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Ch. 8: The Last Term

It was within a few days of the holidays, the term-end examinations,
and, more important still, the issue of the College paper which
Beetle edited. He had been cajoled into that office by the
blandishments of Stalky and McTurk and the extreme rigor of study
law. Once installed, he discovered, as others have done before him,
that his duty was to do the work while his friends criticized. Stalky
christened it the "Swillingford Patriot," in pious memory of
Sponge--and McTurk compared the output unfavorably with Ruskin and De
Quincey. Only the Head took an interest in the publication, and his
methods were peculiar. He gave Beetle the run of his brown-bound,
tobacco-scented library; prohibiting nothing, recommending nothing.
There Beetle found a fat arm-chair, a silver inkstand, and unlimited
pens and paper. There were scores and scores of ancient dramatists;
there were Hakluyt, his voyages; French translations of Muscovite
authors called Pushkin and Lermontoff; little tales of a heady and
bewildering nature, interspersed with unusual songs--Peacock was that
writer's name; there was Borrow's "Lavengro"; an odd theme, purporting
to be a translation of something, called a "Ruba'iyat," which the
Head said was a poem not yet come to its own; there were hundreds of
volumes of verse---Crashaw; Dryden; Alexander Smith; L. E. L.; Lydia
Sigourney; Fletcher and a purple island; Donne; Marlowe's "Faust ";
and--this made McTurk (to whom Beetle conveyed it) sheer drunk for
three days--Ossian; "The Earthly Paradise"; "Atalanta in Calydon";
and Rossetti--to name only a few. Then the Head, drifting in under
pretense of playing censor to the paper, would read here a verse and
here another of these poets, opening up avenues. And, slow breathing,
with half-shut eyes above his cigar, would he speak of great men
living, and journals, long dead, founded in their riotous youth; of
years when all the planets were little new-lit stars trying to find
their places in the uncaring void, and he, the Head, knew them as
young men know one another. So the regular work went to the dogs,
Beetle being full of other matters and meters, hoarded in secret and
only told to McTurk of an afternoon, on the sands, walking high and
disposedly round the wreck of the Armada galleons, shouting and
declaiming against the long-ridged seas.

Thanks in large part to their house-master's experienced distrust, the
three for three consecutive terms had been passed over for promotion
to the rank of prefect--an office that went by merit, and carried
with it the honor of the ground-ash, and liberty, under restrictions,
to use it.

"_But_," said Stalky, "come to think of it, we've done more giddy
jesting with the Sixth since we've been passed over than any one else
in the last seven years."

He touched his neck proudly. It was encircled by the stiffest of
stick-up collars, which custom decreed could be worn only by the
Sixth. And the Sixth saw those collars and said no word. "Pussy,"
Abanazar, or Dick Four of a year ago would have seen them discarded
in five minutes or... But the Sixth of that term was made up mostly
of young but brilliantly clever boys, pets of the house-masters, too
anxious for their dignity to care to come to open odds with the
resourceful three. So they crammed their caps at the extreme back of
their heads, instead of a trifle over one eye as the Fifth should,
and rejoiced in patent-leather boots on week-days, and marvellous
made-up ties on Sundays--no man rebuking. McTurk was going up for
Cooper's Hill, and Stalky for Sandhurst, in the spring; and the Head
had told them both that, unless they absolutely collapsed during the
holidays, they were safe. As a trainer of colts, the Head seldom
erred in an estimate of form.

He had taken Beetle aside that day and given him much good advice, not
one word of which did Beetle remember when he dashed up to the study,
white with excitement, and poured out the wondrous tale. It demanded
a great belief.

"You begin on a hundred a year?" said McTurk unsympathetically.
"Rot!"

"And my passage out! It's all settled. The Head says he's been
breaking me in for this for ever so long, and I never knew--I never
knew. One don't begin with writing straight off, y'know. Begin by
filling in telegrams and cutting things out o' papers with scissors."

"Oh, Scissors! What an ungodly mess you'll make of it," said Stalky.
"But, anyhow, this will be your last term, too. Seven years, my
dearly beloved 'earers--though not prefects."

"Not half bad years, either," said McTurk. "I shall be sorry to leave
the old Coll.; shan't you?"

They looked out over the sea creaming along the Pebbleridge in the
clear winter light. "Wonder where we shall all be this time next
year?" said Stalky absently.

"This time five years," said McTurk.

"Oh," said Beetle, "my leavin's between ourselves. The Head hasn't
told any one. I know he hasn't, because Prout grunted at me to-day
that if I were more reasonable--yah!--I might be a prefect next
term. I s'ppose he's hard up for his prefects."

"Let's finish up with a row with the Sixth," suggested McTurk.

"Dirty little schoolboys!" said Stalky, who already saw himself a
Sandhurst cadet. "What's the use?"

