by P. G. Wodehouse
[Dedication] TO JOAN, EFFIE AND ERNESTINE BOWES-LYON
1 Patient Perseverance Produces Pugilistic Prodigies
2 Thieves Break in and Steal
3 An Unimportant By-product
4 Certain Revelations
5 Concerning the Mutual Friend
6 A Literary Banquet
7 Barrett Explores
8 Barrett Ceases to Explore
9 Enter the Sleuth-hound
10 Mr Thompson Investigates
11 The Sports
12 An Interesting Interview
13 Sir Alfred Scores
14 The Long Run
15 Mr Roberts Explains
16 The Disappearance of J. Thomson
17 'We'll Proceed to Search for Thomson if He Be Above the Ground'
18 In Which the Affairs of Various Persons Are Wound Up
PATIENT PERSEVERANCE PRODUCES PUGILISTIC PRODIGIES
'Where have I seen that face before?' said a voice. Tony Graham looked up from his bag.
'Hullo, Allen,' he said, 'what the dickens are you up here for?'
'I was rather thinking of doing a little boxing. If you've no objection, of course.'
'But you ought to be on a bed of sickness, and that sort of thing. I heard you'd crocked yourself.'
'So I did. Nothing much, though. Trod on myself during a game of fives, and twisted my ankle a bit.'
'In for the middles, of course?'
'So am I.'
'Yes, so I saw in the Sportsman. It says you weigh eleven-three.'
'Bit more, really, I believe. Shan't be able to have any lunch, or I shall have to go in for the heavies. What are you?'
'Just eleven. Well, let's hope we meet in the final.'
'Rather,' said Tony.
It was at Aldershot—to be more exact, in the dressing-room of the Queen's Avenue Gymnasium at Aldershot—that the conversation took place. From east and west, and north and south, from Dan even unto Beersheba, the representatives of the public schools had assembled to box, fence, and perform gymnastic prodigies for fame and silver medals. The room was full of all sorts and sizes of them, heavy-weights looking ponderous and muscular, feather-weights diminutive but wiry, light-weights, middle-weights, fencers, and gymnasts in scores, some wearing the unmistakable air of the veteran, for whom Aldershot has no mysteries, others nervous, and wishing themselves back again at school.
Tony Graham had chosen a corner near the door. This was his first appearance at Aldershot. St Austin's was his School, and he was by far the best middle-weight there. But his doubts as to his ability to hold his own against all-comers were extreme, nor were they lessened by the knowledge that his cousin, Allen Thomson, was to be one of his opponents. Indeed, if he had not been a man of mettle, he might well have thought that with Allen's advent his chances were at an end.
Allen was at Rugby. He was the son of a baronet who owned many acres in Wiltshire, and held fixed opinions on the subject of the whole duty of man, who, he held, should be before anything else a sportsman. Both the Thomsons—Allen's brother Jim was at St Austin's in the same House as Tony—were good at most forms of sport. Jim, however, had never taken to the art of boxing very kindly, but, by way of compensation, Allen had skill enough for two. He was a splendid boxer, quick, neat, scientific. He had been up to Aldershot three times, once as a feather-weight and twice as a light-weight, and each time he had returned with the silver medal.
As for Tony, he was more a fighter than a sparrer. When he paid a visit to his uncle's house he boxed with Allen daily, and invariably got the worst of it. Allen was too quick for him. But he was clever with his hands. His supply of pluck was inexhaustible, and physically he was as hard as nails.
'Is your ankle all right again, now?' he asked.
'Pretty well. It wasn't much of a sprain. Interfered with my training a good bit, though. I ought by rights to be well under eleven stone. You're all right, I suppose?'
'Not bad. Boxing takes it out of you more than footer or a race. I was in good footer training long before I started to get fit for Aldershot. But I think I ought to get along fairly well. Any idea who's in against us?'
'Harrow, Felsted, Wellington. That's all, I think.'
'Good. Well, I hope your first man mops you up. I've a conscientious objection to scrapping with you.'
Allen laughed. 'You'd be all right,' he said, 'if you weren't so beastly slow with your guard. Why don't you wake up? You hit like blazes.'
'I think I shall start guarding two seconds before you lead. By the way, don't have any false delicacy about spoiling my aristocratic features. On the ground of relationship, you know.'
'Rather not. Let auld acquaintance be forgot. I'm not Thomson for the present. I'm Rugby.'
'Just so, and I'm St Austin's. Personally, I'm going for the knock-out. You won't feel hurt?'
This was in the days before the Headmasters' Conference had abolished the knock-out blow, and a boxer might still pay attentions to the point of his opponent's jaw with an easy conscience.
'I probably shall if it comes off,' said Allen. 'I say, it occurs to me that we shall be weighing-in in a couple of minutes, and I haven't started to change yet. Good, I've not brought evening dress or somebody else's footer clothes, as usually happens on these festive occasions.'
He was just pulling on his last boot when a Gymnasium official appeared in the doorway.
'Will all those who are entering for the boxing get ready for the weighing-in, please?' he said, and a general exodus ensued.
The weighing-in at the Public Schools' Boxing Competition is something in the nature of a religious ceremony, but even religious ceremonies come to an end, and after a quarter of an hour or so Tony was weighed in the balance and found correct. He strolled off on a tour of inspection.
After a time he lighted upon the St Austin's Gym Instructor, whom he had not seen since they had parted that morning, the one on his way to the dressing-room, the other to the refreshment-bar for a modest quencher.
'Well, Mr Graham?'
'Hullo, Dawkins. What time does this show start? Do you know when the middle-weights come on?'
'Well, you can't say for certain. They may keep 'em back a bit or they may make a start with 'em first thing. No, the light-weights are going to start. What number did you draw, sir?'
'Then you'll be in the first middle-weight pair. That'll be after these two gentlemen.'
'These two gentlemen', the first of the light-weights, were by this time in the middle of a warmish opening round. Tony watched them with interest and envy. 'How beastly nippy they are,' he said.
'Wish I could duck like that,' he added.
'Well, the 'ole thing there is you 'ave to watch the other man's eyes. But light-weights is always quicker at the duck than what heavier men are. You get the best boxing in the light-weights, though the feathers spar quicker.'
Soon afterwards the contest finished, amidst volleys of applause. It had been a spirited battle, and an exceedingly close thing. The umpires disagreed. After a short consultation, the referee gave it as his opinion that on the whole R. Cloverdale, of Bedford, had had a shade the worse of the exchanges, and that in consequence J. Robinson, of St Paul's, was the victor. This was what he meant. What he said was, 'Robinson wins,' in a sharp voice, as if somebody were arguing about it. The pair then shook hands and retired.
'First bout, middle-weights,' shrilled the M.C. 'W.P. Ross (Wellington) and A.C.R. Graham (St Austin's).'
Tony and his opponent retired for a moment to the changing-room, and then made their way amidst applause on to the raised stage on which the ring was pitched. Mr W.P. Ross proceeded to the farther corner of the ring, where he sat down and was vigorously massaged by his two seconds. Tony took the opposite corner and submitted himself to the same process. It is a very cheering thing at any time to have one's arms and legs kneaded like bread, and it is especially pleasant if one is at all nervous. It sends a glow through the entire frame. Like somebody's something it is both grateful and comforting.
Tony's seconds were curious specimens of humanity. One was a gigantic soldier, very gruff and taciturn, and with decided leanings towards pessimism. The other was also a soldier. He was in every way his colleague's opposite. He was half his size, had red hair, and was bubbling over with conversation. The other could not interfere with his hair or his size, but he could with his conversation, and whenever he attempted a remark, he was promptly silenced, much to his disgust.
'Plenty o' moosle 'ere, Fred,' he began, as he rubbed Tony's left arm.
'Moosle ain't everything,' said the other, gloomily, and there was silence again.
'Are you ready? Seconds away,' said the referee.
The two stood up to one another.
The Wellington representative was a plucky boxer, but he was not in the same class as Tony. After a few exchanges, the latter got to work, and after that there was only one man in the ring. In the middle of the second round the referee stopped the fight, and gave it to Tony, who came away as fresh as he had started, and a great deal happier and more confident.
'Did us proud, Fred,' began the garrulous man.
'Yes, but that 'un ain't nothing. You wait till he meets young Thomson. I've seen 'im box 'ere three years, and never bin beat yet. Three bloomin' years. Yus.'
This might have depressed anybody else, but as Tony already knew all there was to be known about Allen's skill with the gloves, it had no effect upon him.
A sanguinary heavy-weight encounter was followed by the first bout of the feathers and the second of the light-weights, and then it was Allen's turn to fight the Harrow representative.
It was not a very exciting bout. Allen took things very easily. He knew his training was by no means all it should have been, and it was not his game to take it out of himself with any firework business in the trial heats. He would reserve that for the final. So he sparred three gentle rounds with the Harrow sportsman, just doing sufficient to keep the lead and obtain the verdict after the last round. He finished without having turned a hair. He had only received one really hard blow, and that had done no damage. After this came a long series of fights. The heavy-weights shed their blood in gallons for name and fame. The feather-weights gave excellent exhibitions of science, and the light-weight pairs were fought off until there remained only the final to be decided, Robinson, of St Paul's, against a Charterhouse boxer.
In the middle-weights there were three competitors still in the running, Allen, Tony, and a Felsted man. They drew lots, and the bye fell to Tony, who put up an uninteresting three rounds with one of the soldiers, neither fatiguing himself very much. Henderson, of Felsted, proved a much tougher nut to crack than Allen's first opponent. He was a rushing boxer, and in the first round had, if anything, the best of it. In the last two, however, Allen gradually forged ahead, gaining many points by his perfect style alone. He was declared the winner, but he felt much more tired than he had done after his first fight.
