"That won't wash," said Dick, profoundly. "Where's the 'nisi?' Never mind. Good-night, young Aspinall. I'm going to do my work here."
And Aspinall departed, a good deal exercised in his mind as to Dick's latest humour, but thankful, all the same, that he didn't appear desperately offended with the answers he had extorted to his very home questions.
Dick did not do much "swot" that evening. He couldn't get the ghost out of his head, nor the slovenly Latin prose of the old Templeton motto- writer.
"Qui in se dominatur." What Latin! Dick pulled down Cresswell's dictionary and looked up "se" and "dominatur," and wished he had the fellow there to tell him he ought to be ashamed of himself. Why, it might mean "who is ruled by his inside!" Perhaps it did mean that.
But no, Dick couldn't get out of the hobble he was in. He tried every way, but the right way. He denounced the ghost, he denounced Heathcote, he denounced the Latin grammar, but they always sent him back to where he started; until, finally, in sheer desperation, he had to denounce himself.
He was just beginning this congenial occupation, in as comfortable an attitude as he could, in Cresswell's easy-chair, when the study door opened, and Braider entered.
"Hallo! You're here, are you?" said that youth. "Why ever didn't you come before? I told you to be in the Quad, and I'd call for you; didn't I? You've got in a nice mess!"
Here was another candid friend going to tell him he'd got into a mess!
"What mess? Who with?"
"Why, with the Club. They elected you by a close shave, and expected you'd come in. I yelled all over the place for you, and couldn't find you. So they thought you'd skulked, and were nearly going to take Culver after all, when I promised to find you, and bring you. They're waiting for you now."
"Awfully sorry, Braider," said Dick, in an embarrassed way. "I can't come."
"Can't come, you ass! What do you mean?"
This was just what Dick wanted. As long as Braider was civil, Dick had to be rational, but as soon as Braider began to threaten, Dick could let out a bit, and relieve his feelings.
"Look here! who are you calling an ass?" said he, starting up.
Fortunately for the peace, Cresswell at that moment entered the study.
"Hallo!" said he, looking round, "make yourselves at home in my study, youngsters. Can't you ask a few friends in as well? What's the row?"
"Braider's the row," said Dick; "I want him to cut, and he won't. He wants me to—"
"All right," said Braider, in sudden concern, lest the secret of the "Sociables" was to be divulged, "I'll cut. And don't you forget, young Richardson, what you've promised."
"Of course I shan't," said Dick.
The select "Sociables" sat in congress to a late hour that night. What passed, no one outside that worthy body exactly knew. But Braider, on the whole, had a busy time of it.
He did not visit Dick again, but he interviewed both Culver and Heathcote, and was extremely confidential with each. And both Culver and Heathcote, after preparation, lounged outside the door, as Dick had lounged two hours before. And the two loungers, neither of them fancying the intrusion of the other, came to words, and from words proceeded to personalities, and from personalities to blows.
And as, in the course of the combat, Heathcote made a mighty onslaught and caught his enemy round the body and wrestled a fall with him on the threshold of the "Sociable" door, it so happened that the door, not being securely latched, gave way beneath the weight of the two combatants, and swinging suddenly open, precipitated them both on to the floor of the apartment, just as the Club was proceeding to record its votes.
Be it said to their credit, the select "Sociables" had a soul above mere routine, and seeing the contest was even, and that blood was up on both sides, they adjourned the business and hospitably invited the two candidates to fight it out there and then.
Which the two candidates did, with the result that, on the whole, Heathcote got rather less of the worst of it than Culver. Then, having politely ejected them both, the Club returned to business, and elected George Heathcote as a fit and proper person to fill the vacancy caused by the unjust expulsion of the late Alan Forbes.
Heathcote was thereupon brought in and informed of the honour bestowed upon him; and after being sworn to secrecy, and promising to obey the Club in all things, was called upon for a speech.
Heathcote's speech was short and memorable:—
"All serene. Anything you like. I don't care a hang."
Every sentence of this brilliant oration was cheered to the echo, and Heathcote was installed into his new dignity with loud enthusiasm.
He had not a ghost of an idea who the "Sociables" were, what they did, or what they wanted; but he had a rough idea they were a select assembly not favoured by the monitors or the masters, in which a fellow was popular in proportion to his record of "rows."
And Heathcote, whose one ambition it was at present, under Pledge's influence, not to figure as a prig or a hypocrite, cast his lot in with them, and chanced the rest.
It did occur to him to enquire if Dick was a member.
"Yes, he's a member, rather," said Spokes, the president. "He was elected this evening, wasn't he, you fellows?"
"Rather," echoed the high-souled club, winking at one another. Whereupon Heathcote asked no more questions, and proceeded to enjoy himself.
As the Club was breaking up, Twiss, one of its leading spirits, came up to the new member and said—
"Look here, youngster, don't you forget you're on your honour not to say a word about the Club outside to anybody. Not to Pledge, or your chum, or anybody."
"But Dick's a member too," said Heathcote.
"That does not matter. You mayn't even speak about it to me, or pretend you belong to my set. Do you twig?"
"All right," said Heathcote, "it's a good job you told me, though, for I was going to tell Dick about my election."
"Well, you know now. You're on your honour, so are we all."
Noble society! Organised dishonour held together in bonds of honour! If boys were only to cast round what is right the same shield of honour which they so often cast round what is wrong, what a world this would be!
When Heathcote and Dick met that evening in the dormitory, they had something more important to talk about or to be silent about than the select "Sociables."
"Look here, old man," said Dick, thrusting a piece of newspaper into his friend's hand. "They wrapped up the notepaper I got in town to-day in this. It's a bit of last week's Templeton Observer."
Heathcote looked at the paragraph his friend pointed to, and read:—
*The mysterious disappearance of a boat*.—Up to the present no news has been heard of the Martha of Templeton, which is supposed to have been stolen from its moorings on the night of the 24th ult. The police, however, profess to have a clue to the perpetrators of the robbery. It is stated that late on the evening in question a lad, without shoes or stockings, was seen on the strand in the neighbourhood of the boat, and as the lad has been lost sight of since, it is supposed he may be concerned. At present the police are unable to give a description of the suspected lad, but vigilant enquiries are being prosecuted, and it is hoped that before long the mystery may be solved and the culprit brought to justice.
IN WHICH OUR HEROES DO NOT DISTINGUISH THEMSELVES.
One result of the alarming paragraph in the Templeton Observer was, that Dick and Heathcote for the remainder of the term became models of virtue as far as going out of school bounds was concerned.
Other boys might stray down the High Street and look at the shops, but they didn't. Others might go down to the beach and become familiar with the boatmen, but our heroes were far too respectable. Others might "mitch" off for a private cruise round Sprit Rock in quest of whiting, or other treasures of the deep; but Dick and Georgie would not sully their fair fame with any such breach of Templeton rules.
They kept up early morning "Tub," but that was the limit of their wanderings from the fold, and it was often amusing to mark the diligence with which they always took to drying their heads with the towels on the way up, if ever a boatman happened to cross their path.
Heathcote on more than one occasion was compelled, politely but firmly, to decline Pledge's commissions into the town, although it sometimes cost him words, and, worse still, sneers from his patron.
Once, however, he had to yield, and a terrible afternoon he spent in consequence.
"Youngster," said the 'Spider,' "I want you to go to Webster's in High Street and get a book for me."
"Afraid I can't, Pledge," said Heathcote. "I must swot this afternoon."
"What have you got to do?"
"There's thirty lines of Cicero, and I haven't looked at them."
"I'll do it for you before you come back."
"And there are some Latin verses for Westover, too."
"Leave them with me, too."
Heathcote felt uncomfortable, and it occurred to him it was not right to accept another's help.
"I think I ought to do them myself," said he, "I don't like having them done for me."
"Quite right, my dear young friend. You're beginning to find out it pays to be a good little boy, are you? I always said you would. I only hope you'll make a good thing of it."
Heathcote coloured up violently.
"It's not that at all," said he, "it's only— would it do if I went after preparation this evening?"
"What! Saint George propose to break rules? Well, I am shocked; after all my pains, too. No, my child, I couldn't let you do this wicked thing."
"What book am I to ask for?" said Heathcote, giving it up.
"Thanks, old man. There's something better than the saint in you, after all. Tell Webster it's the book I ordered last week. It is paid for."
Heathcote started on his mission with a heavy heart. He had lost caste, he feared, with Pledge, and he was running into the enemy's country and perilling not only himself, but Dick, in the venture.
He made fearful and wonderful detours to avoid a few straggling policemen, or any figure which in the distance looked remotely like a British seaman. The sight of a shopkeeper sitting at his door and reading the Templeton Observer scared him, and the bill offering a reward for his discovery all but drove him headlong back to the school without accomplishing his mission.
At length, after an anxious voyage, he ran into Mr Webster's harbour, and for a little while breathed again.
The bookseller knew quite well what book Pledge had ordered.
"Here it is," said he, handing over a small parcel, "and I'd advise you to get rid of it as soon as you can. It would do you no good to be found in your pocket, or Mr Pledge either," he added.
"He says it's paid for," said Heathcote.
"Quite right." Then, noticing that the boy still seemed reluctant to launch forth once more into the High Street, he said—
"Perhaps you'd like to look round the shop, Mr Heathcote?"
Heathcote thought he would, and spent a quarter of an hour in investigating Mr Webster's shelves of books.
Just as he was about to leave, Duffield and the "sociable" Raggles entered the shop.
"Hullo, Georgie!" said the latter; "who'd have thought of seeing you in the town? Everyone says you're keeping out of the way of the police, don't they, Duff?"
"Yes," said Duffield, perceiving the joke, "for some burglary, or something like that."
Heathcote breathed again at the word burglary, and made an heroic effort to smile.
"Not at all," said Raggles, nudging his ally; "not a burglary, but boat- stealing, isn't it, Webster?"
