There are few better things in life than a public school summer term. The winter term is good, especially towards the end, and there are points, though not many, about the Easter term: but it is in the summer that one really appreciates public school life. The freedom of it, after the restrictions of even the most easy-going private school, is intoxicating. The change is almost as great as that from public school to ’Varsity.
For Mike the path was made particularly easy. The only drawback to going to a big school for the first time is the fact that one is made to feel so very small and inconspicuous. New boys who have been leading lights at their private schools feel it acutely for the first week. At one time it was the custom, if we may believe writers of a generation or so back, for boys to take quite an embarrassing interest in the newcomer. He was asked a rain of questions, and was, generally, in the very centre of the stage. Nowadays an absolute lack of interest is the fashion. A new boy arrives, and there he is, one of a crowd.
Mike was saved this salutary treatment to a large extent, at first by virtue of the greatness of his family, and, later, by his own performances on the cricket field. His three elder brothers were objects of veneration to most Wrykynians, and Mike got a certain amount of reflected glory from them. The brother of first-class cricketers has a dignity of his own. Then Bob was a help. He was on the verge of the cricket team and had been the school full-back for two seasons. Mike found that people came up and spoke to him, anxious to know if he were Jackson’s brother; and became friendly when he replied in the affirmative. Influential relations are a help in every stage of life.
It was Wyatt who gave him his first chance at cricket. There were nets on the first afternoon of term for all old colours of the three teams and a dozen or so of those most likely to fill the vacant places. Wyatt was there, of course. He had got his first eleven cap in the previous season as a mighty hitter and a fair slow bowler. Mike met him crossing the field with his cricket bag.
“Hullo, where are you off to?” asked Wyatt. “Coming to watch the nets?”
Mike had no particular programme for the afternoon. Junior cricket had not begun, and it was a little difficult to know how to fill in the time.
“I tell you what,” said Wyatt, “nip into the house and shove on some things, and I’ll try and get Burgess to let you have a knock later on.”
This suited Mike admirably. A quarter of an hour later he was sitting at the back of the first eleven net, watching the practice.
Burgess, the captain of the Wrykyn team, made no pretence of being a bat. He was the school fast bowler and concentrated his energies on that department of the game. He sometimes took ten minutes at the wicket after everybody else had had an innings, but it was to bowl that he came to the nets.
He was bowling now to one of the old colours whose name Mike did not know. Wyatt and one of the professionals were the other two bowlers. Two nets away Firby-Smith, who had changed his pince-nez for a pair of huge spectacles, was performing rather ineffectively against some very bad bowling. Mike fixed his attention on the first eleven man.
He was evidently a good bat. There was style and power in his batting. He had a way of gliding Burgess’s fastest to leg which Mike admired greatly. He was succeeded at the end of a quarter of an hour by another eleven man, and then Bob appeared.
It was soon made evident that this was not Bob’s day. Nobody is at his best on the first day of term; but Bob was worse than he had any right to be. He scratched forward at nearly everything, and when Burgess, who had been resting, took up the ball again, he had each stump uprooted in a regular series in seven balls. Once he skied one of Wyatt’s slows over the net behind the wicket; and Mike, jumping up, caught him neatly.
“Thanks,” said Bob austerely, as Mike returned the ball to him. He seemed depressed.
Towards the end of the afternoon, Wyatt went up to Burgess.
“Burgess,” he said, “see that kid sitting behind the net?”
“With the naked eye,” said Burgess. “Why?”
“He’s just come to Wain’s. He’s Bob Jackson’s brother, and I’ve a sort of idea that he’s a bit of a bat. I told him I’d ask you if he could have a knock. Why not send him in at the end net? There’s nobody there now.”
Burgess’s amiability off the field equalled his ruthlessness when bowling.
“All right,” he said. “Only if you think that I’m going to sweat to bowl to him, you’re making a fatal error.”
“You needn’t do a thing. Just sit and watch. I rather fancy this kid’s something special.”
Mike put on Wyatt’s pads and gloves, borrowed his bat, and walked round into the net.
“Not in a funk, are you?” asked Wyatt, as he passed.
Mike grinned. The fact was that he had far too good an opinion of himself to be nervous. An entirely modest person seldom makes a good batsman. Batting is one of those things which demand first and foremost a thorough belief in oneself. It need not be aggressive, but it must be there.