By the time he was required again, however, he had had plenty of breathing space. The final of the light-weights had been decided, and Robinson, of St Paul's, after the custom of Paulines, had set the crown upon his afternoon's work by fighting the Carthusian to a standstill in the first round. There only remained now the finals of the heavies and middles.
It was decided to take the latter first.
Tony had his former seconds, and Dawkins had come to his corner to see him through the ordeal.
'The 'ole thing 'ere,' he kept repeating, 'is to keep goin' 'ard all the time and wear 'im out. He's too quick for you to try any sparrin' with.'
'Yes,' said Tony.
'The 'ole thing,' continued the expert, 'is to feint with your left and 'it with your right.' This was excellent in theory, no doubt, but Tony felt that when he came to put it into practice Allen might have other schemes on hand and bring them off first.
'Are you ready? Seconds out of the ring.... Time!'
'Go in, sir, 'ard,' whispered the red-haired man as Tony rose from his place.
Allen came up looking pleased with matters in general. He gave Tony a cousinly grin as they shook hands. Tony did not respond. He was feeling serious, and wondering if he could bring off his knock-out before the three rounds were over. He had his doubts.
The fight opened slowly. Both were cautious, for each knew the other's powers. Suddenly, just as Tony was thinking of leading, Allen came in like a flash. A straight left between the eyes, a right on the side of the head, and a second left on the exact tip of the nose, and he was out again, leaving Tony with a helpless feeling of impotence and disgust.
Then followed more sparring. Tony could never get in exactly the right position for a rush. Allen circled round him with an occasional feint. Then he hit out with the left. Tony ducked. Again he hit, and again Tony ducked, but this time the left stopped halfway, and his right caught Tony on the cheek just as he swayed to one side. It staggered him, and before he could recover himself, in darted Allen again with another trio of blows, ducked a belated left counter, got in two stinging hits on the ribs, and finished with a left drive which took Tony clean off his feet and deposited him on the floor beside the ropes.
'Silence, please,' said the referee, as a burst of applause greeted this feat.
Tony was up again in a moment. He began to feel savage. He had expected something like this, but that gave him no consolation. He made up his mind that he really would rush this time, but just as he was coming in, Allen came in instead. It seemed to Tony for the next half-minute that his cousin's fists were never out of his face. He looked on the world through a brown haze of boxing-glove. Occasionally his hand met something solid which he took to be Allen, but this was seldom, and, whenever it happened, it only seemed to bring him back again like a boomerang. Just at the most exciting point, 'Time' was called.
The pessimist shook his head gloomily as he sponged Tony's face.
'You must lead if you want to 'it 'im,' said the garrulous man. 'You're too slow. Go in at 'im, sir, wiv both 'ands, an' you'll be all right. Won't 'e, Fred?'
'I said 'ow it 'ud be,' was the only reply Fred would vouchsafe.
Tony was half afraid the referee would give the fight against him without another round, but to his joy 'Time' was duly called. He came up to the scratch as game as ever, though his head was singing. He meant to go in for all he was worth this round.
And go in he did. Allen had managed, in performing a complicated manoeuvre, to place himself in a corner, and Tony rushed. He was sent out again with a flush hit on the face. He rushed again, and again met Allen's left. Then he got past, and in the confined space had it all his own way. Science did not tell here. Strength was the thing that scored, hard half-arm smashes, left and right, at face and body, and the guard could look after itself.
Allen upper-cut him twice, but after that he was nowhere. Tony went in with both hands. There was a prolonged rally, and it was not until 'Time' had been called that Allen was able to extricate himself. Tony's blows had been mostly body blows, and very warm ones at that.
'That's right, sir,' was the comment of the red-headed second. 'Keep 'em both goin' hard, and you'll win yet. You 'ad 'im proper then. 'Adn't 'e, Fred?'
And even the pessimist was obliged to admit that Tony could fight, even if he was not quick with his guard.
Allen took the ring slowly. His want of training had begun to tell on him, and some of Tony's blows had landed in very tender spots. He knew that he could win if his wind held out, but he had misgivings. The gloves seemed to weigh down his hands. Tony opened the ball with a tremendous rush. Allen stopped him neatly. There was an interval while the two sparred for an opening. Then Allen feinted and dashed in. Tony did not hit him once. It was the first round over again. Left right, left right, and, finally, as had happened before, a tremendously hot shot which sent him under the ropes. He got up, and again Allen darted in. Tony met him with a straight left. A rapid exchange of blows, and the end came. Allen lashed out with his left. Tony ducked sharply, and brought his right across with every ounce of his weight behind it, fairly on to the point of the jaw. The right cross-counter is distinctly one of those things which it is more blessed to give than to receive. Allen collapsed.
'... nine ... ten.'
The time-keeper closed his watch.
'Graham wins,' said the referee, 'look after that man there.'
THIEVES BREAK IN AND STEAL
It was always the custom for such Austinians as went up to represent the School at the annual competition to stop the night in the town. It was not, therefore, till just before breakfast on the following day that Tony arrived back at his House. The boarding Houses at St Austin's formed a fringe to the School grounds. The two largest were the School House and Merevale's. Tony was at Merevale's. He was walking up from the station with Welch, another member of Merevale's, who had been up to Aldershot as a fencer, when, at the entrance to the School grounds, he fell in with Robinson, his fag. Robinson was supposed by many (including himself) to be a very warm man for the Junior Quarter, which was a handicap race, especially as an injudicious Sports Committee had given him ten yards' start on Simpson, whom he would have backed himself to beat, even if the positions had been reversed. Being a wise youth, however, and knowing that the best of runners may fail through under-training, he had for the last week or so been going in for a steady course of over-training, getting up in the small hours and going for before-breakfast spins round the track on a glass of milk and a piece of bread. Master R. Robinson was nothing if not thorough in matters of this kind.
But today things of greater moment than the Sports occupied his mind. He had news. He had great news. He was bursting with news, and he hailed the approach of Tony and Welch with pleasure. With any other leading light of the School he might have felt less at ease, but with Tony it was different. When you have underdone a fellow's eggs and overdone his toast and eaten the remainder for a term or two, you begin to feel that mere social distinctions and differences of age no longer form a barrier.
Besides, he had news which was absolutely fresh, news to which no one could say pityingly: 'What! Have you only just heard that!'
'Hullo, Graham,' he said. 'Have you come back?' Tony admitted that he had. 'Jolly good for getting the Middles.' (A telegram had, of course, preceded Tony.) 'I say, Graham, do you know what's happened? There'll be an awful row about it. Someone's been and broken into the Pav.'
'Rot! How do you know?'
'There's a pane taken clean out. I booked it in a second as I was going past to the track.'
'First Fifteen. The window facing away from the Houses.'
'That's rum,' said Welch. 'Wonder what a burglar wanted in the First room. Isn't even a hair-brush there generally.'
Robinson's eyes dilated with honest pride. This was good. This was better than he had looked for. Not only were they unaware of the burglary, but they had not even an idea as to the recent event which had made the First room so fit a hunting-ground for the burgling industry. There are few pleasures keener than the pleasure of telling somebody something he didn't know before.
'Great Scott,' he remarked, 'haven't you heard? No, of course you went up to Aldershot before they did it. By Jove.'
'Why, they shunted all the Sports prizes from the Board Room to the Pav. and shot 'em into the First room. I don't suppose there's one left now. I should like to see the Old Man's face when he hears about it. Good mind to go and tell him now, only he'd have a fit. Jolly exciting, though, isn't it?'
'Well,' said Tony, 'of all the absolutely idiotic things to do! Fancy putting—there must have been at least fifty pounds' worth of silver and things. Fancy going and leaving all that overnight in the Pav!'
'Rotten!' agreed Welch. 'Wonder whose idea it was.'
'Look here, Robinson,' said Tony, 'you'd better buck up and change, or you'll be late for brekker. Come on, Welch, we'll go and inspect the scene of battle.'
Robinson trotted off, and Welch and Tony made their way to the Pavilion. There, sure enough, was the window, or rather the absence of window. A pane had been neatly removed, evidently in the orthodox way by means of a diamond.
'May as well climb up and see if there's anything to be seen,' said Welch.
'All right,' said Tony, 'give us a leg up. Right-ho. By Jove, I'm stiff.'
'No. There's a cloth sort of thing covering what I suppose are the prizes. I see how the chap, whoever he was, got in. You've only got to break the window, draw a couple of bolts, and there you are. Shall I go in and investigate?'
'Better not. It's rather the thing, I fancy, in these sorts of cases, to leave everything just as it is.'
'Rum business,' said Tony, as he rejoined Welch on terra firma. 'Wonder if they'll catch the chap. We'd better be getting back to the House now. It struck the quarter years ago.'
When Tony, some twenty minutes later, shook off the admiring crowd who wanted a full description of yesterday's proceedings, and reached his study, he found there James Thomson, brother to Allen Thomson, as the playbills say. Jim was looking worried. Tony had noticed it during breakfast, and had wondered at the cause. He was soon enlightened.
'Hullo, Jim,' said he. 'What's up with you this morning? Feeling chippy?'
'No. No, I'm all right. I'm in a beastly hole though. I wanted to talk to you about it.'
'Weigh in, then. We've got plenty of time before school.'
'It's about this Aldershot business. How on earth did you manage to lick Allen like that? I thought he was a cert.'
