A Row in the Classroom.
“WHO threw that stone?” shouted an angry voice.
“It’s all right,” said Tommy under his breath. “He can’t possibly see us. It’s much too dark. Let’s be edging back to the common-room, shall we? If Spinder takes it into his head to rush out we might be caught. And then there would only be a lot of fuss. I can’t stand fuss. All I ask is to be allowed to live quietly and peaceably. Come on.”
When they got back to the room, order had been restored to a certain extent. The Teeth, Robert and Richard, were cooking chestnuts together in perfect good-fellowship, reconciliation having followed war with its usual rapidity. Catford and Browning had either settled their little difference or postponed the discussion of it, and their respective gangs of followers and supporters had dispersed through the room. Somebody had taken Bellamy’s fretwork away from him; and that injured youth was now sitting alone on a bench, gazing stolidly in front of him with unseeing eyes, thinking, doubtless, of the next meal. From the fact that Binns was trying to straighten his collar and smooth down his mop of ruffled hair, while Sloper’s body was acting as a settee for three determined-looking boys, it seemed that the duettists had been suppressed in the usual manner.
Ram had resumed his speech, and was now well on in it.
“Masters,” he was saying, as Jimmy and Tommy entered, “I ask you——”
“Half a second, Ram,” said Tommy. “Sorry to interrupt, but this is important. You shall pitch in again in a minute. I say, you chaps, do you mind each of you going out into the road for a jiffy. Come back as soon as you like. All I want you to do is to be able to say you went out.”
“What’s the game, Tommy?” inquired Morrison.
From anybody but Tommy such a suggestion might have been ill received; but the red-haired one was by way of being a leader among the turbulent spirits of the house; so Morrison asked for explanation, where with anybody else he might merely have thrown a book and requested the speaker to come off it.
“It’s all right. It’s only that I have a sort of idea that Spinder may be in here in a minute to ask if any of us have been out in the road during the last five minutes. I don’t mind telling you that I have. But in my modest, retiring way I don’t want Spinder to know that I was the only one. See the idea?”
“Right O,” said Morrison.
There was a general movement to the door. In a few minutes everyone, with the exception of Bellamy, who still sat gazing fixedly in front of him, had gone out and come back again. The door had hardly been shut when it flew open again, to admit Mr. Spinder.
The new master of the house was a small, wiry man, with a sharp face that somehow suggested some bird of prey. His nose was thin and slightly hooked, and when he was annoyed, as now, his lips closed so tightly that a thin, straight line was all that could be seen of his mouth. A pair of steely grey eyes glared from behind gold-rimmed spectacles. It was the face of a very determined man, as anybody could have seen. A student of character might have added that it was also an unscrupulous face.
Conversation died away as the master entered. Ram, who had mounted the table again with a view to resuming his speech, stood with his mouth open, looking as if he wished that he were in a less prominent position. As, indeed, he did. It was to him that Mr. Spinder turned first.
“What are you doing up there?” he snapped.
“Honoured sir,” began the unfortunate orator.
“Come down at once, you buffoon.”
Ram was preparing to descend, when it occurred to him that, if he did so, the tyrant and oppressor Spinder would be left with an entirely wrong view of the case. At present it was plain that he looked upon him, Ram, not as an agitator in favour of improved food, but merely as a clown who climbed on to tables to amuse people—in fact, to do a comic turn. Ram’s blood boiled at the thought. He was not, as he would have said, “constitutionally a courageous,” but now he felt that he must speak up or for ever hold his peace.
“Honoured sir,” he began again.
“Did you hear me tell you to come down from that table?”
Ram conceded this point. After all, it did not matter, so that he spoke, whether he spoke from table or floor. He climbed cautiously down with the aid of a chair.
“I came here——” said Mr. Spinder.
“Honoured sir,” began Ram for the third time.
Mr. Spinder fixed him with a cold stare, but the dusky orator was not to be stopped. He plunged volubly into his wrongs.
