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Ch. 2: Slaves of the Lamp

The music-room on the top floor of Number Five was filled with the
"Aladdin" company at rehearsal. Dickson Quartus, commonly known as
Dick Four, was Aladdin, stage-manager, ballet-master, half the
orchestra, and largely librettist, for the "book" had been rewritten
and filled with local allusions. The pantomime was to be given next
week, in the down-stairs study occupied by Aladdin, Abanazar, and the
Emperor of China. The Slave of the Lamp, with the Princess
Badroulbadour and the Widow Twankay, owned Number Five study across
the same landing, so that the company could be easily assembled. The
floor shook to the stamp-and-go of the ballet, while Aladdin, in pink
cotton tights, a blue and tinsel jacket, and a plumed hat, banged
alternately on the piano and his banjo. He was the moving spirit of
the game, as befitted a senior who had passed his Army Preliminary
and hoped to enter Sandhurst next spring.

Aladdin came to his own at last, Abanazar lay poisoned on the floor,
the Widow Twankay danced her dance, and the company decided it would
"come all right on the night."

"What about the last song, though?" said the Emperor, a tallish,
fair-headed boy with a ghost of a mustache, at which he pulled
manfully. "We need a rousing old tune."

"'John Peel'? 'Drink, Puppy, Drink'?" suggested Abanazar, smoothing
his baggy lilac pajamas. "Pussy" Abanazar never looked more than
one-half awake, but he owned a soft, slow smile which well suited the
part of the Wicked Uncle.

"Stale," said Aladdin. "Might as well have 'Grandfather's Clock.'
What's that thing you were humming at prep. last night, Stalky?"

Stalky, The Slave of the Lamp, in black tights and doublet, a black
silk half-mask on his forehead, whistled lazily where he lay on the
top of the piano. It was a catchy music-hall tune.

Dick Four cocked his head critically, and squinted down a large red
nose.

"Once more, and I can pick it up," he said, strumming. "Sing the
words."

"Arrah, Patsy, mind the baby! Arrah, Patsy, mind the child! Wrap him
in an overcoat, he's surely going wild! Arrah, Patsy, mind the baby!
just you mind the child awhile! He'll kick and bite and cry all
night! Arrah, Patsy, mind the child!"

"Rippin'! Oh, rippin'!" said Dick Four. "Only we shan't have any piano
on the night. We must work it with the banjoes--play an' dance at
the same time. You try, Tertius."

The Emperor pushed aside his pea-green sleeves of state, and followed
Dick Four on a heavy nickel plated banjo.

"Yes, but I'm dead all this time. Bung in the middle of the stage,
too," said Abanazar.

"Oh, that's Beetle's biznai," said Dick Four. "Vamp it up, Beetle.
Don't keep us waiting all night. You've got to get Pussy out of the
light somehow, and bring us all in dancin' at the end."

"All right. You two play it again," said Beetle, who, in a gray skirt
and a wig of chestnut sausage-curls, set slantwise above a pair of
spectacles mended with an old boot-lace, represented the Widow
Twankay. He waved one leg in time to the hammered refrain, and the
banjoes grew louder.

"Um! Ah! Er--'Aladdin now has won his wife,'" he sang, and Dick Four
repeated it.

"'Your Emperor is appeased.'" Tertius flung out his chest as he
delivered his line.

"Now jump up, Pussy! Say, 'I think I'd better come to life!" Then we
all take hands and come forward: 'We hope you've all been pleased.'
_Twiggez-vous_?"

"_Nous_twiggons_. Good enough. What's the chorus for the final ballet?
It's four kicks and a turn," said Dick Four.

"Oh! Er!

John Short will ring the curtain down.
And ring the prompter's bell;
We hope you know before you go
That we all wish you well."

"Rippin'! Rippin'! Now for the Widow's scene with the Princess. Hurry
up, Turkey."

McTurk, in a violet silk skirt and a coquettish blue turban, slouched
forward as one thoroughly ashamed of himself. The Slave of the Lamp
climbed down from the piano, and dispassionately kicked him. "Play
up, Turkey," he said; "this is serious." But there fell on the door
the knock of authority. It happened to be King, in gown and
mortar-board, enjoying a Saturday evening prowl before dinner.

