Public School Magazine, March 1902
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.
To-day 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 takes 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. Allright, 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 to-morrow—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 alright,” 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 Bovril, 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 to-night. 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 to-day—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 facile 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 that he could afford to lose some of the surplus.
“How much?” asked Jim.
At this Jim gave vent to the exclamation which is commonly known as 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 alright.” 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 realised 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. His collection, he felt, was a farce without a water-wagtail’s egg. 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, realising 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.”
“Alright. 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 to-day, 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.”
A futile iron railing, some three feet in height, shut in the Dingle. Barrett jumped this lightly, and entered forthwith into Paradise. The place was full of nests. As Barrett took a step forward there was a sudden whirring of wings, and a bird rose from a bush close beside him. He went to inspect, and found a nest with seven eggs in it. Only a thrush, of course. As no one ever wants a thrush’s egg, the world is over-stocked with them. Still, it gave promise of good things to come. Barrett pushed on through the bushes and the promise was fulfilled. He came upon another nest. Five eggs this time, of a variety he was unable with his moderate knowledge to classify. At any rate, he had not got them in his collection. Nor, to the best of his belief, had Grey. He took one for each of them.
Now this was all very well, thought Barrett, but what he had come for was a water-wagtail’s egg. Through the trees he could see the silver gleam of the brook at the foot of the hill. The woods sloped down to the very edge. Then came the brook, widening out here into the size of a small river. Then woods again all up the side of the opposite hill. Barrett hurried down the slope.
He had put on flannels for this emergency. He was prepared to wade, to swim if necessary. He hoped that it would not be necessary, for in April water is generally inclined to be chilly. Of keepers he had up till now seen no sign. Once he had heard the distant bark of a dog. It seemed to come from far across the stream and he had not troubled about it.
In the midst of the bushes on the bank stood a tree. It was not tall compared to the other trees of the Dingle, but standing alone as it did amongst the undergrowth it attracted the eye at once. Barrett, looking at it, saw something which made him forget water-wagtails for the moment. In a fork in one of the upper branches was a nest, an enormous nest, roughly constructed of sticks. It was a very jerry-built residence, evidently run up for the season by some prudent bird who knew by experience that no nest could last through the winter, and so had declined to waste his time in useless decorative work. But what bird was it? No doubt there are experts to whom a wood-pigeon’s nest is something apart and distinct from the nest of the magpie, but to your unsophisticated amateur a nest that is large may be anything, rook’s, magpie’s, pigeon’s, or great auk’s. To such an one the only true test lies in the eggs. Solvitur ambulando. Barrett laid the pill-boxes, containing the precious specimens he had found in the nest at the top of the hill, at the foot of the tree, and began to climb.
It was to be a day of surprises for him. When he had got half way up he found himself on a kind of ledge, which appeared to be a kind of junction at which the tree branched off into two parts. To the left was the nest, high up in its fork. To the right was another shoot. He realised at once, with keen disappointment, that it would be useless to go further. The branches were obviously not strong enough to bear his weight. He looked down, preparatory to commencing the descent, and to his astonishment found himself looking into a black cavern. In his eagerness to reach the nest he had not noticed before that the tree was hollow.
This made up for a great many things. His disappointment became less keen. Few things are more interesting than a hollow tree.
“Wonder how deep it goes down,” he said to himself. He broke off a piece of wood and dropped it down the hollow. It seemed to reach the ground uncommonly soon. He tried another piece. The sound of it’s fall came up to him almost simultaneously. Evidently the hole was not deep. He placed his hands on the edge, and let himself gently down into the darkness. His feet touched something solid almost immediately. As far as he could judge, the depth of the cavity was not more than five feet. Standing up at his full height he could just rest his chin on the edge.
He seemed to be standing on some sort of a floor, roughly made, but too regular to be the work of nature. Evidently someone had been here before. He bent down to make certain. There was more room to move about in than he suspected. A man sitting down would find it not uncomfortable.
He brushed his hand along the floor. Certainly it seemed to be constructed of boards. Then his hand hit something small and hard. He groped about until his fingers closed on it. It was—what was it? He could hardly make out for the moment. Suddenly, as he moved it, something inside it rattled. Now he knew what it was. It was the very thing he most needed, a box of matches.
The first match he struck promptly and naturally went out. No first match ever stays alight for more than three-fifths of a second. The second was more successful. The sudden light dazzled him for a moment. When his eyes had grown accustomed to it, the match went out. He lit a third, and this time he saw all round the little chamber.
“Great Scott,” he said, “the place is a regular poultry shop.”
