Mike: A Public School Story



Psmith leaned against the mantelpiece in the senior day-room at Outwood’s—­since Mike’s innings against Downing’s the Lost Lambs had been received as brothers by that centre of disorder, so that even Spiller was compelled to look on the hatchet as buried—­and gave his views on the events of the preceding night, or, rather, of that morning, for it was nearer one than twelve when peace had once more fallen on the school.

“Nothing that happens in this luny-bin,” said Psmith, “has power to surprise me now.  There was a time when I might have thought it a little unusual to have to leave the house through a canvas shoot at one o’clock in the morning, but I suppose it’s quite the regular thing here.  Old school tradition, &c.  Men leave the school, and find that they’ve got so accustomed to jumping out of window that they look on it as a sort of affectation to go out by the door.  I suppose none of you merchants can give me any idea when the next knockabout entertainment of this kind is likely to take place?”

“I wonder who rang that bell!” said Stone.  “Jolly sporting idea.”

“I believe it was Downing himself.  If it was, I hope he’s satisfied.”

Jellicoe, who was appearing in society supported by a stick, looked meaningly at Mike, and giggled, receiving in answer a stony stare.  Mike had informed Jellicoe of the details of his interview with Mr. Barley at the “White Boar,” and Jellicoe, after a momentary splutter of wrath against the practical joker, was now in a particularly light-hearted mood.  He hobbled about, giggling at nothing and at peace with all the world.

“It was a stirring scene,” said Psmith.  “The agility with which Comrade Jellicoe boosted himself down the shoot was a triumph of mind over matter.  He seemed to forget his ankle.  It was the nearest thing to a Boneless Acrobatic Wonder that I have ever seen.”

“I was in a beastly funk, I can tell you.”

Stone gurgled.

“So was I,” he said, “for a bit.  Then, when I saw that it was all a rag, I began to look about for ways of doing the thing really well.  I emptied about six jugs of water on a gang of kids under my window.”

“I rushed into Downing’s, and ragged some of the beds,” said Robinson.

“It was an invigorating time,” said Psmith.  “A sort of pageant.  I was particularly struck with the way some of the bright lads caught hold of the idea.  There was no skimping.  Some of the kids, to my certain knowledge, went down the shoot a dozen times.  There’s nothing like doing a thing thoroughly.  I saw them come down, rush upstairs, and be saved again, time after time.  The thing became chronic with them.  I should say Comrade Downing ought to be satisfied with the high state of efficiency to which he has brought us.  At any rate I hope——­”

There was a sound of hurried footsteps outside the door, and Sharpe, a member of the senior day-room, burst excitedly in.  He seemed amused.

“I say, have you chaps seen Sammy?”

“Seen who?” said Stone.  “Sammy?  Why?”

“You’ll know in a second.  He’s just outside.  Here, Sammy, Sammy, Sammy!  Sam!  Sam!”

A bark and a patter of feet outside.

“Come on, Sammy.  Good dog.”

There was a moment’s silence.  Then a great yell of laughter burst forth.  Even Psmith’s massive calm was shattered.  As for Jellicoe, he sobbed in a corner.

Sammy’s beautiful white coat was almost entirely concealed by a thick covering of bright red paint.  His head, with the exception of the ears, was untouched, and his serious, friendly eyes seemed to emphasise the weirdness of his appearance.  He stood in the doorway, barking and wagging his tail, plainly puzzled at his reception.  He was a popular dog, and was always well received when he visited any of the houses, but he had never before met with enthusiasm like this.

“Good old Sammy!”

“What on earth’s been happening to him?”

“Who did it?”

Sharpe, the introducer, had no views on the matter.

“I found him outside Downing’s, with a crowd round him.  Everybody seems to have seen him.  I wonder who on earth has gone and mucked him up like that!”

Mike was the first to show any sympathy for the maltreated animal.

“Poor old Sammy,” he said, kneeling on the floor beside the victim, and scratching him under the ear.  “What a beastly shame!  It’ll take hours to wash all that off him, and he’ll hate it.”