'Yes, so did I. The 'ole thing there, as Dawkins 'ud say, was, I knocked him out. It's the sort of thing that's always happening. I wasn't in it at all except during the second round, when I gave him beans rather in one of the corners. My aunt, it was warm while it lasted. First round, I didn't hit him once. He was better than I thought he'd be, and I knew from experience he was pretty good.'
'Yes, you look a bit bashed.'
'Yes. Feel it too. But what's the row with you?'
'Just this. I had a couple of quid on Allen, and the rotter goes and gets licked.'
'Good Lord. Whom did you bet with?'
'With Allen himself.'
'Mean to say Allen was crock enough to bet against himself? He must have known he was miles better than anyone else in. He's got three medals there already.'
'No, you see his bet with me was only a hedge. He'd got five to four or something in quids on with a chap in his House at Rugby on himself. He wanted a hedge because he wasn't sure about his ankle being all right. You know he hurt it. So I gave him four to one in half-sovereigns. I thought he was a cert, with apologies to you.'
'Don't mention it. So he was a cert. It was only the merest fluke I managed to out him when I did. If he'd hung on to the end, he'd have won easy. He'd been scoring points all through.'
'I know. So The Sportsman says. Just like my luck.'
'I can't see what you want to bet at all for. You're bound to come a mucker sooner or later. Can't you raise the two quid?'
'I'm broke except for half a crown.'
'I'd lend it to you like a shot if I had it, of course. But you don't find me with two quid to my name at the end of term. Won't Allen wait?'
'He would if it was only him. But this other chap wants his oof badly for something and he's leaving and going abroad or something at the end of term. Anyhow, I know he's keen on getting it. Allen told me.'
Tony pondered for a moment. 'Look here,' he said at last, 'can't you ask your pater? He usually heaves his money about pretty readily, doesn't he?'
'Well, you see, he wouldn't send me two quid off the reel without wanting to know all about it, and why I couldn't get on to the holidays with five bob, and I'd either have to fake up a lot of lies, which I'm not going to do—'
'Of course not.'
'Or else I must tell him I've been betting.'
'Well, he bets himself, doesn't he?'
'That's just where the whole business slips up,' replied Jim, prodding the table with a pen in a misanthropic manner. 'Betting's the one thing he's absolutely down on. He got done rather badly once a few years ago. Believe he betted on Orme that year he got poisoned. Anyhow he's always sworn to lynch us if we made fools of ourselves that way. So if I asked him, I'd not only get beans myself, besides not getting any money out of him, but Allen would get scalped too, which he wouldn't see at all.'
'Yes, it's no good doing that. Haven't you any other source of revenue?'
'Yes, there's just one chance. If that doesn't come off, I'm done. My pater said he'd give me a quid for every race I won at the sports. I got the half yesterday all right when you were up at Aldershot.'
'Good man. I didn't hear about that. What time? Anything good?'
'Nothing special. 2-7 and three-fifths.'
'That's awfully good. You ought to pull off the mile, too, I should think.'
'Yes, with luck. Drake's the man I'm afraid of. He's done it in 4-48 twice during training. He was second in the half yesterday by about three yards, but you can't tell anything from that. He sprinted too late.'
'What's your best for the mile?'
'I have done 4-47, but only once. 4-48's my average, so there's nothing to choose between us on paper.'
'Well, you've got more to make you buck up than he has. There must be something in that.'
'Yes, by Jove. I'll win if I expire on the tape. I shan't spare myself with that quid on the horizon.'
'No. Hullo, there's the bell. We must buck up. Going to Charteris' gorge tonight?'
'Yes, but I shan't eat anything. No risks for me.'
'Rusks are more in your line now. Come on.'
And, in the excitement of these more personal matters, Tony entirely forgot to impart the news of the Pavilion burglary to him.
AN UNIMPORTANT BY-PRODUCT
The news, however, was not long in spreading. Robinson took care of that. On the way to school he overtook his friend Morrison, a young gentleman who had the unique distinction of being the rowdiest fag in Ward's House, which, as any Austinian could have told you, was the rowdiest house in the School.
'I say, Morrison, heard the latest?'
'Chap broke into the Pav. last night.'
'No, you ass, a regular burglar. After the Sports prizes.'
'Look here, Robinson, try that on the kids.'
'Just what I am doing,' said Robinson.
This delicate reference to Morrison's tender years had the effect of creating a disturbance. Two School House juniors, who happened to be passing, naturally forsook all their other aims and objects and joined the battle.
'What's up?' asked one of them, dusting himself hastily as they stopped to take breath. It was always his habit to take up any business that might attract his attention, and ask for explanations afterwards.
'This kid—' began Morrison.
'Kid yourself, Morrison.'
'This lunatic, then.' Robinson allowed the emendation to pass. 'This lunatic's got some yarn on about the Pav. being burgled.'
'So it is. Tell you I saw it myself.'
'Did it yourself, probably.'
'How do you know, anyway? You seem so jolly certain about it.'
'Why, there's a pane of glass cut out of the window in the First room.'
'Shouldn't wonder, you know,' said Dimsdale, one of the two School House fags, judicially, 'if the kid wasn't telling the truth for once in his life. Those pots must be worth something. Don't you think so, Scott?'
Scott admitted that there might be something in the idea, and that, however foreign to his usual habits, Robinson might on this occasion be confining himself more or less to strict fact.
'There you are, then,' said Robinson, vengefully. 'Shows what a fat lot you know what you're talking about, Morrison.'
'Morrison's a fool,' said Scott. 'Ever since he got off the bottom bench in form there's been no holding him.'
'All the same,' said Morrison, feeling that matters were going against him, 'I shan't believe it till I see it.'
'What'll you bet?' said Robinson.
'I never bet,' replied Morrison with scorn.
'You daren't. You know you'd lose.'
'All right, then, I'll bet a penny I'm right.' He drew a deep breath, as who should say, 'It's a lot of money, but it's worth risking it.'
'You'll lose that penny, old chap,' said Robinson. 'That's to say,' he added thoughtfully, 'if you ever pay up.'
'You've got us as witnesses,' said Dimsdale. 'We'll see that he shells out. Scott, remember you're a witness.
'Right-ho,' said Scott.
At this moment the clock struck nine, and as each of the principals in this financial transaction, and both the witnesses, were expected to be in their places to answer their names at 8.58, they were late. And as they had all been late the day before and the day before that, they were presented with two hundred lines apiece. Which shows more than ever how wrong it is to bet.
The news continuing to circulate, by the end of morning school it was generally known that a gang of desperadoes, numbering at least a hundred, had taken the Pavilion down, brick by brick, till only the foundations were left standing, and had gone off with every jot and tittle of the unfortunately placed Sports prizes.
At the quarter-to-eleven interval, the School had gone en masse to see what it could see, and had stared at the window with much the same interest as they were wont to use in inspecting the First Eleven pitch on the morning of a match—a curious custom, by the way, but one very generally observed.
Then the official news of the extent of the robbery was spread abroad. It appeared that the burglar had by no means done the profession credit, for out of a vast collection of prizes ranging from the vast and silver Mile Challenge Cup to the pair of fives-gloves with which the 'under twelve' disciple of Deerfoot was to be rewarded, he had selected only three. Two of these were worth having, being the challenge cup for the quarter and the non-challenge cup for the hundred yards, both silver, but the third was a valueless flask, and the general voice of the School was loud in condemning the business abilities of one who could select his swag in so haphazard a manner. It was felt to detract from the merit of the performance. The knowing ones, however, gave it as their opinion that the man must have been frightened by something, and so was unable to give the matter his best attention and do himself justice as a connoisseur.
'We had a burglary at my place once,' began Reade, of Philpott's House. 'The man—'
'That rotter, Reade,' said Barrett, also of Philpott's, 'has been telling us that burglary chestnut of his all the morning. I wish you chaps wouldn't encourage him.'
'Why, what was it? First I've heard of it, at any rate.' Dallas and Vaughan, of Ward's, added themselves to the group. 'Out with it, Reade,' said Vaughan.
'It's only a beastly reminiscence of Reade's childhood,' said Barrett. 'A burglar got into the wine-cellar and collared all the coals.'
'He didn't. He was in the hall, and my pater got his revolver—'
'While you hid under the bed.'
'—and potted at him over the banisters.'
'The last time but three you told the story, your pater fired through the keyhole of the dining-room.'
'You idiot, that was afterwards.'
'Oh, well, what does it matter? Tell us something fresh.'
'It's my opinion,' said Dallas, 'that Ward did it. A man of the vilest antecedents. He's capable of anything from burglary—'
'To attempted poisoning. You should see what we get to eat in Ward's House,' said Vaughan.
'Ward's the worst type of beak. He simply lives for the sake of booking chaps. If he books a chap out of bounds it keeps him happy for a week.'
'A man like that's bound to be a criminal of sorts in his spare time. It's action and reaction,' said Vaughan.
Mr Ward happening to pass at this moment, the speaker went on to ask Dallas audibly if life was worth living, and Dallas replied that under certain conditions and in some Houses it was not.
Dallas and Vaughan did not like Mr Ward. Mr Ward was not the sort of man who inspires affection. He had an unpleasant habit of 'jarring', as it was called. That is to say, his conversation was shaped to one single end, that of trying to make the person to whom he talked feel uncomfortable. Many of his jars had become part of the School history. There was a legend that on one occasion he had invited his prefects to supper, and regaled them with sausages. There was still one prefect unhelped. To him he addressed himself.
'A sausage, Jones?'
'If you please, sir.'
'No, you won't, then, because I'm going to have half myself.'
This story may or may not be true. Suffice it to say, that Mr Ward was not popular.
