The Manoeuvres of Charteris by P. G. Wodehouse
'Might I observe, sir—'
'You may observe whatever you like,' said the referee kindly.
'The rules say—'
'I have given my decision. Twenty-five!' A spot of red appeared
on the official cheek. The referee, who had been heckled since the
kick-off, was beginning to be annoyed.
'The ball went behind without bouncing, and the rules say—'
'Twenty-FIVE!!' shouted the referee. 'I am perfectly well aware what
the rules say.' And he blew his whistle with an air of finality. The
secretary of the Bargees' F.C. subsided reluctantly, and the game was
The Bargees' match was a curious institution. Their real name was the
Old Crockfordians. When, a few years before, the St Austin's secretary
had received a challenge from them, dated from Stapleton, where their
secretary happened to reside, he had argued within himself as follows:
'This sounds all right. Old Crockfordians? Never heard of Crockford.
Probably some large private school somewhere. Anyhow, they're certain
to be decent fellows.' And he arranged the fixture. It then transpired
that Old Crockford was a village, and, from the appearance of the team
on the day of battle, the Old Crockfordians seemed to be composed
exclusively of the riff-raff of same. They wore green shirts with a
bright yellow leopard over the heart, and C.F.C. woven in large letters
about the chest. One or two of the outsides played in caps, and the
team to a man criticized the referee's decisions with point and
pungency. Unluckily, the first year saw a weak team of Austinians
rather badly beaten, with the result that it became a point of honour
to wipe this off the slate before the fixture could be cut out of the
card. The next year was also unlucky. The Bargees managed to score a
penalty goal in the first half, and won on that. The match resulted in
a draw in the following season, and by this time the thing had become
an annual event.
Now, however, the School was getting some of its own back. The Bargees
had brought down a player of some reputation from the North, and were
as strong as ever in the scrum. But St Austin's had a great team, and
were carrying all before them. Charteris and Graham at half had the
ball out to their centres in a way which made Merevale, who looked
after the football of the School, feel that life was worth living. And
when once it was out, things happened rapidly. MacArthur, the captain
of the team, with Thomson as his fellow-centre, and Welch and Bannister
on the wings, did what they liked with the Bargees' three-quarters. All
the School outsides had scored, even the back, who dropped a neat goal.
The player from the North had scarcely touched the ball during the
whole game, and altogether the Bargees were becoming restless and
The kick-off from the twenty-five line which followed upon the small
discussion alluded to above, reached Graham. Under ordinary
circumstances he would have kicked, but in a winning game original
methods often pay. He dodged a furious sportsman in green and yellow,
and went away down the touch-line. He was almost through when he
stumbled. He recovered himself, but too late. Before he could pass,
someone was on him. Graham was not heavy, and his opponent was
muscular. He was swung off his feet, and the next moment the two came
down together, Graham underneath. A sharp pain shot through his
A doctor emerged from the crowd—there is always a doctor in a
crowd—and made an examination.
'Anything bad?' asked the referee.
'Collar-bone,' said the doctor. 'The usual, you know. Rather badly
smashed. Nothing dangerous, of course. Be all right in a month or so.
Stop his playing. Rather a pity. Much longer before half-time?'
'No. I was just going to blow the whistle when this happened.'
The injured warrior was carried off, and the referee blew his whistle
'I say, Charteris,' said MacArthur, 'who the deuce am I to put half
instead of Graham?'
'Rogers used to play half in his childhood, I believe. But, I say, did
you ever see such a scrag? Can't you protest, or something?'
'My dear chap, how can I? It's on our own ground. These Bargee beasts
are visitors, if you come to think of it. I'd like to wring the chap's
neck who did it. I didn't spot who it was. Did you see?'
'Rather. Their secretary. That man with the beard. I'll get Prescott to
mark him this half.'
Prescott was the hardest tackler in the School. He accepted the
commission cheerfully, and promised to do his best by the bearded one.
