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o’clock. Linton’s programme for the afternoon was out of the question now. But he loyally gave up any other plans which he might have formed in order to help Dunstable with his irregular verbs. Dunstable was too disgusted with fate to be properly grateful.

“And the worst of it is,” he said, as they adjourned for tea at half-past four, having deposited the verbs on Mr. Day’s table, “that all those numerals will be wasted now.”

“I should keep them, though,” said Linton. “They may come in useful. You never know.”

* * * * *

Towards the end of the second week of term Fate, by way of compensation, allowed Dunstable a distinct stroke of luck. Mr. Forman, the master of his new form, set him a hundred lines of Virgil, and told him to show them up next day. To Dunstable’s delight, the next day passed without mention of them; and when the day after that went by, and still nothing was said, he came to the conclusion that Mr. Forman had forgotten all about them.

Which was indeed the case. Mr. Forman was engaged in editing a new edition of the “Bacchae,” and was apt to be absent-minded in consequence. So Dunstable, with a glad smile, hove the lines into a cupboard in his study to keep company with the Greek numerals which he had done for Mr. Day, and went out to play fives with Linton.

Linton, curiously enough, had also had a stroke of luck in a rather similar way. He told Dunstable about it as they strolled back to the houses after their game.

“Bit of luck this afternoon,” he said. “You remember Appleby setting me a hundred-and-fifty the day before yesterday? Well, I showed them up to-day, and he looked through them and chucked them into the waste-paper basket under his desk. I thought at the time I hadn’t seen him muck them up at all with his pencil, which is his usual game, so after he had gone at the end of school I nipped to the basket and fished them out. They were as good as new, so I saved them up in case I get any more.”

Dunstable hastened to tell of his own good fortune. Linton was impressed by the coincidence.

“I tell you what,” he said, “we score either way. Because if we never get any more lines—-“

Dunstable laughed.

“Yes, I know,” Linton went on, “we’re bound to. But even supposing we don’t, what we’ve got in stock needn’t be wasted.”

“I don’t see that,” said Dunstable. “Going to have ’em bound in cloth and published? Or were you thinking of framing them?”

“Why, don’t you see? Sell them, of course. There are dozens of chaps in the school who would be glad of a few hundred lines cheap.”

“It wouldn’t work. They’d be spotted.”

“Rot. It’s been done before, and nobody said anything. A chap in Seymour’s who left last Easter sold all his stock lines by auction on the last day of term. They were Virgil mostly and Greek numerals. They sold like hot cakes. There were about five hundred of them altogether. And I happen to know that every word of them has been given up and passed all right.”

“Well, I shall keep mine,” said Dunstable. “I am sure to want all the lines in stock that I can get. I used to think Langridge was fairly bad in the way of impots, but Forman takes the biscuit easily. It seems to be a sort of hobby of his. You can’t stop him.”

But it was not until the middle of preparation that the great idea flashed upon Dunstable’s mind.

It was the simplicity of the thing that took his breath away. That and its possibilities. This was the idea. Why not start a Lines Trust in the school? An agency for supplying lines at moderate rates to all who desired them? There did not seem to be a single flaw in the scheme. He and Linton between them could turn out enough material in a week to give the Trust a good working capital. And as for the risk of detection when customers came to show up the goods supplied to them, that was very slight. As has been pointed out before, there was practically one handwriting common to the whole school when it came to writing lines. It resembled the movements of a fly that had fallen into an ink-pot, and subsequently taken a little brisk exercise on a sheet of foolscap by way of restoring the circulation. Then, again, the attitude of the master to whom the lines were shown was not likely to be critical. So that everything seemed in favour of Dunstable’s scheme.

Linton, to whom he confided it, was inclined to scoff at first, but when he had had the beauties of the idea explained to him at length, became an enthusiastic supporter of the scheme.

“But,” he objected, “it’ll take up all our time. Is it worth it? We can’t spend every afternoon sweating away at impots for other people.”

“It’s all right,” said Dunstable, “I’ve thought of that. We shall need to pitch in pretty hard for about a week or ten days. That will give us a good big stock, and after that if we turn out a hundred each every day it will be all right. A hundred’s not much fag if you spread them over a day.”

Linton admitted that this was sound, and the Locksley Lines Supplying Trust, Ltd., set to work in earnest.

It must not be supposed that the Agency left a great deal to chance. The writing of lines in advance may seem a very speculative business; but both Dunstable and Linton had had a wide experience of Locksley masters, and the methods of the same when roused, and they were thus enabled to reduce the element of chance to a minimum. They knew, for example, that Mr. Day’s favourite imposition was the Greek numerals, and that in nine cases out of ten that would be what the youth who had dealings with him would need to ask for from the Lines Trust. Mr. Appleby, on the other hand, invariably set Virgil. The oldest inhabitant had never known him to depart from this custom. For the French masters extracts from the works of Victor Hugo would probably pass muster.

A week from the date of the above conversation, everyone in the school, with the exception of the prefects and the sixth form, found in his desk on arriving at his form-room a printed slip of paper. (Spiking, the stationer in the High Street, had printed it.) It was nothing less than the prospectus of the new Trust. It set forth in glowing terms the advantages offered by the agency. Dunstable had written it–he had a certain amount of skill with his pen–and Linton had suggested subtle and captivating additions. The whole presented rather a striking appearance.

The document was headed with the name of the Trust in large letters. Under this came a number of “scare headlines” such as:

SEE WHAT YOU SAVE!

