The Captain, February 1911
COTT, of the School House, had an active mind. He disliked monotony in his life. He had to be kept merry and bright; and he seemed to look on the rest of the community more as a collection of entertainers than anything else.
Consequently it was not long before Pillingshot, revelling in the unaccustomed leisure which his successful quest of Evans’ sovereign had won for him, found himself once more set to work. It is true that Scott had promised to let him off fagging for the rest of the term; but, then, Scott’s ideas of what constituted fagging differed substantially from those held by Pillingshot. Only a week after the sovereign incident, for example, Scott had invited his ex-fag to tea. The tea was all right when it was ready; but it was Pillingshot who got it ready, Scott’s new fag having apparently been given an afternoon off for some reason. It was Pillingshot who toasted the muffins, boiled the water, cut the bread, spread the butter, mixed the tea, and poured out. It was Scott who lay in a deck-chair with his feet on the window-sill and remarked that after all these picnic meals weren’t half bad fun, and that one didn’t really need a fag at all, because one could do the work just as well one’s self. It was Scott, too, who, after the meal, asked Pillingshot to take a note for him over to Merevale’s house, and, on his way back, to look in at Gubby’s in the High Street and order a fresh tin of mixed biscuits. It is true that Scott made these requests as one boyhood’s friend to another in a Dick-old-man-stand-by-me manner; but that did not alter the fact that Merevale’s was a quarter of a mile from the School House, and Gubby’s in the High Street a little over a mile from Merevale’s. This sort of thing might not be fagging, but it was an excellent imitation of it.
As a result, Pillingshot had avoided Scott. He was not harsh with him in his mind. He still liked him. But he kept at a distance. It was not till Scott’s fag arrived in the junior dayroom with a message that Scott would like to see him that he had any dealings with him at all.
“Oh, dash,” said Pillingshot, who was busily engaged on a peculiarly futile bit of fret-sawing, and resented being interrupted. “What does he want?”
“I don’t know. He just said ask you to come up.”
Despite his previous experience, Pillingshot could not help being a little gratified. It was not every junior who was “asked to come up” by first eleven men. Scott might have his faults, yes, but this chumminess was certainly complimentary.
“Oh, all right,” he said.
He found Scott in his deck-chair, reading a magazine.
“Hullo, young Pillingshot,” said Scott. “Sit down. I want to have a talk with you. Did you write this story?”
“There’s a story in this magazine by a chap named Pillingshot. Not a bad story. I thought it must be by you.”
“No,” said Pillingshot.
Scott turned the pages.
“Listen to this. ‘ “Ah, Percy,” she said sadly, “but where now shall I find rest?” He held out his hands. “Here, Muriel, here in my heart.” ’ Surely that’s you, young Pillingshot? No? I made certain it was. It seemed just your style. Some relation, anyhow?”
“Not that I know of. I never heard of him. May be a cousin or something.”
“Must be. The Pillingshot family simply drips with literary talent; directly I saw you, I knew that you could write.”
“I’ve never done any.”
“Never mind. It’s all there. I’m going to give you your chance. I’m going to start a paper, young Pillingshot, and you shall edit it.”
“Do you know why people start papers? To fill obvious voids. You hunt about till you find an obvious void, and then you start your paper. I’ve been keeping my eyes open lately, and, as far as I can see, there’s no paper in existence that devotes itself solely to attacking Henry’s. So I’m going to start one.”
Between Henry’s House and the School House there had existed for some time a feud of varying intensity. How it had started, no one quite knew; but it was a good long time since the two houses had been on speaking terms. Occasionally, when they met in the ranks of the various teams, the feudists would sink their private feelings temporarily for the good of the school; but except on those occasions, the hatchet was never buried.
“I would have started it sooner,” continued Scott. “If ever there was an obvious void, this is it. But I couldn’t find the right editor. I had to have some one who was not only crammed to the brim with brain, but who wouldn’t mind taking a risk or two in the good cause. The Editor of The Rapier—that’s what I’m going to call it—must combine the courage of the lion with the wisdom of the what-d’you-call it. That’s why I thought of you. You see, it’s not only that Henry’s will probably try to lynch you. There’s Rudd, too. He’s pretty certain to cut up rough.”
There was truth in this. Rudd, the Head of the School House, was a serious-minded individual, who preferred peace to picturesqueness in his surroundings. He objected to the feud with Henry’s, and had been known to smite the bellicose of his house hip and thigh for assaulting Henryites. And when Rudd smote, he smote as if he meant it, not as one playfully tapping. He was a man of muscle, in the Gym six and Secretary of Football.
“I say!” said Pillingshot, alarmed.
“I knew you’d like the idea,” said Scott. “Sit down at that table, and we’ll hammer out a few rough ideas for number one.”