Charteris certainly gave him every opportunity. When he threw the ball
out of touch, he threw it neatly to the criminal with the beard, and
Prescott, who stuck to him closer than a brother, had generally tackled
him before he knew what had happened. After a time he began to grow
thoughtful, and when there was a line-out went and stood among the
three-quarters. In this way much of Charteris's righteous retribution
miscarried, but once or twice he had the pleasure and privilege of
putting in a piece of tackling on his own account. The match ended with
the enemy still intact, but considerably shaken. He was also rather
annoyed. He spoke to Charteris on the subject as they were leaving the
'I was watching you,' he said, apropos of nothing apparently.
'That must have been nice for you,' said Charteris.
'Certainly. Any time you're passing, I'm sure—'
'You ain't 'eard the last of me yet.'
'That's something of a blow,' said Charteris cheerfully, and they
Charteris, having got into his blazer, ran after Welch and MacArthur,
and walked back with them to the House. All three of them were at
'Poor old Tony,' said MacArthur. 'Where have they taken him to? The
'Yes,' said Welch. 'I say, Babe, you ought to scratch this match next
year. Tell 'em the card's full up or something.'
'Oh, I don't know. One expects fairly rough play in this sort of game.
After all, we tackle pretty hard ourselves. I know I always try and go
my hardest. If the man happens to be brittle, that's his lookout,'
concluded the bloodthirsty Babe.
'My dear man,' said Charteris, 'there's all the difference between a
decent tackle and a bally scrag like the one that doubled Tony up. You
can't break a chap's collar-bone without trying to.'
'Well, if you come to think of it, I suppose the man must have been
fairly riled. You can't expect a man to be in an angelic temper when
his side's been licked by thirty points.'
The Babe was one of those thoroughly excellent persons who always try,
when possible, to make allowances for everybody.
'Well, dash it,' said Charteris indignantly, 'if he had lost his hair
he might have drawn the line at falling on Tony like that. It wasn't
the tackling part of it that crocked him. The beast simply jumped on
him like a Hooligan. Anyhow, I made him sit up a bit before we
finished. I gave Prescott the tip to mark him out of touch. Have you
ever been collared by Prescott? It's a liberal education. Now, there
you are, you see. Take Prescott. He's never crocked a man seriously in
his life. I don't count being winded. That's absolutely an accident.
Well, there you are, then. Prescott weighs thirteen-ten, and he's all
muscle, and he goes like a battering-ram. You'll own that. He goes as
hard as he jolly well knows how, and yet the worst he has ever done is
to lay a man out for a couple of minutes while he gets his wind back.
Well, compare him with this Bargee man. The Bargee weighs a stone less
and isn't nearly as strong, and yet he smashes Tony's collar-bone. It's
all very well, Babe, but you can't get away from it. Prescott tackles
fairly and the Bargee scrags.'
'Yes,' said MacArthur, 'I suppose you're right.'
'Rather,' said Charteris. 'I wish I'd broken his neck.'
'By the way,' said Welch, 'you were talking to him after the match.
What was he saying?'
'By Jove, I'd forgotten; he said I hadn't heard the last of him, and
that I was to wait.'
'What did you say?'
'Oh, I behaved beautifully. I asked him to be sure and look in any time
he was passing, and after a few chatty remarks we parted.'
'I wonder if he meant anything.'
'I believe he means to waylay me with a buckled belt. I shan't stir out
except with the Old Man or some other competent bodyguard. "'Orrible
outrage, shocking death of a St Austin's schoolboy." It would look
rather well on the posters.'
Welch stuck strenuously to the point.
'No, but, look here, Charteris,' he said seriously, 'I'm not rotting.
You see, the man lives in Stapleton, and if he knows anything of School
'Which he doesn't probably. Why should he? Well?'—'If he knows
anything of the rules, he'll know that Stapleton's out of bounds, and
he may book you there and run you in to Merevale.'