Wyatt and the professional were the bowlers. Mike had seen enough of Wyatt’s bowling to know that it was merely ordinary “slow tosh,” and the professional did not look as difficult as Saunders. The first half-dozen balls he played carefully. He was on trial, and he meant to take no risks. Then the professional over-pitched one slightly on the off. Mike jumped out, and got the full face of the bat on to it. The ball hit one of the ropes of the net, and nearly broke it.
“How’s that?” said Wyatt, with the smile of an impresario on the first night of a successful piece.
“Not bad,” admitted Burgess.
A few moments later he was still more complimentary. He got up and took a ball himself.
Mike braced himself up as Burgess began his run. This time he was more than a trifle nervous. The bowling he had had so far had been tame. This would be the real ordeal.
As the ball left Burgess’s hand he began instinctively to shape for a forward stroke. Then suddenly he realised that the thing was going to be a yorker, and banged his bat down in the block just as the ball arrived. An unpleasant sensation as of having been struck by a thunderbolt was succeeded by a feeling of relief that he had kept the ball out of his wicket. There are easier things in the world than stopping a fast yorker.
“Well played,” said Burgess.
Mike felt like a successful general receiving the thanks of the nation.
The fact that Burgess’s next ball knocked middle and off stumps out of the ground saddened him somewhat; but this was the last tragedy that occurred. He could not do much with the bowling beyond stopping it and feeling repetitions of the thunderbolt experience, but he kept up his end; and a short conversation which he had with Burgess at the end of his innings was full of encouragement to one skilled in reading between the lines.
“Thanks awfully,” said Mike, referring to the square manner in which the captain had behaved in letting him bat.
“What school were you at before you came here?” asked Burgess.
“A private school in Hampshire,” said Mike. “King-Hall’s. At a place called Emsworth.”
“Get much cricket there?”
“Yes, a good lot. One of the masters, a chap called Westbrook, was an awfully good slow bowler.”
“You don’t run away, which is something,” he said.
Mike turned purple with pleasure at this stately compliment. Then, having waited for further remarks, but gathering from the captain’s silence that the audience was at an end, he proceeded to unbuckle his pads. Wyatt overtook him on his way to the house.
“Well played,” he said. “I’d no idea you were such hot stuff. You’re a regular pro.”
“I say,” said Mike gratefully, “it was most awfully decent of you getting Burgess to let me go in. It was simply ripping of you.”
“Oh, that’s all right. If you don’t get pushed a bit here you stay for ages in the hundredth game with the cripples and the kids. Now you’ve shown them what you can do you ought to get into the Under Sixteen team straight away. Probably into the third, too.”
“By Jove, that would be all right.”
“I asked Burgess afterwards what he thought of your batting, and he said, ‘Not bad.’ But he says that about everything. It’s his highest form of praise. He says it when he wants to let himself go and simply butter up a thing. If you took him to see N. A. Knox bowl, he’d say he wasn’t bad. What he meant was that he was jolly struck with your batting, and is going to play you for the Under Sixteen.”
“I hope so,” said Mike.
The prophecy was fulfilled. On the following Wednesday there was a match between the Under Sixteen and a scratch side. Mike’s name was among the Under Sixteen. And on the Saturday he was playing for the third eleven in a trial game.
“This place is ripping,” he said to himself, as he saw his name on the list. “Thought I should like it.”
And that night he wrote a letter to his father, notifying him of the fact.
A succession of events combined to upset Mike during his first fortnight at school. He was far more successful than he had any right to be at his age. There is nothing more heady than success, and if it comes before we are prepared for it, it is apt to throw us off our balance. As a rule, at school, years of wholesome obscurity make us ready for any small triumphs we may achieve at the end of our time there. Mike had skipped these years. He was older than the average new boy, and his batting was undeniable. He knew quite well that he was regarded as a find by the cricket authorities; and the knowledge was not particularly good for him. It did not make him conceited, for his was not a nature at all addicted to conceit. The effect it had on him was to make him excessively pleased with life. And when Mike was pleased with life he always found a difficulty in obeying Authority and its rules. His state of mind was not improved by an interview with Bob.
Some evil genius put it into Bob’s mind that it was his duty to be, if only for one performance, the Heavy Elder Brother to Mike; to give him good advice. It is never the smallest use for an elder brother to attempt to do anything for the good of a younger brother at school, for the latter rebels automatically against such interference in his concerns; but Bob did not know this. He only knew that he had received a letter from home, in which his mother had assumed without evidence that he was leading Mike by the hand round the pitfalls of life at Wrykyn; and his conscience smote him. Beyond asking him occasionally, when they met, how he was getting on (a question to which Mike invariably replied, “Oh, all right"), he was not aware of having done anything brotherly towards the youngster. So he asked Mike to tea in his study one afternoon before going to the nets.
