A Story of the Unforeseen

by Unknown

'It's no good, Baker, the thing we must decide is whether Billy or Pottles will give us the most lines; for we shall get them from one or the other, and that's certain.'

'Bosh! there's another two days yet before we must have the books back, and, at any rate, I know where Billy has put them.'

'What's the good of that? We are not allowed in the school buildings except in work-hours, and then, if his study is not locked, it's because Billy himself is inside it. If you could get him out without locking the door, in the lunch-hour, there would be some use in all your ideas.'

'If I could make him put his head out of the window, that would do quite as well,' said Baker, meditatively. 'The books are on the cupboard just inside the door.'

Paynton laughed. 'It would take an awful uproar in the quad to wake Billy, and if we are creating an uproar, how are we to fetch the books out? It is all your fault. Whatever made you say Billy's window was the window of our class-room?'

'Well, I thought it was.'

'You shouldn't think, you should be sure. If only we'd thrown in anything but the algebra books it would have been all right; but Pottles promised to teach us a lesson next time we came to class without them, and you know what that means.'

'Shut up, Paynton—I've got an idea.'

'I hope it's a better one than throwing books in at wrong windows,' said his friend, and the two boys went along together still arguing busily.

Baker and Paynton were the despair of Mr. Potter, the master of the Lower Fourth, rudely called Pottles behind his back; and even Mr. Wilson, the somewhat absent-minded Head Master, nicknamed Billy by his irreverent scholars, was beginning to wonder whether it would not be better to suggest to the parents to try whether sending them to a fresh school would have any effect on them. It was useless to cane them, it was useless to give them 'lines.' They took their punishment as the natural part of a day's work that was otherwise devoted to 'scoring off' the masters and avoiding the pursuit of knowledge. On this occasion Mr. Wilson had by no means forgotten that he had ordered the two boys to come to his study to claim the books that they had thrown in there by mistake, but he was rather glad that they did not arrive at once, as he wanted to think of some fresh means of impressing them.

The following morning when the upper school began its lunch interval, the lower was being drilled in the 'quad,' round three sides of which ran the school buildings. On the fourth was an iron railing with the big school-gates in the middle, and at one of the windows appeared Baker and Paynton as soon as the bell rang. At the next window Mr. Wilson's back was visible as he wrote at his study table.

'Right, left; right, left!' drilled the sergeant, and the small boys marked time steadily. But his instructions were suddenly cut short, for something charged through the gates behind him and stretched the unfortunate man flat on his back. By the time he had raised himself again to a sitting posture and had begun to wonder what could have happened, he found that the orderly lines had disappeared, and that the whole of the lower school, headed by a rough-looking farm-boy with a piece of broken rope in his hand, was engaged in chasing the most wily and cunning black pig that ever made his escape. He dodged and doubled turned and twisted, charged down the small boys and avoided the large ones, till the whole 'quad' resounded with cries of 'Catch on to his tail!' 'Don't let him pass you!' 'There he goes!' and the windows began to fill with interested spectators. At last Mr. Wilson himself threw open his own window to see what was happening.

A few minutes later Baker and Paynton sauntered into the 'quad' and joined in the chase, which was ended, eventually by the pig being driven into a corner, so as to allow the farm-boy to refasten the rope.

By that time Mr. Wilson had also descended, and was inquiring sternly into the meaning of the pig's presence in his school-yard.

'Well, it's this way,' drawled the boy stolidly, 'it's no use trying to keep this pig shut up, and a pig that isn't shut up puts on no fat, so Farmer Jones says to me on Monday, "Bill, that pig's no good; take him into market on Thursday and see what you can get for him," and just as he was passing your gate he broke his rope and in he bolted.'

'Well, another time see that he breaks his rope somewhere else,' said the Head Master.

'He won't have another chance of breaking ropes with me,' said the boy as he touched his hat and turned away. Then he caught sight of Baker on the outskirts of the crowd.

'Oh, there you be, Master Baker,' he said with a grin;' if so be as you could give me that sixpence now it would save me another walk into town.'

'Why does Master Baker owe you sixpence?' inquired Mr. Wilson with interest.

'Oh! he lives next door to Jones's, he does, and he says to me yesterday when we was talking together, "Bill, if you do a job for me, I'll give you sixpence," and I've done it and I want my money.'

'The job in question being to drive that pig into the school-yard?' said the Head Master sharply.

'I said I'd say nothing about it and I won't,' answered the boy stolidly.

Mr. Wilson eyed Baker with an air of meditation that took in everything from the guilty expression on his face to the algebra book under his arm.

'Give the boy his money, Baker,' he said, 'and I should like to see you and Paynton in the study after afternoon school.'

'You won't catch me following any more of your precious plans,' said Paynton, as, having paid the sixpence, the two boys hurried back to their class-room.

When they entered the Head Master's study in the afternoon, a surprise awaited them. Tea, accompanied by the most delicious cakes, was prepared on the corner table, and Mr. Wilson talked to them and pressed the good things upon them as if there were no such thing as a cane in the cupboard behind the door. Under these strange new circumstances, their awkwardness wore off, and they were soon talking to their Head Master in a manner that surprised themselves.

It was not until tea was over that Mr. Wilson mentioned either the pig or the algebra books, and then he did it in such a friendly way that he astonished them more than ever.

'Well, now, about the pig this morning,' he began, 'suppose you arranged the whole business in order to make me look out of the window, and give you an opportunity of regaining the algebra books which you thought I had forgotten?'

'Yes, sir,' said Baker, feebly.

'And I expect it was something to do with you two boys that the school fire-brigade was summoned out by a false alarm last week, and that no one could go into your class-room without the most frightful attacks of coughing, one day in the week before.'

Baker nodded, but said nothing. He was wondering why he had ever considered the Head Master absent-minded. Even Mr. Potter had not connected him with either of these two exciting events.

'Well, these things all show a very high power of organization. You evidently possess the abilities which, well trained and properly disciplined, would be capable of manoeuvring an army, or at any rate, of carrying their owners to a high rank in the Service.'

The boys stared in astonishment. They had never worried themselves as to the particular nature of their abilities, but the idea of leading armies appealed to them.

'I see that both your names are down for Sandhurst,' went on Mr. Wilson; 'but unless you can get through the classes much faster than you have done as yet, there is not the smallest chance of your being ready for the examination. With really hard work, you might still get into the Army Class at the proper time, and I must leave it to you to decide whether you consider it worth while to do so or not. You can think it over, boys. Good-bye for the present,' and Baker and Paynton found that the dreaded interview with the Head Master was over, and that he had given them a great deal to think about.

The result of their meditations may be summed up in the remark Paynton made to Baker as they went into school next morning.

'I almost wish Billy had caned us,' he said in a regretful voice. 'It will be all right to end up as celebrated generals, but it will be jolly slow in school if we're not going to have any more larks.'