NO MORE WORRY!

PEACE, PERFECT PEACE!

WHY DO LINES WHEN WE DO THEM
FOR YOU?

Then came the real prospectus:

The Locksley Lines Supplying Trust, Ltd. has been instituted to meet the growing demand for lines and other impositions. While there are masters at our public schools there will always be lines. At Locksley the crop of masters has always flourished–and still flourishes–very rankly, and the demand for lines has greatly taxed the powers of those to whom has been assigned the task of supplying them.

It is for the purpose of affording relief to these that the Lines Trust has been formed. It is proposed that all orders for lines shall be supplied out of our vast stock. Our charges are moderate, and vary between threepence and sixpence per hundred lines. The higher charge is made for Greek impositions, which, for obvious reasons, entail a greater degree of labour on our large and efficient staff of writers.

All orders, which will be promptly executed, should be forwarded to Mr. P. A Dunstable, 6 College Grounds, Locksley, or to Mr. C. J. Linton, 10 College Grounds, Locksley. _Payment must be inclosed with order, or the latter will not be executed._ Under no conditions will notes of hand or cheques be accepted as legal tender. There is no trust about us except the name.

Come in your thousands. We have lines for all. If the Trust’s stock of lines were to be placed end to end it would reach part of the way to London. “You pay the threepence. We do the rest.”

Then a blank space, after which came a few “unsolicited testimonials”:

“Lower Fifth” writes: “I was set two hundred lines of Virgil on Saturday last at one o’clock. Having laid in a supply from your agency I was enabled to show them up at five minutes past one. The master who gave me the commission was unable to restrain his admiration at the rapidity and neatness of my work. You may make what use of this you please.”

“Dexter’s House” writes: “Please send me one hundred (100) lines from _Aeneid, Book Two_. Mr. Dexter was so delighted with the last I showed him that he has asked me to do some more.”

“Enthusiast” writes: “Thank you for your Greek numerals. Day took them without blinking. So beautifully were they executed that I can hardly believe even now that I did not write them myself.”

* * * * *

There could be no doubt about the popularity of the Trust. It caught on instantly.

Nothing else was discussed in the form-rooms at the quarter to eleven interval, and in the houses after lunch it was the sole topic of conversation. Dunstable and Linton were bombarded with questions and witticisms of the near personal sort. To the latter they replied with directness, to the former evasively.

“What’s it all _about?_” someone would ask, fluttering the leaflet before Dunstable’s unmoved face.

“You should read it carefully,” Dunstable would reply. “It’s all there.”

“But what are you playing at?”

“We tried to make it clear to the meanest intelligence. Sorry you can’t understand it.”

While at the same time Linton, in his form-room, would be explaining to excited inquirers that he was sorry, but it was impossible to reply to their query as to who was running the Trust. He was not at liberty to reveal business secrets. Suffice it that there the lines were, waiting to be bought, and he was there to sell them. So that if anybody cared to lay in a stock, large or small, according to taste, would he kindly walk up and deposit the necessary coin?

But here the public showed an unaccountable disinclination to deal. It was gratifying to have acquaintances coming up and saying admiringly: “You are an ass, you know,” as if they were paying the highest of compliments–as, indeed, they probably imagined that they were. All this was magnificent, but it was not business. Dunstable and Linton felt that the whole attitude of the public towards the new enterprise was wrong. Locksley seemed to regard the Trust as a huge joke, and its prospectus as a literary _jeu d’esprit_.

In fact, it looked very much as if–from a purely commercial point of view–the great Lines Supplying Trust was going to be what is known in theatrical circles as a frost.

For two whole days the public refused to bite, and Dunstable and Linton, turning over the stacks of lines in their studies, thought gloomily that this world is no place for original enterprise.

Then things began to move.

It was quite an accident that started them. Jackson, of Dexter’s, was teaing with Linton, and, as was his habit, was giving him a condensed history of his life since he last saw him. In the course of this he touched on a small encounter with M. Gaudinois which had occurred that afternoon.

“So I got two pages of ‘Quatre-Vingt Treize’ to write,” he concluded, “for doing practically nothing.”

All Jackson’s impositions, according to him, were given him for doing practically nothing. Now and then he got them for doing literally nothing–when he ought to have been doing form-work.

“Done ’em?” asked Linton.

“Not yet; no,” replied Jackson. “More tea, please.”

“What you want to do, then,” said Linton, “is to apply to the Locksley Lines Supplying Trust. That’s what you must do.”

“You needn’t rot a chap on a painful subject,” protested Jackson.

“I wasn’t rotting,” said Linton. “Why don’t you apply to the Lines Trust?”

“Then do you mean to say that there really is such a thing?” Jackson said incredulously. “Why I thought it was all a rag.”

“I know you did. It’s the rotten sort of thing you would think. Rag, by Jove! Look at this. Now do you understand that this is a genuine concern?”

He got up and went to the cupboard which filled the space between the stove and the bookshelf. From this resting-place he extracted a great pile of manuscript and dumped it down on the table with a bang which caused a good deal of Jackson’s tea to spring from its native cup on to its owner’s trousers.

“When you’ve finished,” protested Jackson, mopping himself with a handkerchief that had seen better days.

“Sorry. But look at these. What did you say your impot was? Oh, I remember. Here you are. Two pages of ‘Quatre-Vingt Treize.’ I don’t know which two pages, but I suppose any will do.”

Jackson was amazed.

“Great Scott! what a wad of stuff! When did you do it all?”