“Hon’ble Spinder,” he said, “you are paid by parents to provide poor boys with good, wholesome food, but hoity-toity, what a falling-off is there! Our stomachs groan with beastly pangs. Listen, honourable sir, to the voice of Reason! How can brain work if body is not fed? How can poor boy floor intricacies of Latin grammar without stodgy feed? We are as if to sink with hunger. Do not think me, hon’ble Spinder, a presumptuous for addressing you. I cannot remain hermetically sealed. The mutton,” proceeded Ram, descending to details, “is not roasted with sufficiency. Hoity-toity and alackaday, it is of a red colour—not pleasing to look upon, and nauseous to masticate. The porridge is not an appetising. The fowl-eggs are, alackaday, frequently advancing into the sere and yellow of honourable old age. Smile indulgently, Hon’ble Spinder, on our petition. You are our father and mother and protector of the poor.”
It must not be supposed that Hon’ble Spinder had listened to this harangue with silent attention. On the contrary, he had seemed particularly restive throughout, and had made several attempts to check the orator’s eloquence. Once started, however, Ram was hard to stop; and it was only when, having reached this telling appeal, he stopped to take in a little breath, that Mr. Spinder found an opportunity of putting in a word. And so far from smiling indulgently, as Ram had recommended, he seemed very irritated.
“Be quiet,” he snapped. “What is all this nonsense?”
“It’s about the food, sir,” said Tommy.
“Indeed, yes, honourable sir,” put in Ram.
Mr. Spinder turned on Tommy.
“What do you mean? What is wrong with the food?”
“It’s beastly,” said a voice.
Mr. Spinder wheeled round.
“Who said that?”
“The boy who made that remark step forward.”
There was no response to this invitation. Mr. Spinder stood for a moment, frowning, then turned to Tommy again.
“What is wrong with the food, Armstrong?”
“It’s so badly cooked, sir,” said Tommy.
“It’s hardly cooked at all sometimes. Couldn’t we have old Jane back again instead of this new cook, sir?”
“When I require advice from you, Armstrong,” said Mr. Spinder, “on the subject of the management of this house, I will ask for it.”
“The cooking is perfectly satisfactory. Boys nowadays expect to be pampered.”
“What do you mean, Armstrong?”
“They don’t expect to be pampered, sir. They only expect to get something except raw meat.”
Mr. Spinder’s mouth tightened.
“You will do me a hundred lines, Armstrong, for impertinence.”
“Hoity-toity, honourable sir,” began Ram excitedly.
“Be quiet,” snapped the master, turning on him like a flash. Ram subsided as if he had been suddenly punctured. Mr. Spinder took advantage of the silence to drop the food subject, and turn to the matter which had originally brought him to the room.
“I came here,” he said, “to ask if any of you boys had been out in the road during the last quarter of an hour?”
“Yes, sir,” said Jimmy, speaking for the first time.
“Ah! Who are you?”
“Stewart, sir. I only came back today.”
“Oh, yes. The boy who had mumps. Were you out in the road just now?”
“Yes, sir. We all were.”
“You all were? Why?”
“We thought we heard a crash of glass, sir.”
Tommy looked admiringly at Jimmy. This was genius.
Mr. Spinder was surprised. He had taken it for granted that his window had been broken by one of the boys in his house; but this seemed to suggest that some outside person had done the thing.
“Did you all go out together?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” said half a dozen voices.
“H’m.” Mr. Spinder walked to the door.
Arriving there, he turned.
“From what I have heard to-night,” he said, “I gather that there is a lot of foolish agitation going on. Some of you, I know, can only be looked on and treated as children”—here he motioned towards the unhappy Ram, who blinked pathetically at him through his glasses—“but you others, I should imagine, are sufficiently sensible to understand what is said to you. I say, once and for all, that I will not have any more of this nonsense about the food. The food is perfectly good. The cooking is quite satisfactory. I will not have any of this hole-in-the-corner business of grumbling among yourselves in corners. Do you all understand me? I hope I shall not have to speak of this again.”
He turned on his heel, and left the room.
There was a silence for a moment after he had gone. It was broken by Ram.
“Misters and fellow students,” he cried, “is this to be borne? Are we the slaves? We must act, sirs, we must act.”
“You needn’t act the goat, anyhow,” said Morrison unkindly. “What’s to be done, Tommy?”
“My hundred lines, as a start, dash it,” said Tommy. “After that I’ll devote my powerful brain to the matter. We must think of something.”
“Pretty quick, too,” said Morrison, “or we shall all be poisoned.”
A Lesson in German.
