The Captain, January 1905
the fight in the dormitory.
TATING it broadly, fighters may be said to be divided into two classes—those who are content to take two blows if they can give three in return, and those who prefer to receive as little punishment as possible, even at the expense of scoring fewer points themselves. Kennedy’s position, when Jimmy Silver called time, was peculiar. On all the other occasions on which he had fought—with the gloves on in the annual competition, and at the assault-at-arms—he had gone in for the policy of taking all that the other man liked to give him and giving rather more in exchange. Now, however, he was obliged to alter his whole style. For a variety of reasons it was necessary that he should come out of this fight with as few marks as possible. To begin with, he represented, in a sense, the Majesty of the Law. He was tackling Walton more by way of an object-lesson to the Kayite mutineers than for his own personal satisfaction. The object-lesson would lose in impressiveness if he were compelled to go about for a week or so with a pair of black eyes, or other adornments of a similar kind. Again—and this was even more important—if he was badly marked the affair must come to the knowledge of the headmaster. Being a prefect, and in the sixth form, he came into contact with the Head every day, and the disclosure of the fact that he had been engaged in a pitched battle with a member of his house, who was, in addition to other disadvantages, very low down in the school, would be likely to lead to unpleasantness. A school prefect of Eckleton was supposed to be hedged about with so much dignity that he could quell turbulent inferiors with a glance. The idea of one of the august body lowering himself to the extent of emphasising his authority with the bare knuckle would scandalise the powers.
So Kennedy, rising at the call of time from the bed on which he sat, came up to the scratch warily.
Walton, on the other hand, having everything to gain and nothing to lose, and happy in the knowledge that no amount of bruises could do him any harm, except physically, came on with the evident intention of making a hurricane fight of it. He had very little science as a boxer. Heavy two-handed slogging was his forte, and, as the majority of his opponents up to the present had not had sufficient skill to discount his strength, he had found this a very successful line of action. Kennedy and he had never had the gloves on together. In the competition of the previous year both had entered in their respective classes, Kennedy as a lightweight, Walton in the middles, and both, after reaching the semi-final, had been defeated by the narrowest of margins by men who had since left the school. That had been in the previous Easter term, and, while Walton had remained much the same as regards weight and strength, Kennedy, owing to a term of hard bowling and a summer holiday spent in the open, had filled out. They were now practically on an equality, as far as weight was concerned. As for condition, that was all in favour of Kennedy. He played football in his spare time. Walton, on the days when football was not compulsory, smoked cigarettes.
Neither of the pair showed any desire to open the fight by shaking hands. This was not a friendly spar. It was business. The first move was made by Walton, who feinted with his right and dashed in to fight at close quarters. It was not a convincing feint. At any rate, it did not deceive Kennedy. He countered with his left, and swung his right at the body with all the force he could put into the hit. Walton went back a pace, sparred for a moment, then came in again, hitting heavily. Kennedy’s counter missed its mark this time. He just stopped a round sweep of Walton’s right, ducked to avoid a similar effort of his left, and they came together in a clinch.
In a properly regulated glove-fight, the referee, on observing the principals clinch, says, “Break away there, break away,” in a sad, reproachful voice, and the fighters separate without demur, being very much alive to the fact that, as far as that contest is concerned, their destinies are in his hands, and that any bad behaviour in the ring will lose them the victory. But in an impromptu turn-up like this one, the combatants show a tendency to ignore the rules so carefully mapped out by the present Marquess of Queensberry’s grandfather, and revert to the conditions of warfare under which Cribb and Spring won their battles. Kennedy and Walton, having clinched, proceeded to wrestle up and down the room, while Jimmy Silver looked on from his eminence in pained surprise at the sight of two men, who knew the rules of the ring, so far forgetting themselves.
To do Kennedy justice, it was not his fault. He was only acting in self-defence. Walton had started the hugging. Also, he had got the under-grip, which, when neither man knows a great deal of the science of wrestling, generally means victory. Kennedy was quite sure that he could not throw his antagonist, but he hung on in the knowledge that the round must be over shortly, when Walton would have to loose him.
“Time,” said Jimmy Silver.