“Oh, at odd times. Dunstable’s got just as much over at Day’s. So you see the Trust is a jolly big show. Here are your two pages. That looks just like your scrawl, doesn’t it? These would be fourpence in the ordinary way, but you can have ’em for nothing this time.”

“Oh, I say,” said Jackson gratefully, “that’s awfully good of you.”

After that the Locksley Lines Supplying Trust, Ltd. went ahead with a rush. The brilliant success which attended its first specimen–M. Gaudinois took Jackson’s imposition without a murmur–promoted confidence in the public, and they rushed to buy. Orders poured in from all the houses, and by the middle of the term the organisers of the scheme were able to divide a substantial sum.

“How are you getting on round your way?” asked Linton of Dunstable at the end of the sixth week of term.

“Ripping. Selling like hot cakes.”

“So are mine,” said Linton. “I’ve almost come to the end of my stock. I ought to have written some more, but I’ve been a bit slack lately.”

“Yes, buck up. We must keep a lot in hand.”

“I say, did you hear that about Merrett in our house?” asked Linton.

“What about him?”

“Why, he tried to start a rival show. Wrote a prospectus and everything. But it didn’t catch on a bit. The only chap who bought any of his lines was young Shoeblossom. He wanted a couple of hundred for Appleby. Appleby was on to them like bricks. Spotted Shoeblossom hadn’t written them, and asked who had. He wouldn’t say, so he got them doubled. Everyone in the house is jolly sick with Merrett. They think he ought to have owned up.”

“Did that smash up Merrett’s show? Is he going to turn out any more?”

“Rather not. Who’d buy ’em?”

It would have been better for the Lines Supplying Trust if Merrett had not received this crushing blow and had been allowed to carry on a rival business on legitimate lines. Locksley was conservative in its habits, and would probably have continued to support the old firm.

As it was, the baffled Merrett, a youth of vindictive nature, brooded over his defeat, and presently hit upon a scheme whereby things might be levelled up.

One afternoon, shortly before lock-up, Dunstable was surprised by the advent of Linton to his study in a bruised and dishevelled condition. One of his expressive eyes was closed and blackened. He also wore what is known in ring circles as a thick ear.

“What on earth’s up?” inquired Dunstable, amazed at these phenomena. “Have you been scrapping?”

“Yes–Merrett–I won. What are you up to–writing lines? You may as well save yourself the trouble. They won’t be any good.” Dunstable stared.

“The Trust’s bust,” said Linton.

He never wasted words in moments of emotion.

“What!”

“‘Bust’ was what I said. That beast Merrett gave the show away.”

“What did he do? Surely he didn’t tell a master?”

“Well, he did the next thing to it. He hauled out that prospectus, and started reading it in form. I watched him do it. He kept it under the desk and made a foul row, laughing over it. Appleby couldn’t help spotting him. Of course, he told him to bring him what he was reading. Up went Merrett with the prospectus.”

“Was Appleby sick?”

“I don’t believe he was, really. At least, he laughed when he read the thing. But he hauled me up after school and gave me a long jaw, and made me take all the lines I’d got to his house. He burnt them. I had it out with Merrett just now. He swears he didn’t mean to get the thing spotted, but I knew he did.”

“Where did you scrag him!”

“In the dormitory. He chucked it after the third round.”

There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” shouted Dunstable.

Buxton appeared, a member of Appleby’s house.

“Oh, Dunstable, Appleby wants to see you.”

“All right,” said Dunstable wearily.

Mr. Appleby was in facetious mood. He chaffed Dunstable genially about his prospectus, and admitted that it had amused him. Dunstable smiled without enjoyment. It was a good thing, perhaps, that Mr. Appleby saw the humorous rather than the lawless side of the Trust; but all the quips in the world could not save that institution from ruin.

Presently Mr. Appleby’s manner changed. “I am a funny dog, I know,” he seemed to say; “but duty is duty, and must be done.”

“How many lines have you at your house, Dunstable?” he asked.

“About eight hundred, sir.”

“Then you had better write me eight hundred lines, and show them up to me in this room at–shall we say at ten minutes to five? It is now a quarter to, so that you will have plenty of time.”

Dunstable went, and returned five minutes later, bearing an armful of manuscript.

“I don’t think I shall need to count them,” said Mr. Appleby. “Kindly take them in batches of ten sheets, and tear them in half, Dunstable.”

“Yes, sir.”

The last sheet fluttered in two sections into the surfeited waste-paper basket.

“It’s an awful waste, sir,” said Dunstable regretfully.

Mr. Appleby beamed.

“We must, however,” he said, “always endeavour to look on the bright side, Dunstable. The writing of these eight hundred lines will have given you a fine grip of the rhythm of Virgil, the splendid prose of Victor Hugo, and the unstudied majesty of the Greek Numerals. Good-night, Dunstable.”

“Good-night, sir,” said the President of the Locksley Lines Supplying Trust, Ltd.

THE AUTOGRAPH HUNTERS

Dunstable had his reasons for wishing to obtain Mr. Montagu Watson’s autograph, but admiration for that gentleman’s novels was not one of them.

It was nothing to him that critics considered Mr. Watson one of the most remarkable figures in English literature since Scott. If you had told him of this, he would merely have wondered in his coarse, material way how much Mr. Watson gave the critics for saying so. To the reviewer of the _Weekly Booklover_ the great man’s latest effort, “The Soul of Anthony Carrington” (Popgood and Grooly: 6s.) seemed “a work that speaks eloquently in every line of a genius that time cannot wither nor custom stale.” To Dunstable, who got it out of the school library, where it had been placed at the request of a literary prefect, and read the first eleven pages, it seemed rot, and he said as much to the librarian on returning it.