“It seems to me,” said Psmith, regarding Sammy dispassionately through his eyeglass, “that it’s not a case for mere washing.  They’ll either have to skin him bodily, or leave the thing to time.  Time, the Great Healer.  In a year or two he’ll fade to a delicate pink.  I don’t see why you shouldn’t have a pink bull-terrier.  It would lend a touch of distinction to the place.  Crowds would come in excursion trains to see him.  By charging a small fee you might make him self-supporting.  I think I’ll suggest it to Comrade Downing.”

“There’ll be a row about this,” said Stone.

“Rows are rather sport when you’re not mixed up in them,” said Robinson, philosophically.  “There’ll be another if we don’t start off for chapel soon.  It’s a quarter to.”

There was a general move.  Mike was the last to leave the room.  As he was going, Jellicoe stopped him.  Jellicoe was staying in that Sunday, owing to his ankle.

“I say,” said Jellicoe, “I just wanted to thank you again about that——­”

“Oh, that’s all right.”

“No, but it really was awfully decent of you.  You might have got into a frightful row.  Were you nearly caught?”

“Jolly nearly.”

“It was you who rang the bell, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was.  But for goodness sake don’t go gassing about it, or somebody will get to hear who oughtn’t to, and I shall be sacked.”

“All right.  But, I say, you are a chap!”

“What’s the matter now?”

“I mean about Sammy, you know.  It’s a jolly good score off old Downing.  He’ll be frightfully sick.”

“Sammy!” cried Mike.  “My good man, you don’t think I did that, do you?  What absolute rot!  I never touched the poor brute.”

“Oh, all right,” said Jellicoe.  “But I wasn’t going to tell any one, of course.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are a chap!” giggled Jellicoe.

Mike walked to chapel rather thoughtfully.



There was just one moment, the moment in which, on going down to the junior day-room of his house to quell an unseemly disturbance, he was boisterously greeted by a vermilion bull terrier, when Mr. Downing was seized with a hideous fear lest he had lost his senses.  Glaring down at the crimson animal that was pawing at his knees, he clutched at his reason for one second as a drowning man clutches at a lifebelt.

Then the happy laughter of the young onlookers reassured him.

“Who—­” he shouted, “WHO has done this?”

“Please, sir, we don’t know,” shrilled the chorus.

“Please, sir, he came in like that.”

“Please, sir, we were sitting here when he suddenly ran in, all red.”

A voice from the crowd:  “Look at old Sammy!”

The situation was impossible.  There was nothing to be done.  He could not find out by verbal inquiry who had painted the dog.  The possibility of Sammy being painted red during the night had never occurred to Mr. Downing, and now that the thing had happened he had no scheme of action.  As Psmith would have said, he had confused the unusual with the impossible, and the result was that he was taken by surprise.

While he was pondering on this the situation was rendered still more difficult by Sammy, who, taking advantage of the door being open, escaped and rushed into the road, thus publishing his condition to all and sundry.  You can hush up a painted dog while it confines itself to your own premises, but once it has mixed with the great public this becomes out of the question.  Sammy’s state advanced from a private trouble into a row.  Mr. Downing’s next move was in the same direction that Sammy had taken, only, instead of running about the road, he went straight to the headmaster.

The Head, who had had to leave his house in the small hours in his pyjamas and a dressing-gown, was not in the best of tempers.  He had a cold in the head, and also a rooted conviction that Mr. Downing, in spite of his strict orders, had rung the bell himself on the previous night in order to test the efficiency of the school in saving themselves in the event of fire.  He received the housemaster frostily, but thawed as the latter related the events which had led up to the ringing of the bell.

“Dear me!” he said, deeply interested.  “One of the boys at the school, you think?”

“I am certain of it,” said Mr. Downing.

“Was he wearing a school cap?”

“He was bare-headed.  A boy who breaks out of his house at night would hardly run the risk of wearing a distinguishing cap.”

“No, no, I suppose not.  A big boy, you say?”

“Very big.”

“You did not see his face?”