"Moral effect," quoth McTurk. "Leave an imperishable tradition, and
all the rest of it."

"Better go into Bideford an' pay up our debts," said Stalky. "I've got
three quid out of my father--_ad_hoc_. Don't owe more than thirty
bob, either. Cut along, Beetle, and ask the Head for leave. Say you
want to correct the 'Swillingford Patriot.'"

"Well, I do," said Beetle. "It'll be my last issue, and I'd like it to
look decent. I'll catch him before he goes to his lunch."

Ten minutes later they wheeled out in line, by grace released from
five o'clock call-over, and all the afternoon lay before them. So
also unluckily did King, who never passed without witticisms. But
brigades of Kings could not have ruffled Beetle that day.

"Aha! Enjoying the study of light literature, my friends," said he,
rubbing his hands. "Common mathematics are not for such soaring minds
as yours, are they?"

("One hundred a year," thought Beetle, smiling into vacancy.)

"Our open incompetence takes refuge in the flowery paths of inaccurate
fiction. But a day of reckoning approaches, Beetle mine. I myself
have prepared a few trifling foolish questions in Latin prose which
can hardly be evaded even by your practised acts of deception. Ye-es,
Latin prose. I think, if I may say so--but we shall see when the
papers are set--'Ulpian serves your need.' Aha! '_Elucescebat_, quoth
our friend.' We shall see! We shall see!"

Still no sign from Beetle. He was on a steamer, his passage paid into
the wide and wonderful world--a thousand leagues beyond Lundy Island.

King dropped him with a snarl.

"He doesn't know. He'll go on correctin' exercises an' jawin' an'
showin' off before the little boys next term--and next." Beetle
hurried after his companions up the steep path of the furze-clad hill
behind the College.

They were throwing pebbles on the top of the gasometer, and the grimy
gas-man in change bade them desist. They watched him oil a turncock
sunk in the ground between two furze-bushes.

"Cokey, what's that for?" said Stalky.

"To turn the gas on to the kitchens," said Cokey. "If so be I didn't
turn her on, yeou young gen'lemen 'ud be larnin' your book by
candlelight."

"Um!" said Stalky, and was silent for at least a minute.

"Hullo! Where are you chaps going?" A bend of the lane brought them
face to face with Tulke, senior prefect of King's house--a smallish,
white-haired boy, of the type that must be promoted on account of its
intellect, and ever afterwards appeals to the Head to support its
authority when zeal has outrun discretion.

The three took no sort of notice. They were on lawful pass. Tulke
repeated his question hotly, for he had suffered many slights from
Number Five study, and fancied that he had at last caught them
tripping.

"What the devil is that to you?" Stalky replied with his sweetest
smile.

"Look here, I'm not goin'--I'm not goin' to be sworn at by the Fifth!"
sputtered Tulke.

"Then cut along and call a prefects' meeting," said McTurk, knowing
Tulke's weakness.

The prefect became inarticulate with rage.

"Mustn't yell at the Fifth that way," said Stalky. "It's vile bad
form."

"Cough it up, ducky!" McTurk said calmly.

"I--I want to know what you chaps are doing out of bounds?" This with
an important flourish of his ground-ash.

"Ah," said Stalky. "Now we're gettin' at it. Why didn't you ask that
before?"

"Well, I ask it now. What are you doing?"

"We're admiring you, Tulke," said Stalky. "We think you're no end of a
fine chap, don't we?"

"We do! We do!" A dog-cart with some girls in it swept round the
corner, and Stalky promptly kneeled before Tulke in the attitude of
prayer; so Tulke turned a color.

"I've reason to believe--" he began.

"Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" shouted Beetle, after the manner of Bideford's
town crier, "Tulke has reason to believe! Three cheers for Tulke!"

They were given. "It's all our giddy admiration," said Stalky. "You
know how we love you, Tulke. We love you so much we think you ought
to go home and die. You're too good to live, Tulke."

"Yes," said McTurk. "Do oblige us by dyin'. Think how lovely you'd
look stuffed!"

Tulke swept up the road with an unpleasant glare in his eye.

"That means a prefects' meeting--sure pop," said Stalky. "Honor of the
Sixth involved, and all the rest of it. Tulke'll write notes all this
afternoon, and Carson will call us up after tea. They daren't
overlook that."

"Bet you a bob he follows us!" said McTurk. "He's King's pet, and it's
scalps to both of 'em if we're caught out. We must be virtuous."

"Then I move we go to Mother Yeo's for a last gorge. We owe her about
ten bob, and Mary'll weep sore when she knows we're leaving," said
Beetle.

"She gave me an awful wipe on the head last time--Mary," said Stalky.

"She does if you don't duck," said McTurk. "But she generally kisses
one back. Let's try Mother Yeo."