Yet he was very anxious to get the novelist’s autograph. The fact was that Mr. Day, his house-master, a man whose private life was in other ways unstained by vicious habits, collected autographs. Also Mr. Day had behaved in a square manner towards Dunstable on several occasions in the past, and Dunstable, always ready to punish bad behaviour in a master, was equally anxious to reward and foster any good trait which he might exhibit.

On the occasion of the announcement that Mr. Watson had taken the big white house near Chesterton, a couple of miles from the school, Mr. Day had expressed in Dunstable’s hearing a wish that he could add that celebrity’s signature to his collection. Dunstable had instantly determined to play the part of a benevolent Providence. He would get the autograph and present it to the house-master, as who should say, “see what comes of being good.” It would be pleasant to observe the innocent joy of the recipient, his child-like triumph, and his amazement at the donor’s ingenuity in securing the treasure. A touching scene–well worth the trouble involved in the quest.

And there would be trouble. For Mr. Montagu Watson was notoriously a foe to the autograph-hunter. His curt, type-written replies (signed by a secretary) had damped the ardour of scores of brave men and–more or less–fair women. A genuine Montagu Watson was a prize in the autograph market.

Dunstable was a man of action. When Mark, the boot-boy at Day’s, carried his burden of letters to the post that evening, there nestled among them one addressed to M. Watson, Esq., The White House, Chesterton. Looking at it casually, few of his friends would have recognised Dunstable’s handwriting. For it had seemed good to that man of guile to adopt for the occasion the role of a backward youth of twelve years old. He thought tender years might touch Mr. Watson’s heart.

This was the letter:

_Dear Sir_,–I am only a littel boy, but I think your books ripping. I often wonder how you think of it all. Will you please send me your ortograf? I like your books very much. I have named my white rabit Montagu after you. I punched Jones II in the eye to-day becos he didn’t like your books. I have spent the only penny I have on the stampe for this letter which I might have spent on tuck. I want to be like Maltby in “The Soul of Anthony Carrington” when I grow up.

_Your sincere reader_,
P. A. Dunstable.

It was a little unfortunate, perhaps, that he selected Maltby as his ideal character. That gentleman was considered by critics a masterly portrait of the cynical _roue_. But it was the only name he remembered.

“Hot stuff!” said Dunstable to himself, as he closed the envelope.

“Little beast!” said Mr. Watson to himself as he opened it. It arrived by the morning post, and he never felt really himself till after breakfast.

“Here, Morrison,” he said to his secretary, later in the morning: “just answer this, will you? The usual thing–thanks and most deeply grateful, y’know.”

Next day the following was included in Dunstable’s correspondence:

Mr. Montagu Watson presents his compliments to Mr. P. A. Dunstable, and begs to thank him for all the kind things he says about his work in his letter of the 18th inst., for which he is deeply grateful.

“Foiled!” said Dunstable, and went off to Seymour’s to see his friend Linton.

“Got any notepaper?” he asked.

“Heaps,” said Linton. “Why? Want some?”

“Then get out a piece. I want to dictate a letter.”

Linton stared.

“What’s up? Hurt your hand?”

Dunstable explained.

“Day collects autographs, you know, and he wants Montagu Watson’s badly. Pining away, and all that sort of thing. Won’t smile until he gets it. I had a shot at it yesterday, and got this.”

Linton inspected the document.

“So I can’t send up another myself, you see.”

“Why worry?”

“Oh, I’d like to put Day one up. He’s not been bad this term. Come on.”

“All right. Let her rip.”

Dunstable let her rip.

_Dear Sir_,–I cannot refrain from writing to tell you what an inestimable comfort your novels have been to me during years of sore tribulation and distress—-

“Look here,” interrupted Linton with decision at this point. “If you think I’m going to shove my name at the end of this rot, you’re making the mistake of a lifetime.”

“Of course not. You’re a widow who has lost two sons in South Africa. We’ll think of a good name afterwards. Ready?

“Ever since my darling Charles Herbert and Percy Lionel were taken from me in that dreadful war, I have turned for consolation to the pages of ‘The Soul of Anthony Carrington’ and—-“

“What, another?” asked Linton.

“There’s one called ‘Pancakes.'”

“Sure? Sounds rummy.”

“That’s all right. You have to get a queer title nowadays if you want to sell a book.”

“Go on, then. Jam it down.”

“–and ‘Pancakes.’ I hate to bother you, but if you could send me your autograph I should be more grateful than words can say. Yours admiringly.”

“What’s a good name? How would Dorothy Maynard do?”

“You want something more aristocratic. What price Hilda Foulke-Ponsonby?”

Dunstable made no objection, and Linton signed the letter with a flourish.

They installed Mrs. Foulke-Ponsonby at Spiking’s in the High Street. It was not a very likely address for a lady whose blood was presumably of the bluest, but they could think of none except that obliging stationer who would take in letters for them.

There was a letter for Mrs. Foulke-Ponsonby next day. Whatever his other defects as a correspondent, Mr. Watson was at least prompt with his responses.

