'Who's that in that bed?' he asked.
'Hullo, Grey,' replied a voice. 'Didn't know you were awake. I've come to keep you company.'
'That you, Barrett? What's up with you?'
'Collar-bone. Dislocated it or something. Reade's over in that corner. He has bust his ankle. Oh, yes, we've been having a nice, cheery afternoon,' concluded Barrett bitterly.
'Great Scott! How did it happen?'
'Where? In your collar-bone?'
'Yes. That wasn't what I meant, though. What I was explaining was that Payne got hold of me in the middle of the field, and threw me into touch. After which he fell on me. That was enough for my simple needs. I'm not grasping.'
'How about Reade?'
'The entire Second scrum collapsed on top of Reade. When we dug him out his ankle was crocked. Mainspring gone, probably. Then they gathered up the pieces and took them gently away. I don't know how it all ended.'
Just then Walkinshaw burst into the room. He had a large bruise over one eye, his arm was in a sling, and he limped. But he was in excellent spirits.
'I knew I was right, by Jove,' he observed to Grey. 'I knew he could buck up if he liked.'
'I know it now,' said Barrett.
'Who's this you're talking about?' said Grey.
'Payne. I've never seen anything like the game he played today. He was everywhere. And, by Jove, his tackling!'
'Don't,' said Barrett, wearily.
'It's the best match I ever played in,' said Walkinshaw, bubbling over with enthusiasm. 'Do you know, the Second had all the best of the game.'
'What was the score?'
'Draw. One try all.'
'And now I suppose you're satisfied?' enquired Barrett. The great scheme for the regeneration of Payne had been confided to him by its proud patentee.
'Almost,' said Walkinshaw. 'We'll continue the treatment for one more game, and then we'll have him simply fizzing for the Windybury match. That's next Saturday. By the way, I'm afraid you'll hardly be fit again in time for that, Barrett, will you?'
'I may possibly,' said Barrett, coldly, 'be getting about again in time for the Windybury match of the year after next. This year I'm afraid I shall not have the pleasure. And I should strongly advise you, if you don't want to have to put a team of cripples into the field, to discontinue the treatment, as you call it.'
'Oh, I don't know,' said Walkinshaw.
On the following Wednesday evening, at five o'clock, something was carried in on a stretcher, and deposited in the bed which lay between Grey and Barrett. Close scrutiny revealed the fact that it was what had once been Charles Augustus Walkinshaw. He was slightly broken up.
'Payne?' enquired Grey in chilly tones.
Walkinshaw admitted the impeachment.
Grey took a pencil and a piece of paper from the table at his side. 'If you want to know what I'm doing,' he said, 'I'm writing out the team for the Windybury match, and I'm going to make Payne captain, as the senior Second Fifteen man. And if we win I'm jolly well going to give him his cap after the match. If we don't win, it'll be the fault of a raving lunatic of the name of Walkinshaw, with his beastly Colney Hatch schemes for reforming slack forwards. You utter rotter!'
Fortunately for the future peace of mind of C. A. Walkinshaw, the latter contingency did not occur. The School, in spite of its absentees, contrived to pull the match off by a try to nil. Payne, as was only right and proper, scored the try, making his way through the ranks of the visiting team with the quiet persistence of a steam-roller. After the game he came to tea, by request, at the infirmary, and was straightaway invested by Grey with his First Fifteen colours. On his arrival he surveyed the invalids with interest.
'Rough game, footer,' he observed at length.
'Don't mention it,' said Barrett politely. 'Leeches,' he added dreamily. 'Leeches and hot fomentations. Boiling fomentations. Will somebody kindly murder Walkinshaw!'
'Why?' asked Payne, innocently.
J. S. M. Babington, of Dacre's House, was on the horns of a dilemma. Circumstances over which he had had no control had brought him, like another Hercules, to the cross-roads, and had put before him the choice between pleasure and duty, or, rather, between pleasure and what those in authority called duty. Being human, he would have had little difficulty in making his decision, had not the path of pleasure been so hedged about by danger as to make him doubt whether after all the thing could be carried through.
The facts in the case were these. It was the custom of the mathematical set to which J. S. M. Babington belonged, 4B to wit, to relieve the tedium of the daily lesson with a species of round game which was played as follows. As soon as the master had taken his seat, one of the players would execute a manoeuvre calculated to draw attention on himself, such as dropping a book or upsetting the blackboard. Called up to the desk to give explanation, he would embark on an eloquent speech for the defence. This was the cue for the next player to begin. His part consisted in making his way to the desk and testifying to the moral excellence of his companion, and giving in full the reasons why he should be discharged without a stain upon his character. As soon as he had warmed to his work he would be followed by a third player, and so on until the standing room around the desk was completely filled with a great cloud of witnesses. The duration of the game varied, of course, considerably. On some occasions it could be played through with such success, that the master would enter into the spirit of the thing, and do his best to book the names of all offenders at one and the same time, a feat of no inconsiderable difficulty. At other times matters would come to a head more rapidly. In any case, much innocent fun was to be derived from it, and its popularity was great. On the day, however, on which this story opens, a new master had been temporarily loosed into the room in place of the Rev. Septimus Brown, who had been there as long as the oldest inhabitant could remember. The Rev. Septimus was a wrangler, but knew nothing of the ways of the human boy. His successor, Mr Reginald Seymour, was a poor mathematician, but a good master. He had been, moreover, a Cambridge Rugger Blue. This fact alone should have ensured him against the customary pleasantries, for a Blue is a man to be respected. It was not only injudicious, therefore, but positively wrong of Babington to plunge against the blackboard on his way to his place. If he had been a student of Tennyson, he might have remembered that the old order is in the habit of changing and yielding place to the new.
Mr Seymour looked thoughtfully for a moment at the blackboard.
'That was rather a crude effort,' he said pleasantly to Babington, 'you lack finesse. Pick it up again, please.'
Babington picked it up without protest. Under the rule of the Rev. Septimus this would have been the signal for the rest of the class to leave their places and assist him, but now they seemed to realize that there was a time for everything, and that this was decidedly no time for indoor games.
'Thank you,' said Mr Seymour, when the board was in its place again. 'What is your name? Eh, what? I didn't quite hear.'
'Ah. You had better come in tomorrow at two and work out examples three hundred to three-twenty in "Hall and Knight". There is really plenty of room to walk in between that desk and the blackboard. It only wants practice.'
What was left of Babington then went to his seat. He felt that his reputation as an artistic player of the game had received a shattering blow. Then there was the imposition. This in itself would have troubled him little. To be kept in on a half-holiday is annoying, but it is one of those ills which the flesh is heir to, and your true philosopher can always take his gruel like a man.
But it so happened that by the evening post he had received a letter from a cousin of his, who was a student at Guy's, and from all accounts was building up a great reputation in the medical world. From this letter it appeared that by a complicated process of knowing people who knew other people who had influence with the management, he had contrived to obtain two tickets for a morning performance of the new piece that had just been produced at one of the theatres. And if Mr J. S. M. Babington wished to avail himself of the opportunity, would he write by return, and be at Charing Cross Underground bookstall at twenty past two.
Now Babington, though he objected strongly to the drama of ancient Greece, was very fond of that of the present day, and he registered a vow that if the matter could possibly be carried through, it should be. His choice was obvious. He could cut his engagement with Mr Seymour, or he could keep it. The difficulty lay rather in deciding upon one or other of the alternatives. The whole thing turned upon the extent of the penalty in the event of detection.
That was his dilemma. He sought advice.
'I should risk it,' said his bosom friend Peterson.
'I shouldn't advise you to,' remarked Jenkins.
Jenkins was equally a bosom friend, and in the matter of wisdom in no way inferior to Peterson.
'What would happen, do you think?' asked Babington.
'Sack,' said one authority.
'Jaw, and double impot,' said another.
'The Daily Telegraph,' muttered the tempter in a stage aside, 'calls it the best comedy since Sheridan.'
'So it does,' thought Babington. 'I'll risk it.'
'You'll be a fool if you do,' croaked the gloomy Jenkins. 'You're bound to be caught.' But the Ayes had it. Babington wrote off that night accepting the invitation.
It was with feelings of distinct relief that he heard Mr Seymour express to another master his intention of catching the twelve-fifteen train up to town. It meant that he would not be on the scene to see him start on the 'Hall and Knight'. Unless luck were very much against him, Babington might reasonably hope that he would accept the imposition without any questions. He had taken the precaution to get the examples finished overnight, with the help of Peterson and Jenkins, aided by a weird being who actually appeared to like algebra, and turned out ten of the twenty problems in an incredibly short time in exchange for a couple of works of fiction (down) and a tea (at a date). He himself meant to catch the one-thirty, which would bring him to town in good time. Peterson had promised to answer his name at roll-call, a delicate operation, in which long practice had made him, like many others of the junior members of the House, no mean proficient.
It would be pleasant for a conscientious historian to be able to say that the one-thirty broke down just outside Victoria, and that Babington arrived at the theatre at the precise moment when the curtain fell and the gratified audience began to stream out. But truth, though it crush me. The one-thirty was so punctual that one might have thought that it belonged to a line other than the line to which it did belong. From Victoria to Charing Cross is a journey that occupies no considerable time, and Babington found himself at his destination with five minutes to wait. At twenty past his cousin arrived, and they made their way to the theatre. A brief skirmish with a liveried menial in the lobby, and they were in their seats.
Some philosopher, of extraordinary powers of intuition, once informed the world that the best of things come at last to an end. The statement was tested, and is now universally accepted as correct. To apply the general to the particular, the play came to an end amidst uproarious applause, to which Babington contributed an unstinted quotum, about three hours after it had begun.
'What do you say to going and grubbing somewhere?' asked Babington's cousin, as they made their way out.