"Ah," said Mr Webster, who was a good man of business and fond of his joke, "they never did find that young party, certainly."
"Shut up and don't be a fool!" said Heathcote, feeling the colour coming to his face, and longing to be out in the open air.
"What's this the description was?" said Duffield, perching himself on the corner of the counter and reading off the unhappy Heathcote's personal appearance. "Good-looking boy of fourteen, with fair hair and a slight moustache. Dressed in a grey tweed suit, masher collar, and two tin sleeve-links. Not very intelligent, and usually wears a smudge of ink under his right eye. Isn't that it?"
"That's something about the mark," said Mr Webster, laughing.
"Think of offering two pounds reward for a chap like that!" said Raggles. "They must be hard up."
"Look here," said Heathcote, seeing that his only refuge lay in swagger, "I'm not going to have any of your cheek, Raggles. Shut up, or I'll lick you!"
"No fighting here, young gentlemen, please," said the affable bookseller.
"Ha! ha!" said Raggles, enjoying himself under the security of Duffield's alliance; "he's in a wax because we said it was only a slight moustache. He thinks we ought to have said a heavy one!"
"He may think it ought to be, but it ain't," said Duffield. "I never saw such a slight one in all my days!"
It is rarely that any one sees reason to bless his own moustache, but on this particular occasion, when he perceived the welcome controversy to which it was giving rise, Georgie was very near calling down benedictions on his youthful hairs. With great presence of mind he recovered his good-humour, and diverted the talk further and further into its capillary course. He backed his moustache against Duffield's and Raggles' spliced together, he upbraided them with envy, and called Webster to witness that the pimple on Raggles' lip, which he claimed as the forerunner of his crop, had been there for the last six months with never a sign of harvest.
Altogether, under shelter of his moustache, Georgie crept out of a very awkward hobble, and finally out of Webster's shop, greatly to the relief of his palpitating heart.
But his trials were not quite over. As he was running headlong round the corner of High Street, determined that no pretext should detain him a moment longer than necessary in this perilous territory, he found himself, to his horror, suddenly confronted with the form of the very British seaman whom, of all others, he hoped to avoid; and, before he could slacken speed or fetch a compass, he had plunged full into Tom White's arms.
Tom White, as usual, I am sorry to say, was half-seas-over. Never steady in his best days, he had, ever since the loss of the Martha made his headquarters at the bar of the "Dolphin." Not that the loss of the Martha was exactly ruin to her late owner. On the contrary, since her disappearance, Tom had had more pocket-money than ever he had when she was his.
For sympathetic neighbours, pitying his loss, had contributed trifles towards his solace; the Templeton boys, with many of whom he had been a favourite, had tipped him handsomely in his distress, and it was even rumoured that half of a collection for the poor at the parish church a few Sundays ago had been awarded to poor destitute Tom White.
On the whole, Tom felt that if he could lose a Martha twice a year, he might yet sup off tripe and gin-toddy seven times a week.
The "Dolphin" became his banker, and took very particular care of his money.
All this the boy, of course, did not know. All he knew was that the waistcoat into which he had run belonged to the man he had wronged, who, if he only suspected his wronger, could make the coming summer holidays decidedly tedious for Georgie and his friend.
"Belay there!" hiccupped Tom, reeling back from the collision and catching Heathcote by the arm. "Got yer, young gem'n! and I'll bash yer!"
"I beg your pardon," said Georgie, terribly scared, and seeing already, in his mind's eye, the narrowest cell of the county jail.
Tom blinked at him stupidly, holding him at arm's length and cruising round him.
"Bust me if it ain't a schollard!" said he. "What cheer, my hearty? Don't forget, the poor mariner that's lost his Martha. It's very 'ard on a honest Jack tar."
How Heathcote's soul went out to the poor British seaman as soon as he discovered that he did not recognise him! He gave him his all—two shillings and one penny—and deemed it a mite to offer to so deserving a cause. He hoped from his heart Tom would find his boat, or, if not, would get a pension from the Government, or be made an Inspector of Coast-guards. Nothing was too good for the sweet, delectable creature, and he told him as much.
Whereat Tom, with the 2 shillings 1 penny in his hand and all the boy's blandishments in his ears, retired to the "Dolphin" to digest both; and once more Heathcote, with the perspiration on his brow and his chest positively sore with the thumping of his heart, sped like a truant shade from the fangs of Cerberus.
After that, neither threats, entreaties, or taunts could induce Heathcote to venture either alone or in company into Templeton.
Fortunately for him and his leader, the approaching close of the term gave every one at Templeton an excuse for keeping bounds, and sticking steadily to work. Pledge, among others, was in for a scholarship, which five out of six of those who knew him prophesied he would get, if he took a fortnight's hard work before the examination.
A fortnight before the examination, to the day, Pledge began to work, and Templeton put down the Bishop's scholarship to him, without further parley. Only two men were against him—Cartwright, who, fine fellow as he was, could not desert the cricket field and gymnasium even in the throes of an examination, and Freckleton, the hermit, whom half of Templeton didn't know by sight, and the other half put down as a harmless lunatic, who divided his time between theological exercises and plodding, but not always successful, study.
Our heroes, being new boys, were exempt from the general school examinations—their guerdon of reward being the general proficiency prize for new boys, a vague term, in which good conduct, study, and progress, were all taken into account. Dick sadly admitted that he was out of it. Still he vaguely hoped he might "pull off his remove," as the phrase went—that is, get raised next term to the serene atmosphere of the lower Fourth, along with the faithful Heathcote.
But nowhere was the studious fit more serious than in the upper Fifth, where Birket, Swinstead, Wrangham and one or two others, cast longing eyes on the vacant desk in the Sixth, and strained every nerve to win it. Cricket flagged, and it was hard during that fortnight to make up a set at tennis. The early "Tub" alone retained its attractions, and indeed was never more crowded than when Templeton was heart and soul in study.
One fellow regarded the whole scene half sadly, and that was Ponty. Indolent as he seemed to be, he loved the old school, and hated the thought of leaving it. He had friends there that were like brothers to him. There were nooks here and there where he had lounged and enjoyed life, which seemed like so many homes. He knew he had not done anything great for Templeton. He knew he had let the tares grow side by side with the wheat, and made no effort to uproot them. He knew that there were boys there whom he ought to have befriended, and others he ought to have scathed; and it made him sad now to think of all he might have done.
"I don't think they'll erect a statue to me in the Quad, old man," said he to Mansfield at the end of the examination.
"I know there isn't a fellow that won't be sorry to lose you," said Mansfield.
"Ah! no doubt. They've had quiet times under easy-going old Saturn, and don't fancy the prospect of Jove, with his thunderbolts, ruling in his stead. Eh?"
"If I could be sure of fellows being as fond of me as they are of you, I should—well, I should get something I don't expect," said Mansfield.
"Don't be too sure, old man," said Ponty. "But, I say, will you take a hint from a failure like me?" added the old captain, digging deep into his pockets, and looking a trifle nervous.
"Rather. I'd only be too thankful," said Mansfield.
"Go easy with them at first. Only have one hand in an iron glove. Keep the other for some of those juniors who may turn out all right, if they get a little encouragement and aren't snuffed out all at once. You'll have plenty of work for the iron hand with one or two hornet's nests we know of. Give the little chaps a chance."
This was dear old Ponty's last will and testament. Templeton looked back upon him after he had gone, as an easy-going, good-natured, let- alone, loveable fellow; but it didn't know all of what it owed him.
The examinations came at length. The new boys having been the last to come, were naturally the first to be examined; and once more the portraits in the long hall looked down upon Basil Richardson and Georgie Heathcote, gnawing at the ends of their pens, and gazing at the ceiling for an inspiration.
It was rather a sad spectacle for those portraits. Possibly they barely recognised in the reckless, jaunty, fair boy, and his baffled, almost wrathful companion, the Heathcote and Richardson who four months ago had sat there, fresh, and simple, and rosy, with the world of Templeton before them.
It had not been a good term for either. Thank heaven, as they sat there, they had honesty enough left to know it, and hope enough left to feel there might still be a chance. They were not to jump by one leap into the perfect schoolboy; still, with honesty and hope left, who shall say they had lost all?
As to their immediate care, the examination—their last lingering expectation of getting their remove slowly vanished before those ruthless questions, all of which they knew they ought to know, but many of which they discovered they knew nothing about.
Other boys, like Aspinall, who, with all his tears and terrors, had struggled through the term more of a hero than either of his doughty protectors, found the time only too short to answer all they had to answer; and our two dejected ones, as they looked round, and saw the fluency of every one else, felt themselves, like sediment, gradually sinking to their level. As long as the stir of term life had lasted, they had imagined themselves as well up, even better than most of their contemporaries; but now they began to find out it was not so.
The suspense, if they felt any, was not long. Two days after the examination, at the time when the Sixth and Fifth were passing through their ordeal, the new boys' list came out.
Aspinall was first, and got his well-deserved remove, with a compliment from the Doctor into the bargain, which made his pale face glow with pleasure. Dick, with a sturdy effort to look cheerful, waved his congratulations across the Hall, and then settled down to hear the almost interminable string of names before his or Georgie's broke the monotony.
In their own minds, and in the modesty of their own self-abasement, they had fixed on the twentieth place, or thereabouts, for Heathcote, and about the twenty-fifth for Dick. Alas! the singles grew into the teens, and the teens into the twenties, and the twenties into the thirties before the break came. After eighteen every one knew that the removes were exhausted, and that the list which followed was, if not a list of reproach, at any rate one neither of honour nor profit.
"31—Richardson," read the Doctor, making a pause on the announcement which cut the penitent Dick to the quick; "32—Fox; 33—Sumpter; 34— Whiles; 35—Heathcote; 36—Hooker, junior. That is all."