'Yes,' said MacArthur. 'I tell you what, you'd do well to knock off a
few of your expeditions to Stapleton. You know you wouldn't go there
once a month if it wasn't out of bounds. You'll be a prefect next term.
I should wait till then, if I were you.'
'My dear chap, what does it matter? The worst that can happen to you
for breaking bounds is a couple of hundred lines, and I've got a
capital of four hundred already in stock. Besides, things would be so
slow if you always kept in bounds. I always feel like a cross between
Dick Turpin and Machiavelli when I go to Stapleton. It's an awfully
jolly feeling. Like warm treacle running down your back. It's cheap at
two hundred lines.'
'You're an awful fool,' said Welch, rudely but correctly.
Welch was a youth who treated the affairs of other people rather too
seriously. He worried over them. This is not a particularly common
trait in the character of either boy or man, but Welch had it highly
developed. He could not probably have explained exactly why he was
worried, but he undoubtedly was. Welch had a very grave and serious
mind. He shared a study with Charteris—for Charteris, though not yet a
School-prefect, was part owner of a study—and close observation had
convinced him that the latter was not responsible for his actions, and
that he wanted somebody to look after him. He had therefore elected
himself to the post of a species of modified and unofficial guardian
angel to him. The duties were heavy, and the remuneration exceedingly
'Really, you know,' said MacArthur, 'I don't see what the point of all
your lunacy is. I don't know if you're aware of it, but the Old Man's
getting jolly sick with you.'
'I didn't know,' said Charteris, 'but I'm very glad to hear it. For
hist! I have a ger-rudge against the person. Beneath my ban that mystic
man shall suffer, coute que coute, Matilda. He sat upon
me—publicly, and the resultant blot on my scutcheon can only be wiped
out with blood, or broken rules,' he added.
This was true. To listen to Charteris on the subject, one might have
thought that he considered the matter rather amusing than otherwise.
This, however, was simply due to the fact that he treated everything
flippantly in conversation. But, like the parrot, he thought the more.
The actual casus belli had been trivial. At least the mere
spectator would have considered it trivial. It had happened after this
fashion. Charteris was a member of the School corps. The orderly-room
of the School corps was in the junior part of the School buildings.
Charteris had been to replace his rifle in that shrine of Mars after a
mid-day drill, and on coming out into the passage had found himself in
the middle of a junior school 'rag' of the conventional type.
Somebody's cap had fallen off, and two hastily picked teams were
playing football with it (Association rules). Now, Charteris was not a
prefect (that, it may be observed in passing, was another source of
bitterness in him towards the Powers, for he was fairly high up in the
Sixth, and others of his set, Welch, Thomson, and Tony Graham, who were
also in the Sixth—the two last below him in form order—had already
received their prefects' caps). Not being a prefect, it would have been
officious in him to have stopped the game. So he was passing on with
what Mr Hurry Bungsho Jabberjee, B.A., would have termed a beaming
simper of indescribable suavity, when a member of one of the opposing
teams, in effecting a G. O. Smithian dribble, cannoned into him. To
preserve his balance—this will probably seem a very thin line of
defence, but 'I state but the facts'—he grabbed at the disciple of
Smith amidst applause, and at that precise moment a new actor appeared
on the scene—the Headmaster. Now, of all the things that lay in his
province, the Headmaster most disliked to see a senior 'ragging' with a
junior. He had a great idea of the dignity of the senior school, and
did all that in him lay to see that it was kept up. The greater number
of the juniors with whom the senior was found ragging, the more heinous
the offence. Circumstantial evidence was dead against Charteris. To all
outward appearances he was one of the players in the impromptu football
match. The soft and fascinating beams of the simper, to quote Mr
Jabberjee once more, had not yet faded from the act. A well-chosen word
or two from the Headmagisterial lips put a premature end to the
football match, and Charteris was proceeding on his way when the
Headmaster called him. He stopped. The Headmaster was angry. So angry,
indeed, that he did what in a more lucid interval he would not have
done. He hauled a senior over the coals in the hearing of a number of
juniors, one of whom (unidentified) giggled loudly. As Charteris had on
previous occasions observed, the Old Man, when he did start to take a
person's measure, didn't leave out much. The address was not long, but
it covered a great deal of ground. The section of it which chiefly
rankled in Charteris's mind, and which had continued to rankle ever
since, was that in which the use of the word 'buffoon' had occurred.