'Hullo, there's that man Richards,' he continued, before Babington could reply that of all possible actions he considered that of going and grubbing somewhere the most desirable. 'Fellow I know at Guy's, you know,' he added, in explanation. 'I'll get him to join us. You'll like him, I expect.'
Richards professed himself delighted, and shook hands with Babington with a fervour which seemed to imply that until he had met him life had been a dreary blank, but that now he could begin to enjoy himself again. 'I should like to join you, if you don't mind including a friend of mine in the party,' said Richards. 'He was to meet me here. By the way, he's the author of that new piece—The Way of the World.'
'Why, we've just been there.'
'Oh, then you will probably like to meet him. Here he is.'
As he spoke a man came towards them, and, with a shock that sent all the blood in his body to the very summit of his head, and then to the very extremities of his boots, Babington recognized Mr Seymour. The assurance of the programme that the play was by Walter Walsh was a fraud. Nay worse, a downright and culpable lie. He started with the vague idea of making a rush for safety, but before his paralysed limbs could be induced to work, Mr Seymour had arrived, and he was being introduced (oh, the tragic irony of it) to the man for whose benefit he was at that very moment supposed to be working out examples three hundred to three-twenty in 'Hall and Knight'.
Mr Seymour shook hands, without appearing to recognize him. Babington's blood began to resume its normal position again, though he felt that this seeming ignorance of his identity might be a mere veneer, a wile of guile, as the bard puts it. He remembered, with a pang, a story in some magazine where a prisoner was subjected to what the light-hearted inquisitors called the torture of hope. He was allowed to escape from prison, and pass guards and sentries apparently without their noticing him. Then, just as he stepped into the open air, the chief inquisitor tapped him gently on the shoulder, and, more in sorrow than in anger, reminded him that it was customary for condemned men to remain inside their cells. Surely this was a similar case. But then the thought came to him that Mr Seymour had only seen him once, and so might possibly have failed to remember him, for there was nothing special about Babington's features that arrested the eye, and stamped them on the brain for all time. He was rather ordinary than otherwise to look at. At tea, as bad luck would have it, the two sat opposite one another, and Babington trembled. Then the worst happened. Mr Seymour, who had been looking attentively at him for some time, leaned forward and said in a tone evidently devoid of suspicion: 'Haven't we met before somewhere? I seem to remember your face.'
'Er—no, no,' replied Babington. 'That is, I think not. We may have.'
'I feel sure we have. What school are you at?'
Babington's soul began to writhe convulsively.
'What, what school? Oh, what school? Why, er—I'm at—er—Uppingham.'
Mr Seymour's face assumed a pleased expression.
'Uppingham? Really. Why, I know several Uppingham fellows. Do you know Mr Morton? He's a master at Uppingham, and a great friend of mine.'
The room began to dance briskly before Babington's eyes, but he clutched at a straw, or what he thought was a straw.
'Uppingham? Did I say Uppingham? Of course, I mean Rugby, you know, Rugby. One's always mixing the two up, you know. Isn't one?'
Mr Seymour looked at him in amazement. Then he looked at the others as if to ask which of the two was going mad, he or the youth opposite him. Babington's cousin listened to the wild fictions which issued from his lips in equal amazement. He thought he must be ill. Even Richards had a fleeting impression that it was a little odd that a fellow should forget what school he was at, and mistake the name Rugby for that of Uppingham, or vice versa. Babington became an object of interest.
'I say, Jack,' said the cousin, 'you're feeling all right, aren't you? I mean, you don't seem to know what you're talking about. If you're going to be ill, say so, and I'll prescribe for you.'
'Is he at Rugby?' asked Mr Seymour.
'No, of course he's not. How could he have got from Rugby to London in time for a morning performance? Why, he's at St Austin's.'
Mr Seymour sat for a moment in silence, taking this in. Then he chuckled. 'It's all right,' he said, 'he's not ill. We have met before, but under such painful circumstances that Master Babington very thoughtfully dissembled, in order not to remind me of them.'
He gave a brief synopsis of what had occurred. The audience, exclusive of Babington, roared with laughter.
'I suppose,' said the cousin, 'you won't prosecute, will you? It's really such shocking luck, you know, that you ought to forget you're a master.'
Mr Seymour stirred his tea and added another lump of sugar very carefully before replying. Babington watched him in silence, and wished that he would settle the matter quickly, one way or the other.
'Fortunately for Babington,' said Mr Seymour, 'and unfortunately for the cause of morality, I am not a master. I was only a stop-gap, and my term of office ceased today at one o'clock. Thus the prisoner at the bar gets off on a technical point of law, and I trust it will be a lesson to him. I suppose you had the sense to do the imposition?'
'Yes, sir, I sat up last night.'
'Good. Now, if you'll take my advice, you'll reform, or another day you'll come to a bad end. By the way, how did you manage about roll-call today?'
'I thought that was an awfully good part just at the end of the first act,' said Babington.
Mr Seymour smiled. Possibly from gratification.
'Well, how did it go off?' asked Peterson that night.
'Don't, old chap,' said Babington, faintly.
'I told you so,' said Jenkins at a venture.
But when he had heard the whole story he withdrew the remark, and commented on the wholly undeserved good luck some people seemed to enjoy.
'THE TABBY TERROR'
The struggle between Prater's cat and Prater's cat's conscience was short, and ended in the hollowest of victories for the former. The conscience really had no sort of chance from the beginning. It was weak by nature and flabby from long want of exercise, while the cat was in excellent training, and was, moreover, backed up by a strong temptation. It pocketed the stakes, which consisted of most of the contents of a tin of sardines, and left unostentatiously by the window. When Smith came in after football, and found the remains, he was surprised, and even pained. When Montgomery entered soon afterwards, he questioned him on the subject.
'I say, have you been having a sort of preliminary canter with the banquet?'
'No,' said Montgomery. 'Why?'
'Somebody has,' said Smith, exhibiting the empty tin. 'Doesn't seem to have had such a bad appetite, either.'
'This reminds me of the story of the great bear, the medium bear, and the little ditto,' observed Montgomery, who was apt at an analogy. 'You may remember that when the great bear found his porridge tampered with, he—'
At this point Shawyer entered. He had been bidden to the feast, and was feeling ready for it.
'Hullo, tea ready?' he asked.
Smith displayed the sardine tin in much the same manner as the conjurer shows a pack of cards when he entreats you to choose one, and remember the number.
'You haven't finished already, surely? Why, it's only just five.'
'We haven't even begun,' said Smith. 'That's just the difficulty. The question is, who has been on the raid in here?'
'No human being has done this horrid thing,' said Montgomery. He always liked to introduce a Holmes-Watsonian touch into the conversation. 'In the first place, the door was locked, wasn't it, Smith?'
'By Jove, so it was. Then how on earth—?'
'Through the window, of course. The cat, equally of course. I should like a private word with that cat.'
'I suppose it must have been.'
'Of course it was. Apart from the merely circumstantial evidence, which is strong enough to hang it off its own bat, we have absolute proof of its guilt. Just cast your eye over that butter. You follow me, Watson?'
The butter was submitted to inspection. In the very centre of it there was a footprint.
'I traced his little footprints in the butter,' said Montgomery. 'Now, is that the mark of a human foot?'
The jury brought in a unanimous verdict of guilty against the missing animal, and over a sorrowful cup of tea, eked out with bread and jam—butter appeared to be unpopular—discussed the matter in all its bearings. The cat had not been an inmate of Prater's House for a very long time, and up till now what depredation it had committed had been confined to the official larder. Now, however, it had evidently got its hand in, and was about to commence operations upon a more extensive scale. The Tabby Terror had begun. Where would it end? The general opinion was that something would have to be done about it. No one seemed to know exactly what to do. Montgomery spoke darkly of bricks, bits of string, and horse-ponds. Smith rolled the word 'rat-poison' luxuriously round his tongue. Shawyer, who was something of an expert on the range, babbled of air-guns.
At tea on the following evening the first really serious engagement of the campaign took place. The cat strolled into the tea-room in the patronizing way characteristic of his kind, but was heavily shelled with lump-sugar, and beat a rapid retreat. That was the signal for the outbreak of serious hostilities. From that moment its paw was against every man, and the tale of the things it stole is too terrible to relate in detail. It scored all along the line. Like Death in the poem, it knocked at the doors of the highest and the lowest alike. Or rather, it did not exactly knock. It came in without knocking. The palace of the prefect and the hovel of the fag suffered equally. Trentham, the head of the House, lost sausages to an incredible amount one evening, and the next day Ripton, of the Lower Third, was robbed of his one ewe lamb in the shape of half a tin of anchovy paste. Panic reigned.
It was after this matter of the sausages that a luminous idea occurred to Trentham. He had been laid up with a slight football accident, and his family, reading between the lines of his written statement that he 'had got crocked at footer, nothing much, only (rather a nuisance) might do him out of the House-matches', a notification of mortal injuries, and seeming to hear a death-rattle through the words 'felt rather chippy yesterday', had come down en masse to investigate. En masse, that is to say, with the exception of his father, who said he was too busy, but felt sure it was nothing serious. ('Why, when I was a boy, my dear, I used to think nothing of an occasional tumble. There's nothing the matter with Dick. Why, etc., etc.')
Trentham's sister was his first visitor.
'I say,' said he, when he had satisfied her on the subject of his health, 'would you like to do me a good turn?'
She intimated that she would be delighted, and asked for details.
'Buy the beak's cat,' hissed Trentham, in a hoarse whisper.
'Dick, it was your leg that you hurt, wasn't it? Not—not your head?' she replied. 'I mean—'
'No, I really mean it. Why can't you? It's a perfectly simple thing to do.'
'But what is a beak? And why should I buy its cat?'