"Locked doors! Locked doors!" he snapped with a scowl. "What's the
meaning of this; and what, may I ask, is the intention of this--this
epicene attire?"

"Pantomime, sir. The Head gave us leave," said Abanazar, as the only
member of the Sixth concerned. Dick Four stood firm in the confidence
born of well-fitting tights, but Beetle strove to efface himself
behind the piano. A gray princess-skirt borrowed from a day-boy's
mother and a spotted cotton bodice unsystematically padded with
imposition-paper make one ridiculous. And in other regards Beetle had
a bad conscience.

"As usual!" sneered King. "Futile foolery just when your careers, such
as they may be, are hanging in the balance. I see! Ah, I see! The old
gang of criminals--allied forces of disorder--Corkran"--the Slave of
the Lamp smiled politely--"McTurk"--the Irishman scowled--"and, of
course, the unspeakable Beetle, our friend Gigadibs." Abanazar, the
Emperor, and Aladdin had more or less of characters, and King passed
them over. "Come forth, my inky buffoon, from behind yonder instrument
of music! You supply, I presume, the doggerel for this entertainment.
Esteem yourself to be, as it were, a poet?"

"He's found one of 'em," thought Beetle, noting the flush on King's
cheek-bone.

"I have just had the pleasure of reading an effusion of yours to my
address, I believe--an effusion intended to rhyme. So--so you despise
me, Master Gigadibs, do you? I am quite aware--you need not explain
--that it was ostensibly not intended for my edification. I read it
with laughter--yes, with laughter. These paper pellets of inky boys
--still a boy we are, Master Gigadibs--do not disturb my equanimity."

"Wonder which it was," thought Beetle. He had launched many lampoons
on an appreciative public ever since he discovered that it was
possible to convey reproof in rhyme.

In sign of his unruffled calm, King proceeded to tear Beetle, whom he
called Gigadibs, slowly asunder. From his untied shoestrings to his
mended spectacles (the life of a poet at a big school is hard) he
held him up to the derision of his associates--with the usual result.
His wild flowers of speech--King had an unpleasant tongue---restored
him to good humor at the last. He drew a lurid picture of Beetle's
latter end as a scurrilous pamphleteer dying in an attic, scattered a
few compliments over McTurk and Corkran, and, reminding Beetle that he
must come up for judgment when called upon, went to Common-room,
where he triumphed anew over his victims.

"And the worst of it," he explained in a loud voice over his soup, "is
that I waste such gems of sarcasm on their thick heads. It's miles
above them, I'm certain."

"We-ell," said the school chaplain slowly, "I don't know what
Corkran's appreciation of your style may be, but young McTurk reads
Ruskin for his amusement."

"Nonsense! He does it to show off. I mistrust the dark Celt."

"He does nothing of the kind. I went into their study the other night,
unofficially, and McTurk was gluing up the back of four odd numbers
of 'Fors Clavigera.'"

"I don't know anything about their private lives," said a mathematical
master hotly, "but I've learned by bitter experience that Number Five
study are best left alone. They are utterly soulless young devils."

He blushed as the others laughed.

But in the music-room there were wrath and bad language. Only Stalky,
Slave of the Lamp, lay on the piano unmoved.

"That little swine Manders miner must have shown him your stuff. He's
always suckin' up to King. Go and kill him," he drawled. "Which one
was it, Beetle?"

"Dunno," said Beetle, struggling out of the skirt. "There was one
about his hunting for popularity with the small boys, and the other
one was one about him in hell, tellin' the Devil he was a Balliol
man. I swear both of 'em rhymed all right. By gum! P'raps Manders
minor showed him both! _I'll_ correct his caesuras for him."

He disappeared down two flights of stairs, flushed a small pink and
white boy in a form-room next door to King's study, which, again, was
immediately below his own, and chased him up the corridor into a
form-room sacred to the revels of the Lower Third. Thence he came
back, greatly disordered, to find McTurk, Stalky, and the others of
the company, in his study enjoying an unlimited "brew"--coffee,
cocoa, buns, new bread hot and steaming, sardine, sausage,
ham-and-tongue paste, pilchards, three jams, and at least as many
pounds of Devonshire cream.

"My hat!" said he, throwing himself upon the banquet. "Who stumped up
for this, Stalky?" It was within a month of term end, and blank
starvation had reigned in the studies for weeks.