Mr. Montagu Watson presented his compliments, and was deeply grateful for all the kind things Mrs. Foulke-Ponsonby had said about his work in her letter of the 19th inst. He was, however, afraid that he scarcely deserved them. Her opportunities of deriving consolation from “The Soul of Anthony Carrington” had been limited by the fact that that book had only been published ten days before: while, as for “Pancakes,” to which she had referred in such flattering terms, he feared that another author must have the credit of any refreshment her bereaved spirit might have extracted from that volume, for he had written no work of such a name. His own “Pan Wakes” would, he hoped, administer an equal quantity of balm.

Mr. Secretary Morrison had slept badly on the night before he wrote this letter, and had expended some venom upon its composition.

“Sold again!” said Dunstable.

“You’d better chuck it now. It’s no good,” said Linton.

“I’ll have another shot. Then I’ll try and think of something else.”

Two days later Mr. Morrison replied to Mr. Edgar Habbesham-Morley, of 3a, Green Street, Park Lane, to the effect that Mr. Montagu Watson was deeply grateful for all the kind things, etc.—-

3a, Green Street was Dunstable’s home address.

At this juncture the Watson-Dunstable correspondence ceases, and the relations become more personal.

On the afternoon of the twenty-third of the month, Mr. Watson, taking a meditative stroll through the wood which formed part of his property, was infuriated by the sight of a boy.

He was not a man who was fond of boys even in their proper place, and the sight of one in the middle of his wood, prancing lightly about among the nesting pheasants, stirred his never too placid mind to its depths.

He shouted.

The apparition paused.

“Here! Hi! you boy!”

“Sir?” said the stripling, with a winning smile, lifting his cap with the air of a D’Orsay.

“What business have you in my wood?”

“Not business,” corrected the visitor, “pleasure.”

“Come here!” shrilled the novelist.

The stranger receded coyly.

Mr. Watson advanced at the double.

His quarry dodged behind a tree.

For five minutes the great man devoted his powerful mind solely to the task of catching his visitor.

The latter, however, proved as elusive as the point of a half-formed epigram, and at the end of the five minutes he was no longer within sight.

Mr. Watson went off and addressed his keeper in terms which made that worthy envious for a week.

“It’s eddication,” he said subsequently to a friend at the “Cowslip Inn.” “You and me couldn’t talk like that. It wants eddication.”

For the next few days the keeper’s existence was enlivened by visits from what appeared to be a most enthusiastic bird’s-nester. By no other theory could he account for it. Only a boy with a collection to support would run such risks.

To the keeper’s mind the human boy up to the age of twenty or so had no object in life except to collect eggs. After twenty, of course, he took to poaching. This was a boy of about seventeen.

On the fifth day he caught him, and conducted him into the presence of Mr. Montagu Watson.

Mr. Watson was brief and to the point. He recognised his visitor as the boy for whose benefit he had made himself stiff for two days.

The keeper added further damaging facts.

“Bin here every day, he ‘as, sir, for the last week. Well, I says to myself, supposition is he’ll come once too often. He’ll come once too often, I says. And then, I says, I’ll cotch him. And I cotched him.”

The keeper’s narrative style had something of the classic simplicity of Julius Caesar’s.

Mr. Watson bit his pen.

“What you boys come for I can’t understand,” he said irritably. “You’re from the school, of course?”

“Yes,” said the captive.

“Well, I shall report you to your house-master. What is your name?”

“Dunstable.”

“Your house?”

“Day’s.”

“Very good. That is all.”

Dunstable retired.

His next appearance in public life was in Mr. Day’s study. Mr. Day had sent for him after preparation. He held a letter in his hand, and he looked annoyed.

“Come in, Dunstable. I have just received a letter complaining of you. It seems that you have been trespassing.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I am surprised, Dunstable, that a sensible boy like you should have done such a foolish thing. It seems so objectless. You know how greatly the head-master dislikes any sort of friction between the school and the neighbours, and yet you deliberately trespass in Mr. Watson’s wood.”

“I’m very sorry, sir.”

“I have had a most indignant letter from him–you may see what he says. You do not deny it?”

Dunstable ran his eye over the straggling, untidy sentences.

“No, sir. It’s quite true.”

“In that case I shall have to punish you severely. You will write me out the Greek numerals ten times, and show them up to me on Tuesday.”

“Yes, sir.”

“That will do.”

At the door Dunstable paused.

“Well, Dunstable?” said Mr. Day.

“Er–I’m glad you’ve got his autograph after all, sir,” he said.

Then he closed the door.

As he was going to bed that night, Dunstable met the house-master on the stairs.

“Dunstable,” said Mr. Day.

“Yes, sir.”

“On second thoughts, it would be better if, instead of the Greek numerals ten times, you wrote me the first ode of the first book of Horace. The numerals would be a little long, perhaps.”

PILLINGSHOT, DETECTIVE

Life at St. Austin’s was rendered somewhat hollow and burdensome for Pillingshot by the fact that he fagged for Scott. Not that Scott was the Beetle-Browed Bully in any way. Far from it. He showed a kindly interest in Pillingshot’s welfare, and sometimes even did his Latin verses for him. But the noblest natures have flaws, and Scott’s was no exception. He was by way of being a humorist, and Pillingshot, with his rather serious outlook on life, was puzzled and inconvenienced by this.

It was through this defect in Scott’s character that Pillingshot first became a detective.

He was toasting muffins at the study fire one evening, while Scott, seated on two chairs and five cushions, read “Sherlock Holmes,” when the Prefect laid down his book and fixed him with an earnest eye.

“Do you know, Pillingshot,” he said, “you’ve got a bright, intelligent face. I shouldn’t wonder if you weren’t rather clever. Why do you hide your light under a bushel?”