“But, I say, Scott, how about Rudd?”
“Oh, never mind Rudd. The chances are he won’t see the paper. He lives in a world of his own, above all that kind of thing.”
“Buck along, old chap,” said Scott. “You’ll find paper and pens there. Don’t upset the ink. Ready? Now, to start off with, we shall want a well-written character-sketch of somebody in Henry’s. Let’s see. Greyson. Yes, he’ll do to begin with. I’ll dictate you a few things to say about Greyson.”
It was a remarkable phenomenon, the ease with which Scott could get people to do things for him. Pillingshot was as wax in his hands. He sat down at the table, and took up the pen.
The first number of The Rapier certainly made a sensation. The idea of an unofficial newspaper was not new at St. Austin’s. For some terms a publication entitled The Glow-Worm had been appearing, edited, though only a select few knew it, by Charteris, of Merevale’s. But The Rapier differed in many respects from The Glow-Worm. In the first place it was presented free, not sold. Secondly, it was many degrees more scurrilous. The Glow-Worm was bright, but it was not militant. It simply aimed at being a readable version of the dull Austinian, the official organ of the school. It chronicled school events in a snappy way, but it never libelled any one. The Rapier never did anything else. The fact that Henry’s house was not popular in the school, for one of those mysterious reasons which make houses unpopular, helped to increase the favourable warmth of the new paper’s reception. In the eleven o’clock interval on the day of publication, nearly every one in and around the school shop had his jelly-graphed copy. Henry’s raved, to a man. And Pillingshot, overhearing Greyson’s comments on the character-sketch, for the first time found his fears blended with a certain complacency. It was no small thing to be associated with such an epoch-making event, whatever the risks.
Scott’s prediction that Rudd would not see the new paper was not borne out by the facts. The head of the house may have lived in a world of his own, above the common things of life, but when two hundred odd people round you are discussing a thing, it is not easy to avoid it. On the afternoon of the day of publication, Rudd entered Scott’s study, a copy of The Rapier in his hand.
“I say, Scott,” he said. “Seen this?”
Rudd was a solid, grave youth, who always looked a little mournful. The look of care on his face now was more marked than ever.
“What’s that?” said Scott. “The Rapier? I did glance at it. It seemed to me to supply a long-felt want. Fill an obvious void, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Don’t like it? What’s wrong with it?”
Rudd sat down.
“Of course it’s been got up by somebody in this house,” he said.
“What makes you think that?”
“Well, you know we’ve got this row on with Henry’s?”
“Row? Henry’s?” Scott’s face cleared. “Of course, yes.” he said, “I remember. I did hear something about some row.”
“This’ll make it worse.”
“Not a bit of it,” said Scott. “By showing Henry’s exhibits how they appear to the casual outside observer, the paper will lead them to reform. Once they have reformed, we shall have no objection to them. The row will cease automatically.”
“That’s all very well——” began Rudd.
“I should think it was.”
“All the same, this thing will have to be stopped.”
“Yes. It’s causing no end of disturbance already. I’ve stopped two fights already between our kids and Henry’s.”
“Why, weren’t we winning?” queried Scott, interested.
“So I mean to find out who is running this rotten paper and stop it.”
Scott sat up.
“I know the man for you,” he said. “Mind you, I don’t agree with you about this business. I think it serves a useful end. Still, you’re a good chap, and I’d like to do you a turn. So I’ll put Pillingshot on to the case.”
“Gracious, don’t you know Pillingshot? The Human Bloodhound. Better known as the Boy Detective of Hangman’s Gulch. I’ll send for him.”
Pillingshot, torn once again from his fretwork, appeared reluctantly. He wore a somewhat battered air. One of his eyes was closed.
“Hullo, young Pillingshot,” said Scott. “What have you been playing at?”
“Some of those Henry’s louts——”
“There you are,” said Rudd, pointing the moral. “I told you so, Scott. Was it about this new paper?” he said to Pillingshot.
“That’s just why I sent for you, Pillingshot,” said Scott. This is a black business. Like your eye. By the way, do you know Rudd? You may speak as freely before him as you would before me. Now——”
“It’s nothing to rot about,” he said. “It’s a jolly serious business.”
“Who’s rotting?” said Scott. “You mustn’t judge Pillingshot by appearances. He’s chock full of the finest inductive reasoning. I’m going to put this case into your hands, Pillingshot. Who’s running The Rapier? That’s what you’ve got to find out. That’s all. Run away and look for clues.”
“I wish you wouldn’t fool about so, Scott,” said Rudd seriously, when the door had closed. “I don’t want the kids in the house to feel it’s all no end of a rag, this Rapier business.”