They sought a little bottle-windowed half dairy, half restaurant, a
dark-brewed, two-hundred-year-old house, at the head of a narrow side
street. They had patronized it from the days of their fagdom, and
were very much friends at home.

"We've come to pay our debts, mother," said Stalky, sliding his arm
round the fifty-six-inch waist of the mistress of the establishment.
"To pay our debts and say good-by--and--and we're awf'ly hungry."

"Aie!" said Mother Yeo, "makkin' love to me! I'm shaamed of 'ee."

"'Rackon us wouldn't du no such thing if Mary was here," said McTurk,
lapsing into the broad North Devon that the boys used on their
campaigns.

"Who'm takin' my name in vain?" The inner door opened, and Mary,
fair-haired, blue-eyed, and apple-checked, entered with a bowl of
cream in her bands. McTurk kissed her. Beetle followed suit, with
exemplary calm. Both boys were promptly cuffed.

"Niver kiss the maid when 'e can kiss the mistress," said Stalky,
shamelessly winking at Mother Yeo, as he investigated a shelf of
jams.

"Glad to see one of 'ee don't want his head slapped no more?" said
Mary invitingly, in that direction.

"Neu! Reckon I can get 'em give me," said Stalky, his back turned.

"Not by me--yeou little masterpiece!"

"Niver asked 'ee. There's maids to Northam. Yiss--an' Appledore." An
unreproducible sniff, half contempt, half reminiscence, rounded the
retort.

"Aie! Yeou won't niver come to no good end. Whutt be 'baout, smellin'
the cream?"

"'Tees bad," said Stalky. "Zmell 'un."

Incautiously Mary did as she was bid.

"Bidevoor kiss."

"Niver amiss," said Stalky, taking it without injury.

"Yeou--yeou--yeou--" Mary began, bubbling with mirth.

"They'm better to Northam--more rich, laike an' us gets them give back
again," he said, while McTurk solemnly waltzed Mother Yeo out of
breath, and Beetle told Mary the sad news, as they sat down to
clotted cream, jam, and hot bread.

"Yiss. Yeou'll niver zee us no more, Mary. We're goin' to be passons
an' missioners."

"Steady the Buffs! "said McTurk, looking through the blind. "Tulke has
followed us. He's comin' up the street now."

"They've niver put us out o' bounds," said Mother Yeo. "Bide yeou
still, my little dearrs." She rolled into the inner room to make the
score.

"Mary," said Stalky, suddenly, with tragic intensity. "Do 'ee lov' me,
Mary?"

"Iss--fai! Talled 'ee zo since yeou was zo high!" the damsel replied.

"Zee 'un comin' up street, then?" Stalky pointed to the unconscious
Tulke. "He've niver been kissed by no sort or manner o' maid in hees
borned laife, Mary. Oh, 'tees shaamful!"

"Whutt's to do with me? 'Twill come to 'un in the way o' nature, I
rackon." She nodded her head sagaciously. "You niver want me to kiss
un--sure-_ly_?"

"Give 'ee half-a-crown if 'ee will," said Stalky, exhibiting the
coin.

Half-a-crown was much to Mary Yeo, and a jest was more; but

Yeu'm afraid," said McTurk, at the psychological moment.

"Aie!" Beetle echoed, knowing her weak point. "There's not a maid to
Northam 'ud think twice. An' yeou such a fine maid, tu!"

McTurk planted one foot firmly against the inner door lest Mother Yeo
should return inopportunely, for Mary's face was set. It was then
that Tulke found his way blocked by a tall daughter of Devon--that
county of easy kisses, the pleasantest under the sun. He dodged aside
politely. She reflected a moment, and laid a vast hand upon his
shoulder.

"Where be 'ee gwaine tu, my dearr?" said she.

Over the handkerchief he had crammed into his mouth Stalky could see
the boy turn scarlet.

"Gie I a kiss! Don't they larn 'ee manners to College?"

Tulke gasped and wheeled. Solemnly and conscientiously Mary kissed him
twice, and the luckless prefect fled.

She stepped into the shop, her eyes full of simple wonder. "Kissed
'un?" said Stalky, handing over the money.

"Iss, fai! But, oh, my little body, he'm no Colleger. 'Zeemed
tu-minded to cry, like."

"Well, we won't. Yell couldn't make us cry that way," said McTurk.
"Try."

Whereupon Mary cuffed them all round.

As they went out with tingling cars, said Stalky generally, "Don't
think there'll be much of a prefects' meeting."

"Won't there, just!" said Beetle. "Look here. If he kissed her--which
is our tack--he is a cynically immoral hog, and his conduct is
blatant indecency. _Confer_orationes_Regis_furiosissimi_, when he
collared me readin' "Don Juan.'"