Pillingshot grunted.

“We must find some way of advertising you. Why don’t you go in for a Junior Scholarship?”

“Too old,” said Pillingshot with satisfaction.

“Senior, then?”

“Too young.”

“I believe by sitting up all night and swotting—-“

“Here, I say!” said Pillingshot, alarmed.

“You’ve got no enterprise,” said Scott sadly. “What are those? Muffins? Well, well, I suppose I had better try and peck a bit.”

He ate four in rapid succession, and resumed his scrutiny of Pillingshot’s countenance.

“The great thing,” he said, “is to find out your special line. Till then we are working in the dark. Perhaps it’s music? Singing? Sing me a bar or two.”

Pillingshot wriggled uncomfortably.

“Left your music at home?” said Scott. “Never mind, then. Perhaps it’s all for the best. What are those? Still muffins? Hand me another. After all, one must keep one’s strength up. You can have one if you like.”

Pillingshot’s face brightened. He became more affable. He chatted.

“There’s rather a row on downstairs,” he said. “In the junior day-room.”

“There always is,” said Scott. “If it grows too loud, I shall get in amongst them with a swagger-stick. I attribute half my success at bringing off late-cuts to the practice I have had in the junior day-room. It keeps the wrist supple.”

“I don’t mean that sort of row. It’s about Evans.”

“What about Evans?”

“He’s lost a sovereign.”

“Silly young ass.”

Pillingshot furtively helped himself to another muffin.

“He thinks some one’s taken it,” he said.

“What! Stolen it?”

Pillingshot nodded.

“What makes him think that?”

“He doesn’t see how else it could have gone.”

“Oh, I don’t–By Jove!”

Scott sat up with some excitement.

“I’ve got it,” he said. “I knew we should hit on it sooner or later. Here’s a field for your genius. You shall be a detective. Pillingshot, I hand this case over to you. I employ you.”

Pillingshot gaped.

“I feel certain that’s your line. I’ve often noticed you walking over to school, looking exactly like a blood-hound. Get to work. As a start you’d better fetch Evans up here and question him.”

“But, look here—-“

“Buck up, man, buck up. Don’t you know that every moment is precious?”

Evans, a small, stout youth, was not disposed to be reticent. The gist of his rambling statement was as follows. Rich uncle. Impecunious nephew. Visit of former to latter. Handsome tip, one sovereign. Impecunious nephew pouches sovereign, and it vanishes.

“And I call it beastly rot,” concluded Evans volubly. “And if I could find the cad who’s pinched it, I’d jolly well—-“

“Less of it,” said Scott. “Now, then, Pillingshot, I’ll begin this thing, just to start you off. What makes you think the quid has been stolen, Evans?”

“Because I jolly well know it has.”

“What you jolly well know isn’t evidence. We must thresh this thing out. To begin with, where did you last see it?”

“When I put it in my pocket.”

“Good. Make a note of that, Pillingshot. Where’s your notebook? Not got one? Here you are then. You can tear out the first few pages, the ones I’ve written on. Ready? Carry on, Evans. When?”

“When what?”

“When did you put it in your pocket?”

“Yesterday afternoon.”

“What time?”

“About five.”

“Same pair of bags you’re wearing now?”

“No, my cricket bags. I was playing at the nets when my uncle came.”

“Ah! Cricket bags? Put it down, Pillingshot. That’s a clue. Work on it. Where are they?”

“They’ve gone to the wash.”

“About time, too. I noticed them. How do you know the quid didn’t go to the wash as well?”

“I turned both the pockets inside out.”

“Any hole in the pocket?”

“No.”

“Well, when did you take off the bags? Did you sleep in them?”

“I wore ’em till bed-time, and then shoved them on a chair by the side of the bed. It wasn’t till next morning that I remembered the quid was in them—-“

“But it wasn’t,” objected Scott.

“I thought it was. It ought to have been.”

“He thought it was. That’s a clue, young Pillingshot. Work on it. Well?”

“Well, when I went to take the quid out of my cricket bags, it wasn’t there.”

“What time was that?”

“Half-past seven this morning.”

“What time did you go to bed?”

“Ten.”

“Then the theft occurred between the hours of ten and seven-thirty. Mind you, I’m giving you a jolly good leg-up, young Pillingshot. But as it’s your first case I don’t mind. That’ll be all from you, Evans. Pop off.”

Evans disappeared. Scott turned to the detective.

“Well, young Pillingshot,” he said, “what do you make of it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What steps do you propose to take?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re a lot of use, aren’t you? As a start, you’d better examine the scene of the robbery, I should say.”

Pillingshot reluctantly left the room.

“Well?” said Scott, when he returned. “Any clues?”

“No.”

“You thoroughly examined the scene of the robbery?”

“I looked under the bed.”

“_Under_ the bed? What’s the good of that? Did you go over every inch of the strip of carpet leading to the chair with a magnifying-glass?”

“Hadn’t got a magnifying-glass.”

“Then you’d better buck up and get one, if you’re going to be a detective. Do you think Sherlock Holmes ever moved a step without his? Not much. Well, anyhow. Did you find any foot-prints or tobacco-ash?”

“There was a jolly lot of dust about.”

“Did you preserve a sample?”

“No.”

“My word, you’ve a lot to learn. Now, weighing the evidence, does anything strike you?”

“No.”