Kennedy instantly relaxed his grip, and in that instant Walton swung him off his feet, and they came down together with a crash that shook the room. Kennedy was underneath, and, as he fell, his head came into violent contact with the iron support of a bed.
Jimmy Silver sprang down from his seat.
“What are you playing at, Walton? Didn’t you hear me call time? It was a beastly foul—the worst I ever saw. You ought to be sacked for a thing like that. Look here, Kennedy, you needn’t go on. I disqualify Walton for fouling.”
The usually genial James stammered with righteous indignation.
Kennedy sat down on a bed dizzily.
“No,” he said; “I’m going on.”
“But he fouled you.”
“I don’t care. I’ll look after myself. Is it time yet?”
“Ten seconds more, if you really are going on.”
He climbed back on to the chest of drawers.
Kennedy came up feeling weak and sick. The force with which he had hit his head on the iron had left him dazed.
Walton rushed in as before. He had no chivalrous desire to spare his man by way of compensation for fouling him. What monopolised his attention was the evident fact that Kennedy was in a bad way, and that a little strenuous in-fighting might end the affair in the desired manner.
It was at this point that Kennedy had reason to congratulate himself on donning gymnasium shoes. They gave him that extra touch of lightness which enabled him to dodge blows which he was too weak to parry. Everything was vague and unreal to him. He seemed to be looking on at a fight between Walton and some stranger.
Then the effect of his fall began to wear off. He could feel himself growing stronger. Little by little his head cleared, and he began once more to take a personal interest in the battle. It is astonishing what a power a boxer, who has learnt the art carefully, has of automatic fighting. The expert gentleman who fights under the pseudonym of “Kid McCoy” once informed the present writer that in one of his fights he was knocked down by such a severe hit that he remembered nothing further, and it was only on reading the paper next morning that he found, to his surprise, that he had fought four more rounds after the blow and won the battle handsomely on points. Much the same thing happened to Kennedy. For the greater part of the second round he fought without knowing it. When Jimmy Silver called time he was in as good case as ever, and the only effects of the blow on his head were a vast lump underneath the hair, and a settled determination to win or perish. In a few minutes the bell would ring for tea, and all his efforts would end in nothing. It was no good fighting a draw with Walton if he meant to impress the house. He knew exactly what Rumour, assisted by Walton, would make of the affair in that case. “Have you heard the latest?” A would ask of B. “Why, Kennedy tried to touch Walton up for not playing footer, and Walton went for him and would have given him frightful beans, only they had to go down to tea.” There must be none of that sort of thing.
“Time,” said Jimmy Silver, breaking in on his meditations.
It was probably the suddenness and unexpectedness of it that took Walton aback. Up till now his antagonist had been fighting strictly on the defensive, and was obviously desirous of escaping punishment as far as might be possible. And then the fall at the end of round one had shaken him up, so that he could hardly fight at all at their second meeting. Walton naturally expected that it would be left to him to do the leading in round three. Instead of this, however, Kennedy opened the round with such a lightning attack that Walton was all abroad in a moment. In his most scientific mood he had never had the remotest notion of how to guard. He was aggressive and nothing else. Attacked by a quick hitter, he was useless. Three times Kennedy got through his guard with his left. The third hit staggered him. Before he could recover, Kennedy had got his right in, and down went Walton in a heap.
He was up again as soon as he touched the boards, and down again almost as soon as he was up. Kennedy was always a straight hitter, and now a combination of good cause and bad temper—for the thought of the foul in the first round had stirred what was normally a more or less placid nature into extreme viciousness—lent a vigour to his left arm to which he had hitherto been a stranger. He did not use his right again. It was not needed.
Twice more Walton went down. He was still down when Jimmy Silver called time. When the half-minute interval between the rounds was over, he stated that he was not going on.
Kennedy looked across at him as he sat on a bed dabbing tenderly at his face with a handkerchief, and was satisfied with the success of his object-lesson. From his own face the most observant of headmasters could have detected no evidence that he had been engaged in a vulgar fight. Walton, on the other hand, looked as if he had been engaged in several—all violent. Kennedy went off to his study to change, feeling that he had advanced a long step on the thorny path that led to the Perfect House.
fenn receives a letter.