The discussion was interrupted by the sound of the bell ringing for second lesson. The problem was left unsolved. It was evident that the burglar had been interrupted, but how or why nobody knew. The suggestion that he had heard Master R. Robinson training for his quarter-mile, and had thought it was an earthquake, found much favour with the junior portion of the assembly. Simpson, on whom Robinson had been given start in the race, expressed an opinion that he, Robinson, ran like a cow. At which Robinson smiled darkly, and advised the other to wait till Sports Day and then he'd see, remarking that, meanwhile, if he gave him any of his cheek he might not be well enough to run at all.
'This sort of thing,' said Barrett to Reade, as they walked to their form-room, 'always makes me feel beastly. Once start a row like this, and all the beaks turn into regular detectives and go ferreting about all over the place, and it's ten to one they knock up against something one doesn't want them to know about.'
Reade was feeling hurt. He had objected to the way in which Barrett had spoiled a story that might easily have been true, and really was true in parts. His dignity was offended. He said 'Yes' to Barrett's observation in a tone of reserved hauteur. Barrett did not notice.
'It's an awful nuisance. For one thing it makes them so jolly strict about bounds.'
'I wanted to go for a bike ride this afternoon. There's nothing on at the School.'
'Why don't you?'
'What's the good if you can't break bounds? A ride of about a quarter of a mile's no good. There's a ripping place about ten miles down the Stapleton Road. Big wood, with a ripping little hollow in the middle, all ferns and moss. I was thinking of taking a book out there for the afternoon. Only there's roll-call.'
He paused. Ordinarily, this would have been the cue for Reade to say, 'Oh, I'll answer your name at roll-call.' But Reade said nothing. Barrett looked surprised and disappointed.
'I say, Reade,' he said.
'Would you like to answer my name at roll-call?' It was the first time he had ever had occasion to make the request.
'No,' said Reade.
Barrett could hardly believe his ears. Did he sleep? Did he dream? Or were visions about?
'What!' he said.
'Do you mean to say you won't?'
'Of course I won't. Why the deuce should I do your beastly dirty work for you?'
Barrett did not know what to make of this. Curiosity urged him to ask for explanations. Dignity threw cold water on such a scheme. In the end dignity had the best of it.
'Oh, very well,' he said, and they went on in silence. In all the three years of their acquaintance they had never before happened upon such a crisis.
The silence lasted until they reached the form-room. Then Barrett determined, in the interests of the common good—he and Reade shared a study, and icy coolness in a small study is unpleasant—to chain up Dignity for the moment, and give Curiosity a trial.
'What's up with you today?' he asked.
He could hardly have chosen a worse formula. The question has on most people precisely the same effect as that which the query, 'Do you know where you lost it?' has on one who is engaged in looking for mislaid property.
'Nothing,' said Reade. Probably at the same moment hundreds of other people were making the same reply, in the same tone of voice, to the same question.
'Oh,' said Barrett.
There was another silence.
'You might as well answer my name this afternoon,' said Barrett, tentatively.
Reade walked off without replying, and Barrett went to his place feeling that curiosity was a fraud, and resolving to confine his attentions for the future to dignity. This was by-product number one of the Pavilion burglary.
During the last hour of morning school, Tony got a note from Jim.
'Graham,' said Mr Thompson, the master of the Sixth, sadly, just as Tony was about to open it.
'Kindly tear that note up, Graham.'
'Kindly tear that note up, Graham. Come, you are keeping us waiting.'
As the hero of the novel says, further concealment was useless. Tony tore the note up unread.
'Hope it didn't want an answer,' he said to Jim after school. 'Constant practice has made Thompson a sort of amateur lynx.'
'No. It was only to ask you to be in the study directly after lunch. There's a most unholy row going to occur shortly, as far as I can see.'
'What, about this burglary business?'
'Yes. Haven't time to tell you now. See you after lunch.'
After lunch, having closed the study door, Jim embarked on the following statement.
It appeared that on the previous night he had left a book of notes, which were of absolutely vital importance for the examination which the Sixth had been doing in the earlier part of the morning, in the identical room in which the prizes had been placed. Or rather, he had left it there several days before, and had not needed it till that night. At half-past six the Pavilion had been locked up, and Biffen, the ground-man, had taken the key away with him, and it was only after tea had been consumed and the evening paper read, that Jim, thinking it about time to begin work, had discovered his loss. This was about half-past seven.
Being a House-prefect, Jim did not attend preparation in the Great Hall with the common herd of the Houses, but was part-owner with Tony of a study.
The difficulties of the situation soon presented themselves to him. It was only possible to obtain the notes in three ways—firstly, by going to the rooms of the Sixth Form master, who lived out of College; secondly, by borrowing from one of the other Sixth Form members of the House; and thirdly, by the desperate expedient of burgling the Pavilion. The objections to the first course were two. In the first place Merevale was taking prep. over in the Hall, and it was strictly forbidden for anyone to quit the House after lock-up without leave. And, besides, it was long odds that Thompson, the Sixth Form master, would not have the notes, as he had dictated them partly out of his head and partly from the works of various eminent scholars. The second course was out of the question. The only other Sixth Form boy in the House, Tony and Welch being away at Aldershot, was Charteris, and Charteris, who never worked much except the night before an exam, but worked then under forced draught, was appalled at the mere suggestion of letting his note-book out of his hands. Jim had sounded him on the subject and had met with the reply, 'Kill my father and burn my ancestral home, and I will look on and smile. But touch these notes and you rouse the British Lion.' After which he had given up the borrowing idea.
There remained the third course, and there was an excitement and sporting interest about it that took him immensely. But how was he to get out to start with? He opened his study-window and calculated the risks of a drop to the ground. No, it was too far. Not worth risking a sprained ankle on the eve of the mile. Then he thought of the Matron's sitting-room. This was on the ground-floor, and if its owner happened to be out, exit would be easy. As luck would have it she was out, and in another minute Jim had crossed the Rubicon and was standing on the gravel drive which led to the front gate.
A sharp sprint took him to the Pavilion. Now the difficulty was not how to get out, but how to get in. Theoretically, it should have been the easiest of tasks, but in practice there were plenty of obstacles to success. He tried the lower windows, but they were firmly fixed. There had been a time when one of them would yield to a hard kick and fly bodily out of its frame, but somebody had been caught playing that game not long before, and Jim remembered with a pang that not only had the window been securely fastened up, but the culprit had had a spell of extra tuition and other punishments which had turned him for the time into a hater of his species. His own fate, he knew, would be even worse, for a prefect is supposed to have something better to do in his spare time than breaking into pavilions. It would mean expulsion perhaps, or, at the least, the loss of his prefect's cap, and Jim did not want to lose that. Still the thing had to be done if he meant to score any marks at all in the forthcoming exam. He wavered a while between a choice of methods, and finally fixed on the crudest of all. No one was likely to be within earshot, thought he, so he picked up the largest stone he could find, took as careful aim as the dim light would allow, and hove it. There was a sickening crash, loud enough, he thought, to bring the whole School down on him, followed by a prolonged rattle as the broken pieces of glass fell to the ground.
He held his breath and listened. For a moment all was still, uncannily still. He could hear the tops of the trees groaning in the slight breeze that had sprung up, and far away the distant roar of a train. Then a queer thing happened. He heard a quiet thud, as if somebody had jumped from a height on to grass, and then quick footsteps.
He waited breathless and rigid, expecting every moment to see a form loom up beside him in the darkness. It was useless to run. His only chance was to stay perfectly quiet.
Then it dawned upon him that the man was running away from him, not towards him. His first impulse was to give chase, but prudence restrained him. Catching burglars is an exhilarating sport, but it is best to indulge in it when one is not on a burgling expedition oneself.
Besides he had come out to get his book, and business is business.
There was no time to be lost now, for someone might have heard one or both of the noises and given the alarm.
Once the window was broken the rest was fairly easy, the only danger being the pieces of glass. He took off his coat and flung it on to the sill of the upper window. In a few seconds he was up himself without injury. He found it a trifle hard to keep his balance, as there was nothing to hold on to, but he managed it long enough to enable him to thrust an arm through the gap and turn the handle. After this there was a bolt to draw, which he managed without difficulty.
The window swung open. Jim jumped in, and groped his way round the room till he found his book. The other window of the room was wide open. He shut it for no definite reason, and noticed that a pane had been cut out entire. The professional cracksman had done his work more neatly than the amateur.
'Poor chap,' thought Jim, with a chuckle, as he effected a retreat, 'I must have given him a bit of a start with my half-brick.' After bolting the window behind him, he climbed down.
As he reached earth again the clock struck a quarter to nine. In another quarter of an hour prep, would be over and the House door unlocked, and he would be able to get in again. Nor would the fact of his being out excite remark, for it was the custom of the House-Prefects to take the air for the few minutes which elapsed between the opening of the door and the final locking-up for the night.
The rest of his adventures ran too smoothly to require a detailed description. Everything succeeded excellently. The only reminiscences of his escapade were a few cuts in his coat, which went unnoticed, and the precious book of notes, to which he applied himself with such vigour in the watches of the night, with a surreptitious candle and a hamper of apples as aids to study, that, though tired next day, he managed to do quite well enough in the exam, to pass muster. And, as he had never had the least prospect of coming out top, or even in the first five, this satisfied him completely.
Tony listened with breathless interest to Jim's recital of his adventures, and at the conclusion laughed.
'What a mad thing to go and do,' he said. 'Jolly sporting, though.'
Jim did not join in his laughter.
'Yes, but don't you see,' he said, ruefully, 'what a mess I'm in? If they find out that I was in the Pav. at the time when the cups were bagged, how on earth am I to prove I didn't take them myself?'