“It was dark and he never looked back—­he was in front of me all the time.”

“Dear me!”

“There is another matter——­”


“This boy, whoever he was, had done something before he rang the bell—­he had painted my dog Sampson red.”

The headmaster’s eyes protruded from their sockets.  “He—­he—­what, Mr. Downing?”

“He painted my dog red—­bright red.”  Mr. Downing was too angry to see anything humorous in the incident.  Since the previous night he had been wounded in his tenderest feelings.  His Fire Brigade system had been most shamefully abused by being turned into a mere instrument in the hands of a malefactor for escaping justice, and his dog had been held up to ridicule to all the world.  He did not want to smile, he wanted revenge.

The headmaster, on the other hand, did want to smile.  It was not his dog, he could look on the affair with an unbiased eye, and to him there was something ludicrous in a white dog suddenly appearing as a red dog.

“It is a scandalous thing!” said Mr. Downing.

“Quite so!  Quite so!” said the headmaster hastily.  “I shall punish the boy who did it most severely.  I will speak to the school in the Hall after chapel.”

Which he did, but without result.  A cordial invitation to the criminal to come forward and be executed was received in wooden silence by the school, with the exception of Johnson III., of Outwood’s, who, suddenly reminded of Sammy’s appearance by the headmaster’s words, broke into a wild screech of laughter, and was instantly awarded two hundred lines.

The school filed out of the Hall to their various lunches, and Mr. Downing was left with the conviction that, if he wanted the criminal discovered, he would have to discover him for himself.

The great thing in affairs of this kind is to get a good start, and Fate, feeling perhaps that it had been a little hard upon Mr. Downing, gave him a most magnificent start.  Instead of having to hunt for a needle in a haystack, he found himself in a moment in the position of being set to find it in a mere truss of straw.

It was Mr. Outwood who helped him.  Sergeant Collard had waylaid the archaeological expert on his way to chapel, and informed him that at close on twelve the night before he had observed a youth, unidentified, attempting to get into his house via the water-pipe.  Mr. Outwood, whose thoughts were occupied with apses and plinths, not to mention cromlechs, at the time, thanked the sergeant with absent-minded politeness and passed on.  Later he remembered the fact à propos of some reflections on the subject of burglars in mediaeval England, and passed it on to Mr. Downing as they walked back to lunch.

“Then the boy was in your house!” exclaimed Mr. Downing.

“Not actually in, as far as I understand.  I gather from the sergeant that he interrupted him before——­”

“I mean he must have been one of the boys in your house.”

“But what was he doing out at that hour?”

“He had broken out.”

“Impossible, I think.  Oh yes, quite impossible!  I went round the dormitories as usual at eleven o’clock last night, and all the boys were asleep—­all of them.”

Mr. Downing was not listening.  He was in a state of suppressed excitement and exultation which made it hard for him to attend to his colleague’s slow utterances.  He had a clue!  Now that the search had narrowed itself down to Outwood’s house, the rest was comparatively easy.  Perhaps Sergeant Collard had actually recognised the boy.  Or reflection he dismissed this as unlikely, for the sergeant would scarcely have kept a thing like that to himself; but he might very well have seen more of him than he, Downing, had seen.  It was only with an effort that he could keep himself from rushing to the sergeant then and there, and leaving the house lunch to look after itself.  He resolved to go the moment that meal was at an end.

Sunday lunch at a public-school house is probably one of the longest functions in existence.  It drags its slow length along like a languid snake, but it finishes in time.  In due course Mr. Downing, after sitting still and eyeing with acute dislike everybody who asked for a second helping, found himself at liberty.

Regardless of the claims of digestion, he rushed forth on the trail.

Sergeant Collard lived with his wife and a family of unknown dimensions in the lodge at the school front gate.  Dinner was just over when Mr. Downing arrived, as a blind man could have told.

The sergeant received his visitor with dignity, ejecting the family, who were torpid after roast beef and resented having to move, in order to ensure privacy.

Having requested his host to smoke, which the latter was about to do unasked, Mr. Downing stated his case.