UT the step was not such a very long one after all. What it amounted to was simply this, that open rebellion ceased in Kay’s. When Kennedy put up the list on the notice-board for the third time, which he did on the morning following his encounter with Walton, and wrote on it that the match with Blackburn’s would take place that afternoon, his team turned out like lambs, and were duly defeated by thirty-one points. He had to play a substitute for Walton, who was rather too battered to be of any real use in the scrum; but, with that exception, the team that entered the field was the same that should have entered it the day before.
But his labours in the Augean stables of Kay’s were by no means over. Practically they had only begun. The state of the house now was exactly what it had been under Fenn. When Kennedy had taken over the reins, Kay’s had become on the instant twice as bad as it had been before. By his summary treatment of the revolution, he had, so to speak, wiped off this deficit. What he had to do now was to begin to improve things. Kay’s was now in its normal state, slack, rowdy in an underhand way, and utterly useless to the school. It was “up to” Kennedy, as they say in America, to start in and make something presentable and useful out of these unpromising materials.
What annoyed him more than anything else was the knowledge that if only Fenn chose to do the square thing and help him in his work, the combination would be irresistible. It was impossible to make any leeway to speak of by himself. If Fenn would only forget his grievances and join forces with him, they could electrify the house.
Fenn, however, showed no inclination to do anything of the kind. He and Kennedy never spoke to one another now except when it was absolutely unavoidable, and then they behaved with that painful politeness in which the public schoolman always wraps himself as in a garment when dealing with a friend with whom he has quarrelled.
On the Walton episode Fenn had made no comment, though it is probable that he thought a good deal.
It was while matters were in this strained condition that Fenn received a letter from his elder brother. This brother had been at Eckleton in his time—School House—and had left five years before to go to Cambridge. Cambridge had not taught him a great deal, possibly because he did not meet the well-meant efforts of his tutor half-way. The net result of his three years at King’s was—imprimis, a cricket blue, including a rather lucky eighty-three at Lord’s; secondly, a very poor degree; thirdly and lastly, a taste for literature and the drama—he had been a prominent member of the Footlights Club. When he came down he looked about him for some occupation which should combine in happy proportions a small amount of work and a large amount of salary, and, finding none, drifted into journalism, at which calling he had been doing very fairly ever since.
“Dear Bob,” the letter began. Fenn’s names were Robert Mowbray, the second of which he had spent much of his time in concealing. “Just a line.”
The elder Fenn always began his letters with these words, whether they ran to one sheet or eight. In the present case the screed was not particularly long.
“Do you remember my reading you a bit of an opera I was writing? Well, I finished it, and, after going the round of most of the managers, who chucked it with wonderful unanimity, it found an admirer in Higgs, the man who took the part of the duke in The Outsider. Luckily, he happened to be thinking of starting on his own in opera instead of farce, and there’s a part in mine which fits him like a glove. So he’s going to bring it out at the Imperial in the spring, and by way of testing the piece—trying it on the dog, as it were—he means to tour with it. Now, here’s the point of this letter. We start at Eckleton next Wednesday. We shall only be there one night, for we go on to Southampton on Thursday. I suppose you couldn’t come and see it? I remember Peter Brown, who got the last place in the team the year I got my cricket colours, cutting out of his house (Kay’s, by the way) and going down town to see a piece at the theatre. I’m bound to admit he got sacked for it, but still, it shows that it can be done. All the same, I shouldn’t try it on if I were you. You’ll be able to read all about the ‘striking success’ and ‘unrestrained enthusiasm’ in the Eckleton Mirror on Thursday. Mind you buy a copy.”
The rest of the letter was on other subjects. It took Fenn less than a minute to decide to patronise that opening performance. He was never in the habit of paying very much attention to risks when he wished to do anything, and now he felt as if he cared even less than usual what might be the outcome of the adventure. Since he had ceased to be on speaking terms with Kennedy, he had found life decidedly dull. Kennedy had been his only intimate friend. He had plenty of acquaintances, as a first eleven and first fifteen man usually has, but none of them were very entertaining. Consequently he welcomed the idea of a break in the monotony of affairs. The only thing that had broken it up to the present had been a burglary at the school house. Some enterprising marauder had broken in a week before and gone off with a few articles of value from the headmaster’s drawing-room. But the members of the school house had talked about this episode to such an extent that the rest of the school had dropped off the subject, exhausted, and declined to discuss it further. And things had become monotonous once more.