Poor Heathcote! He had buoyed himself up to the last. He had reminded himself that he was not a prig or a saint, that he didn't go in for conduct that "paid," that he called a spade a spade, and that he didn't profess to be what he wasn't; and yet all this failed to place him higher than last but one of thirty-six boys, among whom, only four months ago, he stood fifteenth! Even Dick had beaten him now, although Dick himself had fallen ten places down the list.
The two friends had a dreary walk round the deserted Fields that afternoon.
"I can't make it out," said Heathcote. "I knew I hadn't done well, but I expected to be higher than that. I wonder if Winter's got a spite against me."
"More likely got one against me. Did you hear the way he read out my name?"
"Yes; he may have been surprised you came out so high."
"It's nothing to joke about," said Dick. "We've both made a mess of it."
"I really thought I'd done my lessons pretty steadily," said Heathcote, loth to part with the idea that there must be a mistake somewhere.
"You mean Pledge did them for you. I tell you what, old man—I've had enough of this sort of mess. I don't like it."
"No more do I," said Heathcote, very truly.
"I mean to get my remove at Christmas, if I get brain-fever over it."
"Rather; so do I," said Heathcote.
"I shall have a go in at the irregular verbs during the holidays."
"Eh—will you?" asked Georgie, beginning to stagger a little at the new programme. "All serene; so will I."
"We might begin to-night, perhaps."
"Awfully sorry—I've an engagement to-night," said Heathcote.
This was the first occasion on which Dick had asked this very awkward question. It was the wind-up supper of the "Select Sociables" for the present term, and to Heathcote one of the chief attractions of the prospect had been that Dick, being a member, would be there too. He was, therefore, startled somewhat at the inquiry.
"Oh, you know. We don't talk about it," said he.
"So it seems," said Dick; "but it happens I don't know."
"Don't you? Then the fellows must have told me a cram."
"Why, do you mean to say you don't know, Dick?"
"How should I?"
"Haven't they asked you, too? Aren't you a— I mean, don't you know?"
At this particular moment, Cresswell came across the Quadrangle with a bundle of books in his hands, which he told Dick to take to his study.
And before Dick had time to perform his task and return to the Quad, Braider had pounced on Heathcote, and borne him away, in hot haste, to the orgy of the "Select Sociables," where he spent a very unprofitable evening in trying to square his conscience with all he saw and heard, and in trying to ascertain from every member of the Club he could get hold of, why Dick wasn't there, too. He was not released without a renewal of his promise of secrecy, and spent a very uncomfortable half- hour in the dormitory that evening, trying, as best he could, to parry the questions of his friend, into whose head it had never entered that the "Select Sociables," after ejecting him, should dream of such a thing as electing Heathcote. They might have quarrelled over the mystery, had not the approaching holidays, and an opportune note from Coote, announcing that he had just scraped through the pass examination for "second chances," and would be at Templeton after the recess, driven all other thoughts, for the time being, out of their heads. And the few remaining days of the term were devoted, not to irregular verbs, but to the devising of glorious schemes of welcome to old Coote, and anticipations of the joys of their reformed triple alliance.
The great result day found Templeton, as it always did, in the chaos of packing up. At the summons of the great bell, to come and hear the lists read in the Hall, fellows dropped collars and coats, rackets and rods, boots and bookstand rushed for a front seat.
Every one turned up to the summer list—even the housekeepers and the school porter. The masters were there in caps and gowns, and the Sixth, in solemn array, occupied the benches on the dais. The rest of the Hall was left to the first comers; and, as all Templeton, on this occasion, arrived first in a body, the scene was usually animated.
Dr Winter read the list himself, and every name rang through the Hall, being followed with cheers which made all the more striking the silence with which the next name was listened for.
"The Bishop's Scholarship has been won by Freckleton," said the Doctor.
Amazement, as well as approval, mingled with the applause which followed this most unexpected announcement.
"Which is Freckleton?" asked Dick of Swinstead, who sat in front.
"That dark fellow, talking to Mansfield."
"Silence! Pledge was second, and within a few marks. Cartwright was third."
"How pleased Winter must have been to find those marks the right way!" whispered Pledge, with the red spots on his cheeks, to Bull. "It's a funny thing that Freckleton should be a nephew of Winter's and yet just get the scholarship, isn't it? So very unusual, eh?"
"The Fifth-form remove has been gained by Swinstead," said the Doctor (loud cheers). "Wrangham was second, but not very close, and Birket was a few marks below Wrangham."
These announcements were the most interesting on the Doctor's list, and Templeton listened impatiently to the rest. It waited, however, in its place, in order to give a final cheer for Ponty at the close.
Which it did. And the dear old fellow, though he seemed very sleepy, and longed for his arm-chair, couldn't help hearing it and looking round at the old school, nodding his kindly head. When, however, somebody called out "Speech," he stretched himself comfortably and shrugged his shoulders; and they knew what that meant, and gave it up.
Twenty-four hours later, Templeton was scattered to the four winds, and our heroes' first term had become a chapter of ancient history.
IN WHICH A NOTABLE TRIPLE ALLIANCE IS RENEWED.
The six short weeks of holiday darted away only too quickly.
Dick, in the whirl of family life, a hero to his sisters, and a caution to his young brothers, forgot all the troubles of the term, and all its disappointments, all about the "Select Sociables," and all about Tom White's boat, in one glorious burst of holiday freedom.
He even forgot about his irregular verbs; and the good resolutions with which he had returned, he left packed up in his trunk until the time came to take them back to Templeton.
Still, it wasn't a bad time, on the whole, for Dick. Like some small boat that gets out of the rushing tide for a little into some quiet creek, he had time to overhaul himself and pull himself together, ready for another voyage. He was able, in the home harbour, to take some little fresh ballast on board and to rearrange what he at present had. He was able to stow away some of his useless tackle and bale out some of the water he had shipped in the last few rapids. Altogether, though Dick was not exactly a boy given to self-examination, or self- dedication, and although he would have scouted the notion that he was going in for being a reformed character, his little cruise in calm water did him good, and steadied him for his next venture on the tide, when the time should come.
It was not so with George Heathcote. He was a craft of flimsier build than his leader, and the tide had gone harder with him. There was a leak somewhere, and the tackle was a-twist, and the ballast rolled to one side. And, for him, the home harbour was no place for repairs.
Heathcote had neither father nor mother, and though his old relative did her best for him, the boy was more or less at a loose end at home, with no better guide than his own whims. The wonder was, considering his surroundings, that Heathcote was not utterly spoiled, that he was still honest and amiable, and amenable to good influence when he came across it.
He did not, however, come across much these holidays. For four weeks he kicked his heels about in any way that suited him, and began to long for Templeton again, and the face of a friend.
Then one day a letter came to him from Pledge.
"Dear Youngster,—You said something about wanting to see London these holidays. What do you say to coming here on a visit? My father and mother would be glad to see you, and we can go back to Templeton together. If you come to-morrow, you'll be in time for the last day of the Australian match at the Oval—Yours truly,—
Heathcote jumped at the invitation. An invitation from anybody would have been welcome just then, but to be asked by his own senior, in this unexpected way, was both tempting and flattering.
So he took the letter to his grandmother, and indulged in a glowing account of Pledge's virtues and merits. The good lady, of course, gave her consent, and the very next day Georgie was in London.
The week slipped by in a round of pleasures for Heathcote. Pledge, the spoiled child of wealthy parents, was pretty much his own master, and spared no pains to make his young protege at home, and gratify his every inclination. To Georgie, the life in which he found himself was bewildering in its novelty.
Pledge showed him London. They saw public buildings, and they saw the great streets; they went to theatrical entertainments, and concerts, and parties. They met friends, good and bad, and heard talk, good and bad. No one thought of making any distinction; no one seemed to admit that there was much distinction. It was all life. If some went in for the good, well, let them; if others went in for the bad, what right had any one to interfere? and if any went in for a little of both, well, wasn't the balance about straight, and who was any the worse for it?
Heathcote felt that he was in Liberty Hall—that he might do exactly as he liked without the awkwardness of feeling that any one was surprised, or that any one was shocked. Pledge did not distinctly tempt him to do anything; and yet, during that one short week, the boy's moral sense was more deeply undermined than during the whole of the term that had passed. The clear line between good and evil vanished. And, seeing the two side by side, and hearing his companion's constant sneers at "sanctity," it became natural to him to suspect the good and, of the two, prefer the evil.
So Georgie Heathcote went back to Templeton the worse for his holidays, and snared faster than ever in the "Spider's" web.
But the sight of Dick on the Templeton platform drove all his unhealthy philosophy for a time from his mind, and when, an hour later, the train from G—- came in and discharged Coote and Coote's hat-box and travelling-bag, there was joy in the hearts of those three old Mountjoy boys, which could not find vent in mere smiles or words of greeting.
Coote was in a horrible flutter, despite the countenance of his two protectors. He could not trust himself out of their sight. As they walked up from the station and crossed the Quadrangle, he suspected a snare everywhere, and sniffed an enemy at every corner.
"Come on, old fellow," said Dick, in all the glory of an old hand, "stick your hat on the back of your head, and make a face at everybody you meet, and nobody will humbug you."
Coote had his doubts of this advice; but, it occurred to him, if it should be good, he had better make the experiment while his friends were there to protect him.
So he tilted his hat cautiously back, and timidly protruded his tongue at Culver, whom they met staggering under the weight of a carpet bag, near the housekeeper's door.
Culver regarded the demonstration with a certain amount of bewildered disfavour, and, to Coote's terror, looked for a moment like putting down his carpet bag. But the presence of Dick and Heathcote deterred him for the present, and he contented himself with a promise that tilted the new boy's hat back into its proper elevation with wonderful celerity.
"Never mind him," said Heathcote, "he always doubles up after five or six rounds."