Everybody who has a gift of humour and (very naturally) enjoys
exercising it, hates to be called a buffoon. It was Charteris's one
weak spot. Every other abusive epithet in the language slid off him
without penetrating or causing him the least discomfort. The word
'buffoon' went home, right up to the hilt. And, to borrow from Mr
Jabberjee for positively the very last time, he had observed
(mentally): 'Henceforward I will perpetrate heaps of the lowest dregs
of vice.' He had, in fact, started a perfect bout of breaking rules,
simply because they were rules. The injustice of the thing rankled. No
one so dislikes being punished unjustly as the person who might have
been punished justly on scores of previous occasions, if he had only
been found out. To a certain extent, Charteris ran amok. He broke
bounds and did little work, and—he was beginning gradually to find
this out—got thoroughly tired of it all. Offended dignity, however,
still kept him at it, and much as he would have preferred to have
resumed a less feverish type of existence, he did not do so.
'I have a ger-rudge against the man,' he said.
'You are an idiot, really,' said Welch.
'Welch,' said Charteris, by way of explanation to MacArthur, 'is a lad
of coarse fibre. He doesn't understand the finer feelings. He can't see
that I am doing this simply for the Old Man's good. Spare the rod,
spile the choild. Let's go and have a look at Tony when we're changed.
He'll be in the sick-room if he's anywhere.'
'All right,' said the Babe, as he went into his study. 'Buck up. I'll
toss you for first bath in a second.'
Charteris walked on with Welch to their sanctum.
'You know,' said Welch seriously, stooping to unlace his boots,
'rotting apart, you really are a most awful ass. I wish I could get you
to see it.'
'Never you mind, ducky,' said Charteris, 'I'm all right. I'll look
It was about a week after the Bargees' match that the rules respecting
bounds were made stricter, much to the popular indignation. The penalty
for visiting Stapleton without leave was increased from two hundred
lines to two extra lessons. The venomous characteristic of extra lesson
was that it cut into one's football, for the criminal was turned into a
form-room from two till four on half-holidays, and so had to scratch
all athletic engagements for the day, unless he chose to go for a
solitary run afterwards. In the cricket term the effect of this was not
so deadly. It was just possible that you might get an innings somewhere
after four o'clock, even if only at the nets. But during the football
season—it was now February—to be in extra lesson meant a total loss
of everything that makes life endurable, and the School protested (to
one another, in the privacy of their studies) with no uncertain voice
against this barbarous innovation.
The reason for the change had been simple. At the corner of the High
Street at Stapleton was a tobacconist's shop, and Mr Prater, strolling
in one evening to renew his stock of Pioneer, was interested to observe
P. St H. Harrison, of Merevale's, purchasing a consignment of 'Girl of
my Heart' cigarettes (at twopence-halfpenny the packet of twenty,
including a coloured picture of Lord Kitchener). Now, Mr Prater was one
of the most sportsmanlike of masters. If he had merely met Harrison out
of bounds, and it had been possible to have overlooked him, he would
have done so. But such a proceeding in the interior of a small shop was
impossible. There was nothing to palliate the crime. The tobacconist
also kept the wolf from the door, and lured the juvenile population of
the neighbourhood to it, by selling various weird brands of sweets, but
it was only too obvious that Harrison was not after these. Guilt was in
his eye, and the packet of cigarettes in his hand. Also Harrison's
House cap was fixed firmly at the back of his head. Mr Prater finished
buying his Pioneer, and went out without a word. That night it was
announced to Harrison that the Headmaster wished to see him. The
Headmaster saw him, though for a certain period of the interview he did
not see the Headmaster, having turned his back on him by request. On
the following day Stapleton was placed doubly out of bounds.