Tommy Armstrong’s was one of those great minds which become restless unless fully employed. It was a source of much inconvenience to him that the ordinary affairs of school life did not employ it fully, which led to his being frequently compelled to spend hours, when he might have been doing something more pleasant, in working off commissions in the shape of lines and other impositions. This term it looked as if life out of school might be a little more interesting than usual. Tommy had a good deal of Irish blood in his veins, and he loved a row. The feeling in the house about the food, and Mr. Spinder’s truculent attitude, made it seem likely that there would be several rows that term. Altogether, as far as out-of-school hours were concerned, he was very fairly satisfied with things. But his active mind still needed employment in the class-room. And this was especially the case during the German lesson, presided over by Herr Steingruber.
The German master was a man of wide learning—he had taken degrees at Heidelberg University, and was the author of more than one book on the grammar and construction of his native language—but he did not infuse excitement into a lesson. It was Tommy’s habit, therefore, to do this for him.
On the present occasion, the first half of the lesson was allowed to pass quietly, as far as he was concerned. The hundred lines which Mr. Spinder had given him on the previous evening had to be worked off; and Tommy spent half an hour writing them behind the cover of a pile of books. Herr Steingruber’s studies at Heidelberg University, where he had burnt the midnight oil with great regularity and perseverance, had improved his brain but weakened his sight. He was now extremely short-sighted, and even with the aid of a huge pair of glasses could not see any great distance.
Tommy, who sat at one side of the room, out of the direct range of vision, was therefore quite safe. He wrote on, while the Herr lectured ponderously on German verbs, until the hundred lines were completed. Then, with the satisfying feeling that his duty had been done, he blotted the last page, and began to look about him in search of some employment to amuse him during the remaining half-hour of the lesson.
An idea occurred to him almost at once. Herr Steingruber, in his lecture on German verbs, had now reached the stage where it was necessary for him to perform with chalk on the blackboard. A rather tricky relationship between two families of verbs had to be illustrated and explained. His method of procedure was to draw a sort of chart on the blackboard, and then to turn his back and go further into the matter verbally.
This struck Tommy as a chance which it would be rash to miss. He took a golf-ball from his pocket. There were some links near the school, where the masters were in the habit of playing. Tommy had found the ball in some gorse bushes during a Sunday ramble on the links.
“If,” said Herr Steingruber, “we would of idiomatig Sherman masters begom, we must remember”—he turned to the blackboard, drew a few strokes with the chalk, wrote in a couple of words, and turned away again—“zo!”
As he turned Tommy flung his golf-ball at the board, caught it as it rebounded, and, by the time the Herr had turned round, had replaced it in his pocket. The noise made by the ball striking the board was like the crack of a rifle. Herr Steingruber leaped quite a foot into the air.
“Ach Himmel,” he cried, “vhat vos dot?”
Explanations came from all corners of the room.
“Thunder, I think, sir,” said Binns.
“Somebody shooting with a rifle outside, sir,” said Sloper.
Catford thought it might have been somebody’s braces bursting.
Browning stated that he would not be surprised if it wasn’t the start-off of an earthquake.
“I believe it was the blackboard, sir,” said Tommy respectfully. “It might be a flaw in the wood, sir, which made it go crack like that.”
“Ach, vell,” said Herr Steingruber, philosophically, “more dings in heaven and earth dere are, as your boet Shakesbeare says. De condemblation of de Sherman verbs resume let us, my liddle students. I vill a zendence write in idiomatig Sherman, which of these two verbs the peguliarities illusdrates. Zo.”
He wrote the idiomatic sentence, and turned away from the board.
“Of dot zendence der meaning vos, ‘Gretchen, der frau—der wife of der miller——”
The German master’s remarks on Gretchen, the wife of the miller, were cut short. He stared, deeply perplexed, at the blackboard.
“I’m certain it’s thunder, sir,” said Binns. “There’s going to be an awful storm.”
“It’s a rifle, sir, I’m sure,” said Sloper.
“It must be something in the wood the blackboard’s made of, sir,” said Tommy. “It’s probably got too dry or something. I believe wood often cracks like that when it gets dry.”