Having decided to go, Fenn began to consider how he should do it. And here circumstances favoured him. It happened that on the evening on which his brother’s play was to be produced the headmaster was giving his once-a-term dinner to the house-prefects. This simplified matters wonderfully. The only time when his absence from the house was at all likely to be discovered would be at prayers, which took place at half-past nine. The prefects’ dinner solved this difficulty for him. Kay would not expect him to be at prayers, thinking he was over at the Head’s, while the Head, if he noticed his absence at all, would imagine that he was staying away from the dinner owing to a headache or some other malady. It seemed tempting Providence not to take advantage of such an excellent piece of luck. For the rest, detection was practically impossible. Kennedy’s advent to the house had ousted Fenn from the dormitory in which he had slept hitherto, and, there being no bed available in any of the other dormitories, he had been put into the spare room usually reserved for invalids whose invalidism was not of a sufficiently infectious kind to demand their removal to the infirmary. As for getting back into the house, he would leave the window of his study unfastened. He could easily climb on to the window-ledge, and so to bed without let or hindrance.
The distance from Kay’s to the town was a mile and a half. If he started at the hour when he should have been starting for the school house, he would arrive just in time to see the curtain go up.
Having settled these facts definitely in his mind, he got his books together and went over to school.
ENN arrived at the theatre a quarter of an hour before the curtain rose. Going down a gloomy alley of the High Street he found himself at the stage door, where he made inquiries of a depressed-looking man with a bad cold in the head as to the whereabouts of his brother. It seemed that he was with Mr. Higgs. If he would wait, said the door-keeper, his name should be sent up. Fenn waited, while the door-keeper made polite conversation by describing his symptoms to him in a hoarse growl. Presently the minion who had been despatched to the upper regions with Fenn’s message returned. Would he go upstairs, third door on the left. Fenn followed the instructions, and found himself in a small room, a third of which was filled by a huge iron-bound chest, another third by a very stout man and a dressing-table, while the rest of the space was comparatively empty, being occupied by a wooden chair with three legs. On this seat his brother was trying to balance himself, giving what part of his attention was not required for this feat to listening to some story the fat man was telling him. Fenn had heard his deep voice booming as he went up the passage.
His brother did the honours.
“Glad to see you, glad to see you,” said Mr. Higgs, for the fat man was none other than that celebrity. “Take a seat.”
Fenn sat down on the chest and promptly tore his trousers on a jagged piece of iron.
“These provincial dressing-rooms!” said Mr. Higgs, by way of comment. “No room! Never any room! No chairs! Nothing!”
He spoke in short, quick sentences, and gasped between each. Fenn said it really didn’t matter—he was quite comfortable.
“Haven’t they done anything about it?” asked Fenn’s brother, resuming the conversation which Fenn’s entrance had interrupted. “We’ve been having a burglary here,” he explained. “Somebody got into the theatre last night through a window. I don’t know what they expected to find.”
“Why,” said Fenn, “we’ve had a burglar up our way too. Chap broke into the school house and went through the old man’s drawing-room. The school house men have been talking about nothing else ever since. I wonder if it’s the same crew.”
Mr. Higgs turned in his chair, and waved a stick of grease paint impressively to emphasise his point.
“There,” he said. “There! What I’ve been saying all along. No doubt of it. Organised gang. And what are the police doing? Nothing, sir, nothing. Making inquiries. Rot! What’s the good of inquiries?”
Fenn’s brother suggested mildly that inquiries were a good beginning. You must start somehow. Mr. Higgs scouted the idea.
“There ought not to be any doubt, sir. They ought to know. To know,” he added, with firmness.
At this point there filtered through the closed doors the strains of the opening chorus.
“By Jove, it’s begun!” said Fenn’s brother. “Come on, Bob.”
“Where are we going to?” asked Fenn, as he followed. “The wings?”
But it seemed that the rules of Mr. Higgs’ company prevented any outsider taking up his position in that desirable quarter. The only place from which it was possible to watch the performance, except by going to the front of the house, was the “flies,” situated near the roof of the building.