"'Course he kissed her," said McTurk. "In the middle of the street.
With his house-cap on!"

"Time, 3.57 p.m. Make a note o' that. What d'you mean, Beetle?" said
Stalky.

"Well! He's a truthful little beast. He may say he was kissed."

"And then?"

"Why, then!" Beetle capered at the mere thought of it. "Don't you see?
The corollary to the giddy proposition is that the Sixth can't
protect 'emselves from outrages an' ravishin's. Want nursemaids to
look after 'em! We've only got to whisper that to the Coll. Jam for
the Sixth! Jam for us! Either way it's jammy!"

"By Gum!" said Stalky. "Our last term's endin' well. Now you cut along
an' finish up your old rag, and Turkey and me will help. We'll go in
the back way. No need to bother Randall."

"Don't play the giddy garden-goat, then?" Beetle knew what help meant,
though he was by no means averse to showing his importance before his
allies. The little loft behind Randall's printing office was his own
territory, where he saw himself already controlling the "Times."
Here, under the guidance of the inky apprentice, he had learned to
find his way more or less circuitously about the case, and considered
himself an expert compositor.

The school paper in its locked formes lay on a stone-topped table, a
proof by the side; but not for worlds would Beetle have corrected
from the mere proof. With a mallet and a pair of tweezers, he knocked
out mysterious wedges of wood that released the forme, picked a
letter here and inserted a letter there, reading as he went along and
stopping much to chuckle over his own contributions.

"You won't show off like that," said McTurk, "when you've got to do it
for your living. Upside down and backwards, isn't it? Let's see if I
can read it."

"Get out!" said Beetle. "Go and read those formes in the rack there,
if you think you know so much."

"Formes in a rack! What's that? Don't be so beastly professional."

McTurk drew off with Stalky to prowl about the office. They left
little unturned.

"Come here a shake, Beetle. What's this thing?" aid Stalky, in a few
minutes. "Looks familiar."

Said Beetle, after a glance: "It's King's Latin prose exam. paper.
_In_--_In_Varrem: _actio_prima_. What a lark!"

"Think o' the pure-souled, high-minded boys who'd give their eyes for
a squint at it!" said McTurk.

"No, Willie dear," said Stalky; "that would be wrong and painful to
our kind teachers. You wouldn't crib, Willie, would you?"

"Can't read the beastly stuff, anyhow," was the reply. "Besides, we're
leavin' at the end o' the term, so it makes no difference to us."

"'Member what the Considerate Bloomer did to Spraggon's account of the
Puffin'ton Hounds? We must sugar Mr. King's milk for him," said
Stalky, all lighted from within by a devilish joy. "Let's see what
Beetle can do with those forceps he's so proud of."

"Don't see now you can make Latin prose much more cock-eye than it is,
but we'll try," said Beetle, transposing an _aliud_ and _Asiae_ from
two sentences. "Let's see! We'll put that full-stop a little further
on, and begin the sentence with the next capital. Hurrah! Here's
three lines that can move up all in a lump."

"'One of those scientific rests for which this eminent huntsman is so
justly celebrated.'" Stalky knew the Puffington run by heart.

"Hold on! Here's a _vol_--_voluntate_quidnam_ all by itself," said
McTurk.

"I'll attend to her in a shake. _Quidnam_ goes after _Dolabella_."

"Good old Dolabella," murmured Stalky. "Don't break him. Vile prose
Cicero wrote, didn't he? He ought to be grateful for--"

"Hullo!" said McTurk, over another forme. "What price a giddy ode?
_Qui_--_quis_ --oh, it's _Quis_multa_gracilis_, o' course."

"Bring it along. We've sugared the milk here," said Stalky, after a
few minutes' zealous toil. "Never thrash your hounds unnecessarily."

"_Quis_munditiis_? I swear that's not bad," began Beetle, plying the
tweezers. "Don't that interrogation look pretty?
_Heu_quoties_fidem_! That sounds as if the chap were anxious an'
excited. _Cui_flavam_religas_in_rosa_--Whose flavor is relegated to a
rose. _Mutatosque_Deos_flebit_in_antro."

"Mute gods weepin' in a cave," suggested Stalky. "'Pon my Sam, Horace
needs as much lookin' after as--Tulke."

They edited him faithfully till it was too dark to see.


"'Aha! Elucescebat, quoth our friend.' Ulpian serves my need, does it?
If King can make anything out of _that_, I'm a blue-eyed squatteroo,"
said Beetle, as they slid out of the loft window into a back alley of
old acquaintance and started on a three-mile trot to the College. But
the revision of the classics had detained them too long. They halted,
blown and breathless, in the furze at the back of the gasometer, the
College lights twinkling below, ten minutes at least late for tea and
lock-up.