“You’re a bright sort of sleuth-hound, aren’t you! It seems to me I’m doing all the work on this case. I’ll have to give you another leg-up. Considering the time when the quid disappeared, I should say that somebody in the dormitory must have collared it. How many fellows are there in Evans’ dormitory?”

“I don’t know.”

“Cut along and find out.”

The detective reluctantly trudged off once more.

“Well?” said Scott, on his return.

“Seven,” said Pillingshot. “Counting Evans.”

“We needn’t count Evans. If he’s ass enough to steal his own quids, he deserves to lose them. Who are the other six?”

“There’s Trent. He’s prefect.”

“The Napoleon of Crime. Watch his every move. Yes?”

“Simms.”

“A dangerous man. Sinister to the core.”

“And Green, Berkeley, Hanson, and Daubeny.”

“Every one of them well known to the police. Why, the place is a perfect Thieves’ Kitchen. Look here, we must act swiftly, young Pillingshot. This is a black business. We’ll take them in alphabetical order. Run and fetch Berkeley.”

Berkeley, interrupted in a game of Halma, came unwillingly.

“Now then, Pillingshot, put your questions,” said Scott. “This is a black business, Berkeley. Young Evans has lost a sovereign—-“

“If you think I’ve taken his beastly quid—-!” said Berkeley warmly.

“Make a note that, on being questioned, the man Berkeley exhibited suspicious emotion. Go on. Jam it down.”

Pillingshot reluctantly entered the statement under Berkeley’s indignant gaze.

“Now then, carry on.”

“You know, it’s all rot,” protested Pillingshot. “I never said Berkeley had anything to do with it.”

“Never mind. Ask him what his movements were on the night of the–what was yesterday?–on the night of the sixteenth of July.”

Pillingshot put the question nervously.

“I was in bed, of course, you silly ass.”

“Were you asleep?” inquired Scott.

“Of course I was.”

“Then how do you know what you were doing? Pillingshot, make a note of the fact that the man Berkeley’s statement was confused and contradictory. It’s a clue. Work on it. Who’s next? Daubeny. Berkeley, send Daubeny up here.”

“All right, Pillingshot, you wait,” was Berkeley’s exit speech.

Daubeny, when examined, exhibited the same suspicious emotion that Berkeley had shown; and Hanson, Simms, and Green behaved in a precisely similar manner.

“This,” said Scott, “somewhat complicates the case. We must have further clues. You’d better pop off now, Pillingshot. I’ve got a Latin Prose to do. Bring me reports of your progress daily, and don’t overlook the importance of trifles. Why, in ‘Silver Blaze’ it was a burnt match that first put Holmes on the scent.”

Entering the junior day-room with some apprehension, the sleuth-hound found an excited gathering of suspects waiting to interview him.

One sentiment animated the meeting. Each of the five wanted to know what Pillingshot meant by it.

“What’s the row?” queried interested spectators, rallying round.

“That cad Pillingshot’s been accusing us of bagging Evans’ quid.”

“What’s Scott got to do with it?” inquired one of the spectators.

Pillingshot explained his position.

“All the same,” said Daubeny, “you needn’t have dragged us into it.”

“I couldn’t help it. He made me.”

“Awful ass, Scott,” admitted Green.

Pillingshot welcomed this sign that the focus of popular indignation was being shifted.

“Shoving himself into other people’s business,” grumbled Pillingshot.

“Trying to be funny,” Berkeley summed up.

“Rotten at cricket, too.”

“Can’t play a yorker for nuts.”

“See him drop that sitter on Saturday?”

So that was all right. As far as the junior day-room was concerned, Pillingshot felt himself vindicated.

But his employer was less easily satisfied. Pillingshot had hoped that by the next day he would have forgotten the subject. But, when he went into the study to get tea ready, up it came again.

“Any clues yet, Pillingshot?”

Pillingshot had to admit that there were none.

“Hullo, this won’t do. You must bustle about. You must get your nose to the trail. Have you cross-examined Trent yet? No? Well, there you are, then. Nip off and do it now.”

“But, I say, Scott! He’s a prefect!”

“In the dictionary of crime,” said Scott sententiously, “there is no such word as prefect. All are alike. Go and take down Trent’s statement.”

To tax a prefect with having stolen a sovereign was a task at which Pillingshot’s imagination boggled. He went to Trent’s study in a sort of dream.

A hoarse roar answered his feeble tap. There was no doubt about Trent being in. Inspection revealed the fact that the prefect was working and evidently ill-attuned to conversation. He wore a haggard look and his eye, as it caught that of the collector of statements, was dangerous.

“Well?” said Trent, scowling murderously.

Pillingshot’s legs felt perfectly boneless.

“_Well_?” said Trent.

Pillingshot yammered.

“_Well_?”

The roar shook the window, and Pillingshot’s presence of mind deserted him altogether.

“Have you bagged a sovereign?” he asked.

There was an awful silence, during which the detective, his limbs suddenly becoming active again, banged the door, and shot off down the passage.

He re-entered Scott’s study at the double.

“Well?” said Scott. “What did he say?”

“Nothing.”

“Get out your note-book, and put down, under the heading ‘Trent’: ‘Suspicious silence.’ A very bad lot, Trent. Keep him under constant espionage. It’s a clue. Work on it.”

Pillingshot made a note of the silence, but later on, when he and the prefect met in the dormitory, felt inclined to erase it. For silence was the last epithet one would have applied to Trent on that occasion. As he crawled painfully into bed Pillingshot became more than ever convinced that the path of the amateur detective was a thorny one.