Fenn found all the pleasures of novelty in watching the players from this lofty position. Judged by the cold light of reason, it was not the best place from which to see a play. It was possible to gain only a very foreshortened view of the actors. But it was a change after sitting “in front.”
The piece was progressing merrily. The gifted author, at first silent and pale, began now to show signs of gratification. Now and again he chuckled as some jeu de mots hit the mark and drew a quick gust of laughter from the unseen audience. Occasionally he would nudge Fenn to draw his attention to some good bit of dialogue which was approaching. He was obviously enjoying himself.
The advent of Mr. Higgs completed his satisfaction, for the audience greeted the comedian with roars of applause. As a rule Eckleton took its drama through the medium of third-rate touring companies, which came down with plays that had not managed to attract London to any great extent, and were trying to make up for failures in the metropolis by long tours in the provinces. It was seldom that an actor of the Higgs type paid the town a visit, and in a play, too, which had positively never appeared before on any stage. Eckleton appreciated the compliment.
“Listen,” said Fenn’s brother. “Isn’t that just the part for him? It’s just like he was in the dressing-room, eh? Short sentences and everything. The funny part of it is that I didn’t know the man when I wrote the play. It was all luck.”
Mr. Higgs’ performance sealed the success of the piece. The house laughed at everything he said. He sang a song in his gasping way, and they laughed still more. Fenn’s brother became incoherent with delight. The verdict of Eckleton was hardly likely to affect London theatre-goers, but it was very pleasant notwithstanding. Like every playwright with his first piece, he had been haunted by the idea that his dialogue “would not act,” that, however humorous it might be to a reader, it would fall flat when spoken. There was no doubt now as to whether the lines sounded well.
At the beginning of the second act the great Higgs was not on the stage, Fenn’s brother knowing enough of the game not to bring on his big man too soon. He had not to enter for ten minutes or so. The author, who had gone down to see him during the interval, stayed in the dressing-room. Fenn, however, who wanted to see all of the piece that he could, went up to the “flies” again.
It occurred to him when he got there that he would see more if he took the seat which his brother had been occupying. It would give him much the same view of the stage, and a wider view of the audience. He thought it would be amusing to see how the audience looked from the “flies.”
Mr. W. S. Gilbert once wrote a poem about a certain bishop who, while fond of amusing himself, objected to his clergy doing likewise. And the consequence was that whenever he did so amuse himself, he was always haunted by a phantom curate, who joined him in his pleasures, much to his dismay. On one occasion he stopped to watch a Punch and Judy show,
heard, as Punch was being treated penally,
That phantom curate laughing all hyænally.’
The disgust and panic of this eminent cleric was as nothing compared with that of Fenn, when, shifting to his brother’s seat, he got the first clear view he had had of the audience. In a box to the left of the dress-circle sat, “laughing all hyænally,” the following distinguished visitors:—
Mr. Mulholland of No. 7 College Buildings,
Mr. Raynes of No. 4 ditto,
Fenn drew back like a flash, knocking his chair over as he did so.
“Giddy, sir?” said a stage hand, pleasantly. “Bless you, lots of gents is like that when they comes up here. Can’t stand the ’eight, they can’t. You’ll be all right in a jiffy.”
“Yes. It—it is rather high, isn’t it?” said Fenn. “Awful glare, too.”
He picked up his chair and sat down well out of sight of the box. Had they seen him? he wondered. Then common sense returned to him. They could not possibly have seen him. Apart from any other reasons, he had only been in his brother’s seat for half-a-dozen seconds. No. He was all right so far. But he would have to get back to the house, and at once. With three of the staff, including his own house-master, ranging the town, things were a trifle too warm for comfort. He wondered it had not occurred to him that, with a big attraction at the theatre, some of the staff might feel an inclination to visit it.
He did not stop to say goodbye to his brother. Descending from his perch, he hurried to the stage door.
“It’s in the toobs that I feel it, sir,” said the door-keeper, as he let him out, resuming their conversation as if they had only just parted. Fenn hurried off without waiting to hear more.