"Do you mean he will fight me?" asked Coote.
"Bless you, yes!"
"To-day, do you think?"
"Don't know. Depends on what he's got in his bag. If it's a cargo, he won't be out for a couple of nights."
All this was very alarming to Coote, who devoutly hoped Culver's "cargo" might be big enough to keep him many nights in unloading it.
Dick and Heathcote led their junior partner rejoicing to the housekeeper, and assisted in counting out his shirts and socks. They then took him to show him off in the lobbies, deserting him once or twice, to his consternation, in order to greet some crony or take part in a mild shindy in the studies.
The presence of their "new kid" inspired them with a wonderful fund of humour and audacity. His astonishment flattered them and his panics delighted them. With a lively recollection of their own experiences last term, they took care he should be wandering in the Quad when the "dredger" came its rounds; and, for fear he should miss the warm consolations of a lower third "Scrunch," they organised one for his special benefit, and had the happiness of seeing him rising in the middle, scared and puffing, with cheeks the colour of a peony. All the while they tried to figure as his protectors, and demanded credit for getting him through his ordeals in a way he would by no means have got, if left, as they had been, to his own resources.
Nor were they wholly unoriginal in their endeavours to make him feel at home in his new surroundings.
"By George! it's ten minutes to dinner-time," said Dick, looking at the clock. "There'll be a frightful row if you are late first day, and you've barely time to dress."
"Dress! I am dressed," said Coote, in alarm.
"You muff, you're not in your flannels. Think of a new fellow turning up to Hall first day not in his flannels, eh, Georgie?"
"My eye!" said Georgie; "what a row there'd be!"
"Cut as hard as ever you can, and put them on. Better not show up till just as the clock strikes, in case fellows humbug you. We'll be near the door and show you where to sit."
"Whatever should I have done," thought the grateful Coote to himself, as he rushed off to don his brand-new flannels, "if it hadn't been for those two bricks?"
The "two bricks" waited somewhat anxiously near the door of the Hall for their "new kid," and as the clock began to strike they had the joy of seeing him dart resplendent across the Quad, keeping in the shade as much as possible, and looking nervously up at the clock.
"Lamm it on!" called Heathcote, as the bell ceased and the breathless athlete ran into their arms.
"Am I all right?" asked the victim.
"So-so," said they, surveying him critically, "but you'd better carry your coat over your arm. Look out, Winter will be coming in. You've got to sit up there at the top table, in that empty chair. Look alive, or he'll catch you."
And as the blushing innocent walked up the room, the observed of all observers, and made straight for the Head Master's table, our heroes became absorbed in admiration of the plates in front of them, and positively trembled with the emotion their beauty evoked.
Every one was most polite to the abashed new boy on his journey up the room. They ceased talking as they beheld him, and respectfully made room for him. Some even were good enough to assist his progress by word and gesture.
"Where are you going, my pretty maid?" asked Birket of the rosy youth, as he neared his destination.
The poetical suggestion was too much for the Fifth, who caught up the pastoral ditty, and accompanied the measured tread of the wanderer with an undertone chorus of—
"'Where are you going, my pretty maid?' 'I'm going to dinner, sir,' she said. 'May I go with you, my pretty maid?' 'Not if I know it, sir,' she said."
Coote got used to the pretty melody before the term was over, but just now his sense of music was deadened by the apparition of Dr Winter, who entered by a door at the upper end of the Hall, and walked straight for the chair which the modest novice had looked upon as the goal of his tedious journey.
"Cut back!" said Birket, coming to the rescue just in time, and turning the unhappy boy to the rightabout. "They've been making a fool of you."
Then might have been seen a spotless white figure flying like the wind down the Hall of Templeton, making the place rosy with his blushes, and merry with his hot haste.
Dick and Heathcote caught their brother as he made for the door, and squeezed him in between them at their table, where roast beef and good cheer restored some of his drooping spirits, while the applause of his patrons and the success of the whole adventure went far to reduce the tension which otherwise might have threatened the stability of the "Firm."
But after that, Coote felt his confidence in the "two bricks," on whom he had hitherto relied so implicitly, a trifle shaken, and was not quite sure whether, after all, a new boy might not get through his first few days as comfortably without the protection of two bosom friends as with it.
There being very few new boys this term compared with last, he found himself by no means neglected in his walks abroad, and it required all his wariness to elude the gins and pitfalls prepared for him. Indeed, his very wariness got him into trouble.
After chapel on his second morning Swinstead came to him and said—
"Youngster, you are to go to the Doctor at half-past nine."
"Oh, ah!" said Coote to himself, knowingly. "I know what that means."
"Do you hear?" asked Swinstead.
"I suppose you think I'm green," said the new boy.
"What on earth should make me think that?" said he.
Coote chuckled merrily to himself as he saw the senior depart.
"I'm getting over the worst of it," said he to himself. "They'll soon give up trying it on me. Ha, ha!"
And he went off to find his chums, who took him for a stroll in the Fields.
"Well, young 'un," said Dick, patronisingly, "getting used to it? Worn your flannels lately?"
"You're a beastly cad, Dick," said Coote; "but you don't catch me like that again."
"No, you're getting too knowing," said Georgie.
"I'm not quite as green as some fellows think," said he. "A fellow came to me this morning and told me to go to the Doctor at 9:30. A nice fool he thought he'd make of me. Ha, ha!"
"What fellow was he?" said Dick, looking rather serious.
"I don't know his name," said Coote. "The fellow who marked the names in chapel, I believe."
"What, Swinstead? Did he tell you to go?"
"Rather; and I told him I wasn't such a fool as I looked—I mean as he thought."
"By Jove!—you young ass! You've got yourself into a mess, if you like."
"How do you mean?" inquired the new boy, beginning to be alarmed at the concerned looks of his two friends.
"Why, he's Chapel usher," said Dick. "Do you mean to say you didn't go to the Doctor?"
"Rather not. I—"
"What's the time?" said Dick.
"A quarter to ten."
Without more ado they took the unhappy Coote between them and rushed him frantically back to the school, where they shot him in at the Doctor's door just as that gentleman was about to dismiss his new boys' class.
"How is this, Coote?" demanded the Head Master, sternly, as the breathless boy entered. "Were you not told to be here at half-past nine?"
"Yes, sir; I—I made a mistake. I'm very sorry, sir."
The genuine terror in his face procured his reprieve this time. Dr Winter may have been used to "mistakes" of this kind. At any rate, he contented himself with cautioning the new boy against unpunctuality generally, and, by way of punishment, gave him an examination all to himself, which resulted, much to his comfort, in his being placed in the upper third, of which Dick and Heathcote were already shining lights.
While he was thus engaged, Dick and Heathcote were holding a secret, and by no means cheerful, consultation over a recent number of the Templeton Observer.
"I made sure it was all blown over," said the latter, dejectedly.
"What a cad the fellow must be!" said the former.
"I think newspapers are a regular nuisance!" said Georgie.
"All I know is, he robbed us of all we had, and if we'd informed he'd have been in Botany Bay or somewhere this minute!" said Dick, working himself up into a passion.
The extract from the Templeton Observer which gave rise to this duet of wrath was as follows, dated some ten days before the close of the holidays:—
*The recent mysterious disappearance of a Templeton boat*.—Up to the present time nothing has been heard of the Martha, which, as our readers will remember, disappeared from the Templeton beach, on the 4th June last. The supposed clue with which the police professed to be provided has, so far, failed to bring the perpetrators of the outrage to justice; although the hope is by no means abandoned of tracing the missing lad. The matter is somewhat seriously complicated by the discovery that Thomas White, the reputed owner of the boat, was at no time its actual proprietor. The Martha was the joint property of White and three other men, one of them skipper of the brig Julia, and the other two well-known fishermen, of this town. It appears that an arrangement was made, whereby White should be the nominal owner of the boat, he undertaking to hand over monthly three quarters of the profits to his partners. In May last, during the absence of his other partners, White pawned the Martha representing her to be his sole property, and appropriated the whole proceeds of the transaction. For this act of fraud (which the recent loss of the boat and the return of its joint owners has brought to light) we understand a writ has been issued against White, and that he will be arrested immediately on his return to Templeton from his present cruise with the Fishing Fleet in the high seas.
"Tom White's a regular bad one," said Dick.
"Yes. It was a jolly mean trick to pawn what didn't belong to him."
"The thing is, who did it belong to when we—when it got adrift?"
"The pawnbroker, I suppose," said Heathcote. "Most likely Nash."
"No wonder Tom White didn't seem much cut up about losing her."
"No; he made a good thing by it. It's a comfort to think he'll get nabbed at last."
"Of course, we've nothing to do with his row," said Dick.
"Of course not. We had nothing to do with pawning the boat."
And yet, they concluded, if the Martha had never gone adrift, no one would have known of Tom White's fraud, and he might have been able to make money enough with her to clear himself.
It seemed unfair to rake up an old sore like this at the very beginning of the term, especially when, as they persuaded themselves, over and over again, the whole affair had very little to do with them.
"I vote we don't look at this wretched paper any more," said Heathcote, crumpling up the offending Observer into a ball, and giving it a punt across the path.
"Why not? We may as well see what becomes of Tom White," said Dick. "Young Aspinall can fetch us up a copy once a week."
And so one of the events of the new term was that the Templeton Observer had a new subscriber, and increased its circulation by two new and very diligent readers.
THE NEW CAPTAIN DRAWS A STRAIGHT LINE.
Mansfield returned to Templeton like a man who knows that his work is cut out for him, and who means to do it, coute qui coute, as the French say.
Any one else might have been afraid of the task before him, and doubtful of success. Mansfield was neither; at any rate, as far as any one else could see. He set himself up neither for a Hercules nor a Galahad. It never occurred to him what he was. But it did occur to him that Templeton wanted reform, and that the Captain of Templeton ought to reform it. And with that one clear purpose before him, Mansfield was the sort of fellow to go straight through thick and thin to reach it, or perish in the attempt.