"You," said Stalky, serenely.

"Confound you! You haven't been popping my Sunday bags, then?"

"Keep your hair on. It's only your watch."

"Watch! I lost it--weeks ago. Out on the Burrows, when we tried to
shoot the old ram--the day our pistol burst."

"It dropped out of your pocket (you're so beastly careless, Beetle),
and McTurk and I kept it for you. I've been wearing it for a week,
and you never noticed. Took it into Bideford after dinner to-day. Got
thirteen and sevenpence. Here's the ticket."

"Well, that's pretty average cool," said Abanazar behind a slab of
cream and jam, as Beetle, reassured upon the safety of his Sunday
trousers, showed not even surprise, much less resentment. Indeed, it
was McTurk who grew angry, saying:

"You gave him the ticket, Stalky? You pawned it? You unmitigated
beast! Why, last month you and Beetle sold mine! 'Never got a sniff
of any ticket."

"Ah, that was because you locked your trunk, and we wasted half the
afternoon hammering it open. We might have pawned it if you'd behaved
like a Christian, Turkey."

"My Aunt!" said Abanazar, "you chaps are communists. Vote of thanks to
Beetle, though."

"That's beastly unfair," said Stalky, "when I took all the trouble to
pawn it. Beetle never knew he had a watch. Oh, I say, Rabbits-Eggs
gave me a lift into Bideford this afternoon."

Rabbits-Eggs was the local carrier--an outcrop of the early Devonian
formation. It was Stalky who had invented his unlovely name. "He was
pretty average drunk, or he wouldn't have done it. Rabbits-Eggs is a
little shy of me, somehow. But I swore it was _pax_ between us, and
gave him a bob. He stopped at two pubs on the way in, so he'll be
howling drunk to-night. Oh, don't begin reading, Beetle; there's a
council of war on. What the deuce is the matter with your collar?"

"'Chivied Manders minor into the Lower Third box-room. 'Had all his
beastly little friends on top of me," said Beetle from behind a jar
of pilchards and a book.

"You ass! Any fool could have told you where Manders would bunk to,"
said McTurk.

"I didn't think," said Beetle, meekly, scooping out pilchards with a
spoon.

"Course you didn't. You never do." McTurk adjusted Beetle's collar
with a savage tug. "Don't drop oil all over my 'Fors' or I'll scrag
you!"

"Shut up, you--you Irish Biddy! 'Tisn't your beastly 'Fors.' It's one
of mine."

The book was a fat, brown-backed volume of the later Sixties, which
King had once thrown at Beetle's head that Beetle might see whence
the name Gigadibs came. Beetle had quietly annexed the book, and had
seen--several things. The quarter-comprehended verses lived and ate
with him, as the bedropped pages showed. He removed himself from all
that world, drifting at large with wondrous Men and Women, till
McTurk hammered the pilchard spoon on his head and he snarled.

"Beetle! You're oppressed and insulted and bullied by King. Don't you
feel it?"

"Let me alone! I can write some more poetry about him if I am, I
suppose."

"Mad! Quite mad!" said Stalky to the visitors, as one exhibiting
strange beasts. "Beetle reads an ass called Brownin', and McTurk
reads an ass called Ruskin; and--"

"Ruskin isn't an ass," said McTurk. "He's almost as good as the Opium
Eater. He says 'we're children of noble races trained by surrounding
art.' That means _me_, and the way I decorated the study when you two
badgers would have stuck up brackets and Christmas cards. Child of a
noble race, trained by surrounding art, stop reading, or I'll shove a
pilchard down your neck!"

"It's two to one," said Stalky, warningly, and Beetle closed the book,
in obedience to the law under which he and his companions had lived
for six checkered years.

The visitors looked on delighted. Number Five study had a reputation
for more variegated insanity than the rest of the school put
together; and so far as its code allowed friendship with outsiders it
was polite and open-hearted to its neighbors on the same landing.

"What rot do you want now?" said Beetle.

"King! War!" said McTurk, jerking his head toward the wall, where hung
a small wooden West-African war-drum, a gift to McTurk from a naval
uncle.

"Then we shall be turned out of the study again," said Beetle, who
loved his flesh-pots. "Mason turned us out for--just warbling on it."
Mason was the mathematical master who had testified in Common-room.