Mike arrived, sidling into the study in the half-sheepish, half-defiant manner peculiar to small brothers in the presence of their elders, and stared in silence at the photographs on the walls. Bob was changing into his cricket things. The atmosphere was one of constraint and awkwardness.
The arrival of tea was the cue for conversation.
“Well, how are you getting on?” asked Bob.
“Oh, all right,” said Mike.
“Sugar?” asked Bob.
“Thanks,” said Mike.
“How many lumps?”
Bob pulled himself together.
“I asked Firby-Smith to keep an eye on you,” said Bob.
“What!” said Mike.
The mere idea of a worm like the Gazeka being told to keep an eye on him was degrading.
“He said he’d look after you,” added Bob, making things worse.
Look after him! Him!! M. Jackson, of the third eleven!!!
Mike helped himself to another chunk of cake, and spoke crushingly.
“He needn’t trouble,” he said. “I can look after myself all right, thanks.”
Bob saw an opening for the entry of the Heavy Elder Brother.
“Look here, Mike,” he said, “I’m only saying it for your good——”
I should like to state here that it was not Bob’s habit to go about the world telling people things solely for their good. He was only doing it now to ease his conscience.
“Yes?” said Mike coldly.
“It’s only this. You know, I should keep an eye on myself if I were you. There’s nothing that gets a chap so barred here as side.”
“What do you mean?” said Mike, outraged.
“Oh, I’m not saying anything against you so far,” said Bob. “You’ve been all right up to now. What I mean to say is, you’ve got on so well at cricket, in the third and so on, there’s just a chance you might start to side about a bit soon, if you don’t watch yourself. I’m not saying a word against you so far, of course. Only you see what I mean.”
Mike’s feelings were too deep for words. In sombre silence he reached out for the jam; while Bob, satisfied that he had delivered his message in a pleasant and tactful manner, filled his cup, and cast about him for further words of wisdom.
“Seen you about with Wyatt a good deal,” he said at length.
“Yes,” said Mike.
“Yes,” said Mike cautiously.
“You know,” said Bob, “I shouldn’t—I mean, I should take care what you’re doing with Wyatt.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he’s an awfully good chap, of course, but still——”
“Well, I mean, he’s the sort of chap who’ll probably get into some thundering row before he leaves. He doesn’t care a hang what he does. He’s that sort of chap. He’s never been dropped on yet, but if you go on breaking rules you’re bound to be sooner or later. Thing is, it doesn’t matter much for him, because he’s leaving at the end of the term. But don’t let him drag you into anything. Not that he would try to. But you might think it was the blood thing to do to imitate him, and the first thing you knew you’d be dropped on by Wain or somebody. See what I mean?”
Bob was well-intentioned, but tact did not enter greatly into his composition.
“What rot!” said Mike.
“All right. But don’t you go doing it. I’m going over to the nets. I see Burgess has shoved you down for them. You’d better be going and changing. Stick on here a bit, though, if you want any more tea. I’ve got to be off myself.”
Mike changed for net-practice in a ferment of spiritual injury. It was maddening to be treated as an infant who had to be looked after. He felt very sore against Bob.
A good innings at the third eleven net, followed by some strenuous fielding in the deep, soothed his ruffled feelings to a large extent; and all might have been well but for the intervention of Firby-Smith.
That youth, all spectacles and front teeth, met Mike at the door of Wain’s.
“Ah, I wanted to see you, young man,” he said. (Mike disliked being called “young man.”) “Come up to my study.”
Mike followed him in silence to his study, and preserved his silence till Firby-Smith, having deposited his cricket-bag in a corner of the room and examined himself carefully in a looking-glass that hung over the mantelpiece, spoke again.
“I’ve been hearing all about you, young man.” Mike shuffled.
“You’re a frightful character from all accounts.” Mike could not think of anything to say that was not rude, so said nothing.
“Your brother has asked me to keep an eye on you.”
Mike’s soul began to tie itself into knots again. He was just at the age when one is most sensitive to patronage and most resentful of it.
“I promised I would,” said the Gazeka, turning round and examining himself in the mirror again. “You’ll get on all right if you behave yourself. Don’t make a frightful row in the house. Don’t cheek your elders and betters. Wash. That’s all. Cut along.”