They say that when a certain Russian Emperor wanted a railway made between the two chief cities of his dominion, and was asked what route it should take, so as to benefit the largest number of intervening towns and villages, he called for a map and ruler, and drawing a straight line between the two places, said, "Let it go that way."
That was pretty much the style of Mansfield. He didn't understand turning to right or left to give anybody a lift on the way. All he knew was that Templeton was not up to the mark, and that Templeton must be brought up to the mark. Between those points he ruled his straight line, and that way he meant to go.
If the line cut a snug little set of chums in half, if it turned one or two settled school customs out of house and home, if it sent one or two waverers hopelessly over to the wrong side—well, so be it. It was a pity, especially if the innocent had to suffer with the guilty. But the good of Templeton was at stake, and woe to the traitor who thought anything more important than that!
Dear old Ponty, whom Templeton had never loved so much as when it missed him, had curled his line about in snug, comfortable ins-and-outs, so as not to disturb anybody. Mansfield didn't think himself better than Ponty, whom he loved as a brother. But Mansfield couldn't draw curling in-and-out lines. He only knew one line, and that was a straight one; and so, for better or worse, Mansfield called for his map and his ruler, and dashed into his task.
"Give the little chaps a chance," Ponty had said, in his last will and testament, and the new Captain of Templeton was willing to make one little curve, in order to carry out his friend's wish.
On the fourth evening of the term, as the Den was assembled in full session, for the purpose of swearing in Coote and denouncing the powers that be, that honourable fraternity was startled out of its never superabundant wits by an apparition far more terrible than the Templeton Ghost.
Dick was in the chair at the time, and Heathcote was in the act of moving a resolution, "That this Den considers all the monitors ought to be hanged, and hopes they will be," when the Captain of Templeton suddenly entered the room.
Then fell there a silence on the Den, like to the silence of a kennel of dogs when the whip of the master cracks! The word "hanged" died half- uttered on the lips of Heathcote, and Dick slipped aghast from his eminence. The tongue of Coote clave to the roof of his mouth, and even Gosse's heart turned to stone in the midst of a "swop." Never did condemned criminals stand more still, or wax-works more dumb.
Mansfield closed the door behind him, and marched straight to the top of the room, where stood Dick's vacant chair. Was he going to drive them out single-handed? Was he going to arrest their leader? Or was he going to make a speech?
As soon as they perceived he was going to do neither the first nor the second, and knew he was going to do the last, they groaned. They could have endured a stampede round the Quad; they could have brought themselves to see their leader immolated in a good cause; but to have to stand still and hear Jupiter speak—what had they done to deserve that?
"Look here, you youngsters," began Mansfield, needing not even a motion of his hand to command silence, "I've not come as an enemy, but a friend."
"What will it be like," mused Coote, "when he comes as an enemy?"
"And I've only a very few words to say to you."
Was it a sigh of relief or disappointment that escaped the Den? Mansfield didn't know; he wasn't well up in sighs.
"There's a great deal goes on in the Den that isn't right. Some of you youngsters think the only use of school rules is to break them, and that it's a fine thing to disobey the monitors. You're wrong, and, unless you give up that sort of thing, you'll find it out. The school rules are made to be kept, and the monitors are appointed to see they are kept; and any boy that says otherwise is an enemy to Templeton, and he will be treated accordingly. Some of you don't approve of all that goes on here, and yet you don't like to stand up against it. That's not right. You can't be neutral. If you mean to be steady, you are bound to stand out and have nothing to do with the bad lot. I want you all to understand this once for all, and not say you've had no warning. I warn you now. Rules are made to be kept, and you must keep them. Pontifex—"
The Captain had to stop; for the Den, which had stood in breathless silence thus far, sprang, at the mention of the name, into a cheer which spoke quite as much for the tension of their own feelings at this moment as for their affection for the old Captain.
Mansfield let them have it out; he liked them none the worse for their love to his friend, and what he had to say would by no means spoil by keeping till the cheers were over.
They were over at last. The sight of the Captain there, tall, upright, determined, with his dark eyes bent on them, cut them short and brought the Den back to silence as deep as that which had just been broken.
"Pontifex was fond of you youngsters. He said to me a day or two before he went, 'Give the little chaps a chance.'"
They could not help it; Captain or no Captain, they must cheer again. And again Mansfield waited patiently and ungrudgingly till it was over.
"This is why I've come here to-night. You have your chance. Let everybody choose for himself, and don't let any one say he didn't know what to expect. There's to be a Captain's levee on Thursday. I don't want any one to come to it who is not prepared to stand by Templeton rules this term. Those who are prepared will do well to show up."
So ended Jupiter's speech to the Den. He stalked down the room and out of the door amid a solemn silence, which was not broken until his firm footsteps died away down the passage.
Then the Den looked at one another as much as to say—
"What do you think of that?"
"Pretty warm!" said Dick, relieving the general embarrassment by speaking first.
"Think he means it?" said one.
"Looks like it!" said Dick, gloomily.
There was a pause. The Den knew, somehow, it was no joke.
It was a case of life or death, war or peace, liberty or servitude, and they hesitated on the brink.
"I don't mean to knuckle under to him!" said Heathcote, speaking with the mantle of Pledge upon him. "It's all a dodge to curry favour with Winter."
The Den was thankful for the suggestion, and revived wonderfully under its influence.
"Catch me doing more for him than for old Ponty!" cried Gosse, who had never done anything for Ponty.
The reference was a popular one, and the Den took it up also. It fell to extolling Ponty to the very heavens, and abasing Mansfield to the opposite extremity, while it held up its hands in horror at the man who could seek to make the good order of Templeton the price of his favour with the Head Master.
But, when the little outburst had subsided, the awkward question still remained—What was to be done?
"Of course nobody will be cad enough to go to the levee after what he said," said Heathcote, who, warmed by the admiring glances of Coote and the success of his last observation, felt called upon to speak for the assembly in general.
"Rather not! You won't go, will you, Dick?" said Pauncefote.
"Don't know," said that hero, shortly.
The Den was startled. What did Dick mean by "Don't know"? Was he going to knuckle in after all and join the "saints?"
The uncertainty had a very depressing effect on Heathcote's enthusiasm, which had calculated all along on the countenance of his leader. Coote, too, cautiously separated himself from Gosse, who was shouting sedition at the top of his voice, and drew off to more neutral territory. Smith and Pauncefote kept up their cheers for Ponty, but gradually dropped the groans for Mansfield, and altogether the howls of the Den toned down to the roar of a sucking dove as it got whispered abroad that Dick Richardson "didn't know."
The two days that followed were days of suspense to the Den.
"Is Dick going?" was the question every one asked.
"He doesn't know," was the invariable answer.
Under these circumstances, it will be understood, but little enthusiasm could be called up over the rival toilets of the fraternity. Culver's dress-coat had been returned to its lawful owner long since, and for that reason, if for no other, he determined not to attend. Heathcote's choker and white gloves were the worse for wear, so he was not anxious; and Coote, whose one strong point was a watered ribbon watch-chain, was rumoured to be weak in collars, and, on the whole, not a "hot man" at all, or likely to show up.
As to Dick, opinions were divided as to what he could do if he went. It was known his "dicky" had fallen off, but, on the other hand, he had brought back a pair of patent leather pumps, which might make him feel it his duty to attend.
"Look here, old man," asked Heathcote, for about the hundredth time, the evening before the levee, "are you going, or are you not?"
"Don't know," replied Dick. "Are you?"
What a question for a leader to ask his lieutenant! Dick knew it was ridiculous, but he guessed shrewdly it might choke off further inquiry. And it did.
Heathcote, however, had other counsellors besides Dick, who were neither doubtful nor sparing in their advice on the great question. A hasty meeting of the "Select Sociables" was summoned, by means of Braider, that very evening, to take into consideration the action of the Club at the forthcoming levee, at which it was agreed unanimously that, after the Captain's threat, no member of that honourable body should, on any account, show up.
Heathcote held up his hand for the resolution with the others, and felt sure, in his own mind, Dick would have done the same.
"Mind, nobody shows up, on any pretext," said Spokes, as the meeting separated. "We're on our honour, and, of course, no one mentions the Club out-of-doors."
Of course, nobody would think of such a thing.
Heathcote felt a good deal concerned as the evening went on, and still no sign came from Dick. It wasn't exactly kind to keep a fellow in suspense like this. The only thing was to take the bull by the horns, and announce what he was going to do. Then, possibly, Dick might show his hand.
"I've decided not to show up at the levee," said Georgie, on the morning of the eventful day.
"Have you?" said Dick, with a most provoking indifference.
"Yes," said the cunning Georgie. "I tell you what, Dick; while it's going on, you and I can get the top court and play off our heat for the handicap. What do you say?"
Whereupon, Heathcote wished that two words in the English language could be suspended, and went off to see if any comfort was going in the Den. But no.
"What's Dick going to do?" asked almost everybody.
"He doesn't know," groaned Heathcote.
Whereupon, the Den, as well as Georgie, wished ill to those two unlucky words.
The morning passed, and still no ray of light illumined the doubters. Dick got twenty lines from Pledge for jumping over the geranium bed in the Quad, and knocking off a flower in the act; and every one guessed this would decide him against the levee.
But at dinner-time a rumour spread, on the authority of Coote, that he had put on a clean collar since morning school, and public opinion immediately veered round to the opposite direction. No sooner, however, was dinner done than he was seen to fetch his tennis racket from his study; and once more it was surmised that he was going, after all, to play off his heat with Georgie instead of attending the ceremony. And that supposition was in turn dashed to the ground, when it was discovered that he had got the bat in order to give it to a messenger from Splicers, the racket maker, to be tightened up in the top cord.