'A beak's a master. Surely you know that. You see, Prater's got a cat lately, and the beast strolls in and raids the studies. Got round over half a pound of prime sausages in here the other night, and he's always bagging things everywhere. You'd be doing everyone a kindness if you would take him on. He'll get lynched some day if you don't. Besides, you want a cat for your new house, surely. Keep down the mice, and that sort of thing, you know. This animal's a demon for mice.' This was a telling argument. Trentham's sister had lately been married, and she certainly had had some idea of investing in a cat to adorn her home. 'As for beetles,' continued the invalid, pushing home his advantage, 'they simply daren't come out of their lairs for fear of him.'
'If he eats beetles,' objected his sister, 'he can't have a very good coat.'
'He doesn't eat them. Just squashes them, you know, like a policeman. He's a decent enough beast as far as looks go.'
'But if he steals things—'
'No, don't you see, he only does that here, because the Praters don't interfere with him and don't let us do anything to him. He won't try that sort of thing on with you. If he does, get somebody to hit him over the head with a boot-jack or something. He'll soon drop it then. You might as well, you know. The House'll simply black your boots if you do.'
'But would Mr Prater let me have the cat?'
'Try him, anyhow. Pitch it fairly warm, you know. Only cat you ever loved, and that sort of thing.'
'Very well. I'll try.'
'Thanks, awfully. And, I say, you might just look in here on your way out and report.'
Mrs James Williamson, nee Miss Trentham, made her way dutifully to the Merevale's part of the House. Mrs Prater had expressed a hope that she would have some tea before catching her train. With tea it is usual to have milk, and with milk it is usual, if there is a cat in the house, to have feline society. Captain Kettle, which was the name thought suitable to this cat by his godfathers and godmothers, was on hand early. As he stood there pawing the mat impatiently, and mewing in a minor key, Mrs Williamson felt that here was the cat for her. He certainly was good to look upon. His black heart was hidden by a sleek coat of tabby fur, which rendered stroking a luxury. His scheming brain was out of sight in a shapely head.
'Oh, what a lovely cat!' said Mrs Williamson.
'Yes, isn't he,' agreed Mrs Prater. 'We are very proud of him.'
'Such a beautiful coat!'
'And such a sweet purr!'
'He looks so intelligent. Has he any tricks?'
Had he any tricks! Why, Mrs Williamson, he could do everything except speak. Captain Kettle, you bad boy, come here and die for your country. Puss, puss.
Captain Kettle came at last reluctantly, died for his country in record time, and flashed back again to the saucer. He had an important appointment. Sorry to appear rude and all that sort of thing, don't you know, but he had to see a cat about a mouse.
'Well?' said Trentham, when his sister looked in upon him an hour later.
'Oh, Dick, it's the nicest cat I ever saw. I shall never be happy if I don't get it.'
'Have you bought it?' asked the practical Trentham.
'My dear Dick, I couldn't. We couldn't bargain about a cat during tea. Why, I never met Mrs Prater before this afternoon.'
'No, I suppose not,' admitted Trentham, gloomily. 'Anyhow, look here, if anything turns up to make the beak want to get rid of it, I'll tell him you're dead nuts on it. See?'
For a fortnight after this episode matters went on as before. Mrs Williamson departed, thinking regretfully of the cat she had left behind her.
Captain Kettle died for his country with moderate regularity, and on one occasion, when he attempted to extract some milk from the very centre of a fag's tea-party, almost died for another reason. Then the end came suddenly.
Trentham had been invited to supper one Sunday by Mr Prater. When he arrived it became apparent to him that the atmosphere was one of subdued gloom. At first he could not understand this, but soon the reason was made clear. Captain Kettle had, in the expressive language of the man in the street, been and gone and done it. He had been left alone that evening in the drawing-room, while the House was at church, and his eye, roaming restlessly about in search of evil to perform, had lighted upon a cage. In that cage was a special sort of canary, in its own line as accomplished an artiste as Captain Kettle himself. It sang with taste and feeling, and made itself generally agreeable in a number of little ways. But to Captain Kettle it was merely a bird. One of the poets sings of an acquaintance of his who was so constituted that 'a primrose by the river's brim a simple primrose was to him, and it was nothing more'. Just so with Captain Kettle. He was not the cat to make nice distinctions between birds. Like the cat in another poem, he only knew they made him light and salutary meals. So, with the exercise of considerable ingenuity, he extracted that canary from its cage and ate it. He was now in disgrace.
'We shall have to get rid of him,' said Mr Prater.
'I'm afraid so,' said Mrs Prater.
'If you weren't thinking of giving him to anyone in particular, sir,' said Trentham, 'my sister would be awfully glad to take him, I know. She was very keen on him when she came to see me.'
'That's excellent,' said Prater. 'I was afraid we should have to send him to a home somewhere.'
'I suppose we can't keep him after all?' suggested Mrs Prater.
Trentham waited in suspense.
'No,' said Prater, decidedly. 'I think not.' So Captain Kettle went, and the House knew him no more, and the Tabby Terror was at an end.
THE PRIZE POEM
Some quarter of a century before the period with which this story deals, a certain rich and misanthropic man was seized with a bright idea for perpetuating his memory after death, and at the same time harassing a certain section of mankind. So in his will he set aside a portion of his income to be spent on an annual prize for the best poem submitted by a member of the Sixth Form of St Austin's College, on a subject to be selected by the Headmaster. And, he added—one seems to hear him chuckling to himself—every member of the form must compete. Then he died. But the evil that men do lives after them, and each year saw a fresh band of unwilling bards goaded to despair by his bequest. True, there were always one or two who hailed this ready market for their sonnets and odes with joy. But the majority, being barely able to rhyme 'dove' with 'love', regarded the annual announcement of the subject chosen with feelings of the deepest disgust.
The chains were thrown off after a period of twenty-seven years in this fashion.
Reynolds of the Remove was indirectly the cause of the change. He was in the infirmary, convalescing after an attack of German measles, when he received a visit from Smith, an ornament of the Sixth.
'By Jove,' remarked that gentleman, gazing enviously round the sick-room, 'they seem to do you pretty well here.'
'Yes, not bad, is it? Take a seat. Anything been happening lately?'
'Nothing much. I suppose you know we beat the M.C.C. by a wicket?'
'Yes, so I heard. Anything else?'
'Prize poem,' said Smith, without enthusiasm. He was not a poet.
Reynolds became interested at once. If there was one role in which he fancied himself (and, indeed, there were a good many), it was that of a versifier. His great ambition was to see some of his lines in print, and he had contracted the habit of sending them up to various periodicals, with no result, so far, except the arrival of rejected MSS. at meal-times in embarrassingly long envelopes. Which he blushingly concealed with all possible speed.
'What's the subject this year?' he asked.
'The College—of all idiotic things.'
'Couldn't have a better subject for an ode. By Jove, I wish I was in the Sixth.'
'Wish I was in the infirmary,' said Smith.
Reynolds was struck with an idea.
'Look here, Smith,' he said, 'if you like I'll do you a poem, and you can send it up. If it gets the prize—'
'Oh, it won't get the prize,' Smith put in eagerly. 'Rogers is a cert. for that.'
'If it gets the prize,' repeated Reynolds, with asperity, 'you'll have to tell the Old Man all about it. He'll probably curse a bit, but that can't be helped. How's this for a beginning?
"Imposing pile, reared up 'midst pleasant grounds, The scene of many a battle, lost or won, At cricket or at football; whose red walls Full many a sun has kissed 'ere day is done."'
'Grand. Couldn't you get in something about the M.C.C. match? You could make cricket rhyme with wicket.' Smith sat entranced with his ingenuity, but the other treated so material a suggestion with scorn.
'Well,' said Smith, 'I must be off now. We've got a House-match on. Thanks awfully about the poem.'
Left to himself, Reynolds set himself seriously to the composing of an ode that should do him justice. That is to say, he drew up a chair and table to the open window, wrote down the lines he had already composed, and began chewing a pen. After a few minutes he wrote another four lines, crossed them out, and selected a fresh piece of paper. He then copied out his first four lines again. After eating his pen to a stump, he jotted down the two words 'boys' and 'joys' at the end of separate lines. This led him to select a third piece of paper, on which he produced a sort of edition de luxe in his best handwriting, with the title 'Ode to the College' in printed letters at the top. He was admiring the neat effect of this when the door opened suddenly and violently, and Mrs Lee, a lady of advanced years and energetic habits, whose duty it was to minister to the needs of the sick and wounded in the infirmary, entered with his tea. Mrs Lee's method of entering a room was in accordance with the advice of the Psalmist, where he says, 'Fling wide the gates'. She flung wide the gate of the sick-room, and the result was that what is commonly called 'a thorough draught' was established. The air was thick with flying papers, and when calm at length succeeded storm, two editions of 'Ode to the College' were lying on the grass outside.
Reynolds attacked the tea without attempting to retrieve his vanished work. Poetry is good, but tea is better. Besides, he argued within himself, he remembered all he had written, and could easily write it out again. So, as far as he was concerned, those three sheets of paper were a closed book.
Later on in the afternoon, Montgomery of the Sixth happened to be passing by the infirmary, when Fate, aided by a sudden gust of wind, blew a piece of paper at him. 'Great Scott,' he observed, as his eye fell on the words 'Ode to the College'. Montgomery, like Smith, was no expert in poetry. He had spent a wretched afternoon trying to hammer out something that would pass muster in the poem competition, but without the least success. There were four lines on the paper. Two more, and it would be a poem, and capable of being entered for the prize as such. The words 'imposing pile', with which the fragment in his hand began, took his fancy immensely. A poetic afflatus seized him, and in less than three hours he had added the necessary couplet,
How truly sweet it is for such as me To gaze on thee.
'And dashed neat, too,' he said, with satisfaction, as he threw the manuscript into his drawer. 'I don't know whether "me" shouldn't be "I", but they'll have to lump it. It's a poem, anyhow, within the meaning of the act.' And he strolled off to a neighbour's study to borrow a book.