Mike had a vague idea of sacrificing his career to the momentary pleasure of flinging a chair at the head of the house. Overcoming this feeling, he walked out of the room, and up to his dormitory to change.
In the dormitory that night the feeling of revolt, of wanting to do something actively illegal, increased. Like Eric, he burned, not with shame and remorse, but with rage and all that sort of thing. He dropped off to sleep full of half-formed plans for asserting himself. He was awakened from a dream in which he was batting against Firby-Smith’s bowling, and hitting it into space every time, by a slight sound. He opened his eyes, and saw a dark figure silhouetted against the light of the window. He sat up in bed.
“Hullo,” he said. “Is that you, Wyatt?”
“Are you awake?” said Wyatt. “Sorry if I’ve spoiled your beauty sleep.”
“Are you going out?”
“I am,” said Wyatt. “The cats are particularly strong on the wing just now. Mustn’t miss a chance like this. Specially as there’s a good moon, too. I shall be deadly.”
“I say, can’t I come too?”
A moonlight prowl, with or without an air-pistol, would just have suited Mike’s mood.
“No, you can’t,” said Wyatt. “When I’m caught, as I’m morally certain to be some day, or night rather, they’re bound to ask if you’ve ever been out as well as me. Then you’ll be able to put your hand on your little heart and do a big George Washington act. You’ll find that useful when the time comes.”
“Do you think you will be caught?”
“Shouldn’t be surprised. Anyhow, you stay where you are. Go to sleep and dream that you’re playing for the school against Ripton. So long.”
And Wyatt, laying the bar he had extracted on the window-sill, wriggled out. Mike saw him disappearing along the wall.
It was all very well for Wyatt to tell him to go to sleep, but it was not so easy to do it. The room was almost light; and Mike always found it difficult to sleep unless it was dark. He turned over on his side and shut his eyes, but he had never felt wider awake. Twice he heard the quarters chime from the school clock; and the second time he gave up the struggle. He got out of bed and went to the window. It was a lovely night, just the sort of night on which, if he had been at home, he would have been out after moths with a lantern.
A sharp yowl from an unseen cat told of Wyatt’s presence somewhere in the big garden. He would have given much to be with him, but he realised that he was on parole. He had promised not to leave the house, and there was an end of it.
He turned away from the window and sat down on his bed. Then a beautiful, consoling thought came to him. He had given his word that he would not go into the garden, but nothing had been said about exploring inside the house. It was quite late now. Everybody would be in bed. It would be quite safe. And there must be all sorts of things to interest the visitor in Wain’s part of the house. Food, perhaps. Mike felt that he could just do with a biscuit. And there were bound to be biscuits on the sideboard in Wain’s dining-room.
He crept quietly out of the dormitory.
He had been long enough in the house to know the way, in spite of the fact that all was darkness. Down the stairs, along the passage to the left, and up a few more stairs at the end The beauty of the position was that the dining-room had two doors, one leading into Wain’s part of the house, the other into the boys’ section. Any interruption that there might be would come from the further door.
To make himself more secure he locked that door; then, turning up the incandescent light, he proceeded to look about him.
Mr. Wain’s dining-room repaid inspection. There were the remains of supper on the table. Mike cut himself some cheese and took some biscuits from the box, feeling that he was doing himself well. This was Life. There was a little soda-water in the syphon. He finished it. As it swished into the glass, it made a noise that seemed to him like three hundred Niagaras; but nobody else in the house appeared to have noticed it.
He took some more biscuits, and an apple.
After which, feeling a new man, he examined the room.
And this was where the trouble began.
On a table in one corner stood a small gramophone. And gramophones happened to be Mike’s particular craze.
All thought of risk left him. The soda-water may have got into his head, or he may have been in a particularly reckless mood, as indeed he was. The fact remains that he inserted the first record that came to hand, wound the machine up, and set it going.
The next moment, very loud and nasal, a voice from the machine announced that Mr. Godfrey Field would sing “The Quaint Old Bird.” And, after a few preliminary chords, Mr. Field actually did so.
"Auntie went to Aldershot in a Paris pom-pom hat."
Mike stood and drained it in.
"... Good gracious (sang Mr. Field), what was that?"
It was a rattling at the handle of the door. A rattling that turned almost immediately into a spirited banging. A voice accompanied the banging. “Who is there?” inquired the voice. Mike recognised it as Mr. Wain’s. He was not alarmed. The man who holds the ace of trumps has no need to be alarmed. His position was impregnable. The enemy was held in check by the locked door, while the other door offered an admirable and instantaneous way of escape.