"Warbling?--O Lord!" said Abanazar. "We couldn't hear ourselves speak
in our study when you played the infernal thing. What's the good of
getting turned out of your study, anyhow?"

"We lived in the form-rooms for a week, too," said Beetle, tragically.
"And it was beastly cold."

"Ye-es, but Mason's rooms were filled with rats every day we were out.
It took him a week to draw the inference," said McTurk. "He loathes
rats. 'Minute he let us go back the rats stopped. Mason's a little
shy of us now, but there was no evidence."

"Jolly well there wasn't," said Stalky, "when I got out on the roof
and dropped the beastly things down his chimney. But, look
here--question is, are our characters good enough just now to stand a
study row?"

"Never mind mine," said Beetle. "King swears I haven't any."

"I'm not thinking of you," Stalky returned scornfully. "You aren't
going up for the Army, you old bat. I don't want to be expelled--and
the Head's getting rather shy of us, too."

"Rot!" said McTurk. "The Head never expels except for beastliness or
stealing. But I forgot; you and Stalky _are_ thieves--regular
burglars."

The visitors gasped, but Stalky interpreted the parable with large
grins.

"Well, you know, that little beast Manders minor saw Beetle and me
hammerin' McTurk's trunk open in the dormitory when we took his watch
last month. Of course Manders sneaked to Mason, and Mason solemnly
took it up as a case of theft, to get even with us about the rats."

"That just put Mason into our giddy hands," said McTurk, blandly. "We
were nice to him, because he was a new master and wanted to win the
confidence of the boys. 'Pity he draws inferences, though. Stalky
went to his study and pretended to blub, and told Mason he'd lead a
new life if Mason would let him off this time, but Mason wouldn't.
'Said it was his duty to report him to the Head."

"Vindictive swine!" said Beetle. "It was all those rats! Then _I_
blubbed, too, and Stalky confessed that he'd been a thief in regular
practice for six years, ever since he came to the school; and that
I'd taught him--_a_la_ Fagin. Mason turned white with joy. He thought
he had us on toast."

"Gorgeous! Gorgeous!" said Dick Four. "We never heard of this."

"'Course not. Mason kept it jolly quiet. He wrote down all our
statements on impot-paper. There wasn't anything he wouldn't
believe," said Stalky.

"And handed it all up to the Head, _with_ an extempore prayer. It took
about forty pages," said Beetle. "I helped him a lot."

"And then, you crazy idiots?" said Abanazar.

"Oh, we were sent for; and Stalky asked to have the 'depositions' read
out, and the Head knocked him spinning into a waste-paper basket.
Then he gave us eight cuts apiece--welters--for--for--takin'
unheard-of liberties with a new master. I saw his shoulders shaking
when we went out. Do you know," said Beetle, pensively, "that Mason
can't look at us now in second lesson without blushing? We three stare
at him sometimes till he regularly trickles. He's an awfully
sensitive beast."

"He read 'Eric, or Little by Little,'" said McTurk; "so we gave him
'St. Winifred's, or the World of School.' They spent all their spare
time stealing at St. Winifred's, when they weren't praying or getting
drunk at pubs. Well, that was only a week ago, and the Head's a
little bit shy of us. He called it constructive deviltry. Stalky
invented it all."

"Not the least good having a row with a master unless you can make an
ass of him," said Stalky, extended at ease on the hearth-rug. "If
Mason didn't know Number Five--well, he's learnt, that's all. Now, my
dearly beloved 'earers"--Stalky curled his legs under him and
addressed the company--"we've got that strong', perseverin' man King
on our hands. He went miles out of his way to provoke a conflict."
(Here Stalky snapped down the black silk domino and assumed the air of
a judge.) "He has oppressed Beetle, McTurk, and me,
_privatim_et_seriatim_, one by one, as he could catch us. But now, he
has insulted Number Five up in the music-room, and in the presence of
these--these ossifers of the Ninety-third, wot look like
hairdressers. Binjimin, we must make him cry 'Capivi!'"

Stalky's reading did not include Browning or Ruskin.

"And, besides," said McTurk, "he's a Philistine, a basket-hanger. He
wears a tartan tie. Ruskin says that any man who wears a tartan tie
will, without doubt, be damned everlastingly."