Two nights afterwards, Morrison, also of the Sixth, was enjoying his usual during prep siesta in his study. A tap at the door roused him. Hastily seizing a lexicon, he assumed the attitude of the seeker after knowledge, and said, 'Come in.' It was not the House-master, but Evans, Morrison's fag, who entered with pride on his face and a piece of paper in his hand.
'I say,' he began, 'you remember you told me to hunt up some tags for the poem. Will this do?'
Morrison took the paper with a judicial air. On it were the words:
Imposing pile, reared up 'midst pleasant grounds, The scene of many a battle, lost or won, At cricket or at football; whose red walls Full many a sun has kissed 'ere day is done.
'That's ripping, as far as it goes,' said Morrison. 'Couldn't be better. You'll find some apples in that box. Better take a few. But look here,' with sudden suspicion, 'I don't believe you made all this up yourself. Did you?'
Evans finished selecting his apples before venturing on a reply. Then he blushed, as much as a member of the junior school is capable of blushing.
'Well,' he said, 'I didn't exactly. You see, you only told me to get the tags. You didn't say how.'
'But how did you get hold of this? Whose is it?'
'Dunno. I found it in the field between the Pavilion and the infirmary.'
'Oh! well, it doesn't matter much. They're just what I wanted, which is the great thing. Thanks. Shut the door, will you?' Whereupon Evans retired, the richer by many apples, and Morrison resumed his siesta at the point where he had left off.
'Got that poem done yet?' said Smith to Reynolds, pouring out a cup of tea for the invalid on the following Sunday.
'Two lumps, please. No, not quite.'
'Great Caesar, man, when'll it be ready, do you think? It's got to go in tomorrow.'
'Well, I'm really frightfully sorry, but I got hold of a grand book. Ever read—?'
'Isn't any of it done?' asked Smith.
'Only the first verse, I'm afraid. But, look here, you aren't keen on getting the prize. Why not send in only the one verse? It makes a fairly decent poem.'
'Hum! Think the Old 'Un'll pass it?'
'He'll have to. There's nothing in the rules about length. Here it is if you want it.'
'Thanks. I suppose it'll be all right? So long! I must be off.'
The Headmaster, known to the world as the Rev. Arthur James Perceval, M.A., and to the School as the Old 'Un, was sitting at breakfast, stirring his coffee, with a look of marked perplexity upon his dignified face. This was not caused by the coffee, which was excellent, but by a letter which he held in his left hand.
'Hum!' he said. Then 'Umph!' in a protesting tone, as if someone had pinched him. Finally, he gave vent to a long-drawn 'Um-m-m,' in a deep bass. 'Most extraordinary. Really, most extraordinary. Exceedingly. Yes. Um. Very.' He took a sip of coffee.
'My dear,' said he, suddenly. Mrs Perceval started violently. She had been sketching out in her mind a little dinner, and wondering whether the cook would be equal to it.
'Yes,' she said.
'My dear, this is a very extraordinary communication. Exceedingly so. Yes, very.'
'Who is it from?'
Mr Perceval shuddered. He was a purist in speech. 'From whom, you should say. It is from Mr Wells, a great College friend of mine. I—ah—submitted to him for examination the poems sent in for the Sixth Form Prize. He writes in a very flippant style. I must say, very flippant. This is his letter:—"Dear Jimmy (really, really, he should remember that we are not so young as we were); dear—ahem—Jimmy. The poems to hand. I have read them, and am writing this from my sick-bed. The doctor tells me I may pull through even yet. There was only one any good at all, that was Rogers's, which, though—er—squiffy (tut!) in parts, was a long way better than any of the others. But the most taking part of the whole programme was afforded by the three comedians, whose efforts I enclose. You will notice that each begins with exactly the same four lines. Of course, I deprecate cribbing, but you really can't help admiring this sort of thing. There is a reckless daring about it which is simply fascinating. A horrible thought—have they been pulling your dignified leg? By the way, do you remember"—the rest of the letter is—er—on different matters.'
'James! How extraordinary!'
'Um, yes. I am reluctant to suspect—er—collusion, but really here there can be no doubt. No doubt at all. No.'
'Unless,' began Mrs Perceval, tentatively. 'No doubt at all, my dear,' snapped Reverend Jimmy. He did not wish to recall the other possibility, that his dignified leg was being pulled.
'Now, for what purpose did I summon you three boys?' asked Mr Perceval, of Smith, Montgomery, and Morrison, in his room after morning school that day. He generally began a painful interview with this question. The method had distinct advantages. If the criminal were of a nervous disposition, he would give himself away upon the instant. In any case, it was likely to startle him. 'For what purpose?' repeated the Headmaster, fixing Smith with a glittering eye.
'I will tell you,' continued Mr Perceval. 'It was because I desired information, which none but you can supply. How comes it that each of your compositions for the Poetry Prize commences with the same four lines?' The three poets looked at one another in speechless astonishment.
'Here,' he resumed, 'are the three papers. Compare them. Now,'—after the inspection was over—' what explanation have you to offer? Smith, are these your lines?'
'I—er—ah—wrote them, sir.'
'Don't prevaricate, Smith. Are you the author of those lines?'
'Ah! Very good. Are you, Montgomery?'
'Very good. Then you, Morrison, are exonerated from all blame. You have been exceedingly badly treated. The first-fruit of your brain has been—ah—plucked by others, who toiled not neither did they spin. You can go, Morrison.'
'I didn't write them, sir.'
'I—ah—don't quite understand you, Morrison. You say that you are indebted to another for these lines?'
'Then, Morrison, may I ask to whom you are indebted?'
'I found them in the field on a piece of paper, sir.' He claimed the discovery himself, because he thought that Evans might possibly prefer to remain outside this tangle.
'So did I, sir.' This from Montgomery. Mr Perceval looked bewildered, as indeed he was.
'And did you, Smith, also find this poem on a piece of paper in the field?' There was a metallic ring of sarcasm in his voice.
'Ah! Then to what circumstance were you indebted for the lines?'
'I got Reynolds to do them for me, sir.'
Montgomery spoke. 'It was near the infirmary that I found the paper, and Reynolds is in there.'
'So did I, sir,' said Morrison, incoherently.
'Then am I to understand, Smith, that to gain the prize you resorted to such underhand means as this?'
'No, sir, we agreed that there was no danger of my getting the prize. If I had got it, I should have told you everything. Reynolds will tell you that, sir.'
'Then what object had you in pursuing this deception?'
'Well, sir, the rules say everyone must send in something, and I can't write poetry at all, and Reynolds likes it, so I asked him to do it.'
And Smith waited for the storm to burst. But it did not burst. Far down in Mr Perceval's system lurked a quiet sense of humour. The situation penetrated to it. Then he remembered the examiner's letter, and it dawned upon him that there are few crueller things than to make a prosaic person write poetry.
'You may go,' he said, and the three went.
And at the next Board Meeting it was decided, mainly owing to the influence of an exceedingly eloquent speech from the Headmaster, to alter the rules for the Sixth Form Poetry Prize, so that from thence onward no one need compete unless he felt himself filled with the immortal fire.
With a pleasure that's emphatic We retire to our attic With the satisfying feeling that our duty has been done.
Oh! philosophers may sing Of the troubles of a king But of pleasures there are many and of troubles there are none, And the culminating pleasure Which we treasure beyond measure Is the satisfying feeling that our duty has been done.
W. S. Gilbert
Work is supposed to be the centre round which school life revolves—the hub of the school wheel, the lode-star of the schoolboy's existence, and a great many other things. 'You come to school to work', is the formula used by masters when sentencing a victim to the wailing and gnashing of teeth provided by two hours' extra tuition on a hot afternoon. In this, I think, they err, and my opinion is backed up by numerous scholars of my acquaintance, who have even gone so far—on occasions when they themselves have been the victims—as to express positive disapproval of the existing state of things. In the dear, dead days (beyond recall), I used often to long to put the case to my form-master in its only fair aspect, but always refrained from motives of policy. Masters are so apt to take offence at the well-meant endeavours of their form to instruct them in the way they should go.
What I should have liked to have done would have been something after this fashion. Entering the sanctum of the Headmaster, I should have motioned him to his seat—if he were seated already, have assured him that to rise was unnecessary. I should then have taken a seat myself, taking care to preserve a calm fixity of demeanour, and finally, with a preliminary cough, I should have embarked upon the following moving address: 'My dear sir, my dear Reverend Jones or Brown (as the case may be), believe me when I say that your whole system of work is founded on a fallacious dream and reeks of rottenness. No, no, I beg that you will not interrupt me. The real state of the case, if I may say so, is briefly this: a boy goes to school to enjoy himself, and, on arriving, finds to his consternation that a great deal more work is expected of him than he is prepared to do. What course, then, Reverend Jones or Brown, does he take? He proceeds to do as much work as will steer him safely between the, ah—I may say, the Scylla of punishment and the Charybdis of being considered what my, er—fellow-pupils euphoniously term a swot. That, I think, is all this morning. Good day. Pray do not trouble to rise. I will find my way out.' I should then have made for the door, locked it, if possible, on the outside, and, rushing to the railway station, have taken a through ticket to Spitzbergen or some other place where Extradition treaties do not hold good.
But 'twas not mine to play the Tib. Gracchus, to emulate the O. Cromwell. So far from pouring my opinions like so much boiling oil into the ear of my task-master, I was content to play the part of audience while he did the talking, my sole remark being 'Yes'r' at fixed intervals.
And yet I knew that I was in the right. My bosom throbbed with the justice of my cause. For why? The ambition of every human new boy is surely to become like J. Essop of the First Eleven, who can hit a ball over two ponds, a wood, and seven villages, rather than to resemble that pale young student, Mill-Stuart, who, though he can speak Sanskrit like a native of Sanskritia, couldn't score a single off a slow long-hop.