'By Jove, I never thought of that. But, hang it all, they'd never dream of accusing a Coll. chap of stealing Sports prizes. This isn't a reformatory for juvenile hooligans.'
'No, perhaps not.'
'Of course not.'
'Well, even if they didn't, the Old Man would be frightfully sick if he got to know about it. I'd lose my prefect's cap for a cert.'
'You might, certainly.'
'I should. There wouldn't be any question about it. Why, don't you remember that business last summer about Cairns? He used to stay out after lock-up. That was absolutely all he did. Well, the Old 'Un dropped on him like a hundredweight of bricks. Multiply that by about ten and you get what he'll do to me if he books me over this job.'
Tony looked thoughtful. The case of Cairns versus The Powers that were, was too recent to have escaped his memory. Even now Cairns was to be seen on the grounds with a common School House cap at the back of his head in place of the prefect's cap which had once adorned it.
'Yes,' he said, 'you'd lose your cap all right, I'm afraid.'
'Rather. And the sickening part of the business is that this real, copper-bottomed burglary'll make them hunt about all over the shop for clues and things, and the odds are they'll find me out, even if they don't book the real man. Shouldn't wonder if they had a detective down for a big thing of this sort.'
'They are having one, I heard.'
'There you are, then,' said Jim, dejectedly. 'I'm done, you see.'
'I don't know. I don't believe detectives are much class.'
'Anyhow, he'll probably have gumption enough to spot me.'
Jim's respect for the abilities of our national sleuth-hounds was greater than Tony's, and a good deal greater than that of most people.
CONCERNING THE MUTUAL FRIEND
'I wonder where the dear Mutual gets to these afternoons,' said Dallas.
'The who?' asked MacArthur. MacArthur, commonly known as the Babe, was a day boy. Dallas and Vaughan had invited him to tea in their study.
'Plunkett, you know.'
'Why the Mutual?'
'Mutual Friend, Vaughan's and mine. Shares this study with us. I call him dear partly because he's head of the House, and therefore, of course, we respect and admire him.'
'And partly,' put in Vaughan, beaming at the Babe over a frying-pan full of sausages, 'partly because we love him so. Oh, he's a beauty.'
'No, but rotting apart,' said the Babe, 'what sort of a chap is he? I hardly know him by sight, even.'
'Should describe him roughly,' said Dallas, 'as a hopeless, forsaken unspeakable worm.'
'Understates it considerably,' remarked Vaughan. 'His manners are patronizing, and his customs beastly.'
'He wears spectacles, and reads Herodotus in the original Greek for pleasure.'
'He sneers at footer, and jeers at cricket. Croquet is his form, I should say. Should doubt, though, if he even plays that.'
'But why on earth,' said the Babe, 'do you have him in your study?'
Vaughan looked wildly and speechlessly at Dallas, who looked helplessly back at Vaughan.
'Don't, Babe, please!' said Dallas. 'You've no idea how a remark of that sort infuriates us. You surely don't suppose we'd have the man in the study if we could help it?'
'It's another instance of Ward at his worst,' said Vaughan. 'Have you never heard the story of the Mutual Friend's arrival?'
'It was like this. At the beginning of this term I came back expecting to be head of this show. You see, Richards left at Christmas and I was next man in. Dallas and I had made all sorts of arrangements for having a good time. Well, I got back on the last evening of the holidays. When I got into this study, there was the man Plunkett sitting in the best chair, reading.'
'Probably reading Herodotus in the original Greek,' snorted Dallas.
'He didn't take the slightest notice of me. I stood in the doorway like Patience on a monument for about a quarter of an hour. Then I coughed. He took absolutely no notice. I coughed again, loud enough to crack the windows. Then I got tired of it, and said "Hullo". He did look up at that. "Hullo," he said, "you've got rather a nasty cough." I said "Yes", and waited for him to throw himself on my bosom and explain everything, you know.'
'Did he?' asked the Babe, deeply interested.
'Not a bit,' said Dallas, 'he—sorry, Vaughan, fire ahead.'
'He went on reading. After a bit I said I hoped he was fairly comfortable. He said he was. Conversation languished again. I made another shot. "Looking for anybody?" I said. "No," he said, "are you?" "No." "Then why the dickens should I be?" he said. I didn't quite follow his argument. In fact, I don't even now. "Look here," I said, "tell me one thing. Have you or have you not bought this place? If you have, all right. If you haven't, I'm going to sling you out, and jolly soon, too." He looked at me in his superior sort of way, and observed without blenching that he was head of the House.'
'Just another of Ward's jars,' said Dallas. 'Knowing that Vaughan was keen on being head of the House he actually went to the Old Man and persuaded him that it would be better to bring in some day boy who was a School-prefect than let Vaughan boss the show. What do you think of that?'
'Pretty low,' said the Babe.
'Said I was thoughtless and headstrong,' cut in Vaughan, spearing a sausage as if it were Mr Ward's body. 'Muffins up, Dallas, old man. When the sausages are done to a turn. "Thoughtless and headstrong." Those were his very words.'
'Can't you imagine the old beast?' said Dallas, pathetically, 'Can't you see him getting round the Old Man? A capital lad at heart, I am sure, distinctly a capital lad, but thoughtless and headstrong, far too thoughtless for a position so important as that of head of my House. The abandoned old wreck!'
Tea put an end for the moment to conversation, but when the last sausage had gone the way of all flesh, Vaughan returned to the sore subject like a moth to a candle.
'It isn't only the not being head of the House that I bar. It's the man himself. You say you haven't studied Plunkett much. When you get to know him better, you'll appreciate his finer qualities more. There are so few of them.'
'The only fine quality I've ever seen in him,' said Dallas, 'is his habit of slinking off in the afternoons when he ought to be playing games, and not coming back till lock-up.'
'Which brings us back to where we started,' put in the Babe. 'You were wondering what he did with himself.'
'Yes, it can't be anything good so we'll put beetles and butterflies out of the question right away. He might go and poach. There's heaps of opportunity round here for a chap who wants to try his hand at that. I remember, when I was a kid, Morton Smith, who used to be in this House—remember him?—took me to old what's-his-name's place. Who's that frantic blood who owns all that land along the Badgwick road? The M.P. man.'
'Milord Sir Alfred Venner, M.P., of Badgwick Hall.'
'That's the man. Generally very much of Badgwick Hall. Came down last summer on Prize Day. One would have thought from the side on him that he was all sorts of dooks. Anyhow, Morton-Smith took me rabbiting there. I didn't know it was against the rules or anything. Had a grand time. A few days afterwards, Milord Sir Venner copped him on the hop and he got sacked. There was an awful row. I thought my hair would have turned white.'
'I shouldn't think the Mutual poaches,' said Vaughan. 'He hasn't got the enterprise to poach an egg even. No, it can't be that.'
'Perhaps he bikes?' said the Babe.
'No, he's not got a bike. He's the sort of chap, though, to borrow somebody else's without asking. Possibly he does bike.'
'If he does,' said Dallas, 'it's only so as to get well away from the Coll., before starting on his career of crime. I'll swear he does break rules like an ordinary human being when he thinks it's safe. Those aggressively pious fellows generally do.'
'I didn't know he was that sort,' said the Babe. 'Don't you find it rather a jar?'
'Just a bit. He jaws us sometimes till we turn and rend him.'
'Yes, he's an awful man,' said Vaughan.
'Don't stop,' said the Babe, encouragingly, after the silence had lasted some time. 'It's a treat picking a fellow to pieces like this.'
'I don't know if that's your beastly sarcasm, Babe,' said Vaughan, 'but, speaking for self and partner, I don't know how we should get on if we didn't blow off steam occasionally in this style.'
'We should probably last out for a week, and then there would be a sharp shriek, a hollow groan, and all that would be left of the Mutual Friend would be a slight discolouration on the study carpet.'
'Coupled with an aroma of fresh gore.'
'Perhaps that's why he goes off in the afternoons,' suggested the Babe. 'Doesn't want to run any risks.'
'He's such a rotten head of the House, too,' said Vaughan. 'Ward may gas about my being headstrong and thoughtless, but I'm dashed if I would make a bally exhibition of myself like the Mutual.'
'What's he do?' enquired the Babe.
'It's not so much what he does. It's what he doesn't do that sickens me,' said Dallas. 'I may be a bit of a crock in some ways—for further details apply to Ward—but I can stop a couple of fags ragging if I try.'
'Not for nuts. He's simply helpless when there's anything going on that he ought to stop. Why, the other day there was a row in the fags' room that you could almost have heard at your place, Babe. We were up here working. The Mutual was jawing as usual on the subject of cramming tips for the Aeschylus exam. Said it wasn't scholarship, or some rot. What business is it of his how a chap works, I should like to know. Just as he had got under way, the fags began kicking up more row than ever.'
'I said', cut in Vaughan, 'that instead of minding other people's business, he'd better mind his own for a change, and go down and stop the row.'
'He looked a bit green at that,' said Dallas. 'Said the row didn't interfere with him. "Does with us," I said. "It's all very well for you. You aren't doing a stroke of work. No amount of row matters to a chap who's only delivering a rotten sermon on scholarship. Vaughan and I happen to be trying to do some work." "All right," he said, "if you want the row stopped, why don't you go and stop it? What's it got to do with me?"'
'Rotter!' interpolated the Babe.
'Wasn't he? Well, of course we couldn't stand that.'
'We crushed him,' said Vaughan.
'I said: "In my young days the head of the House used to keep order for himself." I asked him what he thought he was here for. Because he isn't ornamental. So he went down after that.'