Afternoon school dragged tediously on, and the Den grew desperate. Fellows went off to dress. But what was the use of Heathcote putting on his choker, or Smith and Pauncefote parting their hairs, when they didn't know whether they were going to the levee or not?
Heathcote made one final effort to "draw" the Sphinx.
"Come on," said he, "we'll bag the court if we are sharp, and get an hour's quiet play."
"I've got no racket," said Dick.
"I say, Dick, are you going to the levee—do tell us?"
"I don't know. What do you want to know for?"
"I—I vote we don't go," said Georgie, coaxingly. "I'm not going."
"I know that."
"Are you?" and there was a tone of desperate pathos in the boy's voice.
"Haven't I told you, a hundred and fifty times, I don't know?" replied Dick, scarcely less desperate.
Heathcote gave it up, and joined the Den, who were waiting about, in anxious groups, near the door of the Hall, with their ornaments in their hands, ready to put on at a moment's notice if necessary.
Presently Dick strolled up and joined them.
Hurrah! he had not got his patent leather boots on, after all! A weight fell from the minds of half the beholders as they cast their eyes down at his dusty double soles. And yet, if he wasn't going in, what was he hanging about there for?
Dick would have been very sorry if any of the Den had guessed what was passing in his mind. He didn't know what to do. If there had been no one but himself, it wouldn't have mattered. But there was that young ass Heathcote, and Coote too, who were certain to do as he did; and the fag of making up his mind for three people was not fair to a fellow.
And yet the Ghost's letter somehow stuck in his mind, and the ballast he had taken on board during the holidays made it harder to play pitch and toss with himself than it had been. He didn't like the way Mansfield had almost dared them to stay away. Because, if it came to that, he would just as soon let fellows see he wasn't going to be bullied. On the other hand, the Captain had as good as said it wanted some pluck to stand out against the rowdies, and that was an argument in favour of showing up at levee. The worst of it was, when once you showed up, you were committed to the steady lot, and couldn't well back out. If young Heathcote—no, he was bound to look after Heathcote.
So, to the amazement and consternation of the Den, after loafing about at the door for ten minutes, Dick strolled into the Hall, and made his way up to the platform.
One or two, including Coote, followed him immediately. Others remained long enough to put on their cuffs and chokers, and then followed suit. One or two looked at the door, and went back again, and a few talked about treason and Rule 5.
Heathcote alone was aghast and dumbfounded. For he had never seriously calculated on his leader's decision; and, being himself under vow not to present himself, his dilemma was terrible.
Perjury or treason? That was the problem he had to decide at half a minute's notice, and it was no joke.
As he watched Dick slowly advance up the room, dogged by the faithful Coote and supported by a bodyguard of loyal followers, his courage failed, and he could hardly restrain himself from rushing after him.
And yet, the memory of his promise to the "Select Sociables," and the vision of Braider watching him from a distance, held him where he was.
How he wished he could have a fit, or break his arm, or have his nose bleed; anything to get him out of this hobble!
But no. He saw Dick ascend the dais and shake hands with the Captain, who looked almost amiable as he spoke a few words to him. He saw Pauncefote and Smith and the other, loyal ones come in for the same greeting. He saw Coote and his watered ribbon being presented by Cartwright, and he caught sight of Pledge looking up and down the room, possibly in search of his Georgie.
All this he saw, and yet could not stir. Only when he saw Dick descend the platform and slowly return towards the door, did the spell yield and permit him to escape to the Quad.
There half an hour later he was found by Pledge.
"Hullo, youngster; you didn't turn up at the pantomime, then?"
"No," said Heathcote, "I didn't want to."
"What! not want to be shaken hands with and blessed by the holy Mansfield? You naughty boy, to neglect such a short cut to peace and plenty!"
"I don't want to toady to anybody," said Heathcote, bitterly.
"Of course you don't. But I'm afraid your courage will cost you something in impositions and detentions, and that sort of thing."
"What do I care? I'd sooner have any amount of them than be a humbug and truckle to anybody."
"Every one," said Pledge, with an approving smile, "made sure when your friend Richardson came to do homage, that you would come too. I was quite pleased to find I knew better and was right."
"I don't know what made Dick go," said Heathcote.
"No? Can't you guess? Isn't Dick a good boy, and doesn't he always do what good boys do?"
"I don't think he's very much in that line."
"Well, he imitates it very well," said Pledge, watching his man carefully, "and I've no doubt he will find it worth his while."
"What do you mean?" inquired Heathcote, looking up.
"I mean that Mansfield is picking his men for the 3rd Football Fifteen, and I'm afraid you won't be in it, my boy."
Heathcote said nothing, but walked on to the school door where he and his patron parted company; the latter proceeding to his study with a particularly amiable smile on his countenance; the former repairing to the adjourned meeting of the "Select Sociables," there to hear high praises of his loyalty and steadfastness, and to partake of a very select contraband supper, which, with the questionable festivities that followed, was good for neither the body nor the soul of our unheroic young hero.
DICK CONSPIRES TO DEFEAT THE ENDS OF JUSTICE.
Dick, on quitting the Captain's levee, retired in anything but exalted spirits to Cresswell's study.
He didn't care to face the Den that evening. Not that he was afraid of Rule 5, or cared a snap what anybody there had to say about his conduct. But he wasn't sure himself whether he had made a mistake or not. He hated being in a corner. He had no natural antipathy to doing what was right, but he didn't like being pinned down to it. He didn't go to the levee because he was desperately in love with law and order, and it was a shame for any one to suppose he had. He went because he knew Heathcote was waiting to see what he did. And now, after all, Heathcote had deserted his colours and not gone.
It was enough to make any one testy, and Aspinall, had he known it, would have been less surprised than he was to have his head almost snapped off as the two fellow-fags sat at work in their senior's study that evening.
"Can't you do your work without groaning like that?" said Dick, when the small boy, for about the fiftieth time, stumbled over his hexameters.
"I beg your pardon," said Aspinall, "I didn't mean to disturb you."
"Who said you did?" retorted poor Dick, longing for a quarrel with some one. "What's the use of flaring up like that?"
"I didn't mean—I'm sorry if I—"
"There you go. Why can't you swear straight out instead of mumbling? I can't hear what you say."
"I beg your pardon, Dick."
"Shut up, and get on with your work, and don't make such a noise."
After that the wretched Aspinall hardly dared dip his pen in the ink, or turn over a page, for fear of disturbing his badger companion. It was a relief when presently Cresswell entered and gave him a chance of escape.
"Well, youngster," said the senior, when he and Dick were left alone, "I'm glad you had the sense to turn up at the levee."
"I'm sorry I did," said Dick, shortly.
Cresswell knew his man too well to be taken aback by the contradiction.
"Yes? Is the Den going to lick you for it?"
"I'd like to see them try," said Dick, half viciously.
"So would I," said the senior, laughing.
"Mansfield will be trying to make out I've promised to back him up," said Dick.
"By Jove! he will be cut up when he finds you aren't. He'll resign."
Dick coloured up, and looked a little foolish. "I didn't mean that," he said.
"No very dreadful thing if you did back him up, eh?" said the monitor, casually. "It might disgust some of your friends in the Den, but you aren't obliged to toady to them."
"Rather not," said Dick.
"Besides, a fellow may sometimes do what's right and not be an utter cad. Perhaps you don't think so, though. You'd cut a nobler figure, wouldn't you, dragging down your chums from one row to another, than by anything so paltry as doing right because it is right? I quite understand that feeling."
"Why do you talk to me like that?" said Dick, feeling a sting in every word of the senior's speech. "You think I went to the levee to please myself. I didn't."
"And is that why you are sorry you went? Don't make yourself out worse than you are, Dick. You've done a plucky thing for once in a way, and got yourself into a row with the Den, and I really don't see that you have very much to reproach yourself with."
"I don't care a farthing for the Den," said Dick.
"But you do for yourself. If I were you, I wouldn't let myself be floored by one reverse. Stick to your man, and you'll get him out of the hands of the Philistines after all."
This little talk did Dick good, and cleared his mind. It put things in a new light. It recalled the Ghost's letter, and brought up in array once more the better resolutions that appeal had awakened. What was the use of his setting up as an example to his friends, when he was little better than a rowdy himself? Yes; Dick Richardson must be looked to. How, and by whom?
"Dominat qui in se dominatur," said Dick to himself, as he went off to bed, and closed a very uncomfortable and critical day.
When he went to call Cresswell next morning he found him already up and dressed.
"Ah, youngster, before you to-day! Have you forgotten it's a holiday?"
"So it is," said Dick, who, in his troubles, had actually overlooked the fact.
"What do you say to coming with Freckleton and me for a day's fishing in the Bay? Winter has given us leave if we keep inside the Sprit Rock, and I expect he'd let you come if I asked him."
"I'd like it frightfully," said Dick, glowing with pleasure at the invitation.
"All right. Set to work with the sandwiches. Make as many as the potted meat will allow, and get the matron to boil half-a-dozen eggs hard. I'll see Winter after chapel about you, and if it's all square we'll start directly after breakfast."
Dick went into raptures over the making of those sandwiches. Fishing was one of his great weaknesses, and a day of it, in such lovely weather as this, and in such distinguished company, was a treat out of the ordinary. The one drawback was that neither Heathcote nor Coote was in it. That, however, could not be helped; and he decided that, under the circumstances, it would be kindest not to tell them about it or raise their regrets.
After chapel he made straight for Cresswell's study and waited with some anxiety the result of his senior's application to the Head Master.
In due time Cresswell returned.
"All serene," said he. "He didn't much fancy it, I think; but I undertook to be responsible for you."
It occurred to Dick that he didn't see why he couldn't be responsible for himself; but he was too anxious not to mar the expedition, to raise any protest on behalf of his own independence.