It was drizzling outside, and there was a fog. Not a “London particular,” but quite thick enough to make it difficult to see where one was going. People and vehicles passed him, vague phantoms in the darkness. Occasionally the former collided with him. He began to wish he had not accepted his brother’s invitation. The unexpected sight of the three masters had shaken his nerve. Till then only the romantic, adventurous side of the expedition had struck him. Now the risks began to loom larger in his mind. It was all very well, he felt, to think, as he had done, that he would be expelled if found out, but that all the same he would risk it. Detection then had seemed a remote contingency. With three masters in the offing it became at least a possibility. The melancholy case of Peter Brown seemed to him now to have a more personal significance for him.
Wrapped in these reflections, he lost his way.
He did not realise this for some time. It was borne in upon him when the road he was taking suddenly came to an abrupt end in a blank wall. Instead of being, as he had fancied, in the High Street, he must have branched off into some miserable blind alley.
More than ever he wished he had not come. Eckleton was not a town that took up a great deal of room on the map of England, but it made up for small dimensions by the eccentricity with which it had been laid out. On a dark and foggy night, to one who knew little of its geography, it was a perfect maze.
Fenn had wandered some way when the sound of someone whistling a popular music-hall song came to him through the gloom. He had never heard anything more agreeable.
“I say,” he shouted at a venture, “can you tell me the way to the High Street?”
The whistler stopped in the middle of a bar, and presently Fenn saw a figure sidling towards him in what struck him as a particularly furtive manner.
“Wot’s thet, gav’nor?”
“Can you direct me to the High Street? I’ve lost my way.”
The vague figure came closer.
“ ’Igh Street? Yus; yer go—”
A hand shot out, Fenn felt a sharp wrench in the region of his waistcoat, and a moment later the stranger had vanished into the fog with the prefect’s watch and chain.
Fenn forgot his desire to return to the High Street. He forgot everything except that he wished to catch the fugitive, maltreat him, and retrieve his property. He tore in the direction whence came the patter of retreating footsteps.
There were moments when he thought he had him, when he could hear the sound of his breathing. But the fog was against him. Just as he was almost on his man’s heels, the fugitive turned sharply into a street which was moderately well lighted. Fenn turned after him. He had just time to recognise the street as his goal, the High Street, when somebody, walking unexpectedly out of the corner house, stood directly in his path. Fenn could not stop himself. He charged the man squarely, clutched him to save himself, and they fell in a heap on the pavement.
what happened to fenn.
ENN was up first. Many years’ experience of being tackled at full speed on the football field had taught him how to fall. The stranger, whose football days, if he had ever had any, were long past, had gone down with a crash, and remained on the pavement, motionless. Fenn was conscious of an ignoble impulse to fly without stopping to chat about the matter. Then he was seized with a gruesome fear that he had injured the man seriously, which vanished when the stranger sat up. His first words were hardly of the sort that one would listen to from choice. His first printable expression, which did not escape him until he had been speaking some time, was in the nature of an official bulletin.
“You’ve broken my neck,” said he.
Fenn renewed his apologies and explanations.
“Your watch!” cried the man in a high, cracked voice. “Don’t stand there talking about your watch, but help me up. What do I care about your watch? Why don’t you look where you are going to? Now then, now then, don’t hoist me as if I were a hod of bricks. That’s right. Now help me indoors, and go away.”
Fenn supported him while he walked lamely into the house. He was relieved to find that there was nothing more the matter with him than a shaking and a few bruises.
“Door on the left,” said the injured one.
Fenn led him down the passage and into a small sitting-room. The gas was lit, and as he turned it up he saw that the stranger was a man well advanced in years. He had grey hair that was almost white. His face was not a pleasant one. It was a mass of lines and wrinkles from which a physiognomist would have deduced uncomplimentary conclusions as to his character. Fenn had little skill in that way, but he felt that for some reason he disliked the man, whose eyes, which were small and extraordinarily bright, gave rather an eerie look to his face.
“Go away, go away,” he kept repeating savagely from his post on the shabby sofa on which Fenn had deposited him.
“But are you all right? Can’t I get you something?” asked the Eckletonian.
“Go away, go away,” repeated the man.
Conversation on these lines could never be really attractive. Fenn turned to go. As he closed the door and began to feel his way along the dark passage, he heard the key turn in the lock behind him. The man could not, he felt, have been very badly hurt if he were able to get across the room so quickly. The thought relieved him somewhat. Nobody likes to have the maiming even of the most complete stranger on his mind. The sensation of relief lasted possibly three seconds. Then it flashed upon him that in the excitement of the late interview he had forgotten his cap. That damaging piece of evidence lay on the table in the sitting-room, and between him and it was a locked door.