All round the sides were hung pheasants and partridges in various stages of maturity. Here and there the fur of a rabbit or a hare showed up amongst the feathers. Barrett hit on the solution of the problem directly. He had been shown a similar collection once in a tree on his father’s land. The place was the head-quarters of some poacher. Barrett was full of admiration for the ingenuity of the man in finding so safe a hiding-place.
He continued his search. In one angle of the tree was a piece of sacking. Barrett lifted it. He caught a glimpse of something bright, but before he could confirm the vague suspicion that flashed upon him, his match burnt down and lay smouldering on the floor. His hand trembled with excitement as he started to light another. It broke off in his hand. At last he succeeded. The light flashed up, and there beside the piece of sacking which had covered them were two cups. He recognised them instantly.
“Jove,” he gasped. “The Sports pots! Now, how on earth—”
At this moment something happened which took his attention away from his discovery with painful suddenness. From beneath him came the muffled whine of a dog. He listened, holding his breath. No, he was not mistaken. The dog whined again, and broke into an excited bark. Somebody at the foot of the tree began to speak.
“Fetchimout!” said the voice, all in one word.
“Nice cheery remark to make!” thought Barrett. “He’ll have to do a good bit of digging before he fetches me out. I’m a fixture for the present.”
There was a sound of scratching as if the dog, in his eagerness to oblige, were trying to uproot the tree. Barrett, realising that unless the keeper took it into his head to climb, which was unlikely, he was as safe as if he had been in his study at Philpott’s, chuckled within himself, and listened intently.
“What is it, then?” said the keeper. “Good dog, at ’em! Fetch him out, Jack.”
Jack barked excitedly, and redoubled his efforts.
The sound of scratching proceeded.
“R - r - r - ats-s-s!” said the mendacious keeper. Jack had evidently paused for breath. Barrett began quite to sympathise with him. The thought that the animal was getting farther away from the object of his search with every ounce of earth he removed, tickled him hugely. He would have liked to have been able to see the operations, though. At present it was like listening to a conversation through a telephone. He could only guess at what was going on.
Then he heard somebody whistling “The Lincolnshire Poacher,” a strangely inappropriate air in the mouth of a keeper. The sound was too far away to be the work of Jack’s owner, unless he had gone for a stroll since his last remark. No, it was another keeper. A new voice came up to him.
“ ’Ullo, Ned, what’s the dog after?”
“Thinks ’e’s smelt a rabbit, seems to me.”
“Ain’t a rabbit hole ’ere.”
“Thinks there is, anyhow. Look at the pore beast!”
They both laughed. Jack meanwhile, unaware that he was turning himself into an exhibition to make a keeper’s holiday, dug assiduously. “Come away, Jack,” said the first keeper at length. “Ain’t nothin’ there. Ought to know that, clever dog like you.”
There was a sound as if he had pulled Jack bodily from his hole.
“Wait! ’Ere, Ned, what’s that on the ground there?” Barrett gasped. His pill-boxes had been discovered. Surely they would put two and two together now, and climb the tree after him.
“Eggs. Two of ’em. ’Ow did they get ’ere then?”
“It’s one of them young devils from the school. Master says to me this morning, ‘Look out,’ ’e says, ‘Saunders, for them boys as come in ’ere after eggs, and frighten all the birds out of the dratted place. You keep your eyes open, Saunders,’ ’e says.”
“Well, if ’e’s still in the woods, we’ll ’ave ’im safe.”
“If he’s still in the woods!” thought Barrett with a shiver.
After this there was silence. Barrett waited for what he thought was a quarter of an hour—it was really five minutes or less—then he peeped cautiously over the edge of his hiding-place. Yes, they had certainly gone, unless—horrible thought—they were waiting so close to the trunk of the tree as to be invisible from where he stood. He decided that the possibility must be risked. He was down on the ground in record time. Nothing happened. No hand shot out from its ambush to clutch him. He breathed more freely, and began to debate within himself which way to go. Up the hill it must be, of course, but should he go straight up, or to the left or to the right. He would have given much to know which way the keepers had gone, particularly he of the dog. They had separated, he knew. He began to reason the thing out. In the first place if they had separated, they must have gone different ways. It did not take him long to arrive at that conclusion. The odds, therefore, were that one had gone to the right up stream, the other down stream to the left. His knowledge of human nature told him that nobody would willingly walk up-hill if it was possible for him to walk on the flat. Therefore, assuming the two keepers to be human, they had gone along the valley. Therefore, his best plan would be to make straight for the top of the hill, as straight as he could steer, and risk it. Just as he was about to start his eye caught the two pill-boxes, lying on the turf a few yards from where he had placed them.