“Mr. Outwood,” he said, “tells me that last night, sergeant, you saw a boy endeavouring to enter his house.”

The sergeant blew a cloud of smoke.  “Oo-oo-oo, yer,” he said; “I did, sir—­spotted ‘im, I did.  Feeflee good at spottin’, I am, sir.  Dook of Connaught, he used to say, ‘’Ere comes Sergeant Collard,’ he used to say, ‘’e’s feeflee good at spottin’.’”

“What did you do?”

“Do?  Oo-oo-oo!  I shouts ’Oo-oo-oo yer, yer young monkey, what yer doin’ there?’”


“But ’e was off in a flash, and I doubles after ’im prompt.”

“But you didn’t catch him?”

“No, sir,” admitted the sergeant reluctantly.

“Did you catch sight of his face, sergeant?”

“No, sir, ‘e was doublin’ away in the opposite direction.”

“Did you notice anything at all about his appearance?”

“’E was a long young chap, sir, with a pair of legs on him—­feeflee fast ’e run, sir.  Oo-oo-oo, feeflee!”

“You noticed nothing else?”

“’E wasn’t wearing no cap of any sort, sir.”


“Bare-’eaded, sir,” added the sergeant, rubbing the point in.

“It was undoubtedly the same boy, undoubtedly!  I wish you could have caught a glimpse of his face, sergeant.”

“So do I, sir.”

“You would not be able to recognise him again if you saw him, you think?”

“Oo-oo-oo!  Wouldn’t go so far as to say that, sir, ’cos yer see, I’m feeflee good at spottin’, but it was a dark night.”

Mr. Downing rose to go.

“Well,” he said, “the search is now considerably narrowed down, considerably!  It is certain that the boy was one of the boys in Mr. Outwood’s house.”

“Young monkeys!” interjected the sergeant helpfully.

“Good-afternoon, sergeant.”

“Good-afternoon to you, sir.”

“Pray do not move, sergeant.”

The sergeant had not shown the slightest inclination of doing anything of the kind.

“I will find my way out.  Very hot to-day, is it not?”

“Feeflee warm, sir; weather’s goin’ to break—­workin’ up for thunder.”

“I hope not.  The school plays the M.C.C. on Wednesday, and it would be a pity if rain were to spoil our first fixture with them.  Good afternoon.”

And Mr. Downing went out into the baking sunlight, while Sergeant Collard, having requested Mrs. Collard to take the children out for a walk at once, and furthermore to give young Ernie a clip side of the ’ead, if he persisted in making so much noise, put a handkerchief over his face, rested his feet on the table, and slept the sleep of the just.



For the Doctor Watsons of this world, as opposed to the Sherlock Holmeses, success in the province of detective work must always be, to a very large extent, the result of luck.  Sherlock Holmes can extract a clue from a wisp of straw or a flake of cigar-ash.  But Doctor Watson has got to have it taken out for him, and dusted, and exhibited clearly, with a label attached.

The average man is a Doctor Watson.  We are wont to scoff in a patronising manner at that humble follower of the great investigator, but, as a matter of fact, we should have been just as dull ourselves.  We should not even have risen to the modest level of a Scotland Yard Bungler.  We should simply have hung around, saying: 

“My dear Holmes, how—?” and all the rest of it, just as the downtrodden medico did.

It is not often that the ordinary person has any need to see what he can do in the way of detection.  He gets along very comfortably in the humdrum round of life without having to measure footprints and smile quiet, tight-lipped smiles.  But if ever the emergency does arise, he thinks naturally of Sherlock Holmes, and his methods.

Mr. Downing had read all the Holmes stories with great attention, and had thought many times what an incompetent ass Doctor Watson was; but, now that he had started to handle his own first case, he was compelled to admit that there was a good deal to be said in extenuation of Watson’s inability to unravel tangles.  It certainly was uncommonly hard, he thought, as he paced the cricket field after leaving Sergeant Collard, to detect anybody, unless you knew who had really done the crime.  As he brooded over the case in hand, his sympathy for Dr. Watson increased with every minute, and he began to feel a certain resentment against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  It was all very well for Sir Arthur to be so shrewd and infallible about tracing a mystery to its source, but he knew perfectly well who had done the thing before he started!