He groped his way back, and knocked. No sound came from the room.
“I say,” he cried, “you might let me have my cap. I left it on the table.”
Fenn half thought of making a violent assault on the door. He refrained on reflecting that it would be useless. If he could break it open—which, in all probability, he could not—there would be trouble such as he had never come across in his life. He was not sure it would not be an offence for which he would be rendered liable to fine or imprisonment. At any rate, it would mean the certain detection of his visit to the town. So he gave the thing up, resolving to return on the morrow and reopen negotiations. For the present, what he had to do was to get safely back to his house. He had lost his watch, his cap with his name in it was in the hands of an evil old man who evidently bore him a grudge, and he had to run the gauntlet of three housemasters and get to bed viâ a study-window. Few people, even after the dullest of plays, have returned from the theatre so disgusted with everything as did Fenn. Reviewing the situation as he ran with long, easy strides over the road that led to Kay’s, he found it devoid of any kind of comfort. Unless his mission in quest of the cap should prove successful, he was in a tight place.
It is just as well that the gift of second sight is accorded to but few. If Fenn could have known at this point that his adventures were only beginning, that what had taken place already was but as the overture to a drama, it is possible that he would have thrown up the sponge for good and all, entered Kay’s by way of the front door—after knocking up the entire household—and remarked, in answer to his housemaster’s excited questions, “Enough! Enough! I am a victim of Fate, a Toad beneath the Harrow. Sack me to-morrow, if you like, but for goodness’ sake let me get quietly to bed now.”
As it was, not being able to “peep with security into futurity,” he imagined that the worst was over.
He began to revise this opinion immediately on turning in at Kay’s gate. He had hardly got half-way down the drive when the front door opened and two indistinct figures came down the steps. As they did so his foot slipped off the grass border on which he was running to deaden the noise of his steps, and grated sharply on the gravel.
“What’s that?” said a voice. The speaker was Mr. Kay.
“What’s what?” replied a second voice which he recognised as Mr. Mulholland’s.
“Didn’t you hear a noise?”
“ ‘I heard the water lapping on the crag,’ ” replied Mr. Mulholland, poetically.
“It was over there,” persisted Mr. Kay. “I am certain I heard something—positively certain, Mulholland. And after that burglary at the school house——”
He began to move towards the spot where Fenn lay crouching behind a bush. Mr. Mulholland followed, mildly amused. They were a dozen yards away when Fenn, debating in his mind whether it would not be better—as it would certainly be more dignified—for him to rise and deliver himself up to justice instead of waiting to be discovered wallowing in the damp grass behind a laurel bush, was aware of something soft and furry pressing against his knuckles. A soft purring sound reached his ears.
He knew at once who it was—Thomas Edward, the matron’s cat, ever a staunch friend of his. Many a time had they taken tea together in his study in happier days. The friendly animal had sought him out in his hiding-place, and was evidently trying to intimate that the best thing they could do now would be to make a regular night of it.
Fenn, as I have said, liked and respected Thomas. In ordinary circumstances he would not have spoken an unfriendly word to him. But things were desperate now, and needed remedies to match.
Very softly he passed his hand down the delighted animal’s back until he reached his tail. Then, stifling with an effort all the finer feelings which should have made such an act impossible, he administered so vigorous a tweak to that appendage that Thomas, with one frenzied yowl, sprang through the bush past the two masters and vanished at full speed into the opposite hedge.
“My goodness!” said Mr. Kay, starting back.
It was a further shock to Fenn to find how close he was to the laurel.
Why, what was that?
It was the cat,’ ”
chanted Mr. Mulholland, who was in poetical vein after the theatre.
“It was a cat!” gasped Mr. Kay.
“So I am disposed to imagine. What lungs! We shall be having the R.S.P.C.A. down on us if we aren’t careful. They must have heard that noise at the headquarters of the Society, wherever they are. Well, if your zeal for big game hunting is satisfied, and you don’t propose to follow the vocalist through that hedge, I think I will be off. Good-night. Good piece, wasn’t it?”