“May as well take what I can get,” he thought. He placed them carefully in his pocket. As he did so a faint bark came to him on the breeze from down stream. That must be friend Jack. He waited no longer, but dived into the bushes in the direction of the summit. He was congratulating himself on being out of danger—already he was more than half-way up the hill—when suddenly he received a terrible shock. From the bushes to his left, not ten yards from where he stood, came the clear, sharp sound of a whistle. The sound was repeated, and this time an answer came from far out to his right. Before he could move another whistle joined in, again from the left, but farther off and higher up the hill than the first he had heard. He recalled what Grey had said about “millions” of keepers. The expression, he thought, had understated the true facts, if anything. He remembered the case of Babington. It was a moment for action. No guile could save him now. It must be a stern chase for the rest of the distance. He drew a breath, and was off like an arrow. The noise he made was appalling. No one in the wood could help hearing it.
“Stop, there!” shouted someone. The voice came from behind, a fact which he noted almost automatically and rejoiced at. He had a start at any rate.
“Stop!” shouted the voice once again. The whistle blew like a steam siren, and once more the other two answered it. They were all behind him now. Surely a man of the public schools in flannels and gymnasium shoes, and trained to the last ounce for just such a sprint as this could beat a handful of keepers in their leggings and heavy boots. Barrett raced on. Close behind him a crashing in the under-growth and the sound of heavy breathing told him that keeper number one was doing his best. To left and right similar sounds were to be heard. But Barrett had placed these competitors out of the running at once. The race was between him and the man behind.
Fifty yards of difficult country, bushes which caught his clothes as if they were trying to stop him in the interests of law and order, branches which lashed him across the face, and rabbit-holes half hidden in the bracken, and still he kept his lead. He was increasing it. He must win now. The man behind was panting in deep gasps, for the pace had been warm and he was not in training. Barrett cast a glance over his shoulder, and as he looked the keeper’s foot caught in a hole and he fell heavily. Barrett uttered a shout of triumph. Victory was his.
In front of him was a small hollow fringed with bushes. Collecting his strength he cleared these with a bound. Then another of the events of this eventful afternoon happened. Instead of the hard turf, his foot struck something soft, something which sat up suddenly with a yell. Barrett rolled down the slope and half-way up the other side like a shot rabbit. Dimly he recognised that he had jumped on to a human being. The figure did not wear the official velveteens. Therefore he had no business in the Dingle. And close behind thundered the keeper, now on his feet once more, dust on his clothes and wrath in his heart in equal proportions. “Look out, man!” shouted Barrett, as the injured person rose to his feet. “Run! Cut, quick! Keeper!” There was no time to say more. He ran. Another second and he was at the top, over the railing, and in the good, honest, public high-road again, safe. A hoarse shout of “Got yer!” from below told a harrowing tale of capture. The stranger had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Very cautiously Barrett left the road and crept to the railing again. It was a rash thing to do, but curiosity overcame him. He had to see, or, if that was impossible, to hear what had happened.
For a moment the only sound to be heard was the gasping of the keeper. After a few seconds a rapidly nearing series of crashes announced the arrival of the man from the right flank of the pursuing forces, while almost simultaneously his colleague on the left came up.
Barrett could see nothing, but it was easy to understand what was going on. Keeper number one was exhibiting his prisoner. His narrative, punctuated with gasps, was told mostly in hoarse whispers, and Barrett missed most of it.
“Foot (gasp) rabbit-’ole.” More gasps. “Up agen . . . minute . . . (indistinct mutterings) . . . and (triumphantly) COTCHED ’IM!”
Exclamations of approval from the other two. “I assure you,” said another voice. The prisoner was having his say. “I assure you that I was doing no harm whatever in this wood. I . . . .”
“Better tell that tale to Sir Alfred,” cut in one of his captors.
“ ’E’ll learn yer,” said the keeper previously referred to as number one, vindictively. He was feeling shaken up with his run and his heavy fall, and his temper was proportionately short.
“I swear I’ve heard that voice before somewhere,” thought Barrett. “Wonder if it’s a Coll. chap.”
Keeper number one added something here, which was inaudible to Barrett.
“I tell you I’m not a poacher,” said the prisoner, indignantly. “And I object to your language. I tell you I was lying here doing nothing and some fool or other came and jumped on me. I . . . .”
The rest was inaudible. But Barrett had heard enough.
“I knew I’d heard that voice before. Plunkett, by Jove! Golly, what is the world coming to, when Heads of Houses and School Prefects go on the poach! Fancy! Plunkett of all people, too! This is a knock-out, I’m hanged if it isn’t.”
From below came the sound of movement. The keepers were going down the hill again. To Barrett’s guilty conscience it seemed that they were coming up. He turned and fled.
