peaceful night hideous. A howl from the townee, a yell from the policeman, a cheer from the launching party, a frightened squawk from some birds in a neighbouring tree, and a splash compared with which the first had been as nothing, and all was over.
The dark waters were lashed into a maelstrom; and then two streaming figures squelched up the further bank.
The school stood in silent consternation. It was no occasion for light apologies.
"Do you know," said Wyatt, as he watched the Law shaking the water from itself on the other side of the pond, "I'm not half sure that we hadn't better be moving!"
BEFORE THE STORM
Your real, devastating row has many points of resemblance with a prairie fire. A man on a prairie lights his pipe, and throws away the match. The flame catches a bunch of dry grass, and, before any one can realise what is happening, sheets of fire are racing over the country; and the interested neighbours are following their example. (I have already compared a row with a thunderstorm; but both comparisons may stand. In dealing with so vast a matter as a row there must be no stint.)
The tomato which hit Wyatt in the face was the thrown-away match. But for the unerring aim of the town marksman great events would never have happened. A tomato is a trivial thing (though it is possible that the man whom it hits may not think so), but in the present case, it was the direct cause of epoch-making trouble.
The tomato hit Wyatt. Wyatt, with others, went to look for the thrower. The remnants of the thrower's friends were placed in the pond, and "with them," as they say in the courts of law, Police Constable Alfred Butt.
Following the chain of events, we find Mr. Butt, having prudently changed his clothes, calling upon the headmaster.
The headmaster was grave and sympathetic; Mr. Butt fierce and revengeful.
The imagination of the force is proverbial. Nurtured on motor-cars and fed with stop-watches, it has become world-famous. Mr. Butt gave free rein to it.
"Threw me in, they did, sir. Yes, sir."
"Threw you in!"
"Yes, sir. Plop!" said Mr. Butt, with a certain sad relish.
"Really, really!" said the headmaster. "Indeed! This is—dear me! I shall certainly—They threw you in!—Yes, I shall—certainly——"
Encouraged by this appreciative reception of his story, Mr. Butt started it again, right from the beginning.
"I was on my beat, sir, and I thought I heard a disturbance. I says to myself, ''Allo,' I says, 'a frakkus. Lots of them all gathered together, and fighting.' I says, beginning to suspect something, 'Wot's this all about, I wonder?' I says. 'Blow me if I don't think it's a frakkus.' And," concluded Mr. Butt, with the air of one confiding a secret, "and it was a frakkus!"
"And these boys actually threw you into the pond?"
"Plop, sir! Mrs. Butt is drying my uniform at home at this very moment as we sit talking here, sir. She says to me, 'Why, whatever 'ave you been a-doing? You're all wet.' And," he added, again with the confidential air, "I was wet, too. Wringin' wet."
The headmaster's frown deepened.
"And you are certain that your assailants were boys from the school?"
"Sure as I am that I'm sitting here, sir. They all 'ad their caps on their heads, sir."
"I have never heard of such a thing. I can hardly believe that it is possible. They actually seized you, and threw you into the water——"
"Splish, sir!" said the policeman, with a vividness of imagery both surprising and gratifying.
The headmaster tapped restlessly on the floor with his foot.
"How many boys were there?" he asked.
"Couple of 'undred, sir," said Mr. Butt promptly.
"It was dark, sir, and I couldn't see not to say properly; but if you ask me my frank and private opinion I should say couple of 'undred."
"H'm—Well, I will look into the matter at once. They shall be punished."
"Yes—Thank you, constable. Good-night."
The headmaster of Wrykyn was not a motorist. Owing to this disadvantage he made a mistake. Had he been a motorist, he would have known that statements by the police in the matter of figures must be divided by any number from two to ten, according to discretion. As it was, he accepted Constable Butt's report almost as it stood. He thought that he might possibly have been mistaken as to the exact numbers of those concerned in his immersion; but he accepted the statement in so far as it indicated that the thing had been the work of a considerable section of the school, and not of only one or two individuals. And this made all the difference to his method of dealing with the affair. Had he known how few were the numbers of those responsible for the cold in the head which subsequently attacked Constable Butt, he would have asked for their names, and an extra lesson would have settled the entire matter.
As it was, however, he got the impression that the school, as a whole, was culpable, and he proceeded to punish the school as a whole.
It happened that, about a week before the pond episode, a certain member of the Royal Family had recovered from a dangerous illness, which at one time had looked like being fatal. No official holiday had been given to the schools in honour of the recovery, but Eton and Harrow had set the example, which was followed throughout the kingdom, and Wrykyn had come into line with the rest. Only two days before the O.W.'s matches the headmaster had given out a notice in the hall that the following Friday would be a whole holiday; and the school, always ready to stop work, had approved of the announcement exceedingly.
The step which the headmaster decided to take by way of avenging Mr. Butt's wrongs was to stop this holiday.