Tony, who was still in bed, had not heard the news when Charteris came
to see him on the evening of the day on which the edict had gone forth.
'How are you getting on?' asked Charteris.
'Oh, fairly well. It's rather slow.'
'The grub seems all right.' Charteris absently reached out for a slice
'And you don't have to do any work.'
'Well, then, it seems to me you're having a jolly good time. What don't
you like about it?'
'It's so slow, being alone all day.'
'Makes you appreciate intellectual conversation all the more when you
get it. Mine, for instance.'
'I want something to read.'
'I'll bring you a Sidgwick's Greek Prose Composition, if you
like. Full of racy stories.'
'I've read 'em, thanks.'
'How about Jebb's Homer? You'd like that. Awfully interesting.
Proves that there never was such a man as Homer, you know, and that the
Iliad and the Odyssey were produced by evolution. General
style, quietly funny. Make you roar.'
'Don't be an idiot. I'm simply starving for something to read. Haven't
you got anything?'
'You've read all mine.'
'Hasn't Welch got any books?'
'Not one. He bags mine when he wants to read. I'll tell you what I will
do if you like.'
'Go into Stapleton, and borrow something from Adamson.' Adamson was the
'By Jove, that's not a bad idea.'
'It's a dashed good idea, which wouldn't have occurred to anybody but a
genius. I've been quite a pal of Adamson's ever since I had the flu. I
go to tea with him occasionally, and we talk medical shop. Have you
ever tried talking medical shop during tea? Nothing like it for giving
you an appetite.'
'Has he got anything readable?'
'Rather. Have you ever tried anything of James Payn's?'
'I've read Terminations, or something,' said Tony doubtfully,
'but he's so obscure.'
'Don't,' said Charteris sadly, 'please don't. Terminations is by
one Henry James, and there is a substantial difference between him and
James Payn. Anyhow, if you want a short biography of James Payn, he
wrote a hundred books, and they're all simply ripping, and Adamson has
got a good many of them, and I'm hoping to borrow a couple—any two
will do—and you're going to read them. I know one always bars a book
that's recommended to one, but you've got no choice. You're not going
to get anything else till you've finished those two.'
'All right,' said Tony. 'But Stapleton's out of bounds. I suppose
Merevale'll give you leave to go in.'
'He won't,' said Charteris. 'I shan't ask him. On principle. So long.'
On the following afternoon Charteris went into Stapleton. The distance
by road was almost exactly one mile. If you went by the fields it was
longer, because you probably lost your way.
Dr Adamson's house was in the High Street. Charteris knocked at the
door. The servant was sorry, but the doctor was out. Her tone seemed to
suggest that, if she had had any say in the matter, he would have
remained in. Would Charteris come in and wait? Charteris rather thought
he would. He waited for half an hour, and then, as the absent medico
did not appear to be coming, took two books from the shelf, wrote a
succinct note explaining what he had done, and why he had done it,
hoping the doctor would not mind, and went out with his literary
trophies into the High Street again.
The time was now close on five o'clock. Lock-up was not till a quarter
past six—six o'clock nominally, but the doors were always left open
till a quarter past. It would take him about fifteen minutes to get
back, less if he trotted. Obviously, the thing to do here was to spend
a thoughtful quarter of an hour or so inspecting the sights of the
town. These were ordinarily not numerous, but this particular day
happened to be market day, and there was a good deal going on. The High
Street was full of farmers, cows, and other animals, the majority of
the former well on the road to intoxication. It is, of course,
extremely painful to see a man in such a condition, but when such a
person is endeavouring to count a perpetually moving drove of pigs, the
onlooker's pain is sensibly diminished. Charteris strolled along the
High Street observing these and other phenomena with an attentive eye.
Opposite the Town Hall he was button-holed by a perfect stranger, whom,
by his conversation, he soon recognized as the Stapleton 'character'.