Mike crept across the room on tip-toe and opened the window. It had occurred to him, just in time, that if Mr. Wain, on entering the room, found that the occupant had retired by way of the boys’ part of the house, he might possibly obtain a clue to his identity. If, on the other hand, he opened the window, suspicion would be diverted. Mike had not read his “Raffles” for nothing.
The handle-rattling was resumed. This was good. So long as the frontal attack was kept up, there was no chance of his being taken in the rear—his only danger.
He stopped the gramophone, which had been pegging away patiently at “The Quaint Old Bird” all the time, and reflected. It seemed a pity to evacuate the position and ring down the curtain on what was, to date, the most exciting episode of his life; but he must not overdo the thing, and get caught. At any moment the noise might bring reinforcements to the besieging force, though it was not likely, for the dining-room was a long way from the dormitories; and it might flash upon their minds that there were two entrances to the room. Or the same bright thought might come to Wain himself.
“Now what,” pondered Mike, “would A. J. Raffles have done in a case like this? Suppose he’d been after somebody’s jewels, and found that they were after him, and he’d locked one door, and could get away by the other.”
The answer was simple.
“He’d clear out,” thought Mike.
Two minutes later he was in bed.
He lay there, tingling all over with the consciousness of having played a masterly game, when suddenly a gruesome idea came to him, and he sat up, breathless. Suppose Wain took it into his head to make a tour of the dormitories, to see that all was well! Wyatt was still in the garden somewhere, blissfully unconscious of what was going on indoors. He would be caught for a certainty!
For a moment the situation paralysed Mike. Then he began to be equal to it. In times of excitement one thinks rapidly and clearly. The main point, the kernel of the whole thing, was that he must get into the garden somehow, and warn Wyatt. And at the same time, he must keep Mr. Wain from coming to the dormitory. He jumped out of bed, and dashed down the dark stairs.
He had taken care to close the dining-room door after him. It was open now, and he could hear somebody moving inside the room. Evidently his retreat had been made just in time.
He knocked at the door, and went in.
Mr. Wain was standing at the window, looking out. He spun round at the knock, and stared in astonishment at Mike’s pyjama-clad figure. Mike, in spite of his anxiety, could barely check a laugh. Mr. Wain was a tall, thin man, with a serious face partially obscured by a grizzled beard. He wore spectacles, through which he peered owlishly at Mike. His body was wrapped in a brown dressing-gown. His hair was ruffled. He looked like some weird bird.
“Please, sir, I thought I heard a noise,” said Mike.
Mr. Wain continued to stare.
“What are you doing here?” said he at last.
“Thought I heard a noise, please, sir.”
“Please, sir, a row.”
“You thought you heard——!”
The thing seemed to be worrying Mr. Wain.
“So I came down, sir,” said Mike.
The house-master’s giant brain still appeared to be somewhat clouded. He looked about him, and, catching sight of the gramophone, drew inspiration from it.
“Did you turn on the gramophone?” he asked.
“Me, sir!” said Mike, with the air of a bishop accused of contributing to the Police News.
“Of course not, of course not,” said Mr. Wain hurriedly. “Of course not. I don’t know why I asked. All this is very unsettling. What are you doing here?”
“Thought I heard a noise, please, sir.”
“A row, sir.”
If it was Mr. Wain’s wish that he should spend the night playing Massa Tambo to his Massa Bones, it was not for him to baulk the house-master’s innocent pleasure. He was prepared to continue the snappy dialogue till breakfast time.
“I think there must have been a burglar in here, Jackson.”
“Looks like it, sir.”
“I found the window open.”
“He’s probably in the garden, sir.”
Mr. Wain looked out into the garden with an annoyed expression, as if its behaviour in letting burglars be in it struck him as unworthy of a respectable garden.
“He might be still in the house,” said Mr. Wain, ruminatively.
“Not likely, sir.”
“You think not?”
“Wouldn’t be such a fool, sir. I mean, such an ass, sir.”
“Perhaps you are right, Jackson.”
“I shouldn’t wonder if he was hiding in the shrubbery, sir.”
Mr. Wain looked at the shrubbery, as who should say, "Et tu, Brute!"
“By Jove! I think I see him,” cried Mike. He ran to the window, and vaulted through it on to the lawn. An inarticulate protest from Mr. Wain, rendered speechless by this move just as he had been beginning to recover his faculties, and he was running across the lawn into the shrubbery. He felt that all was well. There might be a bit of a row on his return, but he could always plead overwhelming excitement.