And this ambition is a laudable one. For the athlete is the product of nature—a step towards the more perfect type of animal, while the scholar is the outcome of artificiality. What, I ask, does the scholar gain, either morally or physically, or in any other way, by knowing who was tribune of the people in 284 BC or what is the precise difference between the various constructions of cum? It is not as if ignorance of the tribune's identity caused him any mental unrest. In short, what excuse is there for the student? 'None,' shrieks Echo enthusiastically. 'None whatever.'
Our children are being led to ruin by this system. They will become dons and think in Greek. The victim of the craze stops at nothing. He puns in Latin. He quips and quirks in Ionic and Doric. In the worst stages of the disease he will edit Greek plays and say that Merry quite misses the fun of the passage, or that Jebb is mediocre. Think, I beg of you, paterfamilias, and you, mater ditto, what your feelings would be were you to find Henry or Archibald Cuthbert correcting proofs of The Agamemnon, and inventing 'nasty ones' for Mr Sidgwick! Very well then. Be warned.
Our bright-eyed lads are taught insane constructions in Greek and Latin from morning till night, and they come for their holidays, in many cases, without the merest foundation of a batting style. Ask them what a Yorker is, and they will say: 'A man from York, though I presume you mean a Yorkshireman.' They will read Herodotus without a dictionary for pleasure, but ask them to translate the childishly simple sentence: 'Trott was soon in his timber-yard with a length 'un that whipped across from the off,' and they'll shrink abashed and swear they have not skill at that, as Gilbert says.
The papers sometimes contain humorous forecasts of future education, when cricket and football shall come to their own. They little know the excellence of the thing they mock at. When we get schools that teach nothing but games, then will the sun definitely refuse to set on the roast beef of old England. May it be soon. Some day, mayhap, I shall gather my great-great-grandsons round my knee, and tell them—as one tells tales of Faery—that I can remember the time when Work was considered the be-all and the end-all of a school career. Perchance, when my great-great-grandson John (called John after the famous Jones of that name) has brought home the prize for English Essay on 'Rugby v. Association', I shall pat his head (gently) and the tears will come to my old eyes as I recall the time when I, too, might have won a prize—for that obsolete subject, Latin Prose—and was only prevented by the superior excellence of my thirty-and-one fellow students, coupled, indeed, with my own inability to conjugate sum.
Such days, I say, may come. But now are the Dark Ages. The only thing that can possibly make Work anything but an unmitigated nuisance is the prospect of a 'Varsity scholarship, and the thought that, in the event of failure, a 'Varsity career will be out of the question.
With this thought constantly before him, the student can put a certain amount of enthusiasm into his work, and even go to the length of rising at five o'clock o' mornings to drink yet deeper of the cup of knowledge. I have done it myself. 'Varsity means games and yellow waistcoats and Proctors, and that sort of thing. It is worth working for.
But for the unfortunate individual who is barred by circumstances from participating in these joys, what inducement is there to work? Is such a one to leave the school nets in order to stew in a stuffy room over a Thucydides? I trow not.
Chapter one of my great forthcoming work, The Compleat Slacker, contains minute instructions on the art of avoiding preparation from beginning to end of term. Foremost among the words of advice ranks this maxim: Get an official list of the books you are to do, and examine them carefully with a view to seeing what it is possible to do unseen. Thus, if Virgil is among these authors, you can rely on being able to do him with success. People who ought to know better will tell you that Virgil is hard. Such a shallow falsehood needs little comment. A scholar who cannot translate ten lines of The Aeneid between the time he is put on and the time he begins to speak is unworthy of pity or consideration, and if I meet him in the street I shall assuredly cut him. Aeschylus, on the other hand, is a demon, and needs careful watching, though in an emergency you can always say the reading is wrong.
Sometimes the compleat slacker falls into a trap. The saddest case I can remember is that of poor Charles Vanderpoop. He was a bright young lad, and showed some promise of rising to heights as a slacker. He fell in this fashion. One Easter term his form had half-finished a speech of Demosthenes, and the form-master gave them to understand that they would absorb the rest during the forthcoming term. Charles, being naturally anxious to do as little work as possible during the summer months, spent his Easter holidays carefully preparing this speech, so as to have it ready in advance. What was his horror, on returning to School at the appointed date, to find that they were going to throw Demosthenes over altogether, and patronize Plato. Threats, entreaties, prayers—all were accounted nothing by the master who had led him into this morass of troubles. It is believed that the shock destroyed his reason. At any rate, the fact remains that that term (the summer term, mark you) he won two prizes. In the following term he won three. To recapitulate his outrages from that time to the present were a harrowing and unnecessary task. Suffice it that he is now a Regius Professor, and I saw in the papers a short time ago that a lecture of his on 'The Probable Origin of the Greek Negative', created quite a furore. If this is not Tragedy with a big T, I should like to know what it is.
As an exciting pastime, unseen translation must rank very high. Everyone who has ever tried translating unseen must acknowledge that all other forms of excitement seem but feeble makeshifts after it. I have, in the course of a career of sustained usefulness to the human race, had my share of thrills. I have asked a strong and busy porter, at Paddington, when the Brighton train started. I have gone for the broad-jump record in trying to avoid a motor-car. I have played Spillikins and Ping-Pong. But never again have I felt the excitement that used to wander athwart my moral backbone when I was put on to translate a passage containing a notorious crux and seventeen doubtful readings, with only that innate genius, which is the wonder of the civilized world, to pull me through. And what a glow of pride one feels when it is all over; when one has made a glorious, golden guess at the crux, and trampled the doubtful readings under foot with inspired ease. It is like a day at the seaside.
Work is bad enough, but Examinations are worse, especially the Board Examinations. By doing from ten to twenty minutes prep every night, the compleat slacker could get through most of the term with average success. Then came the Examinations. The dabbler in unseen translations found himself caught as in a snare. Gone was the peaceful security in which he had lulled to rest all the well-meant efforts of his guardian angel to rouse him to a sense of his duties. There, right in front of him, yawned the abyss of Retribution.
Alas! poor slacker. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. Where be his gibes now? How is he to cope with the fiendish ingenuity of the examiners? How is he to master the contents of a book of Thucydides in a couple of days? It is a fearsome problem. Perhaps he will get up in the small hours and work by candle light from two till eight o'clock. In this case he will start his day a mental and physical wreck. Perhaps he will try to work and be led away by the love of light reading.
In any case he will fail to obtain enough marks to satisfy the examiners, though whether examiners ever are satisfied, except by Harry the hero of the school story (Every Lad's Library, uniform edition, 2s 6d), is rather a doubtful question.
In such straits, matters resolve themselves into a sort of drama with three characters. We will call our hero Smith.
Scene: a Study
Dramatis Personae: SMITH CONSCIENCE MEPHISTOPHELES
Enter SMITH (down centre)
He seats himself at table and opens a Thucydides.
Enter CONSCIENCE through ceiling (R.), MEPHISTOPHELES through floor (L.).
CONSCIENCE (with a kindly smile): Precisely what I was about to remark, my dear lad. A little Thucydides would be a very good thing. Thucydides, as you doubtless know, was a very famous Athenian historian. Date?
SMITH: Er—um—let me see.
MEPH. (aside): Look in the Introduction and pretend you did it by accident.
SMITH (having done so): 431 B.C. circ.
CONSCIENCE wipes away a tear.
CONSCIENCE: Thucydides made himself a thorough master of the concisest of styles.
MEPH.: And in doing so became infernally obscure. Excuse shop.
SMITH (gloomily): Hum!
MEPH. (sneeringly): Ha!
CONSCIENCE (gently): Do you not think, my dear lad, that you had better begin? Time and tide, as you are aware, wait for no man. And—
CONSCIENCE: You have not, I fear, a very firm grasp of the subject. However, if you work hard till eleven—
SMITH (gloomily): Hum! Three hours!
MEPH. (cheerily): Exactly so. Three hours. A little more if anything. By the way, excuse me asking, but have you prepared the subject thoroughly during the term?
SMITH: My dear sir! Of course!
SMITH: Well, perhaps, not quite so much as I might have done. Such a lot of things to do this term. Cricket, for instance.
MEPH.: Rather. Talking of cricket, you seemed to be shaping rather well last Saturday. I had just run up on business, and someone told me you made eighty not out. Get your century all right?
SMITH (brightening at the recollection): Just a bit—117 not out. I hit—but perhaps you've heard?
MEPH.: Not at all, not at all. Let's hear all about it.
CONSCIENCE seeks to interpose, but is prevented by MEPH., who eggs SMITH on to talk cricket for over an hour.
CONSCIENCE (at last; in an acid voice): That is a history of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides on the table in front of you. I thought I would mention it, in case you had forgotten.
SMITH: Great Scott, yes! Here, I say, I must start.
CONSCIENCE: Hear! Hear!
MEPH. (insinuatingly): One moment. Did you say you had prepared this book during the term? Afraid I'm a little hard of hearing. Eh, what?
SMITH: Well—er—no, I have not. Have you ever played billiards with a walking-stick and five balls?
MEPH.: Quite so, quite so. I quite understand. Don't you distress yourself, old chap. You obviously can't get through a whole book of Thucydides in under two hours, can you?
CONSCIENCE (severely): He might, by attentive application to study, master a considerable portion of the historian's chef d'oeuvre in that time.
MEPH.: Yes, and find that not one of the passages he had prepared was set in the paper.
CONSCIENCE: At the least, he would, if he were to pursue the course which I have indicated, greatly benefit his mind.
MEPH. gives a short, derisive laugh. Long pause.
MEPH. (looking towards bookshelf): Hullo, you've got a decent lot of books, pommy word you have. Rodney Stone, Vice Versa, Many Cargoes. Ripping. Ever read Many Cargoes?
CONSCIENCE (glancing at his watch): I am sorry, but I must really go now. I will see you some other day.