The hedge separating Sir Alfred Venner’s land from the road was not a high one, though the drop the other side was considerable. Barrett had not reckoned on this. He leapt the hedge, and staggered across the road. At the same moment a grey-clad cyclist, who was pedalling in a leisurely manner in the direction of the School, arrived at the spot. A collision seemed imminent, but the stranger in a perfectly composed manner, as if he had suddenly made up his mind to take a sharp turning, rode his machine up the bank, whence he fell with easy grace to the road, just in time to act as a cushion for Barrett. The two lay there in a tangled heap. Barrett was the first to rise.
”I’m awfully sorry,” he said, disentangling himself carefully from the heap. “I hope you’re not hurt.”
The man did not reply for a moment. He appeared to be laying the question before himself as an impartial judge, as who should say: “Now tell me candidly, are you hurt? Speak freely and without bias.”
“No,” he said at last, feeling his left leg as if he were not absolutely easy in his mind about that, “No, not hurt, thank you. Not much, that is,” he added with the air of one who thinks it best to qualify too positive a statement. “Left leg. Shin. Slight bruise. Nothing to signify.”
“It was a rotten thing to do, jumping over into the road like that,” said Barrett. “Didn’t remember there’d be such a big drop.”
“My fault in a way,” said the man. “Riding wrong side of road. Out for a run?”
“More or less.”
It occurred to Barrett that it was only due to the man on whom he had been rolling to tell him the true facts of the case. Besides, it might do something towards removing the impression which must, he felt, be forming in the stranger’s mind that he was mad.
“You see,” he said, in a burst of confidence, “it was rather a close thing. There were some keepers after me.”
“Ah!” said the man. “Thought so. Trespassing?”
“Ah. Keepers don’t like trespassers. Curious thing—don’t know if it ever occurred to you—if there were no trespassers, there would be no need for keepers. To their interest, then, to encourage trespassers. But do they?”
Barrett admitted that they did not very conspicuously.
“No. Same with all professions. Not poaching, I suppose?”
“Rather not. I was after eggs. By Jove, that reminds me.” He felt in his pocket for the pill-boxes. Could they have survived the stormy times through which they had been passing? He heaved a sigh of relief as he saw that the eggs were uninjured. He was so intent on examining them that he missed the stranger’s next remark.
“Sorry. What? I didn’t hear.”
“Asked if I was going right for St. Austin’s School.”
“College!” said Barrett, with a convulsive shudder. The most deadly error mortal man can make, with the exception of calling a school a college, is to call a college a school.
“College!” said the man. “Is this the road?”
“Yes. You can’t miss it. I’m going there myself. It’s only about a mile.”
“Ah,” said the man, with a touch of satisfaction in his voice. “Going there yourself, are you? Perhaps you’re one of the scholars?”
“Not much,” said Barrett, “ask our form-beak if I’m a scholar. Oh. I see. Yes, I’m there all right.”
Barrett was a little puzzled as to how to class his companion. No old public school man would talk of scholars. And yet he was emphatically not a bargee. Barrett set him down as a sort of superior tourist, a Henry as opposed to an ’Arry.
“Been bit of a disturbance there, hasn’t there? Cricket pavilion. Cups.”
“Rather. But how on earth—”
“How on earth did I get to hear of it, you were going to say. Well, no need to conceal anything. Fact is, down here to look into the matter. Detective. Name, Roberts, Scotland Yard. Now we know each other, and if you can tell me one or two things about this burglary, it would be a great help to me, and I should be very much obliged.”
Barrett had heard that a detective was coming down to look into the affair of the cups. His position was rather a difficult one. In a sense it was simple enough. He had found the cups. He could (keepers permitting) go and fetch them now, and there would—No. There would not be an end of the matter. It would be very pleasant, exceedingly pleasant, to go to the Head Master and the detective, and present the cups to them with a “Bless you my children” air. The Head Master would say, “Barrett, you’re a marvel. How can I thank you sufficiently?” while the detective would observe that he had been in the profession over twenty years, but never had he seen so remarkable an exhibition of sagacity and acumen as this. That, at least, was what ought to take place. But Barrett’s experience of life, short as it was, had taught him the difference between the ideal and the real. The real, he suspected, would in this case be painful. Certain facts would come to light. When had he found the cups? About four in the afternoon? Oh. Roll-call took place at four in the afternoon. How came it that he was not at roll-call? Furthermore, how came it that he was marked on the list as having answered his name at that ceremony? Where had he found the cups? In a hollow tree? Just so. Where was the hollow tree? In Sir Alfred Venner’s woods. Did he know that Sir Alfred Venner’s woods were out of bounds? Did he know that, in consequence of complaints from Sir Alfred Venner, Sir Alfred Venner’s woods were more out of bounds than any other out of bounds woods in the entire county that did not belong to Sir Alfred Venner? He did? Ah! No, the word for his guidance in this emergency, he felt instinctively, was “mum.” Time might provide him with a solution. He might, for instance, abstract the cups secretly from their resting-place, place them in the middle of the football field, and find them there dramatically after morning school. Or he might reveal his secret from the carriage window as his train moved out of the station on the first day of the holidays. There was certain to be some way out of the difficulty. But for the present silence.