“Zilence, zilence,” said Herr Steingruber. “Too moch chadder und exblanation-talk there is. Led us now the verbs und their so interesding peculiarities for a moment leave, und to our dranslation durn. Oben, my liddle men, at bage vorty-seven your dranslation books. Zloper, begin. I vill der English virst read, und den you vill into idiomatig Sherman id dranslate. Zilence, blease, all, vhile I virst der English glearly read. ‘In der garden of my ungle’s vriend zere are roses, gabbages, bees, und abbles. Der liddle dog, Hans, vrisks in der bushes. My ungle’s vriend’s zister is on the lawn zeated.’ Zo. Now Zloper.”
Sloper’s translation of this passage was so faulty that the calm of the lesson was little by little disturbed till Herr Steingruber, in spite of his philosophy, was plucking at his moustache, and passing his fingers in an agitated manner through his hair.
“Ach, Himmel, my liddle Zloper,” he cried, in a sort of agony. “Bad, wrong id is. Nod idiomatig id is. Again der last bassage dranslate.”
“My liddle Zloper,” with an injured air, as if he preferred his own version, but gave in to oblige Herr Steingruber, was proceeding to take the passage again, when he paused, and gazed at the German master, surprised at the latter’s singular behaviour. The Herr was bending down, and apparently peering at an object on the floor. Those nearest could see that it was a sixpence. The Herr saw this. What he did not see was that it had a hole in it, and was attached to a very thin thread of silk, the other end of which was firmly grasped in Tommy Armstrong’s hand.
Bending down, the German master made a grab at the coin. To his surprise, he found that he had misjudged the distance. His hand struck the floor quite a foot away from the coin.
He rose, and polished his glasses. The excitement in the room was now great. Everyone was bending forward from his seat, to watch better the movements of the treasure-hunter. Every face expressed sympathetic interest.
The German master stooped down, and made another grab. Again he found that he had miscalculated the distance. The coin remained on the floor.
Again he rose and polished his glasses. Then, this operation concluded, he prepared to make a third assault, determined that this time there should be no mistake. When he looked at the floor the sixpence was gone.
He peered round suspiciously through his glasses.
“Who has der zixpence daken? Binns, haf you der zixpence daken?”
“Sixpence, sir? What sixpence?”
“Der zixpence dat on der floor vas.”
“Sixpence on the floor, sir? Where, sir?”
“It is gon. But on der floor id vos.”
“Was that what you were trying to get hold of, sir? I thought you were catching butterflies.”
“Voolish boy, der vos no butterflies in der winter. It vos a zixpence dat on der floor vos.”
“I haven’t taken——”
Herr Steingruber spun round. There was the blackboard, looking just the same as usual. He went up to it and examined it closely. Nothing seemed to be wrong with it.
“It’s bad wood, sir,” said Tommy. “That’s what it is. You ought to get rid of it at once, sir.”
“Zilence! Of dis exblanation-chadder dere always doo moch is. Zloper, broceed with der idiomatig Sherman dranslation.”
The German master returned to his seat, thoroughly disturbed. The episode of the vanishing sixpence had worried him. He was perfectly certain that there had been a sixpence there. But how could a sixpence have moved of its own accord? Herr Steingruber felt suspicious. There was more in this than met the eye. He was on the alert. As Sloper blundered through the passage about the little dog, Hans, and the uncle’s friend’s sister, the German master’s senses were unusually active.
It was this that enabled him to see that Tommy Armstrong was not attending to the lesson, but examining something under the desk.
He crouched like a tiger. Tommy’s attention was fixed on what he held in his hand.
Herr Steingruber sprang. He was at Tommy’s side before the latter knew what was happening.
“Give me dat, Armstrong. Zo! you der hours of lesson waste in with foolish doys blaying? Zo! I vill id convisgate.”
“Id” was Jimmy’s precious blue stone. Tommy had taken it out to look at it.
Herr Steingruber placed it in his pocket, and walked back to his seat.
Next week’s splendid instalment of this serial will tell of Jimmy’s endeavours to get back his precious stone and why they did not succeed.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
In paragraph 3 of ch. VII, magazine had “duellists”; we follow Tony Ring’s example in the 1997 Galahad Books edition and substitute “duettists,” more applicable to Binns and Sloper.
In ch. VIII, magazine had “It vos a zixpence dat on her floor vos”; “der” substituted for “her” for a better rendering of German-tinged English.