This conviction deepened next day.

Scott’s help was possibly well meant, but it was certainly inconvenient. His theories were of the brilliant, dashing order, and Pillingshot could never be certain who and in what rank of life the next suspect would be. He spent that afternoon shadowing the Greaser (the combination of boot-boy and butler who did the odd jobs about the school house), and in the evening seemed likely to be about to move in the very highest circles. This was when Scott remarked in a dreamy voice, “You know, I’m told the old man has been spending a good lot of money lately….”

To which the burden of Pillingshot’s reply was that he would do anything in reason, but he was blowed if he was going to cross-examine the head-master.

“It seems to me,” said Scott sadly, “that you don’t _want_ to find that sovereign. Don’t you like Evans, or what is it?”

It was on the following morning, after breakfast, that the close observer might have noticed a change in the detective’s demeanour. He no longer looked as if he were weighed down by a secret sorrow. His manner was even jaunty.

Scott noticed it.

“What’s up?” he inquired. “Got a clue?”

Pillingshot nodded.

“What is it? Let’s have a look.”

“Sh–h–h!” said Pillingshot mysteriously.

Scott’s interest was aroused. When his fag was making tea in the afternoon, he questioned him again.

“Out with it,” he said. “What’s the point of all this silent mystery business?”

“Sherlock Holmes never gave anything away.”

“Out with it.”

“Walls have ears,” said Pillingshot.

“So have you,” replied Scott crisply, “and I’ll smite them in half a second.”

Pillingshot sighed resignedly, and produced an envelope. From this he poured some dried mud.

“Here, steady on with my table-cloth,” said Scott. “What’s this?”

“Mud.”

“What about it?”

“Where do you think it came from?”

“How should I know? Road, I suppose.”

Pillingshot smiled faintly.

“Eighteen different kinds of mud about here,” he said patronisingly. “This is flower-bed mud from the house front-garden.”

“Well? What about it?”

“Sh–h–h!” said Pillingshot, and glided out of the room.

* * * * *

“Well?” asked Scott next day. “Clues pouring in all right?”

“Rather.”

“What? Got another?”

Pillingshot walked silently to the door and flung it open. He looked up and down the passage. Then he closed the door and returned to the table, where he took from his waistcoat-pocket a used match.

Scott turned it over inquiringly.

“What’s the idea of this?”

“A clue,” said Pillingshot. “See anything queer about it? See that rummy brown stain on it?”

“Yes.”

“Blood!” snorted Pillingshot.

“What’s the good of blood? There’s been no murder.”

Pillingshot looked serious.

“I never thought of that.”

“You must think of everything. The worst mistake a detective can make is to get switched off on to another track while he’s working on a case. This match is a clue to something else. You can’t work on it.”

“I suppose not,” said Pillingshot.

“Don’t be discouraged. You’re doing fine.”

“I know,” said Pillingshot. “I shall find that quid all right.”

“Nothing like sticking to it.”

Pillingshot shuffled, then rose to a point of order.

“I’ve been reading those Sherlock Holmes stories,” he said, “and Sherlock Holmes always got a fee if he brought a thing off. I think I ought to, too.”

“Mercenary young brute.”

“It has been a beastly sweat.”

“Done you good. Supplied you with a serious interest in life. Well, I expect Evans will give you something–a jewelled snuff-box or something–if you pull the thing off.”

“_I_ don’t.”

“Well, he’ll buy you a tea or something.”

“He won’t. He’s not going to break the quid. He’s saving up for a camera.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?”

Pillingshot kicked the leg of the table.

“_You_ put me on to the case,” he said casually.

“What! If you think I’m going to squander—-“

“I think you ought to let me off fagging for the rest of the term.”

Scott reflected.

“There’s something in that. All right.”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. You haven’t found the quid yet.”

“I know where it is.”

“Where?”

“Ah!”

“Fool,” said Scott.

* * * * *

After breakfast next day Scott was seated in his study when Pillingshot entered.

“Here you are,” said Pillingshot.

He unclasped his right hand and exhibited a sovereign. Scott inspected it.

“Is this the one?” he said.

“Yes,” said Pillingshot.

“How do you know?”

“It _is_. I’ve sifted all the evidence.”

“Who had bagged it?”

“I don’t want to mention names.”

“Oh, all right. As he didn’t spend any of it, it doesn’t much matter. Not that it’s much catch having a thief roaming at large about the house. Anyhow, what put you on to him? How did you get on the track? You’re a jolly smart kid, young Pillingshot. How did you work it?”

“I have my methods,” said Pillingshot with dignity.

“Buck up. I shall have to be going over to school in a second.”

“I hardly like to tell you.”

“Tell me! Dash it all, I put you on to the case. I’m your employer.”

“You won’t touch me up if I tell you?”

“I will if you don’t.”

“But not if I do?”

“No.”

“And how about the fee?”

“That’s all right. Go on.”

“All right then. Well, I thought the whole thing over, and I couldn’t make anything out of it at first, because it didn’t seem likely that Trent or any of the other fellows in the dormitory had taken it; and then suddenly something Evans told me the day before yesterday made it all clear.”

“What was that?”

“He said that the matron had just given him back his quid, which one of the housemaids had found on the floor by his bed. It had dropped out of his pocket that first night.”

Scott eyed him fixedly. Pillingshot coyly evaded his gaze.

“That was it, was it?” said Scott.

Pillingshot nodded.

“It was a clue,” he said. “I worked on it.”