"Bravo, McTurk," said Tertius; "I thought he was only a beast."

"He's that, too, of course, but he's worse. Ho has a china basket with
blue ribbons and a pink kitten on it, hung up in his window to grow
musk in. You know when I got all that old oak carvin' out of Bideford
Church, when they were restoring it (Ruskin says that any man who'll
restore a church is an unmitigated sweep), and stuck it up here with
glue? Well, King came in and wanted to know whether we'd done it with
a fret-saw! Yah! He is the King of basket-hangers!"

Down went McTurk's inky thumb over an imaginary arena full of bleeding
Kings. "_Placete_, child of a generous race!" he cried to Beetle.

"Well," began Beetle, doubtfully, "he comes from Balliol, but I'm
going to give the beast a chance. You see I can always make him hop
with some more poetry. He can't report me to the Head, because it
makes him ridiculous. (Stalky's quite right.) But he shall have his
chance."

Beetle opened the book on the table, ran his finger down a page, and
began at random:

"Or who in Moscow toward the Czar
With the demurest of footfalls,
Over the Kremlin's pavement white
With serpentine and syenite,
Steps with five other generals--"

"That's no good. Try another," said Stalky.

"Hold on a shake; I know what's coming." McTurk was reading over
Beetle's shoulder.

"That simultaneously take snuff,
For each to have pretext enough
And kerchiefwise unfold his sash,
Which--softness' self--is yet the stuff

(Gummy! What a sentence!)

To hold fast where a steel chain snaps
And leave the grand white neck no gash.

(Full stop.)"

"'Don't understand a word of it," said Stalky.

"More fool you! Construe," said McTurk. "Those six bargees scragged
the Czar, and left no evidence. _Actum_est_ with King."

"He gave me that book, too," said Beetle, licking his lips:

"There's a great text in Galatians,
Once you trip on it entails
Twenty-nine distinct damnations,
One sure if another fails."

Then irrelevantly:

"Setebos! Setebos! and Setebos!
Thinketh he liveth in the cold of the moon."

"He's just come in from dinner," said Dick Four, looking through the
window. "Manders minor is with him."

"'Safest place for Manders minor just now," said Beetle.

"Then you chaps had better clear out," said Stalky politely to the
visitors. "'Tisn't fair to mix you up in a study row. Besides, we
can't afford to have evidence."

"Are you going to begin at once?' said Aladdin.

"Immediately, if not sooner," said Stalky, and turned out the gas.
"Strong, perseverin' man--King. Make him cry 'Capivi.' G'way,
Binjimin."

The company retreated to their own neat and spacious study with
expectant souls.

"When Stalky blows out his nostrils like a horse," said Aladdin to the
Emperor of China, "he's on the war-path. 'Wonder what King will get."

"Beans," said the Emperor. "Number Five generally pays in full."

"Wonder if I ought to take any notice of it officially," said
Abanazar, who had just remembered he was a prefect.

"It's none of your business, Pussy. Besides, if you did, we'd have
them hostile to us; and we shouldn't be able to do any work," said
Aladdin. "They've begun already."

Now that West-African war-drum had been made to signal across
estuaries and deltas. Number Five was forbidden to wake the engine
within earshot of the school. But a deep, devastating drone filled
the passages as McTurk and Beetle scientifically rubbed its top. Anon
it changed to the blare of trumpets--of savage pursuing trumpets.
Then, as McTurk slapped one side, smooth with the blood of ancient
sacrifice, the roar broke into short coughing howls such as the
wounded gorilla throws in his native forest. These were followed by
the wrath of King--three steps at a time, up the staircase, with a
dry whir of the gown. Aladdin and company, listening, squeaked with
excitement as the door crashed open. King stumbled into the darkness,
and cursed those performers by the gods of Balliol and quiet repose.

"Turned out for a week," said Aladdin, holding the study door on the
crack. "Key to be brought down to his study in five minutes. 'Brutes!
Barbarians! Savages! Children!' He's rather agitated. 'Arrah, Patsy,
mind the baby,'" he sang in a whisper as he clung to the door-knob,
dancing a noiseless war-dance.

King went down-stairs again, and Beetle and McTurk lit the gas to
confer with Stalky. But Stalky had vanished.

"Looks like no end of a mess," said Beetle, collecting his books and
mathematical instrument case. "A week in the form-rooms isn't any
advantage to us."