Now that he began really to look into this matter of the alarm bell and the painting of Sammy, the conviction was creeping over him that the problem was more difficult than a casual observer might imagine.  He had got as far as finding that his quarry of the previous night was a boy in Mr. Outwood’s house, but how was he to get any farther?  That was the thing.  There were, of course, only a limited number of boys in Mr. Outwood’s house as tall as the one he had pursued; but even if there had been only one other, it would have complicated matters.  If you go to a boy and say, “Either you or Jones were out of your house last night at twelve o’clock,” the boy does not reply, “Sir, I cannot tell a lie—­I was out of my house last night at twelve o’clock.”  He simply assumes the animated expression of a stuffed fish, and leaves the next move to you.  It is practically Stalemate.

All these things passed through Mr. Downing’s mind as he walked up and down the cricket field that afternoon.

What he wanted was a clue.  But it is so hard for the novice to tell what is a clue and what isn’t.  Probably, if he only knew, there were clues lying all over the place, shouting to him to pick them up.

What with the oppressive heat of the day and the fatigue of hard thinking, Mr. Downing was working up for a brain-storm, when Fate once more intervened, this time in the shape of Riglett, a junior member of his house.

Riglett slunk up in the shamefaced way peculiar to some boys, even when they have done nothing wrong, and, having capped Mr. Downing with the air of one who has been caught in the act of doing something particularly shady, requested that he might be allowed to fetch his bicycle from the shed.

“Your bicycle?” snapped Mr. Downing.  Much thinking had made him irritable.  “What do you want with your bicycle?”

Riglett shuffled, stood first on his left foot, then on his right, blushed, and finally remarked, as if it were not so much a sound reason as a sort of feeble excuse for the low and blackguardly fact that he wanted his bicycle, that he had got leave for tea that afternoon.

Then Mr. Downing remembered.  Riglett had an aunt resident about three miles from the school, whom he was accustomed to visit occasionally on Sunday afternoons during the term.

He felt for his bunch of keys, and made his way to the shed, Riglett shambling behind at an interval of two yards.

Mr. Downing unlocked the door, and there on the floor was the Clue!

A clue that even Dr. Watson could not have overlooked.

Mr. Downing saw it, but did not immediately recognise it for what it was.  What he saw at first was not a Clue, but just a mess.  He had a tidy soul and abhorred messes.  And this was a particularly messy mess.  The greater part of the flooring in the neighbourhood of the door was a sea of red paint.  The tin from which it had flowed was lying on its side in the middle of the shed.  The air was full of the pungent scent.

“Pah!” said Mr. Downing.

Then suddenly, beneath the disguise of the mess, he saw the clue.  A foot-mark!  No less.  A crimson foot-mark on the grey concrete!

Riglett, who had been waiting patiently two yards away, now coughed plaintively.  The sound recalled Mr. Downing to mundane matters.

“Get your bicycle, Riglett,” he said, “and be careful where you tread.  Somebody has upset a pot of paint on the floor.”

Riglett, walking delicately through dry places, extracted his bicycle from the rack, and presently departed to gladden the heart of his aunt, leaving Mr. Downing, his brain fizzing with the enthusiasm of the detective, to lock the door and resume his perambulation of the cricket field.

Give Dr. Watson a fair start, and he is a demon at the game.  Mr. Downing’s brain was now working with a rapidity and clearness which a professional sleuth might have envied.

Paint.  Red paint.  Obviously the same paint with which Sammy had been decorated.  A foot-mark.  Whose foot-mark?  Plainly that of the criminal who had done the deed of decoration.