'Well?' said the Babe. Being a miserable day boy he had had no experience of the inner life of a boarding House, which is the real life of a public school. His experience of life at St Austin's was limited to doing his work and playing centre-three-quarter for the fifteen. Which, it may be remarked in passing, he did extremely well.
Dallas took up the narrative. 'Well, after he'd been gone about five minutes, and the row seemed to be getting worse than ever, we thought we'd better go down and investigate. So we did.'
'And when we got to the fags' room,' said Vaughan, pointing the toasting-fork at the Babe by way of emphasis, 'there was the Mutual standing in the middle of the room gassing away with an expression on his face a cross between a village idiot and an unintelligent fried egg. And all round him was a seething mass of fags, half of them playing soccer with a top-hat and the other half cheering wildly whenever the Mutual opened his mouth.'
'What did you do?'
'We made an aggressive movement in force. Collared the hat, brained every fag within reach, and swore we'd report them to the beak and so on. They quieted down in about three and a quarter seconds by stopwatch, and we retired, taking the hat as a prize of war, and followed by the Mutual Friend.'
'He looked worried, rather,' said Vaughan. 'And, thank goodness, he let us alone for the rest of the evening.'
'That's only a sample, though,' explained Dallas. 'That sort of thing has been going on the whole term. If the head of a House is an abject lunatic, there's bound to be ructions. Fags simply live for the sake of kicking up rows. It's meat and drink to them.'
'I wish the Mutual would leave,' said Vaughan. 'Only that sort of chap always lingers on until he dies or gets sacked.'
'He's not the sort of fellow to get sacked, I should say,' said the Babe.
''Fraid not. I wish I could shunt into some other House. Between Ward and the Mutual life here isn't worth living.'
'There's Merevale's, now,' said Vaughan. 'I wish I was in there. In the first place you've got Merevale. He gets as near perfection as a beak ever does. Coaches the House footer and cricket, and takes an intelligent interest in things generally. Then there are some decent fellows in Merevale's. Charteris, Welch, Graham, Thomson, heaps of them.'
'Pity you came to Ward's,' said the Babe. 'Why did you?'
'My pater knew Ward a bit. If he'd known him well, he'd have sent me somewhere else.'
'My pater knew Vaughan's pater well, who knew Ward slightly and there you are. Voila comme des accidents arrivent.'
'If Ward wanted to lug in a day boy to be head of the House,' said Vaughan, harping once more on the old string, 'he might at least have got somebody decent.'
'There's the great Babe himself. Babe, why don't you come in next term?'
'Not much,' said the Babe, with a shudder.
'Well, even barring present company, there are lots of chaps who would have jumped at the chance of being head of a House. But nothing would satisfy Ward but lugging the Mutual from the bosom of his beastly family.'
'We haven't decided that point about where he goes to,' said the Babe.
At this moment the door of the study opened, and the gentleman in question appeared in person. He stood in the doorway for a few seconds, gasping and throwing his arms about as if he found a difficulty in making his way in.
'I wish you two wouldn't make such an awful froust in the study every afternoon,' he observed, pleasantly. 'Have you been having a little tea-party? How nice!'
'We've been brewing, if that's what you mean,' said Vaughan, shortly.
'Oh,' said Plunkett, 'I hope you enjoyed yourselves. It's nearly lock-up, MacArthur.'
'That's Plunkett's delicate way of telling you you're not wanted, Babe.'
'Well, I suppose I ought to be going,' said the Babe. 'So long.'
And he went, feeling grateful to Providence for not having made his father, like the fathers of Vaughan and Dallas, a casual acquaintance of Mr Ward.
The Mutual Friend really was a trial to Vaughan and Dallas. Only those whose fate it is or has been to share a study with an uncongenial companion can appreciate their feelings to the full. Three in a study is always something of a tight fit, and when the three are in a state of perpetual warfare, or, at the best, of armed truce, things become very bad indeed.
'Do you find it necessary to have tea-parties every evening?' enquired Plunkett, after he had collected his books for the night's work. 'The smell of burnt meat—'
'Fried sausages,' said Vaughan. 'Perfectly healthy smell. Do you good.'
'It's quite disgusting. Really, the air in here is hardly fit to breathe.'
'You'll find an excellent brand of air down in the senior study,' said Dallas, pointedly. 'Don't stay and poison yourself here on our account,' he added. 'Think of your family.'
'I shall work where I choose,' said the Mutual Friend, with dignity.
'Of course, so long as you do work. You mustn't talk. Vaughan and I have got some Livy to do.'
Plunkett snorted, and the passage of arms ended, as it usually did, in his retiring with his books to the senior study, leaving Dallas and Vaughan to discuss his character once more in case there might be any points of it left upon which they had not touched in previous conversations.
'This robbery of the pots is a rum thing,' said Vaughan, thoughtfully, when the last shreds of Plunkett's character had been put through the mincing-machine to the satisfaction of all concerned.
'Yes. It's the sort of thing one doesn't think possible till it actually happens.'
'What the dickens made them put the things in the Pav. at all? They must have known it wouldn't be safe.'
'Well, you see, they usually cart them into the Board Room, I believe, only this time the governors were going to have a meeting there. They couldn't very well meet in a room with the table all covered with silver pots.'
'Don't see why.'
'Well, I suppose they could, really, but some of the governors are fairly nuts on strict form. There's that crock who makes the two-hour vote of thanks speeches on Prize Day. You can see him rising to a point of order, and fixing the Old 'Un with a fishy eye.'
'Well, anyhow, I don't see that they can blame a burglar for taking the pots if they simply chuck them in his way like that.'
'No. I say, we'd better weigh in with the Livy. The man Ward'll be round directly. Where's the dic? And our invaluable friend, Mr Bohn? Right. Now, you reel it off, and I'll keep an eye on the notes.' And they settled down to the business of the day.
After a while Vaughan looked up.
'Who's going to win the mile?' he asked.
'What's the matter with Thomson?'
'How about Drake then?'
'Thomson won the half.'
'I knew you'd say that. The half isn't a test of a chap's mile form. Besides, did you happen to see Drake's sprint?'
'Jolly good one.'
'I know, but look how late he started for it. Thomson crammed on the pace directly he got into the straight. Drake only began to put it on when he got to the Pav. Even then he wasn't far behind at the tape.'
'No. Well, I'm not plunging either way. Ought to be a good race.'
'Rather. I say, I wonder Welch doesn't try his hand at the mile. I believe he would do some rattling times if he'd only try.'
'Why, Welch is a sprinter.'
'I know. But I believe for all that that the mile's his distance. He's always well up in the cross-country runs.'
'Anyhow, he's not in for it this year. Thomson's my man. It'll be a near thing, though.'
'Jolly near thing. With Drake in front.'
'All right, we'll see. Wonder why the beak doesn't come up. I can't sit here doing Livy all the evening. And yet if we stop he's bound to look in.'
'Oh Lord, is that what you've been worrying about? I thought you'd developed the work habit or something. Ward's all right. He's out on the tiles tonight. Gone to a dinner at Philpott's.'
'Good man, how do you know? Are you certain?'
'Heard him telling Prater this morning. Half the staff have gone. Good opportunity for a chap to go for a stroll if he wanted to. Shall we, by the way?'
'Not for me, thanks. I'm in the middle of a rather special book. Ever read Great Expectations? Dickens, you know.'
'I know. Haven't read it, though. Always rather funk starting on a classic, somehow. Good?'
'My dear chap! Good's not the word.'
'Well, after you. Exit Livy, then. And a good job, too. You might pass us the great Sherlock. Thanks.'
He plunged with the great detective into the mystery of the speckled band, while Vaughan opened Great Expectations at the place where he had left off the night before. And a silence fell upon the study.
Curiously enough, Dallas was not the only member of Ward's House to whom it occurred that evening that the absence of the House-master supplied a good opportunity for a stroll. The idea had also struck Plunkett favourably. He was not feeling very comfortable down-stairs. On entering the senior study he found Galloway, an Upper Fourth member of the House, already in possession. Galloway had managed that evening to insinuate himself with such success into the good graces of the matron, that he had been allowed to stay in the House instead of proceeding with the rest of the study to the Great Hall for preparation. The palpable failure of his attempt to hide the book he was reading under the table when he was disturbed led him to cast at the Mutual Friend, the cause of his panic, so severe and forbidding a look, that that gentleman retired, and made for the junior study.
The atmosphere in the junior study was close, and heavy with a blend of several strange odours. Plunkett went to the window. Then he noticed what he had never noticed before, that there were no bars to the window. Only the glass stood between him and the outer world. He threw up the sash as far as it would go. There was plenty of room to get out. So he got out. He stood for a moment inhaling the fresh air. Then, taking something from his coat-pocket, he dived into the shadows. An hour passed. In the study above, Dallas, surfeited with mysteries and villainy, put down his book and stretched himself.
'I say, Vaughan,' he said. 'Have you settled the House gym. team yet? It's about time the list went up.'
'Eh? What?' said Vaughan, coming slowly out of his book.
Dallas repeated his question.
'Yes,' said Vaughan, 'got it somewhere on me. Haynes, Jarvis, and myself are going in. Only, the Mutual has to stick up the list.'
It was the unwritten rule in Ward's, as in most of the other Houses at the School, that none but the head of the House had the right of placing notices on the House board.
'I know,' said Dallas. 'I'll go and buck him up now.'
'Don't trouble. After prayers'll do.'
'It's all right. No trouble. Whom did you say? Yourself, Haynes—'
'And Jarvis. Not that he's any good. But the third string never matters much, and it'll do him good to represent the House.'