MEPH.: Well, thank goodness he's gone. Never saw such a fearful old bore in my life. Can't think why you let him hang on to you so. We may as well make a night of it now, eh? No use your trying to work at this time of night.
SMITH: Not a bit.
MEPH.: Did you say you'd not read Many Cargoes?
SMITH: Never. Only got it today. Good?
MEPH.: Simply ripping. All short stories. Make you yell.
SMITH (with a last effort): But don't you think—
MEPH.: Oh no. Besides, you can easily get up early tomorrow for the Thucydides.
SMITH: Of course I can. Never thought of that. Heave us Many Cargoes. Thanks.
_Begins to read. MEPH. grins fiendishly, and vanishes through floor enveloped in red flame. Sobbing heard from the direction of the ceiling.
Next morning, of course, he will oversleep himself, and his Thucydides paper will be of such a calibre that that eminent historian will writhe in his grave.
Of all forms of lettered effusiveness, that which exploits the original work of others and professes to supply us with right opinions thereanent is the least wanted.
It has always seemed to me one of the worst flaws in our mistaken social system, that absolutely no distinction is made between the master who forces the human boy to take down notes from dictation and the rest of mankind. I mean that, if in a moment of righteous indignation you rend such a one limb from limb, you will almost certainly be subjected to the utmost rigour of the law, and you will be lucky if you escape a heavy fine of five or ten shillings, exclusive of the costs of the case. Now, this is not right on the face of it. It is even wrong. The law should take into account the extreme provocation which led to the action. Punish if you will the man who travels second-class with a third-class ticket, or who borrows a pencil and forgets to return it; but there are occasions when justice should be tempered with mercy, and this murdering of pedagogues is undoubtedly such an occasion.
It should be remembered, however, that there are two varieties of notes. The printed notes at the end of your Thucydides or Homer are distinctly useful when they aim at acting up to their true vocation, namely, the translating of difficult passages or words. Sometimes, however, the author will insist on airing his scholarship, and instead of translations he supplies parallel passages, which neither interest, elevate, nor amuse the reader. This, of course, is mere vanity. The author, sitting in his comfortable chair with something short within easy reach, recks nothing of the misery he is inflicting on hundreds of people who have done him no harm at all. He turns over the pages of his book of Familiar Quotations with brutal callousness, and for every tricky passage in the work which he is editing, finds and makes a note of three or four even trickier ones from other works. Who has not in his time been brought face to face with a word which defies translation? There are two courses open to you on such an occasion, to look the word up in the lexicon, or in the notes. You, of course, turn up the notes, and find: 'See line 80.' You look up line 80, hoping to see a translation, and there you are told that a rather similar construction occurs in Xenophades' Lyrics from a Padded Cell. On this, the craven of spirit will resort to the lexicon, but the man of mettle will close his book with an emphatic bang, and refuse to have anything more to do with it. Of a different sort are the notes which simply translate the difficulty and subside. These are a boon to the scholar. Without them it would be almost impossible to prepare one's work during school, and we should be reduced to the prosaic expedient of working in prep. time. What we want is the commentator who translates mensa as 'a table' without giving a page and a half of notes on the uses of the table in ancient Greece, with an excursus on the habit common in those times of retiring underneath it after dinner, and a list of the passages in Apollonius Rhodius where the word 'table' is mentioned.
These voluminous notes are apt to prove a nuisance in more ways than one. Your average master is generally inordinately fond of them, and will frequently ask some member of the form to read his note on so-and-so out to his fellows. This sometimes leads to curious results, as it is hardly to be expected that the youth called upon will be attending, even if he is awake, which is unlikely. On one occasion an acquaintance of mine, 'whose name I am not at liberty to divulge', was suddenly aware that he was being addressed, and, on giving the matter his attention, found that it was the form-master asking him to read out his note on Balbus murum aedificavit. My friend is a kind-hearted youth and of an obliging disposition, and would willingly have done what was asked of him, but there were obstacles, first and foremost of which ranked the fact that, taking advantage of his position on the back desk (whither he thought the basilisk eye of Authority could not reach), he had substituted Bab Ballads for the words of Virgil, and was engrossed in the contents of that modern classic. The subsequent explanations lasted several hours. In fact, it is probable that the master does not understand the facts of the case thoroughly even now. It is true that he called him a 'loathsome, slimy, repulsive toad', but even this seems to fall short of the grandeur of the situation.
Those notes, also, which are, alas! only too common nowadays, that deal with peculiarities of grammar, how supremely repulsive they are! It is impossible to glean any sense from them, as the Editor mixes up Nipperwick's view with Sidgeley's reasoning and Spreckendzedeutscheim's surmise with Donnerundblitzendorf's conjecture in a way that seems to argue a thorough unsoundness of mind and morals, a cynical insanity combined with a blatant indecency. He occasionally starts in a reasonable manner by giving one view as (1) and the next as (2). So far everyone is happy and satisfied. The trouble commences when he has occasion to refer back to some former view, when he will say: 'Thus we see (1) and (14) that,' etc. The unlucky student puts a finger on the page to keep the place, and hunts up view one. Having found this, and marked the spot with another finger, he proceeds to look up view fourteen. He places another finger on this, and reads on, as follows: 'Zmpe, however, maintains that Schrumpff (see 3) is practically insane, that Spleckzh (see 34) is only a little better, and that Rswkg (see 97 a (b) C3) is so far from being right that his views may be dismissed as readily as those of Xkryt (see 5x).' At this point brain-fever sets in, the victim's last coherent thought being a passionate wish for more fingers. A friend of mine who was the wonder of all who knew him, in that he was known to have scored ten per cent in one of these papers on questions like the above, once divulged to an interviewer the fact that he owed his success to his methods of learning rather than to his ability. On the night before an exam, he would retire to some secret, solitary place, such as the boot-room, and commence learning these notes by heart. This, though a formidable task, was not so bad as the other alternative. The result was that, although in the majority of cases he would put down for one question an answer that would have been right for another, yet occasionally, luck being with him, he would hit the mark. Hence his ten per cent.
Another fruitful source of discomfort is provided by the type of master who lectures on a subject for half an hour, and then, with a bland smile, invites, or rather challenges, his form to write a 'good, long note' on the quintessence of his discourse. For the inexperienced this is an awful moment. They must write something—but what? For the last half hour they have been trying to impress the master with the fact that they belong to the class of people who can always listen best with their eyes closed. Nor poppy, nor mandragora, nor all the drowsy syrups of the world can ever medicine them to that sweet sleep that they have just been enjoying. And now they must write a 'good, long note'. It is in such extremities that your veteran shows up well. He does not betray any discomfort. Not he. He rather enjoys the prospect, in fact, of being permitted to place the master's golden eloquence on paper. So he takes up his pen with alacrity. No need to think what to write. He embarks on an essay concerning the master, showing up all his flaws in a pitiless light, and analysing his thorough worthlessness of character. On so congenial a subject he can, of course, write reams, and as the master seldom, if ever, desires to read the 'good, long note', he acquires a well-earned reputation for attending in school and being able to express himself readily with his pen. Vivat floreatque.
But all these forms of notes are as nothing compared with the notes that youths even in this our boasted land of freedom are forced to take down from dictation. Of the 'good, long note' your French scholar might well remark: 'C'est terrible', but justice would compel him to add, as he thought of the dictation note: 'mais ce n'est pas le diable'. For these notes from dictation are, especially on a warm day, indubitably le diable.
Such notes are always dictated so rapidly that it is impossible to do anything towards understanding them as you go. You have to write your hardest to keep up. The beauty of this, from one point of view, is that, if you miss a sentence, you have lost the thread of the whole thing, and it is useless to attempt to take it up again at once. The only plan is to wait for some perceptible break in the flow of words, and dash in like lightning. It is much the same sort of thing as boarding a bus when in motion. And so you can take a long rest, provided you are in an obscure part of the room. In passing, I might add that a very pleasing indoor game can be played by asking the master, 'what came after so-and-so?' mentioning a point of the oration some half-hour back. This always provides a respite of a few minutes while he is thinking of some bitter repartee worthy of the occasion, and if repeated several times during an afternoon may cause much innocent merriment.
Of course, the real venom that lurks hid within notes from dictation does not appear until the time for examination arrives. Then you find yourself face to face with sixty or seventy closely and badly written pages of a note-book, all of which must be learnt by heart if you would aspire to the dizzy heights of half-marks. It is useless to tell your examiner that you had no chance of getting up the subject. 'Why,' he will reply, 'I gave you notes on that very thing myself.' 'You did, sir,' you say, as you advance stealthily upon him, 'but as you dictated those notes at the rate of two hundred words a minute, and as my brain, though large, is not capable of absorbing sixty pages of a note-book in one night, how the suggestively asterisked aposiopesis do you expect me to know them? Ah-h-h!' The last word is a war-cry, as you fling yourself bodily on him, and tear him courteously, but firmly, into minute fragments. Experience, which, as we all know, teaches, will in time lead you into adopting some method by which you may evade this taking of notes. A good plan is to occupy yourself with the composition of a journal, an unofficial magazine not intended for the eyes of the profane, but confined rigidly to your own circle of acquaintances. The chief advantage of such a work is that you will continue to write while the notes are being dictated. To throw your pen down with an air of finality and begin reading some congenial work of fiction would be a gallant action, but impolitic. No, writing of some sort is essential, and as it is out of the question to take down the notes, what better substitute than an unofficial journal could be found? To one whose contributions to the School magazine are constantly being cut down to mere skeletons by the hands of censors, there is a rapture otherwise unattainable in a page of really scurrilous items about those in authority. Try it yourselves, my beamish lads. Think of something really bad about somebody. Write it down and gloat over it. Sometimes, indeed, it is of the utmost use in determining your future career. You will probably remember those Titanic articles that appeared at the beginning of the war in The Weekly Luggage-Train, dealing with all the crimes of the War Office—the generals, the soldiers, the enemy—of everybody, in fact, except the editor, staff and office-boy of The W.L.T. Well, the writer of those epoch-making articles confesses that he owes all his skill to his early training, when, a happy lad at his little desk in school, he used to write trenchantly in his note-book on the subject of the authorities. There is an example for you. Of course we can never be like him, but let, oh! let us be as like him as we're able to be. A final word to those lost ones who dictate the notes. Why are our ears so constantly assailed with unnecessary explanations of, and opinions on, English literature? Prey upon the Classics if you will. It is a revolting habit, but too common to excite overmuch horror. But surely anybody, presupposing a certain bias towards sanity, can understand the Classics of our own language, with the exception, of course, of Browning. Take Tennyson, for example. How often have we been forced to take down from dictation the miserable maunderings of some commentator on the subject of Maud. A person reads Maud, and either likes it or dislikes it. In any case his opinion is not likely to be influenced by writing down at express speed the opinions of somebody else concerning the methods or objectivity and subjectivity of the author when he produced the work.