There were two things, however, to be considered.  Your careful detective must consider everything.  In the first place, the paint might have been upset by the ground-man.  It was the ground-man’s paint.  He had been giving a fresh coating to the wood-work in front of the pavilion scoring-box at the conclusion of yesterday’s match. (A labour of love which was the direct outcome of the enthusiasm for work which Adair had instilled into him.) In that case the foot-mark might be his.

Note one:  Interview the ground-man on this point.

In the second place Adair might have upset the tin and trodden in its contents when he went to get his bicycle in order to fetch the doctor for the suffering MacPhee.  This was the more probable of the two contingencies, for it would have been dark in the shed when Adair went into it.

Note two Interview Adair as to whether he found, on returning to the house, that there was paint on his boots.

Things were moving.

He resolved to take Adair first.  He could get the ground-man’s address from him.

Passing by the trees under whose shade Mike and Psmith and Dunster had watched the match on the previous day, he came upon the Head of his house in a deck-chair reading a book.  A summer Sunday afternoon is the time for reading in deck-chairs.

“Oh, Adair,” he said.  “No, don’t get up.  I merely wished to ask you if you found any paint on your boots when you returned to the house last night?”

“Paint, sir?” Adair was plainly puzzled.  His book had been interesting, and had driven the Sammy incident out of his head.

“I see somebody has spilt some paint on the floor of the bicycle shed.  You did not do that, I suppose, when you went to fetch your bicycle?”

“No, sir.”

“It is spilt all over the floor.  I wondered whether you had happened to tread in it.  But you say you found no paint on your boots this morning?”

“No, sir, my bicycle is always quite near the door of the shed.  I didn’t go into the shed at all.”

“I see.  Quite so.  Thank you, Adair.  Oh, by the way, Adair, where does Markby live?”

“I forget the name of his cottage, sir, but I could show you in a second.  It’s one of those cottages just past the school gates, on the right as you turn out into the road.  There are three in a row.  His is the first you come to.  There’s a barn just before you get to them.”

“Thank you.  I shall be able to find them.  I should like to speak to Markby for a moment on a small matter.”

A sharp walk took him to the cottages Adair had mentioned.  He rapped at the door of the first, and the ground-man came out in his shirt-sleeves, blinking as if he had just woke up, as was indeed the case.

“Oh, Markby!”


“You remember that you were painting the scoring-box in the pavilion last night after the match?”

“Yes, sir.  It wanted a lick of paint bad.  The young gentlemen will scramble about and get through the window.  Makes it look shabby, sir.  So I thought I’d better give it a coating so as to look ship-shape when the Marylebone come down.”

“Just so.  An excellent idea.  Tell me, Markby, what did you do with the pot of paint when you had finished?”

“Put it in the bicycle shed, sir.”

“On the floor?”

“On the floor, sir?  No.  On the shelf at the far end, with the can of whitening what I use for marking out the wickets, sir.”

“Of course, yes.  Quite so.  Just as I thought.”

“Do you want it, sir?”

“No, thank you, Markby, no, thank you.  The fact is, somebody who had no business to do so has moved the pot of paint from the shelf to the floor, with the result that it has been kicked over, and spilt.  You had better get some more to-morrow.  Thank you, Markby.  That is all I wished to know.”

Mr. Downing walked back to the school thoroughly excited.  He was hot on the scent now.  The only other possible theories had been tested and successfully exploded.  The thing had become simple to a degree.  All he had to do was to go to Mr. Outwood’s house—­the idea of searching a fellow-master’s house did not appear to him at all a delicate task; somehow one grew unconsciously to feel that Mr. Outwood did not really exist as a man capable of resenting liberties—­find the paint-splashed boot, ascertain its owner, and denounce him to the headmaster.  Picture, Blue Fire and “God Save the King” by the full strength of the company.  There could be no doubt that a paint-splashed boot must be in Mr. Outwood’s house somewhere.  A boy cannot tread in a pool of paint without showing some signs of having done so.  It was Sunday, too, so that the boot would not yet have been cleaned.  Yoicks!  Also Tally-ho!  This really was beginning to be something like business.

Regardless of the heat, the sleuth-hound hurried across to Outwood’s as fast as he could walk.

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