He answered his companion’s questions freely, however. Of the actual burglary he knew no more than any other member of the School, considerably less, indeed, than Jim Thomson, of Merevale’s, at present staggering under the weight of a secret even more gigantic than Barrett’s own. In return for his information he extracted sundry reminiscences. The scar on the detective’s cheek-bone, barely visible now, was the mark of a bullet, which a certain burglar, named singularly enough Roberts, had fired at him from a distance of five yards. The gentleman in question, who, the detective hastened to inform Barrett, was no relation of his, though owning the same name, happened to be a poor marksman and only scored a bad magpie, assuming the detective’s face to have been the bull. He also turned up his cuff to show a larger scar. This was another testimonial from the burglar world. A Kensington practitioner had had the bad taste to bite off a piece of that part of the detective. In short, Barrett enlarged his knowledge of the seamy side of things considerably in the mile of road which had to be traversed before St. Austin’s appeared in sight. The two parted at the big gates, Barrett going in the direction of Philpott’s, the detective wheeling his machine towards the porter’s lodge.
Barrett’s condition when he turned in at Philpott’s door was critical. He was so inflated with news that any attempt to keep it in might have serious results. Certainly he could not sleep that night in such a bomb-like state.
It was thus that he broke in upon Reade. Reade had passed an absurdly useless afternoon. He had not stirred from the study. For all that it would have mattered to him, it might have been raining hard the whole afternoon, instead of being, as it had been, the finest afternoon of the whole term. In a word, and not to put too fine a point on the matter, he had been frousting, and consequently was feeling dull and sleepy, and generally under-vitalised and futile. Barrett entered the study with a rush, and was carried away by excitement to such an extent that he addressed Reade as if the deadly feud between them not only did not exist, but never had existed.
“I say, Reade. Heave that beastly book away. My aunt, I have had an afternoon of it.”
“Oh?” said Reade, politely, “where did you go?”
“After eggs in the Dingle.”
Reade was fairly startled out of his dignified reserve. For the first time since they had had their little difference, he addressed Barrett in a sensible manner.
“You idiot!” he said.
“Don’t see it. The Dingle’s just the place to spend a happy day. Like Rosherville. Jove, it’s worth going there. You should see the birds. Place is black with ’em.”
“How about keepers? See any?”
“Did I not! Three of them chased me like good ’uns all over the place.”
“You got away all right, though.”
“Only just. I say, do you know what happened? You know that rotter Plunkett. Used to be a day boy. Head of Ward’s now. Wears specs.”
“Well, just as I was almost out of the wood, I jumped a bush and landed right on top of him. The man was asleep or something. Fancy choosing the Dingle of all places to sleep in, where you can’t go a couple of yards without running into a keeper! He hadn’t even the sense to run. I yelled to him to look out, and then I hooked it myself. And then the nearest keeper, who’d just come down a buster over a rabbit-hole, sailed in and had him. I couldn’t do anything, of course.”
“Jove, there’ll be a fair-sized row about this. The Old Man’s on to trespassing like tar. I say, think Plunkett’ll say anything about you being there too?”
“Shouldn’t think so. For one thing I don’t think he recognised me. Probably doesn’t know me by sight, and he was fast asleep, too. No, I fancy I’m alright.”
“Well, it was a jolly narrow shave. Anything else happen?”
“Anything else! Just a bit. That’s to say, no, nothing much else. No.”
“Now then,” said Reade, briskly. “None of your beastly mysteries. Out with it.”
“Look here, swear you’ll keep it dark?”
“Of course I will.”
“On your word of honour?”
“If you think—” began Reade in an offended voice.
“No, it’s alright. Don’t get shirty. The thing is, though, it’s so frightfully important to keep it dark.”
“Well? Buck up.”
“Well, you needn’t believe me, of course, but I’ve found the pots.”
“What!” he cried. “The pot for the quarter?”
“And the one for the hundred yards. Both of them. It’s a fact.”
“But where? How? What have you done with them?”
Barrett unfolded his tale concisely.
“You see,” he concluded, “what a hole I’m in. I can’t tell the Old Man anything about it, or I get booked for cutting roll-call, and going out of bounds. And then, while I’m waiting and wondering what to do, and all that, the thief, whoever he is, will most likely go off with the pots. What do you think I ought to do?”
“Well,” he said, “all you can do is to lie low and trust to luck, as far as I can see. Besides, there’s one consolation. This Plunkett business ’ll make every keeper in the Dingle twice as keen after trespassers. So the pot man won’t get a chance of getting the things away.”