Somebody told me a short time ago that Shelley was an example of supreme, divine, superhuman genius. It is the sort of thing Mr Gilbert's 'rapturous maidens' might have said: 'How Botticellian! How Fra Angelican! How perceptively intense and consummately utter!' There is really no material difference.
NOW, TALKING ABOUT CRICKET—
In the days of yore, when these white hairs were brown—or was it black? At any rate, they were not white—and I was at school, it was always my custom, when Fate obliged me to walk to school with a casual acquaintance, to whom I could not unburden my soul of those profound thoughts which even then occupied my mind, to turn the struggling conversation to the relative merits of cricket and football.
'Do you like cricket better than footer?' was my formula. Now, though at the time, in order to save fruitless argument, I always agreed with my companion, and praised the game he praised, in the innermost depths of my sub-consciousness, cricket ranked a long way in front of all other forms of sport. I may be wrong. More than once in my career it has been represented to me that I couldn't play cricket for nuts. My captain said as much when I ran him out in the match of the season after he had made forty-nine and looked like stopping. A bowling acquaintance heartily endorsed his opinion on the occasion of my missing three catches off him in one over. This, however, I attribute to prejudice, for the man I missed ultimately reached his century, mainly off the deliveries of my bowling acquaintance. I pointed out to him that, had I accepted any one of the three chances, we should have missed seeing the prettiest century made on the ground that season; but he was one of those bowlers who sacrifice all that is beautiful in the game to mere wickets. A sordid practice.
Later on, the persistence with which my county ignored my claims to inclusion in the team, convinced me that I must leave cricket fame to others. True, I did figure, rather prominently, too, in one county match. It was at the Oval, Surrey v. Middlesex. How well I remember that occasion! Albert Trott was bowling (Bertie we used to call him); I forget who was batting. Suddenly the ball came soaring in my direction. I was not nervous. I put down the sandwich I was eating, rose from my seat, picked the ball up neatly, and returned it with unerring aim to a fieldsman who was waiting for it with becoming deference. Thunders of applause went up from the crowded ring.
That was the highest point I ever reached in practical cricket. But, as the historian says of Mr Winkle, a man may be an excellent sportsman in theory, even if he fail in practice. That's me. Reader (if any), have you ever played cricket in the passage outside your study with a walking-stick and a ball of paper? That's the game, my boy, for testing your skill of wrist and eye. A century v. the M.C.C. is well enough in its way, but give me the man who can watch 'em in a narrow passage, lit only by a flickering gas-jet—one for every hit, four if it reaches the end, and six if it goes downstairs full-pitch, any pace bowling allowed. To make double figures in such a match is to taste life. Only you had better do your tasting when the House-master is out for the evening.
I like to watch the young cricket idea shooting. I refer to the lower games, where 'next man in' umpires with his pads on, his loins girt, and a bat in his hand. Many people have wondered why it is that no budding umpire can officiate unless he holds a bat. For my part, I think there is little foundation for the theory that it is part of a semi-religious rite, on the analogy of the Freemasons' special handshake and the like. Nor do I altogether agree with the authorities who allege that man, when standing up, needs something as a prop or support. There is a shadow of reason, I grant, in this supposition, but after years of keen observation I am inclined to think that the umpire keeps his bat by him, firstly, in order that no unlicensed hand shall commandeer it unbeknownst, and secondly, so that he shall be ready to go in directly his predecessor is out. There is an ill-concealed restiveness about his movements, as he watches the batsmen getting set, that betrays an overwrought spirit. Then of a sudden one of them plays a ball on to his pad. ''s that?' asks the bowler, with an overdone carelessness. 'Clean out. Now I'm in,' and already he is rushing up the middle of the pitch to take possession. When he gets to the wicket a short argument ensues. 'Look here, you idiot, I hit it hard.' 'Rot, man, out of the way.' '!!??!' 'Look here, Smith, are you going to dispute the umpire's decision?' Chorus of fieldsmen: 'Get out, Smith, you ass. You've been given out years ago.' Overwhelmed by popular execration, Smith reluctantly departs, registering in the black depths of his soul a resolution to take on the umpireship at once, with a view to gaining an artistic revenge by giving his enemy run out on the earliest possible occasion. There is a primeval insouciance about this sort of thing which is as refreshing to a mind jaded with the stiff formality of professional umpires as a cold shower-bath.
I have made a special study of last-wicket men; they are divided into two classes, the deplorably nervous, or the outrageously confident. The nervous largely outnumber the confident. The launching of a last-wicket man, when there are ten to make to win, or five minutes left to make a draw of a losing game, is fully as impressive a ceremony as the launching of the latest battleship. An interested crowd harasses the poor victim as he is putting on his pads. 'Feel in a funk?' asks some tactless friend. 'N-n-no, norrabit.' 'That's right,' says the captain encouragingly, 'bowling's as easy as anything.'
This cheers the wretch up a little, until he remembers suddenly that the captain himself was distinctly at sea with the despised trundling, and succumbed to his second ball, about which he obviously had no idea whatever. At this he breaks down utterly, and, if emotional, will sob into his batting glove. He is assisted down the Pavilion steps, and reaches the wickets in a state of collapse. Here, very probably, a reaction will set in. The sight of the crease often comes as a positive relief after the vague terrors experienced in the Pavilion.
The confident last-wicket man, on the other hand, goes forth to battle with a light quip upon his lips. The lot of a last-wicket batsman, with a good eye and a sense of humour, is a very enviable one. The incredulous disgust of the fast bowler, who thinks that at last he may safely try that slow head-ball of his, and finds it lifted genially over the leg-boundary, is well worth seeing. I remember in one school match, the last man, unfortunately on the opposite side, did this three times in one over, ultimately retiring to a fluky catch in the slips with forty-one to his name. Nervousness at cricket is a curious thing. As the author of Willow the King, himself a county cricketer, has said, it is not the fear of getting out that causes funk. It is a sort of intangible je ne sais quoi. I trust I make myself clear. Some batsmen are nervous all through a long innings. With others the feeling disappears with the first boundary.
A young lady—it is, of course, not polite to mention her age to the minute, but it ranged somewhere between eight and ten—was taken to see a cricket match once. After watching the game with interest for some time, she gave out this profound truth: 'They all attend specially to one man.' It would be difficult to sum up the causes of funk more lucidly and concisely. To be an object of interest is sometimes pleasant, but when ten fieldsmen, a bowler, two umpires, and countless spectators are eagerly watching your every movement, the thing becomes embarrassing.
That is why it is, on the whole, preferable to be a cricket spectator rather than a cricket player. No game affords the spectator such unique opportunities of exerting his critical talents. You may have noticed that it is always the reporter who knows most about the game. Everyone, moreover, is at heart a critic, whether he represent the majesty of the Press or not. From the lady of Hoxton, who crushes her friend's latest confection with the words, 'My, wot an 'at!' down to that lowest class of all, the persons who call your attention (in print) to the sinister meaning of everything Clytemnestra says in The Agamemnon, the whole world enjoys expressing an opinion of its own about something.
In football you are vouchsafed fewer chances. Practically all you can do is to shout 'off-side' whenever an opponent scores, which affords but meagre employment for a really critical mind. In cricket, however, nothing can escape you. Everything must be done in full sight of everybody. There the players stand, without refuge, simply inviting criticism.
It is best, however, not to make one's remarks too loud. If you do, you call down upon yourself the attention of others, and are yourself criticized. I remember once, when I was of tender years, watching a school match, and one of the batsmen lifted a ball clean over the Pavilion. This was too much for my sensitive and critical young mind. 'On the carpet, sir,' I shouted sternly, well up in the treble clef, 'keep 'em on the carpet.' I will draw a veil. Suffice it to say that I became a sport and derision, and was careful for the future to criticize in a whisper. But the reverse by no means crushed me. Even now I take a melancholy pleasure in watching school matches, and saying So-and-So will make quite a fair school-boy bat in time, but he must get rid of that stroke of his on the off, and that shocking leg-hit, and a few of those awful strokes in the slips, but that on the whole, he is by no means lacking in promise. I find it refreshing. If, however, you feel compelled not merely to look on, but to play, as one often does at schools where cricket is compulsory, it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of white boots. The game you play before you get white boots is not cricket, but a weak imitation. The process of initiation is generally this. One plays in shoes for a few years with the most dire result, running away to square leg from fast balls, and so on, till despair seizes the soul. Then an angel in human form, in the very effective disguise of the man at the school boot-shop, hints that, for an absurdly small sum in cash, you may become the sole managing director of a pair of white buckskin boots with real spikes. You try them on. They fit, and the initiation is complete. You no longer run away from fast balls. You turn them neatly off to the boundary. In a word, you begin for the first time to play the game, the whole game, and nothing but the game.