There is a 'character' in every small country town. He is not a bad
character; still less is he a good character. He is just a 'character'
pure and simple. This particular man—or rather, this man, for he was
anything but particular—apparently took a great fancy to Charteris at
first sight. He backed him gently against a wall, and insisted on
telling him an interminable anecdote of his shady past, when, it
seemed, he had been a 'super' in some travelling company. The plot of
the story, as far as Charteris could follow it, dealt with a theatrical
tour in Dublin, where some person or persons unknown had, with malice
prepense, scattered several pounds of snuff on the stage previous to a
performance of Hamlet; and, according to the 'character', when
the ghost of Hamlet's father sneezed steadily throughout his great
scene, there was not a dry eye in the house. The 'character' had
concluded that anecdote, and was half-way through another, when
Charteris, looking at his watch, found that it was almost six o'clock.
He interrupted one of the 'character's' periods by diving past him and
moving rapidly down the street. The historian did not seem to object.
Charteris looked round and saw that he had button-holed a fresh victim.
He was still gazing in one direction and walking in another, when he
ran into somebody.
'Sorry,' said Charteris hastily. 'Hullo!'
It was the secretary of the Old Crockfordians, and, to judge from the
scowl on that gentleman's face, the recognition was mutual.
'It's you, is it?' said the secretary in his polished way.
'I believe so,' said Charteris.
'Out of bounds,' observed the man.
Charteris was surprised. This grasp of technical lore on the part of a
total outsider was as unexpected as it was gratifying.
'What do you know about bounds?' said Charteris.
'I know you ain't allowed to come 'ere, and you'll get it 'ot from your
master for coming.'
'Ah, but he won't know. I shan't tell him, and I'm sure you will
respect my secret.'
Charteris smiled in a winning manner.
'Ho!' said the man, 'Ho indeed!'
There is something very clinching about the word 'Ho'. It seems
definitely to apply the closure to any argument. At least, I have never
yet met anyone who could tell me the suitable repartee.
'Well,' said Charteris affably, 'don't let me keep you. I must be going
'Ho!' observed the man once more. 'Ho indeed!'
'That's a wonderfully shrewd remark,' said Charteris. 'I can see that,
but I wish you'd tell me exactly what it means.'
'You're out of bounds.'
'Your mind seems to run in a groove. You can't get off that bounds
business. How do you know Stapleton's out of bounds?'
'I have made enquiries,' said the man darkly.
'By Jove,' said Charteris delightedly, 'this is splendid. You're a
regular sleuth-hound. I dare say you've found out my name and House
'I may 'ave,' said the man, 'or I may not 'ave.'
'Well, now you mention it, I suppose one of the two contingencies is
probable. Well, I'm awfully glad to have met you. Good-bye. I must be
'You're goin' with me.'
'Arm in arm?'
'I don't want to 'ave to take you.'
'No,' said Charteris, 'I should jolly well advise you not to try. This
is my way.'
He walked on till he came to the road that led to St Austin's. The
secretary of the Old Crockfordians stalked beside him with determined
'Now,' said Charteris, when they were on the road, 'you mustn't mind if
I walk rather fast. I'm in a hurry.'
Charteris's idea of walking rather fast was to dash off down the road
at quarter-mile pace. The move took the man by surprise, but, after a
moment, he followed with much panting. It was evident that he was not
in training. Charteris began to feel that the walk home might be
amusing in its way. After they had raced some three hundred yards he
slowed down to a walk again. It was at this point that his companion
evinced a desire to do the rest of the journey with a hand on the
collar of his coat.
'If you touch me,' observed Charteris with a surprising knowledge of
legal minutiae, 'it'll be a technical assault, and you'll get
run in; and you'll get beans anyway if you try it on.'
The man reconsidered matters, and elected not to try it on.
Half a mile from the College Charteris began to walk rather fast again.
He was a good half-miler, and his companion was bad at every distance.