“Excellent. Good-night, Mulholland.”
“By the way, I wonder if the man who wrote it is a relation of our Fenn. It may be his brother—I believe he writes. You probably remember him when he was here. He was before my time. Talking of Fenn, how do you find the new arrangement answer? Is Kennedy an improvement?”
“Kennedy,” said Mr. Kay, “is a well-meaning boy, I think. Quite well-meaning. But he lacks ability, in my opinion. I have had to speak to him on several occasions on account of disturbances amongst the juniors. Once I found two boys actually fighting in the junior day-room. I was very much annoyed about it.”
“And where was Kennedy while this was going on? Was he holding the watch?”
“The watch?” said Mr. Kay, in a puzzled tone of voice. “Kennedy was over at the gymnasium when it occurred.”
“Then it was hardly his fault that the fight took place.”
“My dear Mulholland, if the head of a house is efficient, fights should be impossible. Even when he is not present, his influence, his prestige, so to speak, should be sufficient to restrain the boys under him.”
Mr. Mulholland whistled softly.
“So that’s your idea of what the head of your house should be like, is it? Well, I know of one fellow who would have been just your man. Unfortunately, he is never likely to come to school at Eckleton.”
“Indeed?” said Mr. Kay, with interest. “Who is that? Where did you meet him? What school is he at?”
“I never said I had met him. I only go by what I have heard of him. And as far as I know, he is not at any school. He was a gentleman of the name of Napoleon Bonaparte. He might just have been equal to the arduous duties which devolve upon the head of your house. Good-night.”
And Fenn heard his footsteps crunch the gravel as he walked away. A minute later the front door shut, and there was a rattle. Mr. Kay had put the chain up and retired for the night.
Fenn lay where he was for a short while longer. Then he rose, feeling very stiff and wet, and crept into one of the summer-houses which stood in Mr. Kay’s garden. Here he sat for an hour and a half, at the end of which time, thinking that Mr. Kay must be asleep, he started out to climb into the house.
His study was on the first floor. A high garden-seat stood directly beneath the window and acted as a convenient ladder. It was easy to get from this on to the window-ledge. Once there he could open the window, and the rest would be plain sailing.
Unhappily, there was one flaw in his scheme. He had conceived that scheme in the expectation that the window would be as he had left it.
But it was not.
During his absence somebody had shot the bolt. And, try his hardest, he could not move the sash an inch.
(To be continued.)
rules . . . present Marquess of Queensbury’s grandfather: The basic code governing professional and amateur boxing was initially written by John Graham Chambers, but endorsed and promulgated by John Sholto Douglas, the 9th Marquess (1844–1900). His son Percy Sholto Douglas (1868–1920) was the 10th Marquess from 1900 to 1920, so would have been the present Marquess at the time of this book. It appears that “father” instead of “grandfather” would fit the facts here.
Cribb: Tom Cribb (1781–1848), English bare-knuckle boxer from 1805 to 1812, recognized as world champion by defeating Tom Molineaux in 1810.
Spring: Tom Spring (1795–1851), English bare-knuckle boxer from 1812 to 1824, a protégé of Tom Cribb; heavyweight champion of England from 1821 to 1824, when he retired.
expert gentleman . . . “Kid McCoy”: American boxer (1872–1940), born Norman Selby; a world middleweight champion who went on to challenge heavier fighters. Wodehouse indeed did interview him at his training camp in White Plains, New York, during his first trip to America in 1904; he used that locale for Kid Brady’s camp in “How Kid Brady Broke Training” (see also the footnote on White Plains) and Bugs Butler’s training camp in The Adventures of Sally. See the end notes to the sixth Kid Brady story for more on McCoy, including newspaper sketches of him at training camp; oddly, in the story itself, Kid Brady trains at “Green Plains” instead.
Mr. W. S. Gilbert once wrote a poem about a certain bishop: “The Phantom Curate” (1866) from The Bab Ballads.
“peep with security into futurity”: One of many talents of the “very small prophet” employed by John Wellington Wells, the title role of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Sorcerer.
“I heard the water lapping on the crag”: “...And the long ripple washing in the reeds.” Sir Bedivere says this in Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur.
“Goodness me . . . It was the cat”: From Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.