'Right. I'll go and unearth the Mutual.'
The result was that Galloway received another shock to his system.
'Don't glare, Galloway. It's rude,' said Dallas.
'Where's Plunkett got to?' he added.
'Junior study,' said Galloway.
Dallas went to the junior study. There were Plunkett's books on the table, but of their owner no signs were to be seen. The Mutual Friend had had the good sense to close the window after he had climbed through it, and Dallas did not suspect what had actually happened. He returned to Vaughan.
'The Mutual isn't in either of the studies,' he said. 'I didn't want to spend the evening playing hide-and-seek with him, so I've come back.'
'It doesn't matter, thanks all the same. Later on'll do just as well.'
'Do you object to the window going up?' asked Dallas. 'There's a bit of a froust on in here.'
'Rather not. Heave it up.'
Dallas hove it. He stood leaning out, looking towards the College buildings, which stood out black and clear against the April sky. From out of the darkness in the direction of Stapleton sounded the monotonous note of a corn-crake.
'Jove,' he said, 'it's a grand night. If I was at home now I shouldn't be cooped up indoors like this.'
'Holidays in another week,' said Vaughan, joining him. 'It is ripping, isn't it? There's something not half bad in the Coll. buildings on a night like this. I shall be jolly sorry to leave, in spite of Ward and the Mutual.'
'Same here, by Jove. We've each got a couple more years, though, if it comes to that. Hullo, prep.'s over.'
The sound of footsteps began to be heard from the direction of the College. Nine had struck from the School clock, and the Great Hall was emptying.
'Your turn to read at prayers, Vaughan. Hullo, there's the Mutual. Didn't hear him unlock the door. Glad he has, though. Saves us trouble.'
'I must be going down to look up a bit to read. Do you remember when Harper read the same bit six days running? I shall never forget Ward's pained expression. Harper explained that he thought the passage so beautiful that he couldn't leave it.'
'Why don't you try that tip?'
'Hardly. My reputation hasn't quite the stamina for the test.'
Vaughan left the room. At the foot of the stairs he was met by the matron.
'Will you unlock the door, please, Vaughan,' she said, handing him a bunch of keys. 'The boys will be coming in in a minute.'
'Unlock the door?' repeated Vaughan. 'I thought it was unlocked. All right.'
'By Jove,' he thought, 'the plot thickens. What is our only Plunkett doing out of the House when the door is locked, I wonder.'
Plunkett strolled in with the last batch of the returning crowd, wearing on his face the virtuous look of one who has been snatching a whiff of fresh air after a hard evening's preparation.
'Oh, I say, Plunkett,' said Vaughan, when they met in the study after prayers, 'I wanted to see you. Where have you been?'
'I have been in the junior study. Where did you think I had been?'
'Do you doubt my word?'
'I've the most exaggerated respect for your word, but you weren't in the junior study at five to nine.'
'No, I went up to my dormitory about that time. You seem remarkably interested in my movements.'
'Only wanted to see you about the House gym. team. You might shove up the list tonight. Haynes, Jarvis, and myself.'
'I didn't say anything to him,' said Vaughan to Dallas as they were going to their dormitories, 'but, you know, there's something jolly fishy about the Mutual. That door wasn't unlocked when we saw him outside. I unlocked it myself. Seems to me the Mutual's been having a little private bust of his own on the quiet.'
'That's rum. He might have been out by the front way to see one of the beaks, though.'
'Well, even then he would be breaking rules. You aren't allowed to go out after lock-up without House beak's leave. No, I find him guilty.'
'If only he'd go and get booked!' said Vaughan. 'Then he might have to leave. But he won't. No such luck.'
'No,' said Dallas. 'Good-night.'
Certainly there was something mysterious about the matter.
A LITERARY BANQUET
Charteris and Welch were conversing in the study of which they were the joint proprietors. That is to say, Charteris was talking and playing the banjo alternately, while Welch was deep in a book and refused to be drawn out of it under any pretext. Charteris' banjo was the joy of his fellows and the bane of his House-master. Being of a musical turn and owning a good deal of pocket-money, he had, at the end of the summer holidays, introduced the delights of a phonograph into the House. This being vetoed by the House-master, he had returned at the beginning of the following term with a penny whistle, which had suffered a similar fate. Upon this he had invested in a banjo, and the dazed Merevale, feeling that matters were getting beyond his grip, had effected a compromise with him. Having ascertained that there was no specific rule at St Austin's against the use of musical instruments, he had informed Charteris that if he saw fit to play the banjo before prep, only, and regarded the hours between seven and eleven as a close time, all should be forgiven, and he might play, if so disposed, till the crack of doom. To this reasonable request Charteris had promptly acceded, and peace had been restored. Charteris and Welch were a curious pair. Welch spoke very little. Charteris was seldom silent. They were both in the Sixth—Welch high up, Charteris rather low down. In games, Welch was one of those fortunate individuals who are good at everything. He was captain of cricket, and not only captain, but also the best all-round man in the team, which is often a very different matter. He was the best wing three-quarter the School possessed; played fives and racquets like a professor, and only the day before had shared Tony's glory by winning the silver medal for fencing in the Aldershot competition.
The abilities of Charteris were more ordinary. He was a sound bat, and went in first for the Eleven, and played half for the Fifteen. As regards work, he might have been brilliant if he had chosen, but his energies were mainly devoted to the compilation of a monthly magazine (strictly unofficial) entitled The Glow Worm. This he edited, and for the most part wrote himself. It was a clever periodical, and rarely failed to bring him in at least ten shillings per number, after deducting the expenses which the College bookseller, who acted as sole agent, did his best to make as big as possible. Only a very few of the elect knew the identity of the editor, and they were bound to strict secrecy. On the day before the publication of each number, a notice was placed in the desk of the captain of each form, notifying him of what the morrow would bring forth, and asking him to pass it round the form. That was all. The School did the rest. The Glow Worm always sold well, principally because of the personal nature of its contents. If the average mortal is told that there is something about him in a paper, he will buy that paper at your own price.
Today he was giving his monthly tea in honour of the new number. Only contributors were invited, and the menu was always of the best. It was a Punch dinner, only more so, for these teas were celebrated with musical honours, and Charteris on the banjo was worth hearing. His rendering of extracts from the works of Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan was an intellectual treat.
'When I take the chair at our harmonic club!' he chanted, fixing the unconscious Welch with a fiery glance. 'Welch!'
'If this is your idea of a harmonic club, it isn't mine. Put down that book, and try and be sociable.'
'One second,' said Welch, burrowing still deeper.
'That's what you always say,' said Charteris. 'Look here—Come in.'
There had been a knock at the door as he was speaking. Tony entered, accompanied by Jim. They were regular attendants at these banquets, for between them they wrote most of what was left of the magazine when Charteris had done with it. There was only one other contributor, Jackson, of Dawson's House, and he came in a few minutes later. Welch was the athletics expert of the paper, and did most of the match reports.
'Now we're complete,' said Charteris, as Jackson presented himself. 'Gentlemen—your seats. There are only four chairs, and we, as Wordsworth might have said, but didn't, are five. All right, I'll sit on the table. Welch, you worm, away with melancholy. Take away his book, somebody. That's right. Who says what? Tea already made. Coffee published shortly. If anybody wants cocoa, I've got some, only you'll have to boil more water. I regret the absence of menu-cards, but as the entire feast is visible to the naked eye, our loss is immaterial. The offertory will be for the Church expenses fund. Biscuits, please.'
'I wish you'd given this tea after next Saturday, Alderman,' said Jim. Charteris was called the Alderman on account of his figure, which was inclined to stoutness, and his general capacity for consuming food.
'Never put off till tomorrow—Why?'
'I simply must keep fit for the mile. How's Welch to run, too, if he eats this sort of thing?' He pointed to the well-spread board.
'Yes, there's something in that,' said Tony. 'Thank goodness, my little entertainment's over. I think I will try one of those chocolate things. Thanks.'
'Welch is all right,' said Jackson. 'He could win the hundred and the quarter on sausage-rolls. But think of the times.'
'And there,' observed Charteris, 'there, my young friend, you have touched upon a sore subject. Before you came in I was administering a few wholesome words of censure to that miserable object on your right. What is a fifth of a second more or less that it should make a man insult his digestion as Welch does? You'll hardly credit it, but for the last three weeks or more I have been forced to look on a fellow-being refusing pastry and drinking beastly extracts of meat, all for the sake of winning a couple of races. It quite put me off my feed. Cake, please. Good robust slice. Thanks.'
'It's rather funny when you come to think of it,' said Tony. 'Welch lives on Bovril for, a month, and then, just as he thinks he's going to score, a burglar with a sense of humour strolls into the Pav., carefully selects the only two cups he had a chance of winning, and so to bed.'
'Leaving Master J. G. Welch an awful example of what comes of training,' said Jim. 'Welch, you're a rotter.'
'It isn't my fault,' observed Welch, plaintively. 'You chaps seem to think I've committed some sort of crime, just because a man I didn't know from Adam has bagged a cup or two.'
'It looks to me,' said Charteris, 'as if Welch, thinking his chances of the quarter rather rocky, hired one of his low acquaintances to steal the cup for him.'
'Shouldn't wonder. Welch knows some jolly low characters in Stapleton.'
'Welch is a jolly low character himself,' said Tony, judicially. 'I wonder you associate with him, Alderman.'
'Stand in loco parentis. Aunt of his asked me to keep an eye on him. "Dear George is so wild,"' she said.
Before Welch could find words to refute this hideous slander, Tony cut in once more.