After a game struggle he dropped to the rear, and finished a hundred
yards behind in considerable straits. Charteris shot in at Merevale's
door with five minutes to spare, and went up to his study to worry
Welch by telling him about it.
'Welch, you remember the Bargee who scragged Tony? Well, there have
been all sorts of fresh developments. He's just been pacing me all the
way from Stapleton.'
'Stapleton! Have you been to Stapleton? Did Merevale give you leave?'
'No. I didn't ask him.'
'You are an idiot. And now this Bargee man will go straight to
the Old Man and run you in. I wonder you didn't think of that.'
'Curious I didn't.'
'I suppose he saw you come in here?'
'Rather. He couldn't have had a better view if he'd paid for a seat.
Half a second; I must just run up with these volumes to Tony.'
When he came back he found Welch more serious than ever.
'I told you so,' said Welch. 'You're to go to the Old Man at once. He's
just sent over for you. I say, look here, if it's only lines I don't
mind doing some of them, if you like.'
Charteris was quite touched by this sporting offer.
'It's awfully good of you,' he said, 'but it doesn't matter, really. I
shall be all right.'
Ten minutes later he returned, beaming.
'Well,' said Welch, 'what's he given you?'
'Only his love, to give to you. It was this way. He first asked me if I
wasn't perfectly aware that Stapleton was out of bounds. "Sir," says I,
"I've known it from childhood's earliest hour." "Ah," says he to me,
"did Mr Merevale give you leave to go in this afternoon?" "No," says I,
"I never consulted the gent you mention."'
'Then he ragged me for ten minutes, and finally told me I must go into
extra the next two Saturdays.'
'I thought so.'
'Ah, but mark the sequel. When he had finished, I said that I was sorry
I had mistaken the rules, but I had thought that a chap was allowed to
go into Stapleton if he got leave from a master. "But you said that Mr
Merevale did not give you leave," said he. "Friend of my youth," I
replied courteously, "you are perfectly correct. As always. Mr Merevale
did not give me leave, but," I added suavely, "Mr Dacre did." And I
came away, chanting hymns of triumph in a mellow baritone, and leaving
him in a dead faint on the sofa. And the Bargee, who was present during
the conflict, swiftly and silently vanished away, his morale
considerably shattered. And that, my gentle Welch,' concluded Charteris
cheerfully, 'put me one up. So pass the biscuits, and let us rejoice if
we never rejoice again.'
The Easter term was nearing its end. Football, with the exception of
the final House-match, which had still to come off, was over, and life
was in consequence a trifle less exhilarating than it might have been.
In some ways the last few weeks before the Easter holidays are quite
pleasant. You can put on running shorts and a blazer and potter about
the grounds, feeling strong and athletic, and delude yourself into the
notion that you are training for the sports. Ten minutes at the broad
jump, five with the weight, a few sprints on the track—it is all very
amusing and harmless, but it is apt to become monotonous after a time.