"Yes, but don't you see that Stalky isn't here, you owl!" said McTurk.
"Take down the key, and look sorrowful. King'll only jaw you for half
an hour. I'm going to read in the lower form-room."

"But it's always me," mourned Beetle.

"Wait till we see," said McTurk, hopefully. "I don't know any more
than you do what Stalky means, but it's something. Go down and draw
King's fire. You're used to it."

No sooner had the key turned in the door than the lid of the coal-box,
which was also the window-seat, lifted cautiously. It had been a
tight fit, even for the lithe Stalky, his head between his knees, and
his stomach under his right ear. From a drawer in the table he took a
well-worn catapult, a handful of buckshot, and a duplicate key of the
study; noiselessly he raised the window and kneeled by it, his face
turned to the road, the wind-sloped trees, the dark levels of the
Burrows, and the white line of breakers falling nine-deep along the
Pebbleridge. Far down the steep-banked Devonshire lane he heard the
husky hoot of the carrier's horn. There was a ghost of melody in it,
as it might have been the wind in a gin-bottle essaying to sing,
"It's a way we have in the Army."

Stalky smiled a tight-lipped smile, and at extreme range opened fire:
the old horse half wheeled in the shafts.

"Where he gwaine tu?" hiccoughed Rabbits-Eggs. Another buckshot tore
through the rotten canvas tilt with a vicious zipp.

"_Habet_!" murmured Stalky, as Rabbits-Eggs swore into the patient
night, protesting that he saw the "dommed colleger" who was
assaulting him.


"And so," King was saying in a high head voice to Beetle, whom he had
kept to play with before Manders minor, well knowing that it hurts a
Fifth-form boy to be held up to a fag's derision, "and so, Master
Beetle, in spite of all our verses, which we are so proud of, when we
presume to come into direct conflict with even so humble a
representative of authority as myself, for instance, we are turned out
of our studies, are we not?"

"Yes, sir," said Beetle, with a sheepish grin on his lips and murder
in his heart. Hope had nearly left him, but he clung to a
well-established faith that never was Stalky so dangerous as when he
was invisible.

"You are _not_ required to criticise, thank you. Turned out of our
studies, we are, just as if we were no better than little Manders
minor. Only inky schoolboys we are, and must be treated as such."

Beetle pricked up his ears, for Rabbits-Eggs was swearing savagely on
the road, and some of the language entered at the upper sash. King
believed in ventilation. He strode to the window gowned and majestic,
very visible in the gaslight.

"I zee 'un! I zee 'un!" roared Rabbits-Eggs, now that he had found a
visible foe--another shot from the darkness above. "Yiss, yeou, yeou
long-nosed, fower-eyed, gingy-whiskered beggar! Yeu'm tu old for such
goin's on. Aie! Poultice yeour nose, I tall 'ee! Poultice yeour long
nose!"

Beetle's heart leaped up within him. Somewhere, somehow, he knew,
Stalky moved behind these manifestations. There were hope and the
prospect of revenge. He would embody the suggestion about the nose in
deathless verse. King threw up the window, and sternly rebuked
Rabbits-Eggs. But the carrier was beyond fear or fawning. He had
descended from the cart, and was stooping by the roadside.

It all fell swiftly as a dream. Manders minor raised his hand to his
head with a cry, as a jagged flint cannoned on to some rich tree-calf
bindings in the bookshelf. Another quoited along the writing-table.
Beetle made zealous feint to stop it, and in that endeavor overturned
a student's lamp, which dripped, _via_ King's papers and some choice
books, greasily on to a Persian rug. There was much broken glass on
the window-seat; the china basket--McTurk's aversion--cracked to
flinders, had dropped her musk plant and its earth over the red rep
cushions; Manders minor was bleeding profusely from a cut on the
cheek-bone; and King, using strange words, every one of which Beetle
treasured, ran forth to find the school-sergeant, that Rabbits-Eggs
might be instantly cast into jail.

"Poor chap!" said Beetle, with a false, feigned sympathy. "Let it
bleed a little. That'll prevent apoplexy," and he held the blind
head skilfully over the table, and the papers on the table, as he
guided the howling Manders to the door.