"It's no good," puffed McTurk. "Bet a bob Foxy is waiting for
defaulters under the lamp by the Fives Court. It's a nuisance, too,
because the Head gave us long leave, and one doesn't like to break
it."

"'Let me now from the bonded ware'ouse of my knowledge,'" began
Stalky.

"Oh, rot! Don't Jorrock. Can we make a run for it?" snapped McTurk.

"'Bishops' boots Mr. Radcliffe also condemned, an' spoke 'ighly in
favor of tops cleaned with champagne an' abricot jam.' Where's that
thing Cokey was twiddlin' this afternoon?"

They heard him groping in the wet, and presently beheld a great
miracle. The lights of the Coastguard cottages near the sea went out;
the brilliantly illuminated windows of the Golf-club disappeared, and
were followed by the frontages of the two hotels. Scattered villas
dulled, twinkled, and vanished. Last of all, the College lights died
also. They were left in the pitchy darkness of a windy winter's
night.

"'Blister my kidneys. It _is_ a frost. The dahlias are dead!'" said
Stalky. "Bunk!"

They squattered through the dripping gorse as the College hummed like
an angry hive and the dining-rooms chorused, "Gas! gas! gas!" till
they came to the edge of the sunk path that divided them from their
study. Dropping that ha-ha like bullets, and rebounding like boys,
they dashed to their study, in less than two minutes had changed into
dry trousers and coat, and, ostentatiously slippered, joined the mob
in the dining-hall, which resembled the storm-centre of a South
American revolution.

"'Hellish dark and smells of cheese.'" Stalky elbowed his way into the
press, howling lustily for gas. "Cokey must have gone for a walk.
Foxy'll have to find him."

Prout, as the nearest house-master, was trying to restore order, for
rude boys were flicking butter-pats across chaos, and McTurk had
turned on the fags' tea-urn, so that many were parboiled and wept
with an unfeigned dolor. The Fourth and Upper Third broke into the
school song, the "Vive la Compagnie," to the accompaniment of
drumming knife-handles; and the junior forms shrilled bat-like shrieks
and raided one another's victuals. Two hundred and fifty boys in high
condition, seeking for more light, are truly earnest inquirers.

When a most vile smell of gas told them that supplies had been
renewed, Stalky, waistcoat unbuttoned, sat gorgedly over what might
have been his fourth cup of tea. "And that's all right," he said.
"Hullo! 'Ere's Pomponius Ego!"

It was Carson, the head of the school, a simple, straight-minded soul,
and a pillar of the First Fifteen, who crossed over from the
prefects' table and in a husky, official voice invited the three to
attend in his study in half an hour. "Prefects' meetin'! Prefects'
meetin'!" hissed the tables, and they imitated barbarically the
actions and effects of the ground-ash.

"How are we goin' to jest with 'em?" said Stalky, turning half-face to
Beetle. "It's your play this time!"

"Look here," was the answer, "all I want you to do is not to laugh.
I'm goin' to take charge o' young Tulke's immorality--_a'_la_ King,
and it's goin' to be serious. If you can't help laughin' don't look
at me, or I'll go pop."

"I see. All right," said Stalky.

McTurk's lank frame stiffened in every muscle and his eyelids dropped
half over his eyes. That last was a war-signal.

The eight or nine seniors, their faces very set and sober, were ranged
in chairs round Carson's severely Philistine study. Tulke was not
popular among them, and a few who had had experience of Stalky and
Company doubted that he might, perhaps, have made an ass of himself.
But the dignity of the Sixth was to be upheld. So Carson began
hurriedly: "Look here, you chaps, I've--we've sent for you to tell
you you're a good deal too cheeky to the Sixth--have been for some
time--and--and we've stood about as much as we're goin' to, and it
seems you've been cursin' and swearin' at Tulke on the Bideford road
this afternoon, and we're goin' to show you you can't do it. That's
all."

"Well, that's awfully good of you," said Stalky, "but we happen to
have a few rights of our own, too. You can't, just because you happen
to be made prefects, haul up seniors and jaw 'em on spec., like a
house-master. We aren't fags, Carson. This kind of thing may do for
Davies Tertius, but it won't do for us."

"It's only old Prout's lunacy that we weren't prefects long ago. You
know that," said McTurk. "You haven't any tact."

"Hold on," said Beetle. "A prefects' meetin' has to be reported to the
Head. I want to know if the Head backs Tulke in this business?"

"Well--well, it isn't exactly a prefects' meeting," said Carson. "We
only called you in to warn you."

"But all the prefects are here," Beetle insisted. "Where's the
difference?"

"My Gum!" said Stalky. "Do you mean to say you've just called us in
for a jaw--after comin' to us before the whole school at tea an'
givin' 'em the impression it was a prefects' meeting? 'Pon my Sam,
Carson, you'll get into trouble, you will."