“Yes, there’s something in that,” admitted Barrett.
“It’s all you can do,” said Reade.
“Yes. Unless I wrote an anonymous letter to the old man explaining things. How would that do?”
“Do for you, probably. Anonymous letters always get traced to the person who wrote them. Or pretty nearly always. No, you simply lie low.”
“Right,” said Barrett, “I will.”
The process of concealing one’s superior knowledge is very irritating. So irritating, indeed, that very few people do it. Barrett, however, was obliged to by necessity. He had a good chance of displaying his abilities in that direction when he met Grey the next morning.
“Hullo,” said Grey, “have a good time yesterday?”
“Not bad. I’ve got an egg for you.”
“Good man. What sort?”
“Hanged if I know. I know you haven’t got it, though.”
“Thanks awfully. See anything of the million keepers?”
“Heard them oftener than I saw them.”
“They didn’t book you?”
“Rather fancy one of them saw me, but I got away alright.”
“Find the place pretty lively?”
“Stay there long?”
“No. Thought you wouldn’t. What do you say to a small ice? There’s time before school.”
“Thanks. Are you flush?”
“Flush isn’t the word for it. I’m a plutocrat.”
“Uncle came out fairly strong then?”
“Rather. To the tune of one sovereign, cash. He’s a jolly good sort, my uncle.”
“So it seems,” said Barrett.
The meeting then adjourned to the school shop, Barrett enjoying his ice all the more for the thought that his secret still was a secret. A thing which it would in all probability have ceased to be, had he been rash enough to confide it to K. St. H. Grey, who, whatever his other merits, was very far from being the safest sort of confidant. His usual practice was to speak first, and to think, if at all, afterwards.
The pavilion burglary was discussed in other places besides Charteris’ study. In the Masters’ Common Room the matter came in for it’s full share of comment. The masters were, as at most schools, divided into the athletic and non-athletic, and it was for the former class that the matter possessed most interest. If it had been that apple of the College Library’s eye, the original MS. of St. Austin’s private diary, or even that lesser treasure, the black-letter Eucalyptides, that had disappeared, the elder portion of the staff would have had a great deal to say upon the subject. But, apart from the excitement caused by the strangeness of such an occurrence, the theft of a couple of Sports’ prizes had little interest for them.
On the border-line between these two castes came Mr. Thompson, the Master of the Sixth Form, spelt with a p and no relation to the genial James or the amiable Allen, with the former of whom, indeed, he was on very indifferent terms of friendship. Mr. Thompson, though an excellent classic, had no knowledge of the inwardness of the Human Boy. He expected every member of his form not only to be earnest—which very few members of a Sixth Form are—but also to communicate his innermost thoughts to him. His aim was to be their confidant, the wise friend to whom they were to bring their troubles and come for advice. He was, in fact, poor man, the good young master. Now, it is generally the case at school that troubles are things to be worried through alone, and any attempt at interference is usually resented. Mr. Thompson had asked Jim to tea, and, while in the very act of passing him the muffins, had called him “my dear, dear, dear lad,” and embarked on a sort of unofficial sermon, winding up by inviting confidences. Jim had naturally been first flippant, and then rude, and relations had been strained ever since.
“It must have been a professional,” alleged Perkins, the master of the Upper Fourth. “If it hadn’t been for the fact of the money having been stolen as well as the cups, I should have put it down to one of our fellows.”
“My dear Perkins,” expostulated Merevale.
“My dear Merevale, my entire form is capable of any crime except the theft of money. A boy might have taken the cups for a joke, or just for the excitement of the thing, meaning to return them in time for the Sports. But the two pounds knocks that on the head. It must have been a professional.”
“I always said that the pavilion was a very unsafe place, in which to keep anything of value,” said Mr. Thompson.
“You were profoundly right, Thompson,” replied Perkins. “You deserve a diploma.”
“This business is rather in your line, Thompson,” said Merevale. “You must bring your powers to bear on the subject, and scent out the criminal.”
Mr. Thompson took a keen pride in his powers of observation. He would frequently observe, like the lamented Sherlock Holmes, the vital necessity of taking notice of trifles. The daily life of a Sixth Form Master at a big Public School does not afford much scope for the practice of the detective art, but Mr. Thompson had once detected a piece of cribbing, when correcting some Latin proses for the master of the Lower Third, solely by the exercise of his powers of observation, and he had never forgotten it. He burned to add another scalp to his collection, and this pavilion burglary seemed peculiarly suited to his talents. He had given the matter his attention, and, as far as he could see, everything pointed to the fact that skilled hands had been at work.