Then did Beetle, alone with the wreckage, return good for evil. How,
in that office, a complete set of "Gibbon" was scarred all along the
back as by a flint; how so much black and copying ink came to be
mingled with Manders's gore on the table-cloth; why the big
gum-bottle, unstoppered, had rolled semicircularly across the floor;
and in what manner the white china door-knob grew to be painted with
yet more of Manders's young blood, were matters which Beetle did not
explain when the rabid King returned to find him standing politely
over the reeking hearth-rug.

"You never told me to go, sir," he said, with the air of Casabianca,
and King consigned him to the outer darkness.

But it was to a boot-cupboard under the staircase on the ground floor
that he hastened, to loose the mirth that was destroying him. He had
not drawn breath for a first whoop of triumph when two hands choked
him dumb.

"Go to the dormitory and get me my things. Bring 'em to Number Five
lavatory. I'm still in tights," hissed Stalky, sitting on his head.
"Don't run. Walk."

But Beetle staggered into the form-room next door, and delegated his
duty to the yet unenlightened McTurk, with an hysterical precis of
the campaign thus far. So it was McTurk, of the wooden visage, who
brought the clothes from the dormitory while Beetle panted on a form.
Then the three buried themselves in Number Five lavatory, turned on
all the taps, filled the place with steam, and dropped weeping into
the baths, where they pieced out the war.

"_Moi_! _Je_! _Ich_! _Ego_!" gasped Stalky. "I waited till I couldn't
hear myself think, while you played the drum! Hid in the
coal-locker--and tweaked Rabbits-Eggs--and Rabbits-Eggs rocked King.
Wasn't it beautiful? Did you hear the glass?"

"Why, he--he--he," shrieked McTurk, one trembling finger pointed at
Beetle.

"Why, I--I--I was through it all," Beetle howled; "in his study, being
jawed."

"Oh, my soul!" said Stalky with a yell, disappearing under water.

"The--the glass was nothing. Manders minor's head's cut open.
La--la--lamp upset all over the rug. Blood on the books and papers.
The gum! The gum! The gum! The ink! The ink! The ink! Oh, Lord!"

Then Stalky leaped out, all pink as he was, and shook Beetle into some
sort of coherence; but his tale prostrated them afresh.

"I bunked for the boot-cupboard the second I heard King go
down-stairs. Beetle tumbled in on top of me. The spare key's hid
behind the loose board. There isn't a shadow of evidence," said
Stalky. They were all chanting together.

"And he turned us out himself--himself--himself!" This from McTurk.
"He can't begin to suspect us. Oh, Stalky, it's the loveliest thing
we've ever done."

"Gum! Gum! Dollops of gum!" shouted Beetle, his spectacles gleaming
through a sea of lather. "Ink and blood all mixed. I held the little
beast's head all over the Latin proses for Monday. Golly, how the oil
stunk! And Rabbits-Eggs told King to poultice his nose! Did you hit
Rabbits-Eggs, Stalky?"

"Did I jolly well not.? Tweaked him all over. Did you hear him curse?
Oh, I shall be sick in a minute if I don't stop."

But dressing was a slow process, because McTurk was obliged to dance
when he heard that the musk basket was broken, and, moreover, Beetle
retailed all King's language with emendations and purple insets.

"Shockin'!' said Stalky, collapsing in a helpless welter of
half-hitched trousers. "So dam' bad, too, for innocent boys like us!
Wonder what they'd say at 'St. Winifred's, or the World of
School.'--By gum! That reminds me we owe the Lower Third one for
assaultin' Beetle when he chivied Manders minor. Come on! It's an
alibi, Samivel; and, besides, if we let 'em off they'll be worse next
time."

The Lower Third had set a guard upon their form-room for the space of
a full hour, which to a boy is a lifetime. Now they were busy with
their Saturday evening businesses--cooking sparrows over the gas with
rusty nibs; brewing unholy drinks in gallipots; skinning moles with
pocket-knives; attending to paper trays full of silkworms, or
discussing the iniquities of their elders with a freedom, fluency,
and point that would have amazed their parents. The blow fell without
warning. Stalky upset a form crowded with small boys among their own
cooking utensils, McTurk raided the untidy lockers as a terrier digs
at a rabbit-hole, while Beetle poured ink upon such heads as he could
not appeal to with a Smith's Classical Dictionary. Three brisk
minutes accounted for many silkworms, pet larvae, French exercises,
school caps, half-prepared bones and skulls, and a dozen pots of
home-made sloe jam. It was a great wreckage, and the form-room looked
as though three conflicting tempests had smitten it.