"Hole-an'-corner business--hole-an'-corner business," said McTurk,
wagging his head. "Beastly suspicious."

The Sixth looked at each other uneasily. Tulke had called three
prefects' meetings in two terms, till the Head had informed the Sixth
that they were expected to maintain discipline without the recurrent
menace of his authority. Now, it seemed that they had made a blunder
at the outset, but any right-minded boy would have sunk the legality
and been properly impressed by the Court. Beetle's protest was
distinct "cheek."

"Well, you chaps deserve a lickin'," cried one Naughten incautiously.
Then was Beetle filled with a noble inspiration.

"For interferin' with Tulke's amours, eh?" Tulke turned a rich sloe
color. "Oh, no, you don't! "Beetle went on. "You've had your innings.
We've been sent up for cursing and swearing at you, and we're goin'
to be let off with a warning! _Are_ we? Now then, you're going to
catch it."

"I--I--I" Tulke began. "Don't let that young devil start jawing."

"If you've anything to say you must say it decently,'' said Carson.

"Decently? I will. Now look here. When we went into Bideford we met
this ornament of the Sixth--is that decent enough?--hanging about on
the road with a nasty look in his eye. We didn't know _then_ why he
was so anxious to stop us, _but_ at five minutes to four, when we
were in Yeo's shop, we saw Tulke in broad daylight, with his
house-cap on, kissin' an' huggin' a woman on the pavement. Is that
decent enough for you?"

"I didn't--I wasn't."

"We saw you!" said Beetle. "And now--I'll be decent, Carson--you sneak
back with her kisses" (not for nothing had Beetle perused the later
poets) "hot on your lips and call prefects' meetings, which aren't
prefects' meetings, to uphold the honor of the Sixth." A new and
heaven-cleft path opened before him that instant. "And how do we
know," he shouted--"how do we know how many of the Sixth are mixed up
in this abominable affair?"

"Yes, that's what we want to know," said McTurk, with simple dignity.

"We meant to come to you about it quietly, Carson, but you would have
the meeting," said Stalky sympathetically.

The Sixth were too taken aback to reply. So, carefully modelling his
rhetoric on King, Beetle followed up the attack, surpassing and
surprising himself, "It--it isn't so much the cynical immorality of
the biznai, as the blatant indecency of it, that's so awful. As far
as we can see, it's impossible for us to go into Bideford without
runnin' up against some prefect's unwholesome amours. There's nothing
to snigger over, Naughten. I don't pretend to know much about these
things--but it seems to me a chap must be pretty far dead in sin"
(that was a quotation from the school chaplain) "when he takes to
embracing his paramours" (that was Hakluyt) "before all the city" (a
reminiscence of Milton). "He might at least have the decency--you're
authorities on decency, I believe--to wait till dark. But he didn't.
You didn't! Oh, Tulke. You--you incontinent little animal!"

"Here, shut up a minute. What's all this about, Tulke?" said Carson.

"I--look here. I'm awfully sorry. I never thought Beetle would take
this line."

"Because--you've--no decency--you--thought--I hadn't," cried Beetle
all in one breath.

"Tried to cover it all up with a conspiracy, did you?" said Stalky.

"Direct insult to all three of us," said McTurk. "A most filthy mind
you have, Tulke."

"I'll shove you fellows outside the door if you go on like this," said
Carson angrily.

"That proves it's a conspiracy," said Stalky, with the air of a virgin
martyr.

"I--I was goin' along the street--I swear I was," cried Tulke,
"and--and I'm awfully sorry about it--a woman came up and kissed me.
I swear I didn't kiss her."

There was a pause, filled by Stalky's long, liquid whistle of
contempt, amazement, and derision.

"On my honor," gulped the persecuted one. "Oh, do stop him jawing."

"Very good," McTurk interjected. "We are compelled, of course, to
accept your statement."

"Confound it!" roared Naughten. "You aren't head-prefect here,
McTurk."

"Oh, well," returned the Irishman, "you know Tulke better than we do.
I am only speaking for ourselves. _We_ accept Tulke's word. But all I
can say is that if I'd been collared in a similarly disgustin'
situation, and had offered the same explanation Tulke has, I--I
wonder what you'd have said. However, it seems on Tulke's word of
honor--"

"And Tulkus--beg pardon--_kiss_, of course---Tulkiss is an honorable
man," put in Stalky.

"--that the Sixth can't protect 'emselves from bein' kissed when they
go for a walk!" cried Beetle, taking up the running with a rush.
"Sweet business, isn't it? Cheerful thing to tell the fags, ain't
it? We aren't prefects, of course, but we aren't kissed very much.
Don't think that sort of thing ever enters our heads; does it,
Stalky?"