There are misguided people who complain that cricket is becoming a business more than a game, as if that were not the most fortunate thing that could happen. When it ceases to be a mere business and becomes a religious ceremony, it will be a sign that the millennium is at hand. The person who regards cricket as anything less than a business is no fit companion, gentle reader, for the likes of you and me. As long as the game goes in his favour the cloven hoof may not show itself. But give him a good steady spell of leather-hunting, and you will know him for what he is, a mere dilettante, a dabbler, in a word, a worm, who ought never to be allowed to play at all. The worst of this species will sometimes take advantage of the fact that the game in which they happen to be playing is only a scratch game, upon the result of which no very great issues hang, to pollute the air they breathe with verbal, and the ground they stand on with physical, buffooneries. Many a time have I, and many a time have you, if you are what I take you for, shed tears of blood, at the sight of such. Careless returns, overthrows—but enough of a painful subject. Let us pass on.
I have always thought it a better fate for a man to be born a bowler than a bat. A batsman certainly gets a considerable amount of innocent fun by snicking good fast balls just off his wicket to the ropes, and standing stolidly in front against slow leg-breaks. These things are good, and help one to sleep peacefully o' nights, and enjoy one's meals. But no batsman can experience that supreme emotion of 'something attempted, something done', which comes to a bowler when a ball pitches in a hole near point's feet, and whips into the leg stump. It is one crowded second of glorious life. Again, the words 'retired hurt' on the score-sheet are far more pleasant to the bowler than the batsman. The groan of a batsman when a loose ball hits him full pitch in the ribs is genuine. But the 'Awfully-sorry-old-chap-it-slipped' of the bowler is not. Half a loaf is better than no bread, as Mr Chamberlain might say, and if he cannot hit the wicket, he is perfectly contented with hitting the man. In my opinion, therefore, the bowler's lot, in spite of billiard table wickets, red marl, and such like inventions of a degenerate age, is the happier one.
And here, glowing with pride of originality at the thought that I have written of cricket without mentioning Alfred Mynn or Fuller Pilch, I heave a reminiscent sigh, blot my MS., and thrust my pen back into its sheath.
THE TOM BROWN QUESTION
The man in the corner had been trying to worry me into a conversation for some time. He had asked me if I objected to having the window open. He had said something rather bitter about the War Office, and had hoped I did not object to smoking. Then, finding that I stuck to my book through everything, he made a fresh attack.
'I see you are reading Tom Brown's Schooldays,' he said.
This was a plain and uninteresting statement of fact, and appeared to me to require no answer. I read on.
'Fine book, sir.'
'I suppose you have heard of the Tom Brown Question?'
I shut my book wearily, and said I had not.
'It is similar to the Homeric Question. You have heard of that, I suppose?'
I knew that there was a discussion about the identity of the author of the Iliad. When at school I had been made to take down notes on the subject until I had grown to loathe the very name of Homer.
'You see,' went on my companion, 'the difficulty about Tom Brown's Schooldays is this. It is obvious that part one and part two were written by different people. You admit that, I suppose?'
'I always thought Mr Hughes wrote the whole book.'
'Dear me, not really? Why, I thought everyone knew that he only wrote the first half. The question is, who wrote the second. I know, but I don't suppose ten other people do. No, sir.'
'What makes you think he didn't write the second part?'
'My dear sir, just read it. Read part one carefully, and then read part two. Why, you can see in a minute.'
I said I had read the book three times, but had never noticed anything peculiar about it, except that the second half was not nearly so interesting as the first.
'Well, just tell me this. Do you think the same man created East and Arthur? Now then.'
I admitted that it was difficult to understand such a thing.
'There was a time, of course,' continued my friend, 'when everybody thought as you do. The book was published under Hughes's name, and it was not until Professor Burkett-Smith wrote his celebrated monograph on the subject that anybody suspected a dual, or rather a composite, authorship. Burkett-Smith, if you remember, based his arguments on two very significant points. The first of these was a comparison between the football match in the first part and the cricket match in the second. After commenting upon the truth of the former description, he went on to criticize the latter. Do you remember that match? You do? Very well. You recall how Tom wins the toss on a plumb wicket?'
'Then with the usual liberality of young hands (I quote from the book) he put the M.C.C. in first. Now, my dear sir, I ask you, would a school captain do that? I am young, says one of Gilbert's characters, the Grand Duke, I think, but, he adds, I am not so young as that. Tom may have been young, but would he, could he have been young enough to put his opponents in on a true wicket, when he had won the toss? Would the Tom Brown of part one have done such a thing?'
'Never,' I shouted, with enthusiasm.
'But that's nothing to what he does afterwards. He permits, he actually sits there and permits, comic songs and speeches to be made during the luncheon interval. Comic Songs! Do you hear me, sir? COMIC SONGS!! And this when he wanted every minute of time he could get to save the match. Would the Tom Brown of part one have done such a thing?'
'Never, never.' I positively shrieked the words this time.
'Burkett-Smith put that point very well. His second argument is founded on a single remark of Tom's, or rather—'
'Or rather,' I interrupted, fiercely,' or rather of the wretched miserable—'
'Contemptible,' said my friend.
'Despicable, scoundrelly, impostor who masquerades as Tom in the second half of the book.'
'Exactly,' said he. 'Thank you very much. I have often thought the same myself. The remark to which I refer is that which he makes to the master while he is looking on at the M.C.C. match. In passing, sir, might I ask you whether the Tom Brown of part one would have been on speaking terms with such a master?'
I shook my head violently. I was too exhausted to speak.
'You remember the remark? The master commented on the fact that Arthur is a member of the first eleven. I forget Tom's exact words, but the substance of them is this, that, though on his merits Arthur was not worth his place, he thought it would do him such a lot of good being in the team. Do I make myself plain, sir? He—thought—it—would—do— him—such—a—lot—of—good—being—in—the—team!!!'
There was a pause. We sat looking at one another, forming silently with our lips the words that still echoed through the carriage.
'Burkett-Smith,' continued my companion, 'makes a great deal of that remark. His peroration is a very fine piece of composition. "Whether (concludes he) the captain of a school cricket team who could own spontaneously to having been guilty of so horrible, so terrible an act of favouritismical jobbery, who could sit unmoved and see his team being beaten in the most important match of the season (and, indeed, for all that the author tells us it may have been the only match of the season), for no other reason than that he thought a first eleven cap would prove a valuable tonic to an unspeakable personal friend of his, whether, I say, the Tom Brown who acted thus could have been the Tom Brown who headed the revolt of the fags in part one, is a question which, to the present writer, offers no difficulties. I await with confidence the verdict of a free, enlightened, and conscientious public of my fellow-countrymen." Fine piece of writing, that, sir?'
'Very,' I said.
'That pamphlet, of course, caused a considerable stir. Opposing parties began to be formed, some maintaining that Burkett-Smith was entirely right, others that he was entirely wrong, while the rest said he might have been more wrong if he had not been so right, but that if he had not been so mistaken he would probably have been a great deal more correct. The great argument put forward by the supporters of what I may call the "One Author" view, was, that the fight in part two could not have been written by anyone except the author of the fight with Flashman in the school-house hall. And this is the point which has led to all the discussion. Eliminate the Slogger Williams episode, and the whole of the second part stands out clearly as the work of another hand. But there is one thing that seems to have escaped the notice of everybody.'
'Yes?' I said.
He leant forward impressively, and whispered. 'Only the actual fight is the work of the genuine author. The interference of Arthur has been interpolated!'
'By Jove!' I said. 'Not really?'
'Yes. Fact, I assure you. Why, think for a minute. Could a man capable of describing a fight as that fight is described, also be capable of stopping it just as the man the reader has backed all through is winning? It would be brutal. Positively brutal, sir!'
'Then, how do you explain it?'
'A year ago I could not have told you. Now I can. For five years I have been unravelling the mystery by the aid of that one clue. Listen. When Mr Hughes had finished part one, he threw down his pen and started to Wales for a holiday. He had been there a week or more, when one day, as he was reclining on the peak of a mountain looking down a deep precipice, he was aware of a body of men approaching him. They were dressed soberly in garments of an inky black. Each had side whiskers, and each wore spectacles. "Mr Hughes, I believe?" said the leader, as they came up to him.
'"Your servant, sir," said he.
'"We have come to speak to you on an important matter, Mr Hughes. We are the committee of the Secret Society For Putting Wholesome Literature Within The Reach Of Every Boy, And Seeing That He Gets It. I, sir, am the president of the S.S.F.P.W.L.W.T.R.O.E.B.A.S.T.H.G.I." He bowed.
'"Really, sir, I—er—don't think I have the pleasure," began Mr Hughes.
'"You shall have the pleasure, sir. We have come to speak to you about your book. Our representative has read Part I, and reports unfavourably upon it. It contains no moral. There are scenes of violence, and your hero is far from perfect."
'"I think you mistake my object," said Mr Hughes; "Tom is a boy, not a patent medicine. In other words, he is not supposed to be perfect."
'"Well, I am not here to bandy words. The second part of your book must be written to suit the rules of our Society. Do you agree, or shall we throw you over that precipice?"
'"Never. I mean, I don't agree."
'"Then we must write it for you. Remember, sir, that you will be constantly watched, and if you attempt to write that second part yourself—"' (he paused dramatically). 'So the second part was written by the committee of the Society. So now you know.'
'But,' said I, 'how do you account for the fight with Slogger Williams?'
'The president relented slightly towards the end, and consented to Mr Hughes inserting a chapter of his own, on condition that the Society should finish it. And the Society did. See?'
'Ticket, please, sir.'
I looked up. The guard was standing at the open door. My companion had vanished.
'Guard,' said I, as I handed him my ticket, 'where's the gentleman who travelled up with me?'
'Gentleman, sir? I haven't seen nobody.'
'Not a man in tweeds with red hair? I mean, in tweeds and owning red hair.'
'No, sir. You've been alone in the carriage all the way up. Must have dreamed it, sir.'
Possibly I did.