"Phew!" said Stalky, drawing breath outside the door (amid groans of
"Oh, you beastly ca-ads! You think yourselves awful funny," and so
forth). "_That's_ all right. Never let the sun go down upon your
wrath. Rummy little devils, fags. Got no notion o' combinin'."

"Six of 'em sat on my head when I went in after Manders minor," said
Beetle. "I warned 'em what they'd get, though."

"Everybody paid in full--beautiful feelin'," said McTurk absently, as
they strolled along the corridor. "Don't think we'd better say much
about King, though, do you, Stalky?"

"Not _much_. Our line is injured innocence, of course--same as when
the Sergeant reported us on suspicion of smoking in the bunkers. If I
hadn't thought of buyin' the pepper and spillin' it all over our
clothes, he'd have smelt us. King was gha-astly facetious about that.
'Called us bird-stuffers in form for a week."

"Ah, King hates the Natural History Society because little Hartopp is
president. Mustn't do anything in the Coll. without glorifyin'
King," said McTurk. "But he must be a putrid ass, know, to suppose at
our time o' life we'd go and stuff birds like fags."

"Poor old King!" said Beetle. "He's unpopular in Common-room, and
they'll chaff his head off about Rabbits-Eggs. Golly! How lovely! How
beautiful! How holy! But you should have seen his face when the first
rock came in! _And_ the earth from the basket!"

So they were all stricken helpless for five minutes.

They repaired at last to Abanazar's study, and were received
reverently.

"What's the matter?" said Stalky, quick to realize new atmospheres.

"You know jolly well," said Abanazar. "You'll be expelled if you get
caught. King is a gibbering maniac."

"Who? Which? What? Expelled for how? We only played the war-drum.
We've got turned out for that already."

"Do you chaps mean to say you didn't make Rabbits-Eggs drunk and bribe
him to rock King's rooms?"

"Bribe him? No, that I'll swear we didn't," said Stalky, with a
relieved heart, for he loved not to tell lies. "What a low mind
you've got, Pussy! We've been down having a bath. Did Rabbits-Eggs
rock King? Strong, perseverin' man King? Shockin'!"

"Awf'ly. King's frothing at the mouth. There's bell for prayers. Come
on."

"Wait a sec," said Stalky, continuing the conversation in a loud and
cheerful voice, as they descended the stairs. "What did Rabbits-Eggs
rock King for?"

"I know," said Beetle, as they passed King's open door. "I was in his
study."

"Hush, you ass!" hissed the Emperor of China. "Oh, he's gone down to
prayers," said Beetle, watching the shadow of the house-master on the
wall. "Rabbits-Eggs was only a bit drunk, swearin' at his horse, and
King jawed him through the window, and then, of course, he rocked
King."

"Do you mean to say," said Stalky, "that King began it?"

King was behind them, and every well-weighed word went up the
staircase like an arrow. "I can only swear," said Beetle, "that King
cursed like a bargee. Simply disgustin'. I'm goin' to write to my
father about it."

"Better report it to Mason," suggested Stalky. "He knows our tender
consciences. Hold on a shake. I've got to tie my bootlace."

The other study hurried forward. They did not wish to be dragged into
stage asides of this nature. So it was left to McTurk to sum up the
situation beneath the guns of the enemy.

"You see," said the Irishman, hanging on the banister, "he begins by
bullying little chaps; then he bullies the big chaps; then he bullies
some one who isn't connected with the College, and then catches it.
Serves him jolly well right... I beg your pardon, sir. I didn't see
you were coming down the staircase."

The black gown tore past like a thunder-storm, and in its wake, three
abreast, arms linked, the Aladdin company rolled up the big corridor
to prayers, singing with most innocent intention:

"Arrah, Patsy, mind the baby! Arrah, Patsy, mind the child!
Wrap him up in an overcoat, he's surely goin' wild!
Arrah, Patsy, mind the baby; just ye mind the child awhile!
He'll kick an' bite an' cry all night! Arrah, Patsy, mind
the child!"

Rudyard Kipling

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