"Oh, no!" said Stalky, turning aside to hide his emotions. McTurk's
face merely expressed lofty contempt and a little weariness.

"Well, you seem to know a lot about it," interposed a prefect.

"Can't help it--when you chaps shove it under our noses." Beetle
dropped into a drawling parody of King's most biting colloquial
style--the gentle rain after the thunder-storm. "Well, it's all very
sufficiently vile and disgraceful, isn't it? I don't know who comes
out of it worst: Tulke, who happens to have been caught; or the other
fellows who haven't. And we--" here he wheeled fiercely on the other
two--"we've got to stand up and be jawed by them because we've
disturbed their intrigues."

"Hang it! I only wanted to give you a word of warning," said Carson,
thereby handing himself bound to the enemy.

"Warn? You?" This with the air of one who finds loathsome gifts in his
locker. "Carson, would you be good enough to tell us what
conceivable thing there is that you are entitled to warn us about
after this exposure? Warn? Oh, it's a little too much! Let's go
somewhere where it's clean."

The door banged behind their outraged innocence.

"Oh, Beetle! Beetle! Beetle! Golden Beetle!" sobbed Stalky, hurling
himself on Beetle's panting bosom as soon as they reached the study.
"However did you do it?"

"Dear-r man" said McTurk, embracing Beetle's head with both arms,
while he swayed it to and fro on the neck, in time to this ancient
burden--

"Pretty lips--sweeter than--cherry or plum.
Always look--jolly and--never look glum;
Seem to say--Come away. Kissy!--come, come!
Yummy-yum! Yummy-yum! Yummy-yum-yum!"

"Look out. You'll smash my gig-lamps," puffed Beetle, emerging.
"Wasn't it glorious? Didn't I 'Eric' 'em splendidly? Did you spot my
cribs from King? Oh, blow!" His countenance clouded. "There's one
adjective I didn't use--obscene. Don't know how I forgot that. It's
one of King's pet ones, too."

"Never mind. They'll be sendin' ambassadors round in half a shake to
beg us not to tell the school. It's a deuced serious business for
them," said McTurk. "Poor Sixth--poor old Sixth!"

"Immoral young rips," Stalky snorted. "What an example to pure-souled
boys like you and me!"

And the Sixth in Carson's study sat aghast, glowering at Tulke, who
was on the edge of tears. "Well," said the head-prefect acidly.
"You've made a pretty average ghastly mess of it, Tulke."

"Why--why didn't you lick that young devil Beetle before he began
jawing?" Tulke wailed.

"I knew there'd be a row," said a prefect of Prout's house. "But you
would insist on the meeting, Tulke."

"Yes, and a fat lot of good it's done us," said Naughten. "They come
in here and jaw our heads off when we ought to be jawin' them. Beetle
talks to us as if we were a lot of blackguards and--and all that. And
when they've hung us up to dry, they go out and slam the door like a
house-master. All your fault, Tulke."

"But I didn't kiss her."

"You ass! If you'd said you _had_ and stuck to it, it would have been
ten times better than what you did," Naughten retorted. "Now they'll
tell the whole school--and Beetle'll make up a lot of beastly rhymes
and nick-names."

"But, hang it, she kissed me!" Outside of his work, Tulke's mind moved
slowly.

"I'm not thinking of you. I'm thinking of us. I'll go up to their
study and see if I can make 'em keep quiet!"

"Tulke's awf'ly cut up about this business," Naughten began,
ingratiatingly, when he found Beetle.

"Who's kissed him this time?"

"--and I've come to ask you chaps, and especially you, Beetle, not to
let the thing be known all over the school. Of course, fellows as
senior as you are can easily see why."

"Um!" said Beetle, with the cold reluctance of one who foresees an
unpleasant public duty. "I suppose I must go and talk to the Sixth
again."

"Not the least need, my dear chap, I assure you," said Naughten
hastily. "I'll take any message you care to send."

But the chance of supplying the missing adjective was too tempting. So
Naughten returned to that still undissolved meeting, Beetle, white,
icy, and aloof, at his heels.

"There seems," he began, with laboriously crisp articulation, "there
seems to be a certain amount of uneasiness among you as to the steps
we may think fit to take in regard to this last revelation of
the--ah--obscene. If it is any consolation to you to know that we
have decided--for the honor of the school, you understand--to keep
our mouths shut as to these--ah--obscenities, you--ah--have it."

He wheeled, his head among the stars, and strode statelily back to his
study, where Stalky and McTurk lay side by side upon the table wiping
their tearful eyes--too weak to move.


The Latin prose paper was a success beyond their wildest dreams.
Stalky and McTurk were, of course, out of all examinations (they did
extra-tuition with the Head), but Beetle attended with zeal.