From eleven until half-past twelve that day, the Sixth were doing an unseen examination under the eye of the Head Master, and Mr. Thompson was consequently off duty. He took advantage of this to stroll down to the pavilion and make a personal inspection of the first room, from which what were left of the prizes had long been removed to a place of safety.
He was making his way to the place where the ground-man was usually to be found, with a view to obtaining the keys, when he noticed that the door was already open, and on going thither he came upon Biffen, the ground-man, in earnest conversation with a stranger.
“Morning, sir,” said the ground-man. He was on speaking terms with most of the masters and all the boys. Then, to his companion, “This is Mr. Thompson, one of our masters.”
“Morning, sir,” said the latter. “Weather keeps up. I am Inspector Roberts, Scotland Yard. But I think we’re in for rain soon. Yes. ’Fraid so. Been asked to look into this business, Mr. Thompson. Queer business.”
“Very. Might I ask—I am very interested in this kind of thing—whether you have arrived at any conclusions yet?”
The detective eyed him thoughtfully, as if he were hunting for the answer to a riddle.
“No. Not yet. Nothing definite.”
“I presume you take it for granted it was the work of a professional burglar.”
“No. No. Take nothing for granted. Great mistake. Prejudices one way or other great mistake. But, I think, yes, I think it was probably—almost certainly—not done by a professional.”
Mr. Thompson looked rather blank at this. It shook his confidence in his powers of deduction.
“But,” he expostulated. “Surely no one but a practised burglar would have taken a pane of glass out so—ah—neatly?”
Inspector Roberts rubbed a finger thoughtfully round the place where the glass had been. Then he withdrew it, and showed a small cut from which the blood was beginning to drip.
“Do you notice anything peculiar about that cut?” he enquired.
Mr. Thompson did not. Nor did the ground-man.
“Look carefully. Now do you see? No? Well, it’s not a clean cut. Ragged. Very ragged. Now if a professional had cut that pane out he wouldn’t have left it jagged like that. No. He would have used a diamond. Done job neatly.”
This destroyed another of Mr. Thompson’s premises. He had taken it for granted that a diamond had been used.
“Oh!” he said, “was that pane not cut by a diamond, What did the burglar use, then?”
“No. No diamond. Diamond would have left smooth surface. Smooth as a razor edge. This is like a saw. Amateurish work. Can’t say for certain, but probably done with a chisel.”
“With a chisel? Surely not.”
“Yes. Probably with a chisel. Probably the man knocked the pane out with one blow, then removed all the glass so as to make it look like the work of an old hand. Very good idea, but amateurish. I am told that three cups have been taken. Could you tell me how long they had been in the pavilion?”
Mr. Thompson considered.
“Well,” he said. “Of course it’s difficult to remember exactly, but I think they were placed there soon after one o’clock the day before yesterday.”
“Ah! And the robbery took place yesterday in the early morning, or the night before?”
“Is the pavilion the usual place to keep the prizes for the Sports?”
“No, it is not. They were only put there temporarily. The board-room, where they are usually kept, and which is in the main buildings of the School, happened to be needed until the next day. Most of us were very much against leaving them in the pavilion, but it was thought that no harm could come to them if they were removed next day.”
“But they were removed that night, which made a great difference,” said Mr. Roberts, chuckling at his mild joke. “I see. Then I suppose none outside the School knew that they were not in their proper place?”
“I imagine not.”
“Just so. Knocks the idea of professional work on the head. None of the regular trade can have known this room held so much silver for one night. No regular would look twice at a cricket pavilion under ordinary circumstances. Therefore, it must have been somebody who had something to do with the School. One of the boys, perhaps.”
“Really, I do not think that probable.”
“You can’t tell. Never does to form hasty conclusions. Boy might have done it for many reasons. Some boys would have done it for the sake of the excitement. That, perhaps, is the least possible explanation. But you get boy kleptomaniacs just as much in proportion as grown-up kleptomaniacs. I knew a man. He had a son. Couldn’t keep him away from anything valuable. Had to take him away in a hurry from three schools, good schools, too.”
“Really? What became of him? He did not come to us, I suppose?”
“No. Somebody advised the father to send him to one of those North-Country schools where they flog. Great success. Stole some money. Got flogged, instead of expelled. Did it again with same result. Gradually got tired of it. Reformed character now. . . . I don’t say it is a boy, mind you. Most probably not. Only say it may be.”
All the while he was talking, his eyes were moving restlessly round the room. He came to the window through which Jim had effected his entrance, and paused before the broken pane.
“I suppose he tried that window first, before going round to the other?” hazarded Mr. Thompson.
“Yes. Most probably. Broke it, and then remembered that anyone at the windows of the boarding-houses might see him, so left his job half done, and shifted his point of action. I think so. Yes.”