"Take this can," said Cresswell, "and go down as quick as you can to Green's, next door to the 'Dolphin,' and tell him to fill it with worms for me, and bring them down to the beach. We're going to have Tug's boat, and we'll be there in half-an-hour, so look alive."
Dick, rather thankful to be able to get off unobserved, hurried off on his savoury errand. He had scarcely once gone down town since the affair of Tom White's boat, and certainly not since the alarming paragraphs in the Observer had taken to appearing. But he comforted himself with the reflection that Tom was at present on the high seas, and that no one else appeared to have any suspicion which would connect him (Dick) with the mysterious lad who had been seen on the Strand on the eventful night last June.
For all that, he dawdled not a moment longer than he could help. Green had the worms ready.
"So you're going for a day's sport, are you?" said he. "It's a good day, too, and the whiting ought to be plentiful off the rock."
"I hope they will," said Dick.
"They've been let alone the last week or two," said the bait merchant, "since our chaps have been out in the deep, so you've a fair chance."
"When will the boats be back?" asked Dick, rather nervously.
"We should have seen some of them this morning, but the wind's dropped. Maybe it will be afternoon before they come in."
"It's always a great day when they come in, isn't it?" asked the boy.
"Depends on the catch. When it's a bad catch no one cares to see them back."
Dick tried hard to keep down his next question, but it had a sort of fascination for him, and he could not smother it.
"I suppose," said he in the most careless tones he could assume, "Tom White's not likely to come back in a hurry?"
Green laughed. He was no friend of the double-dealing mariner.
"Not if he knows who's a-going to be down on the beach to welcome him. But, bless you, how's he to know? The sooner he comes home and gets his right lodgings, the better, so say I. What do you say, young squire?"
The "young squire" did not exactly know what to say, and took up his can of worms to depart, with something like precipitation.
He found Cresswell and Freckleton waiting for him down at the boat. Until this moment he had never seen the Templeton Hermit, except occasionally at a distance; and he glanced with some curiosity at the face of the fellow who had beaten Pledge for the Bishop's Scholarship. He didn't altogether dislike him. The stolid face and bright black eyes of the Hermit made him a little uncomfortable, but there was an occasional twitch at the corners of his mouth, and a music, when he chose to use it, in his voice, which reconciled the junior to his presence, and even interested him in the disposal of his new patron's good graces.
It didn't take long to get "all aboard." The precious worms were safely deposited in the hold, the three lines were stowed away under the seat, and the basket containing the sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs added ballast to the bows. Cresswell, who had an idea of doing things comfortably, had brought his ulster and made Freckleton bring his. The latter had armed himself also with a Shakespeare in case the fish didn't bite; and three towels, knowingly produced by the whipper-in, added a further pleasant suggestion for whiling away a dull half-hour.
The calmness of the day and the absence of any sign of wind induced the party to vote the mast and sails a useless encumbrance, and they were accordingly left ashore, and a spare pair of oars taken in their place. The irony of fate left it to Dick's lot to see the anchor was in proper trim and firmly secured—a task which he discharged with almost vicious solemnity.
"What time does the tide turn, Joe?" asked Cresswell of the boatman as they ran the boat down to the water.
"Half-past two about, mister. Yer'll need to bring her in close ashore and give the Fiddle-sand a wide berth while the tide flows."
"All right. Shove her off, Joe."
They had a glorious day. The sea had scarcely a ripple, and the sky scarcely a cloud. The fish seemed to vie with one another in falling upon the bait. The view of Templeton from the sea was perfect, and the sharp outline of the Sprit Rock above them was grandeur itself.
Dick, as he lolled over the side of the boat, slowly hauling up his line and speculating whether he had got two fish on each hook or only one, felt supremely at peace with himself and all the world. The sandwiches had been delicious, Cresswell and Freckleton had treated him like a lord, the pile of fish on the floor of the boat was worthy of a professional crew, the light breeze was just enough to keep the sun in his place, and the sofa he had made for himself with Freckleton's ulster in the bows was like a feather bed. Dick loved the world and everything in it, and when Cresswell said, "Walk into those sandwiches, young 'un," he really thought life the sweetest task in which mortal can engage.
Cresswell and Freckleton were scarcely more proof against the luxury of the morning. They chatted in a sort of sleepy undertone, as if they knew all Nature was taking a nap and didn't want to be disturbed.
"How did you think old Jupiter got through levee?" asked Cresswell.
"Well, for those who wish him well," said the Hermit.
"Ah, he's an uphill job before him, and I fancy he knows it. If he ever is down in the mouth, I think he was so last night after it was all over."
"I thought so too," said Freckleton; "that is, I shouldn't call it down in the mouth. He had headache; that's about the same thing."
"He's staked high. No one else would have dared to challenge the whole school in the way he did," said Cresswell, dropping his voice, but still, in the quiet air, not quite beyond Dick's hearing.
"It answered; it brought the right fellows to the front."
"And shut the wrong fellows hopelessly out?"
"I hope not. Many of them are only fools. They think it's plucky to defy the powers that be, and quite forget it's pluckier to defy themselves."
"That's a neat way of putting it, old man!"
"There's a big bite this time!" said the Hermit.
So there was—three fish on two hooks, and it was some time before the diversion was disposed of.
"It's a pity every one can't be made to see he's his own worst enemy; it would simplify matters awfully. If a youngster got it into his head that it wanted more pluck to go against himself than all the Templeton rules put together, we should get some surprises!"
"No chance of that, I'm afraid, while there are fellows like Pledge, who make it a business to drag youngsters down."
"You may say so. I should say there's not a youngster in Templeton in greater peril at this moment than Pledge's fag, and the worst of it is there is no one to help him."
Dick suddenly felt his sofa uncomfortable. The boards underneath cramped him; the sun, too, for some reason or other, became too hot, and the breeze fidgeted him; the last sandwich he had eaten had had too much mustard in it; he was getting fagged of fishing.
Although the talk of the two seniors had not been intended for his ears, it had been impossible for him to avoid overhearing it, even if he had tried, which he had not, and the Hermit's last words had stung him to the quick and spoilt his enjoyment.
"What's the matter, youngster?" asked Cresswell. "Getting sea-sick?"
"No," replied Dick, trying to compose himself.
"What do you say to a header?"
Dick was stripped in half a minute. Anything for a change. And what change more delightful than a plunge in the lovely green sea?
The seniors smiled at his hurry, as they proceeded in a more leisurely fashion to follow his example.
"Don't wait for us; over you go," said Cresswell, "and tell old Neptune we are coming."
Dick waited for no further invitation, and sprang from the gunwale. They watched the spreading circles that tracked his dive, and marked the white shining streak as it darted past, under the water.
"He'll be a shark, before long," said Cresswell. "Look at the distance he's dived."
"He has to thank the tide for part of this, though," said Freckleton, looking at his watch. "Why, it's—"
An exclamation from Cresswell stopped him. Dick had reappeared, but he was twenty yards at least astern of the boat, and drifting back every moment.
At first he did not seem to be aware of it; but, treading water, waved one hand exultantly to celebrate his long dive.
But when he began to swim, leisurely at first, but harder presently, he suddenly realised his position, and saw that instead of making way back to the boat, he was losing distance at every stroke.
Some of my readers may have been in a similar position, and know the horror of helplessness which, for a moment, comes over the swimmer at such a time. Dick was not given to panic, still less fear, but, for all that, the minute which ensued was one of the most terrible in his life.
At certain times of the tide, the current between the Sprit Rock and the long Fiddle-Sandbank rushed like a mill-race. The boys knew this; they had been reminded of it at starting. But the morning had passed so quickly that, until Dick had taken his header, and they saw him swept astern, it had never occurred to one of them that it could possibly be three o'clock. Freckleton was the first to see the danger, and almost as soon as Dick appeared above water, he flung off his coat and boots, and saying to Cresswell, "Come quick with the boat," plunged into the water.
He was soon at Dick's side; not to support him, for the boy was able to do that for himself, but to encourage him to keep cool, and not waste his strength in endeavouring to stem the tide. And Dick had sense enough to take the advice, and tread water quietly till the boat should come.
It seemed a long time coming. The anchor was fast in the bottom, and it wanted all Cresswell's strength to get it up. Indeed he would have been tempted to simplify matters by cutting the cord, had he had a knife at hand.
By the time it was free, the boys were almost a quarter of a mile away, and getting weary. But once free, their suspense was not prolonged. Cresswell bore quickly down upon them, and picked them up; and rarely did three friends breathe more freely than when they all stood once more on the floor of their boat.
There was no speech-making or wringing of hands, no bragging, no compliments. They knew one another too well for that, and dressed in silence, much as if the adventure had been an ordinary incident of an ordinary bathe.
"It strikes me," said Cresswell, who still had the oars out, "it will take us all our time to get back. Are you ready to take an oar, old man?"
Short as the time had been—indeed the whole incident had not occupied much more than five minutes—the boat was about a mile below her old moorings, and still in the rush of the current.
It was little the two rowers could do to keep her head up, much less to make any way; and finally it became clear that if they were to get back to Templeton at all that day, they must either anchor where they were, for six hours, with the risk of their rope not holding in the Race, or else let the current take them out to the open, and then make a long row back outside the Sprit, and clear of the Fiddle Bank.
They decided on the latter, and somewhat gloomily rested on their oars, and watched the backward sweep of the boat on the tide seaward.
The square tower of Templeton had become a mere speck on the coast-line, before they felt the tide under them relax, and knew they were out of the Race.
Then they manned their oars, and began their long pull home. Fortunately the water still remained quiet, and the breeze did not freshen. But after about a mile had been made, and the Sprit Rock seemed only midway between them and the shore, a peril still more serious overtook them. The sky became overcast, and a sea mist, springing from nowhere, came down on the breeze, blotting out first the horizon, then the rock, and finally the coast, and leaving them virtually blindfolded in mid-ocean.