Wyatt was round at the back somewhere, and the problem was how to get back without being seen from the dining-room window. Fortunately a belt of evergreens ran along the path right up to the house. Mike worked his way cautiously through these till he was out of sight, then tore for the regions at the back.
The moon had gone behind the clouds, and it was not easy to find a way through the bushes. Twice branches sprang out from nowhere, and hit Mike smartly over the shins, eliciting sharp howls of pain.
On the second of these occasions a low voice spoke from somewhere on his right.
“Who on earth’s that?” it said.
“Is that you, Wyatt? I say——”
The moon came out again, and Mike saw Wyatt clearly. His knees were covered with mould. He had evidently been crouching in the bushes on all fours.
“You young ass,” said Wyatt. “You promised me that you wouldn’t get out.”
“Yes, I know, but——”
“I heard you crashing through the shrubbery like a hundred elephants. If you must get out at night and chance being sacked, you might at least have the sense to walk quietly.”
“Yes, but you don’t understand.”
And Mike rapidly explained the situation.
“But how the dickens did he hear you, if you were in the dining-room?” asked Wyatt. “It’s miles from his bedroom. You must tread like a policeman.”
“It wasn’t that. The thing was, you see, it was rather a rotten thing to do, I suppose, but I turned on the gramophone.”
“The gramophone. It started playing ‘The Quaint Old Bird.’ Ripping it was, till Wain came along.”
Wyatt doubled up with noiseless laughter.
“You’re a genius,” he said. “I never saw such a man. Well, what’s the game now? What’s the idea?”
“I think you’d better nip back along the wall and in through the window, and I’ll go back to the dining-room. Then it’ll be all right if Wain comes and looks into the dorm. Or, if you like, you might come down too, as if you’d just woke up and thought you’d heard a row.”
“That’s not a bad idea. All right. You dash along then. I’ll get back.”
Mr. Wain was still in the dining-room, drinking in the beauties of the summer night through the open window. He gibbered slightly when Mike reappeared.
“Jackson! What do you mean by running about outside the house in this way! I shall punish you very heavily. I shall certainly report the matter to the headmaster. I will not have boys rushing about the garden in their pyjamas. You will catch an exceedingly bad cold. You will do me two hundred lines, Latin and English. Exceedingly so. I will not have it. Did you not hear me call to you?”
“Please, sir, so excited,” said Mike, standing outside with his hands on the sill.
“You have no business to be excited. I will not have it. It is exceedingly impertinent of you.”
“Please, sir, may I come in?”
“Come in! Of course, come in. Have you no sense, boy? You are laying the seeds of a bad cold. Come in at once.”
Mike clambered through the window.
“I couldn’t find him, sir. He must have got out of the garden.”
“Undoubtedly,” said Mr. Wain. “Undoubtedly so. It was very wrong of you to search for him. You have been seriously injured. Exceedingly so.”
He was about to say more on the subject when Wyatt strolled into the room. Wyatt wore the rather dazed expression of one who has been aroused from deep sleep. He yawned before he spoke.
“I thought I heard a noise, sir,” he said.
He called Mr. Wain “father” in private, “sir” in public. The presence of Mike made this a public occasion.
“Has there been a burglary?”
“Yes,” said Mike, “only he has got away.”
“Shall I go out into the garden, and have a look round, sir?” asked Wyatt helpfully.
The question stung Mr. Wain into active eruption once more.
“Under no circumstances whatever,” he said excitedly. “Stay where you are, James. I will not have boys running about my garden at night. It is preposterous. Inordinately so. Both of you go to bed immediately. I shall not speak to you again on this subject. I must be obeyed instantly. You hear me, Jackson? James, you understand me? To bed at once. And, if I find you outside your dormitory again to-night, you will both be punished with extreme severity. I will not have this lax and reckless behaviour.”
“But the burglar, sir?” said Wyatt.
“We might catch him, sir,” said Mike.
Mr. Wain’s manner changed to a slow and stately sarcasm, in much the same way as a motor-car changes from the top speed to its first.
“I was under the impression,” he said, in the heavy way almost invariably affected by weak masters in their dealings with the obstreperous, “I was distinctly under the impression that I had ordered you to retire immediately to your dormitory. It is possible that you mistook my meaning. In that case I shall be happy to repeat what I said. It is also in my mind that I threatened to punish you with the utmost severity if you did not retire at once. In these circumstances, James—and you, Jackson—you will doubtless see the necessity of complying with my wishes.”
They made it so.