He moved on again till he came to the other window. Then he gave vent to an excited exclamation, and picked up a piece of caked mud from the sill as carefully as if it were some fragile treasure.
“Now, see this,” he said. “This was wet when the robbery was done. The man brought it in with him. On his boot. Left it on the sill as he climbed in. Got out in a hurry, startled by something—you can see he was startled and left in a hurry from the different values of the cups he took—and as he was going, put his hand on this. Left a clear impression. Good as plaster-of-Paris very nearly.”
Mr. Thompson looked at the piece of mud, and there, sure enough, was the distinct imprint of the palm of a hand. He could see the larger of the lines quite clearly, and under a magnifying-glass there was no doubt that more could be revealed.
He drew in a long breath of satisfaction and excitement.
“Yes,” said the detective. “That piece of mud couldn’t prove anything by itself, but bring it up at the end of a long string of evidence, and if it fits your man, it convicts him as much as a snap-shot photograph would. Morning, sir. I must be going.” And he retired, carrying the piece of mud in his hand, leaving Mr. Thompson in the full grip of the detective-fever, hunting with might and main for more clues.
After some time, however, he was reluctantly compelled to give up the search, for the bell rang for dinner, and he always lunched, as did many of the masters, in the Great Hall. During the course of the meal he exercised his brains without pause in the effort to discover a fitting suspect. Did he know of any victim of kleptomania in the School? No, he was sorry to say he did not. Was anybody in urgent need of money? He could not say. Very probably, yes, but he had no means of knowing.
After lunch he went back to the Common Room. There was a letter lying on the table. He picked it up. It was addressed to “J. Thomson, St Austin’s.” Now Mr. Thompson’s Christian name was John. He did not notice the omission of the p until he had opened the envelope and caught a glimpse of the contents. The letter was so short that only a glimpse was needed, and it was not till he had read the whole that he realised that it was somebody else’s letter that he had opened.
This was the letter:—
“Frantic haste. Can you let me have that two pounds directly you come back? Beg, borrow, or steal it. I simply must have it.
Extract from letter from J. Thomson, of St. Austin’s, to his brother, Allen Thomson, of Rugby:—
“ . . . . My aunt, I have been having a time this last week. To start with I lost the mile by a foot. I led all the way up to within a yard of the tape. Pretty rotten luck, wasn’t it? But there was worse than that to come. Directly I had changed, I was told the Old Man wanted to see me. I went over, and there with him was Thompson, my Form-beak. The beast had opened that letter you sent me, read it—by accident, he said. You bet!—and they jumped at the conclusion that I had been burgling the pav. I had, as a matter of fact, in a sort of way. I told you all about it in my last letter. Well, things looked awfully bad for me for a time. I couldn’t prove I wasn’t in the pav., of course, as I had really been there all right, so I just ‘lay low and said nuffin.’ The Head sent me away, and postponed execution till the next day after school. Well, in the middle of morning school he sent for me. I found him with the detective who came down about the job. He looked rather chippy about something, and it turned out that the ’tec had booked the real man. He is a poacher who hangs out in the village. He bagged the cups and hid them in a tree in old Venner’s woods. They have since turned up all right. Venner, by the way, has created a sensation by collaring a real live Head of a House smoking in his woods. That chap Plunkett, in Ward’s House, is the man. Everybody thought him an awful saint, but it appears that he used to go every afternoon to the Dingle to smoke. Of course, he got booked, and now he has got his marching orders, sacked. Dallas and Vaughan, in Ward’s, go about trying their hardest not to cheer. They barred the man frightfully, and I don’t wonder. The three of them were in one study, and were always fighting. But about the Old Man. He first grovelled a bit, but just as I was going to forgive him in my best style, he jumped on me with both feet for betting. He gave me a very bad time while it lasted, but didn’t take away my Prefect’s cap or anything, and it’s all over now, and I think I’ve come jolly well out of the business.
“P.S.—I forgot to say that your two quid will be all right. The governor owes me a quid for winning the half, and the rest we managed to rake up in rather a neat way. Charteris, in our House, runs an official rag called the Glow Worm. Tony and I both contribute. Well, we got out a special—‘Sports and Pav. Burglary’ number, and the School simply went for it bald-headed. It is only a jelly-graphed edition—usually we print it properly—but it sold like hot cakes. We made two pounds out of it altogether, of which I take one, partly as charity, and partly because I wrote nearly all of the number—and a dashed fag it was too. So we all end happily ever after. I will bring home the Glow Worm when I come.
“P.P.S.—Tony tells me to say he hopes your jaw is all right again. He says you usually have a good deal of it, and he hopes there is none missing after Aldershot. It seems to me that this is one of those remarks which, as somebody says, pass out of the realm of the merely impertinent, and soar into the boundless empyrean of pure cheek. So long.”