"We may as well anchor, and wait till it clears," said Cresswell.
"I think we might go on slowly," said Freckleton. "If we keep the breeze on our left, and Dick looks sharp out in front, we are bound to come either on the Sprit or the shore. Try it for a bit."
So they tried; rowing gingerly, and steering by the breeze on their cheeks, while Dick, ahead, strained his eyes into the soaking mist.
They may have made another mile, and still the mist wrapped them round. They had no idea where, they were. They might be close to the Rock, or they might have drifted down the coast, or they might be coming on to the Race again.
Still, anything seemed better than lying idle, and they paddled steadily on, hoping against hope for a single glimpse of daylight through the veil.
Suddenly Dick held his hand above his head, and shouted—
"Easy! Hold hard!"
And they could just see a dark object ahead on the water.
It couldn't be the rock, for it was too small; and they could hardly imagine it to be part of the pier, or a boat on the beach.
They shouted; and, in a moment, an answer came, "Ahoy, there!" and they knew they had come upon a fishing-boat at anchor.
"It's one of the fleet, waiting to get in. We'd better go alongside, and wait with them," said Freckleton.
So Dick shouted to say they were coming, and they rowed carefully alongside.
The first sight that met Dick's astonished eyes, as he reached across to seize the gunwale of the friendly boat, was Tom White, sitting comfortably smoking in the stern.
"Good day, young gentlemen," said that worthy. "Can't keep away from us, can't yer?"
"Hullo, Tom! We've lost our way in the mist," said Cresswell. "Where are we?"
"Reckon you're in the bay, and a swim to the pierhead."
"So near! We made sure we were outside the Sprit. How long have you been here?"
"Come here when the tide turned, we did," said Tom, "with a boat full, and no mistake. Say, young gentlemen, you ain't forgot the poor mariner that lost his boat, have yer? It's cruel hard to lose your living and have to begin afresh."
"If you mean you want a shilling for piloting us ashore," said Cresswell, "here you are. Will you take us, or will your mate?"
Dick grew uncomfortable, and, under pretence of wanting to examine some of the fish on the floor of the lugger, he scrambled up the side, and got in.
"Come back, Dick; do you hear?" called Cresswell. "We must go back if one of those fellows will run us in. Will you come, Tom?"
Visions of the bar-parlour of the "Dolphin" hovered before Tom's mind as he looked down at the speaker and the shilling that lay in his hand.
He was just about to consent, when he felt his arm nudged by Dick, who was crouching down over the fish at his feet.
"Tom White," said the boy, looking up nervously, "don't go ashore. They are going to arrest you for pawning that boat that didn't belong to you. Tell your mate to see us ashore. There's another shilling for you!"
Tom took his pipe out of his mouth and gaped at the boy. Then he slowly pocketed the shilling. Then he relieved himself of an oath. Then he called his mate—
"Jerry, see the squires ashore."
With fluttering heart Dick scrambled back into the boat, followed by the hulking Jerry, who, in a very few minutes, ran them comfortably on to the beach, and made an end of all their perils for that day.
They reached Templeton just in time for call over; and no one knew, as they walked into Chapel that evening, through what adventures they had passed since they left Templeton in the morning.
Early next morning Dick could not resist the temptation of going down to call on Mr Green.
"Well, did the boats all come in?" he inquired.
"All, bar Tom White's. And they do say it will be long enough before any one sees him in these parts again. He's got wind somehow. It's wonderful the way news travels on water—so it is."
IN WHICH HEATHCOTE MOUNTS HIGH AND FALLS LOW.
George Heathcote celebrated the early hours of his holiday by "sleeping in," until the boom of the Chapel bell shot him headlong out of bed into his garments.
Coote, who had not yet mastered the art of venturing into Chapel alone, grew more and more pale as the hand of the clock crawled on, and the desperate alternative loomed before him, either of sharing his unpunctual friend's fate, or else of facing the exploit of walking unaided into his stall in the presence of gazing Templeton.
He had almost made up his heroic mind to the latter course, when a sound, as of coals being shot into a cellar, broke the stillness of the morning air; and next moment, Heathcote descended the stairs at the rate of five steps a second.
"Come on, you idiot; put it on!" he cried, as he reached Coote, and swept him forward towards the Chapel.
It was a close shave. Swinstead was shutting the door as Heathcote got his first foot in, and, but that the usher was unprepared for the desperate assault of the two juniors, and lost a second in looking to see what was the matter, Coote would have scored his first bad mark, and Heathcote's name would have figured, for the fifth or sixth time that term, on the monitor's black list.
As the latter young gentleman had nothing but his trousers, slippers, and coat on over his nightshirt, he deemed it prudent to bolt as soon as chapel was over, so as to elude the vigilant eyes of the authorities. He, therefore, saw nothing of Dick as he came out; and Dick, as we have seen, had too much on hand, just then, to see him.
At length, however, when the toilet was complete, and the glorious liberty from lessons began to swell our heroes' breasts, Heathcote's thoughts turned to Dick.
"Where's old Dick?" said he to Coote; "did you see him at breakfast?"
"Yes; he was at the other table. But I didn't see where he went afterwards."
Heathcote didn't like it. Dick had done him a bad turn yesterday over that levee business, and the least he could have done to-day would have been to find him out and make things jolly again.
But, instead of that, he had vanished, and left it to Heathcote to find him out. "Go and see where he is," said he to Coote.
The meek Coote obeyed, and took a cursory trot round the School Fields in search of his leader. No Dick was there, and no one had seen him.
Heathcote's face grew longer as he heard the report. It was getting serious. Dick was not only ill-treating him; he was cutting him.
He went off to Cresswell's study, as a last chance. The study was empty; and even the caps were gone from the pegs. Base desertion!
As he left the study he met Pledge.
"Ah, youngster! Going to grind all to-day?"
"I was looking for Dick."
"Oh! David looking for Jonathan. Poor chap! Johnny has given you the slip this time."
"Where has he gone?" asked Heathcote, trying to appear indifferent.
"The saintly youth has gone for a day's fishing in the Bay, with the dearly-beloved Cresswell and the reverend Freckleton. They have got him an exeat from the Doctor, they have bought him lines and bait, they have filled his pockets with good things. So you see piety pays after all, Georgie. What a pity you are not pious, too! You wouldn't be left so lonely if you were."
Heathcote was too hard hit to reply; and Pledge was kind enough not to attempt any further consolation.
It had been coming to this for weeks past. Georgie had refused to believe it as long as he could. He had stuck to his chum, and borne all the rebuffs which had rewarded him, patiently. He had even made excuses for Dick, and tried to think that their friendship was as strong as ever.
But now he saw that all the time Dick had been falling away and cutting himself adrift. This was why he left the "Select Sociables" the moment Heathcote joined them. This was why he went to the levee as soon as he saw Heathcote was not going. And this was why he had hidden out of the way this morning, for fear Heathcote should find out where he was going, and want to come too.
Georgie laughed bitterly to himself, as he made the discovery. As if he cared for fishing, or boating, or sandwiches! As if he cared about being cooped up in a tarry boat the livelong day, with a couple of such fellows as Cresswell and Freckleton! As if he couldn't enjoy himself alone or with Coote—poor young Coote, who had come to Templeton believing Dick to be his friend, whereas Dick, in his eagerness to toady to the "saints," would let him go to the dogs, if it wasn't that he, Heathcote, was there to befriend him.
So Heathcote went forth defiant, with Coote at his heels, resolved to let Templeton see he could enjoy himself without Dick.
He laughed extravagantly at nothing; he feigned to delight himself in the company of every idler he came across; he scorned loudly such stupid sport as fishing, or tennis, or fives.
He meant to make his mark. And then Dick, when he came back, would gnash his teeth with envy and wish woe to the hour when he was fool enough to desert his noblest friend!
"Tell you what'll be a lark, Coote," said Heathcote, as the two strode on, arm in arm, followed by a small crowd of juniors, who, seeing they were "on the swagger," hoped to be in the sport as spectators. "Tell you what; we'll have a walk round the roofs. I know where we can get up. We can get nearly all round the Quad. Won't it be a spree?"
Coote looked as delighted as he could, and said he hoped they wouldn't be caught, or there might be a row.
"Bless you, no one's about to-day. Come on. Nobody's done it since Fitch fell off a year ago, and he only got half round."
Coote was inwardly most reluctant to deprive the late Master Fitch of his hard-earned laurels, and even hinted as much. But Heathcote was in no humour for paltering. He was playing a high game, and Coote must play, too.
So they gave their followers the slip, and dodged their way back to the Quad, and made for the first staircase next to the Great Gate. Up here they crept, hurriedly and stealthily. One or two boys met them on the way, but Georgie swaggered past them, as though bound to pay an ordinary morning call on some occupant of the top floor. The top floor of all was dedicated to the use of the maids, who at that hour of the day were too much occupied elsewhere in making beds and filling jugs, to be at all inconvenient.
Heathcote, who, considering he had never made the expedition before, was wonderfully well up in the geography of the place, piloted Coote up a sort of ladder which ended in a trap-door in the ceiling of the garret.
"I know it's up here," he said. "Raggles told me it was the way Fitch got up."
"Oh!" said Coote, hanging tight on to the ladder with both arms, and trusting that, whichever way they ascended, they might select a different mode of descent from that adopted by the unfortunate Fitch.
Horrors! The trap-door was padlocked!
Joy! The padlock was not locked!
They opened the flap, and scrambled into a cavernous space between the ceiling and the roof, from which, to Coote's relief, there seemed no exit, except by the door at which they entered.
Heathcote, however, was not to be put off, and scrambled round the place on his hands and knees, in search of the hole in the roof, which he knew, on Raggles' authority, was there.
It was there, at the very end of the gable: a little manhole, just big enough to let a small body through to clear the gutter, and no more.