'The only reason he doesn't drink gin and play billiards at the "Blue Lion" is that gin makes him ill and his best break at pills is six, including two flukes.'
'As a matter of fact,' said Welch, changing the conversation with a jerk, 'I don't much care if the cups are stolen. One doesn't only run for the sake of the pot.'
Charteris groaned. 'Oh, well,' said he, 'if you're going to take the high moral standpoint, and descend to brazen platitudes like that, I give you up.'
'It's a rum thing about those pots,' said Welch, meditatively.
'Seems to me,' Jim rejoined, 'the rum thing is that a man who considers the Pav. a safe place to keep a lot of valuable prizes in should be allowed at large. Why couldn't they keep them in the Board Room as they used to?'
'Thought it 'ud save trouble, I suppose. Save them carting the things over to the Pav. on Sports Day,' hazarded Tony.
'Saved the burglar a lot of trouble, I should say,' observed Jackson, 'I could break into the Pav. myself in five minutes.'
'Good old Jackson,' said Charteris, 'have a shot tonight. I'll hold the watch. I'm doing a leader on the melancholy incident for next month's Glow Worm. It appears that Master Reginald Robinson, a member of Mr Merevale's celebrated boarding-establishment, was passing by the Pavilion at an early hour on the morning of the second of April—that's today—when his eye was attracted by an excavation or incision in one of the windows of that imposing edifice. His narrative appears on another page. Interviewed by a Glow Worm representative, Master Robinson, who is a fine, healthy, bronzed young Englishman of some thirteen summers, with a delightful, boyish flow of speech, not wholly free from a suspicion of cheek, gave it as his opinion that the outrage was the work of a burglar—a remarkable display of sagacity in one so young. A portrait of Master Robinson appears on another page.'
'Everything seems to appear on another page,' said Jim. 'Am I to do the portrait?'
'I think it would be best. You can never trust a photo to caricature a person enough. Your facial H.B.'s the thing.'
'Have you heard whether anything else was bagged besides the cups?' asked Welch.
'Not that I know of,' said Jim.
'Yes there was,' said Jackson. 'It further appears that that lunatic, Adamson, had left some money in the pocket of his blazer, which he had left in the Pav. overnight. On enquiry it was found that the money had also left.'
Adamson was in the same House as Jackson, and had talked of nothing else throughout the whole of lunch. He was an abnormally wealthy individual, however, and it was generally felt, though he himself thought otherwise, that he could afford to lose some of the surplus.
'How much?' asked Jim.
At this Jim gave vent to the exclamation which Mr Barry Pain calls the Englishman's shortest prayer.
'My dear sir,' said Charteris. 'My very dear sir. We blush for you. Might I ask why you take the matter to heart so?'
'Better have it out, Jim,' said Tony. 'These chaps'll keep it dark all right.' And Jim entered once again upon the recital of his doings on the previous night.
'So you see,' he concluded, 'this two pound business makes it all the worse.'
'I don't see why,' said Welch.
'Well, you see, money's a thing everybody wants, whereas cups wouldn't be any good to a fellow at school. So that I should find it much harder to prove that I didn't take the two pounds, than I should have done to prove that I didn't take the cups.'
'But there's no earthly need for you to prove anything,' said Tony. 'There's not the slightest chance of your being found out.'
'Exactly,' observed Charteris. 'We will certainly respect your incog. if you wish it. Wild horses shall draw no evidence from us. It is, of course, very distressing, but what is man after all? Are we not as the beasts that perish, and is not our little life rounded by a sleep? Indeed, yes. And now—with full chorus, please.
'"We-e take him from the city or the plough. We-e dress him up in uniform so ne-e-e-at."'
And at the third line some plaster came down from the ceiling, and Merevale came up, and the meeting dispersed without the customary cheers.
Barrett stood at the window of his study with his hands in his pockets, looking thoughtfully at the football field. Now and then he whistled. That was to show that he was very much at his ease. He whistled a popular melody of the day three times as slowly as its talented composer had originally intended it to be whistled, and in a strange minor key. Some people, when offended, invariably whistle in this manner, and these are just the people with whom, if you happen to share a study with them, it is rash to have differences of opinion. Reade, who was deep in a book—though not so deep as he would have liked the casual observer to fancy him to be—would have given much to stop Barrett's musical experiments. To ask him to stop in so many words was, of course, impossible. Offended dignity must draw the line somewhere. That is one of the curious results of a polite education. When two gentlemen of Hoxton or the Borough have a misunderstanding, they address one another with even more freedom than is their usual custom. When one member of a public school falls out with another member, his politeness in dealing with him becomes so Chesterfieldian, that one cannot help being afraid that he will sustain a strain from which he will never recover.
After a time the tension became too much for Barrett. He picked up his cap and left the room. Reade continued to be absorbed in his book.
It was a splendid day outside, warm for April, and with just that freshness in the air which gets into the blood and makes Spring the best time of the whole year. Barrett had not the aesthetic soul to any appreciable extent, but he did know a fine day when he saw one, and even he realized that a day like this was not to be wasted in pottering about the School grounds watching the 'under thirteen' hundred yards (trial heats) and the 'under fourteen' broad jump, or doing occasional exercises in the gymnasium. It was a day for going far afield and not returning till lock-up. He had an object, too. Everything seemed to shout 'eggs' at him, to remind him that he was an enthusiast on the subject and had a collection to which he ought to seize this excellent opportunity of adding. The only question was, where to go. The surrounding country was a Paradise for the naturalist who had no absurd scruples on the subject of trespassing. To the west, in the direction of Stapleton, the woods and hedges were thick with nests. But then, so they were to the east along the Badgwick road. He wavered, but a recollection that there was water in the Badgwick direction, and that he might with luck beard a water-wagtail in its lair, decided him. What is life without a water-wagtail's egg? A mere mockery. He turned east.
'Hullo, Barrett, where are you off to?' Grey, of Prater's House, intercepted him as he was passing.
'Going to see if I can get some eggs. Are you coming?'
Grey hesitated. He was a keen naturalist, too.
'No, I don't think I will, thanks. Got an uncle coming down to see me.'
'Well, cut off before he comes.'
'No, he'd be too sick. Besides,' he added, ingenuously, 'there's a possible tip. Don't want to miss that. I'm simply stony. Always am at end of term.'
'Oh,' said Barrett, realizing that further argument would be thrown away. 'Well, so long, then.'
'So long. Hope you have luck.'
'Thanks. I say.'
'Roll-call, you know. If you don't see me anywhere about, you might answer my name.'
'All right. And if you find anything decent, you might remember me. You know pretty well what I've got already.'
'Right, I will.'
'Magpie's what I want particularly. Where are you going, by the way?'
'Thought of having a shot at old Venner's woods. I'm after a water-wagtail myself. Ought to be one or two in the Dingle.'
'Heaps, probably. But I should advise you to look out, you know. Venner's awfully down on trespassing.'
'Yes, the bounder. But I don't think he'll get me. One gets the knack of keeping fairly quiet with practice.'
'He's got thousands of keepers.'
'Dash his beastly dogs. I like dogs. Why are you such a croaker today, Grey?'
'Well, you know he's had two chaps sacked for going in his woods to my certain knowledge, Morton-Smith and Ainsworth. That's only since I've been at the Coll., too. Probably lots more before that.'
'Ainsworth was booked smoking there. That's why he was sacked. And Venner caught Morton-Smith himself simply staggering under dead rabbits. They sack any chap for poaching.'
'Well, I don't see how you're going to show you've not been poaching. Besides, it's miles out of bounds.'
'Grey,' said Barrett, severely, 'I'm surprised at you. Go away and meet your beastly uncle. Fancy talking about bounds at your time of life.'
'Well, don't forget me when you're hauling in the eggs.'
'Right you are. So long.'
Barrett proceeded on his way, his last difficulty safely removed. He could rely on Grey not to bungle that matter of roll-call. Grey had been there before.
A long white ribbon of dusty road separated St Austin's from the lodge gates of Badgwick Hall, the country seat of Sir Alfred Venner, M.P., also of 49A Lancaster Gate, London. Barrett walked rapidly for over half-an-hour before he came in sight of the great iron gates, flanked on the one side by a trim little lodge and green meadows, and on the other by woods of a darker green. Having got so far, he went on up the hill till at last he arrived at his destination. A small hedge, a sloping strip of green, and then the famous Dingle. I am loath to inflict any scenic rhapsodies on the reader, but really the Dingle deserves a line or two. It was the most beautiful spot in a country noted for its fine scenery. Dense woods were its chief feature. And by dense I mean well-supplied not only with trees (excellent things in themselves, but for the most part useless to the nest hunter), but also with a fascinating tangle of undergrowth, where every bush seemed to harbour eggs. All carefully preserved, too. That was the chief charm of the place. Since the sad episodes of Morton-Smith and Ainsworth, the School for the most part had looked askance at the Dingle. Once a select party from Dacre's House, headed by Babington, who always got himself into hot water when possible, had ventured into the forbidden land, and had returned hurriedly later in the afternoon with every sign of exhaustion, hinting breathlessly at keepers, dogs, and a pursuit that had lasted fifty minutes without a check. Since then no one had been daring enough to brave the terrors so carefully prepared for them by Milord Sir Venner and his minions, and the proud owner of the Dingle walked his woods in solitary state. Occasionally he would personally conduct some favoured guest thither and show him the wonders of the place. But this was not a frequent occurrence. On still-less frequent occasions, there were large shooting parties in the Dingle. But, as a rule, the word was 'Keepers only. No others need apply'.