“My dear chap, I’m not fooling about. Honestly, there’s not another fellow in the house more likely to be able to spot our man than Pillingshot. You can’t go hunting about to find him. It wouldn’t do. Whereas a kid like Pillingshot, being in the thick of things and having no position to keep up, can find out all sorts of things.”
“There’s something in that,” admitted Rudd.
“Of course there is. You leave this case to Pillingshot. He’ll see you through.”
Rudd retired. Two minutes later Pilingshot’s fret-sawing was once more interrupted by a summons to his employer’s presence.
“Come along, young Pillingshot,” said Scott, setting himself comfortably in his chair. “This is no time for slacking. We must work. We must perspire. Having disarmed any suspicions which Rudd may have had, we can now get on to the business again. Sit down and let’s start roughing out number two.”
“But, I say——!”
“There’s the pen,” said Scott, reaching out for another cushion, “just by your hand. If you want more paper, there’s some in the drawer.”
How long The Rapier would have flourished if it had been allowed an uninterrupted run is uncertain. Probably not very long, for Scott’s was the sort of mind which soon gets bored with a thing, especially if a counter-attraction presents itself.
In Scott’s case the counter-attraction was football. He was an established cricketer, a veteran of two years’ standing in the first eleven, but at football he had yet to rise above third fifteen colours. This season, however, there seemed an excellent chance of his securing one of the numerous vacancies in the first. All the forwards of the previous year, except Rudd, had left, and only four remained of last season’s second fifteen pack; so that Scott, who had ranked in the first three of the third, practised daily with the elect, and hoped for the best. He had played for the first fifteen in two matches, and, as both had been won with some ease, there seemed no reason why he should not be given a place in the first school match, against Daleby.
It is probable, therefore, that The Rapier might have lost its powers of attraction to him after a while.
As a matter of fact, however, he was not given the opportunity of getting tired of it. With the appearance of its third number, fate abruptly stopped it.
The second number, while not creating the same sensation as the first, had been well received by the school, the character-sketch—this of Hammond, of Henry’s—being admitted to be particularly happy. Everybody, outside Henry’s, seemed anxious for the appearance of number three; and Scott, pleased with this public demand, proceeded to work his staff overtime in order to produce the next number during the same week. It was finished by tea-time on the Thursday.
Now, it so happened that Pillingshot was looking forward to an easy evening’s work during preparation that Thursday. The form of which he was an ornament was doing Livy on the following day; and Pillingshot never prepared Livy. All great men have their peculiarities. Lord Roberts disliked cats. Doctor Johnson used to tap every post he passed in the street. Pillingshot never prepared Livy.
Consequently, to lift an advance copy of the third number from the pile on the table was with him the work of a moment. He had all the affection for The Rapier in its jelly-graphed form that other authors have for proof-sheets. To read a novel during preparation was too risky; but no master would suspect the slim Rapier of being unconnected with school work.
He took the thing into prep., therefore, and spent a very pleasant half-hour over it. Scott had certainly excelled himself. Pilingshot grinned expansively as he read.
It was these grins that undid him, and, in the end, caused the bright little journal to expire just as it had thoroughly gripped its public. Almost immediately opposite him, at the next table, sat Beale, one of the junior members of Henry’s house—the very junior member, in fact, who had so maltreated the young journalist’s eye on the appearance of The Rapier’s first number. Beale was in Pillingshot’s form, and shared that youth’s prejudice against preparing Livy. Having omitted to provide himself with any form of light literature, he was compelled, after playing paper-cricket till he wearied of the sport, to fill in the time by looking about the room and observing and brooding upon his neighbours.
After a few moments, his gaze, circling like a hawk, descended upon Pillingshot. This was due partly to the fact of the latter’s position—he could look at him without turning in his seat—but principally to the fact that Pillingshot, to judge by his face, was evidently on to a good thing. Whatever his defects as a member of the social cosmos, Pillingshot seemed to Beale in one respect deserving of envy: he was not bored. For the space of thirty-five minutes, Beale gazed tensely at Pillingshot.
At the end of that period came the three minutes’ interval which divided the two halves of evening preparation. During the interval, it was the custom of the workers to stroll about the room, chatting with friends and acquaintances, till the voice of the master from the dais—preparation took place in the Great Hall—recalled them to their seats. Pillingshot was a confirmed stroller. He was always the first to leave his seat and the last to return to it.
On the present occasion, the signal to relax having been given, he sped to the further end of the hall, where he fell into earnest talk with a group of School House juniors. This was Beale’s opportunity. He had seen Pillingshot slip whatever it was that he had been reading under the sheet of blotting-paper. He darted round his table, and, unobserved, commandeered the thing.