"This, I presume, is a par-ergon on your part," said King, as he dealt
out the papers. "One final exhibition ere you are translated to
loftier spheres?. A last attack on the classics? It seems to confound
you already."

Beetle studied the print with knit brows. "I can't make head or tail
of it," he murmured. "What does it mean?"

"No, no!" said King, with scholastic coquetry. "We depend upon you to
give us the meaning. This is an examination, Beetle mine, not a
guessing-competition. You will find your associates have no
difficulty in--"

Tulke left his place and laid the paper on the desk. King looked,
read, and turned a ghastly green.

"Stalky's missing a heap," thought Beetle. "Wonder hew King'll get out
of it!"

"There seems," King began with a gulp, "a certain modicum of truth in
our Beetle's remark. I am--er--inclined to believe that the worthy
Randall must have dropped this in ferule--if you know what that
means. Beetle, you purport to be an editor. Perhaps you can enlighten
the form as to formes."

"What, sir! Whose form! I don't see that there's any verb in this
sentence at all, an'--an'--the Ode is all different, somehow."

"I was about to say, before you volunteered your criticism, that an
accident must have befallen the paper in type, and that the printer
reset it by the light of nature. No--" he held the thing at arm's
length--"our Randall is not an authority on Cicero or Horace."

"Rather mean to shove it off on Randall," whispered Beetle to his
neighbor. "King must ha' been as screwed as an owl when he wrote it
out."

"But we can amend the error by dictating it."

"No, sir." The answer came pat from a dozen throats at once. "That
cuts the time for the exam. Only two hours allowed, sir. 'Tisn't
fair. It's a printed-paper exam. How're we goin' to be marked for
it! It's all Randall's fault. It isn't our fault, anyhow. An exam.'s
an exam.," etc., etc.

Naturally Mr. King considered this was an attempt to undermine his
authority, and, instead of beginning dictation at once, delivered a
lecture on the spirit in which examinations should be approached. As
the storm subsided, Beetle fanned it afresh.

"Eh? What? What was that you were saying to MacLagan?"

"I only said I thought the papers ought to have been looked at before
they were given out, sir."

"Hear, hear!" from a back bench. Mr. King wished to know whether
Beetle took it upon himself personally to conduct the traditions of
the school. His zeal for knowledge ate up another fifteen minutes,
during which the prefects showed unmistakable signs of boredom.

"Oh, it was a giddy time," said Beetle, afterwards, in dismantled
Number Five. "He gibbered a bit, and I kept him on the gibber, and
then he dictated about a half of Dolabella & Co."

"Good old Dolabella! Friend of mine. Yes?" said Stalky, pensively.

"Then we had to ask him how every other word was spelt, of course, and
he gibbered a lot more. He cursed me and MacLagan (Mac played up like
a trump) and Randall, and the 'materialized ignorance of the
unscholarly middle classes,' 'lust for mere marks,' and all the rest.
It was what you might call a final exhibition--a last attack--a giddy
par-ergon."

"But o' course he was blind squiffy when he wrote the paper. I hope
you explained that?" said Stalky.

"Oh, yes. I told Tulke so. I said an immoral prefect an' a drunken
house-master were legitimate inferences. Tulke nearly blubbed. He's
awfully shy of us since Mary's time."

Tulke preserved that modesty till the last moment--till the
journey-money had been paid, and the boys were filling the brakes
that took them to the station. Then the three tenderly constrained
him to wait a while.

"You see, Tulke, you may be a prefect," said Stalky, "but I've left
the Coll. Do you see, Tulke, dear?"

"Yes, I see. Don't bear malice, Stalky."

"Stalky? Curse your impudence, you young cub," shouted Stalky,
magnificent in top-hat, stiff collar, spats, and high-waisted,
snuff-colored ulster. "I want you to understand that _I'm_ Mister
Corkran, an' you're a dirty little schoolboy."

"Besides bein' frabjously immoral," said McTurk. "Wonder you aren't
ashamed to foist your company on pure-minded boys like us."

"Come on, Tulke,' cried Naughten, from the prefects' brake.

"Yes, we're comin'. Shove up and make room, you Collegers. You've all
got to be back next term, with your 'Yes, sir,' and 'Oh, sir,' an'
'No sir' an' 'Please sir'; but before we say good-by we're going to
tell you a little story. Go on, Dickie" (this to the driver); "we're
quite ready. Kick that hat-box under the seat, an' don't crowd your
Uncle Stalky."

"As nice a lot of high-minded youngsters as you'd wish to see," said
McTurk, gazing round with bland patronage. "A trifle immoral, but
then--boys will be boys. It's no good tryin' to look stuffy, Carson.
_Mister_ Corkran will now oblige with the story of Tulke an' Mary
Yeo!"

Rudyard Kipling

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