It was not immediately that he realised the full value of his capture. In his hurried flight, he had not had time to examine it. He had merely seen that it was not, as he had fancied, a halfpenny comic weekly. Not till the interval was over did he attempt a perusal.
When he did, his first feeling was one of keen disappointment. After all the trouble it was only that rotten rag, The Rapier. Then, suddenly, a certain unfamiliarity in the reading matter struck him. He had read the second number of the paper with unwilling thoroughness; and this was all different. Then he saw in the top right-hand corner the words “Number Three”; and realised for the first time the magnitude of his discovery. Ever since the new paper had started, the brains of Henry’s had been exercised as to the identity of the man behind it. The evidence supported the theory that somebody in the School House was running it, but beyond that point, the investigators had not gone.
But now, argued Beale, a hot scent had been struck. If Pillingshot was in a position to get hold of advance copies of the journal, then he must also be in a position to give information as to the journal’s source. He did not suspect Pillingshot, for whose mental powers he entertained a vast contempt, of being the author; but he was certain that he must know who the author was.
After school on the following afternoon, Rudd called on Scott. Scott was not altogether unprepared for the visit. It followed naturally on the one paid him the previous night by Pillingshot. He had surmised that Rudd, on reflection, would suspect his hand in this matter.
He welcomed the head of the house warmly. “Come in, Rudd,” he said. “How well you were running at the footer-practice just now. Like a mustang.”
Rudd sat down, turning a deaf ear to this flattery.
“I say, Scott.”
“I want to have a word with you.”
“Say on. This study is open for having words in at about this hour.”
“It’s about this Rapier thing.”
“A bright little sheet. I read it regularly.”
“Do you write it? That’s more to the point.”
“Write it! What on earth makes you think that?”
Rudd’s manner became portentous.
“I’ll tell you what makes me think it. That kid Pillingshot was found reading an advance number of the thing in prep. last night. A kid in Henry’s collared the paper——”
“So Henry’s is a hot-bed of theft, too, is it?” sighed Scott. “Well, well, I must make a note of that for the next number.”
Rudd jumped at the admission.
“So it is you?” he cried.
“I see no reason to hide the fact. I’m proud of it. I’m the only public-spirited man in the school, bar young Pillingshot, of course. For years the slackness of public opinion has allowed Henry’s to flourish unchecked in our midst. But I have altered all that. No, no,” he went on deprecatingly, as Rudd started to speak. “I want no thanks. I have only tried to do my duty.”
Rudd got up.
“You may have meant well,” he said. “I don’t say the thing wasn’t funny. But I’m jolly glad it’s stopped.”
Scott’s eyebrows rose.
“Stopped?” he said. “I don’t understand. You don’t imagine it has stopped, do you?”
“What!” cried Rudd, pausing on his way to the door, “surely you aren’t going on with it?”
“My dear chap, it’s just turned the corner. You novices don’t understand these things. We of the old Fleet Street gang, brought up from our youth in the newspaper business, take them more seriously. Do you realise what it means to found a paper—the expense, the months of brain-fag, the worry?” He reached behind him, and produced the jelly-graph machine. “Look at our expensive plant. You can’t expect us to abandon that simply to humour some casual whim of yours. It isn’t reasonable.”
Rudd was silent for a moment. He seemed to be thinking. When he spoke, his manner was rather ominously quiet.
“You mean that?” he said.
“Rather. Of course, I’d like to oblige you——”
“Keeps you pretty busy, this sort of thing, I suppose?”
“The brain-work is practically incessant.”
“I thought so. It must be.”
“When does the next number come out?”
“To-morrow. It’s all ready now.”
“Too late to shove in a short notice?”
“Won’t it stand over for Number Four?”
“No. It’s topical.”
“What’s it about?”
Rudd went to the table, and scribbled a few words on a sheet of paper.
“I’ll read it to you. ‘Owing to the pressure of his journalistic work, J. G. Scott will be unable to play for the first fifteen against Daleby.’ Could you put that in?”
There was a long silence.
“It’s official,” he said. “I was talking to Stopford this morning”—Stopford was captain of football at St. Austin’s—“and he’s going to give up the captaincy so as to be able to put in more work. He’s trying for a schol. at Cambridge, you know, at the end of the term. So I’m captain now. You’ll see it on the notice-board to-morrow. I thought I’d let you know it in advance.”
“Thanks,” said Scott, meditatively. “Thanks.”
Rudd moved to the door.
“Well, so long,” he said.
“Half a minute,” said Scott. “On second thoughts I’m not sure that the sedentary life of the journalist is quite in my line. After all, footer’s much healthier, isn’t it? Sit down and have some tea. We ought to lick Daleby this year, don’t you think?”
For a note on Lord Roberts, see “The Man Who Disliked Cats” from the Strand magazine.