And if the weather is at all inclined to be chilly, such an occupation
Charteris found things particularly dull. He was a fair average runner,
but there were others far better at every distance, so that he saw no
use in mortifying the flesh with strict training. On the other hand, in
view of the fact that the final House-match had yet to be played, and
that Merevale's was one of the two teams that were going to play it, it
behoved him to keep himself at least moderately fit. The genial muffin
and the cheery crumpet were still things to be avoided. He thus found
himself in a position where, apparently, the few things which it was
possible for him to do were barred, and the net result was that he felt
To make matters worse, all the rest of his set were working full time
at their various employments, and had no leisure for amusing him. Welch
practised hundred-yard sprints daily, and imagined that it would be
quite a treat for Charteris to be allowed to time him. So he gave him
the stopwatch, saw him safely to the end of the track, and at a given
signal dashed off in the approved American style. By the time he
reached the tape, dutifully held by two sporting Merevalian juniors,
Charteris's attention had generally been attracted elsewhere. 'What
time?' Welch would pant. 'By Jove,' Charteris would observe blandly, 'I
forgot to look. About a minute and a quarter, I fancy.' At which Welch,
who always had a notion that he had done it in ten and a fifth
that time, at any rate, would dissemble his joy, and mildly
suggest that somebody else should hold the watch. Then there was Jim
Thomson, generally a perfect mine of elevating conversation. He was in
for the mile and also the half, and refused to talk about anything
except those distances, and the best methods for running them in the
minimum of time. Charteris began to feel a blue melancholy stealing
over him. The Babe, again. He might have helped to while away the long
hours, but unfortunately the Babe had been taken very bad with a notion
that he was going to win the 'cross-country run, and when, in addition
to this, he was seized with a panic with regard to the prospects of the
House team in the final, and began to throw out hints concerning strict
training, Charteris regarded him as a person to be avoided. If he fled
to the Babe for sympathy now, the Babe would be just as likely as not
to suggest that he should come for a ten-mile spin with him, to get him
into condition for the final Houser. The very thought of a ten-mile
spin made Charteris feel faint. Lastly, there was Tony. But Tony's
company was worse than none at all. He went about with his arm in a
sling, and declined to be comforted. But for his injury, he would by
now have been training hard for the Aldershot Boxing Competition, and
the fact that he was now definitely out of it had a very depressing
effect upon him. He lounged moodily about the gymnasium, watching
Menzies, who was to take his place, sparring with the instructor, and
refused consolation. Altogether, Charteris found life a distinct bore.
He was reduced to such straits for amusement, that one Wednesday
afternoon, finding himself with nothing else to do, he was working at a
burlesque and remarkably scurrilous article on 'The Staff, by one who
has suffered', which he was going to insert in The Glow Worm, an
unofficial periodical which he had started for the amusement of the
School and his own and his contributors' profit. He was just warming to
his work, and beginning to enjoy himself, when the door opened without
a preliminary knock. Charteris deftly slid a piece of blotting-paper
over his MS., for Merevale occasionally entered a study in this manner.
And though there was nothing about Merevale himself in the article, it
would be better perhaps, thought Charteris, if he did not see it. But
it was not Merevale. It was somebody far worse. The Babe.
The Babe was clothed as to his body in football clothes, and as to
face, in a look of holy enthusiasm. Charteris knew what that look
meant. It meant that the Babe was going to try and drag him out for a
'Go away, Babe,' he said, 'I'm busy.'
'Why on earth are you slacking in here on this ripping afternoon?'
'Slacking!' said Charteris. 'I like that. I'm doing berrain work, Babe.
I'm writing an article on masters and their customs, which will cause a
profound sensation in the Common Room. At least it would, if they ever
saw it, but they won't. Or I hope they won't for their sake and
mine. So run away, my precious Babe, and don't disturb your uncle when
'Rot,' said the Babe firmly, 'you haven't taken any exercise for a
Charteris replied proudly that he had wound up his watch only last
night. The Babe refused to accept the remark as relevant to the matter
'Look here, Alderman,' he said, sitting down on the table, and gazing
sternly at his victim, 'it's all very well, you know, but the final
comes on in a few days, and you know you aren't in any too good
'I am,' said Charteris, 'I'm as fit as a prize fighter. Simply full of
beans. Feel my ribs.'
The Babe declined the offer.
'No, but I say,' he said plaintively, 'I wish you'd treat it seriously.
It's getting jolly serious, really. If Dacre's win that cup again this
year, that'll make four years running.'
'Not so,' said Charteris, like the mariner of
infinite-resource-and-sagacity; 'not so, but far otherwise. It'll only
'Well, three's bad enough.'
'True, oh king, three is quite bad enough.'
'Well, then, there you are. Now you see.'
Charteris looked puzzled.
'Would you mind explaining that remark?' he said. 'Slowly.'
But the Babe had got off the table, and was prowling round the room,
opening cupboards and boxes.
'What are you playing at?' enquired Charteris.
'Where do you keep your footer things?'
'What do you want with my footer things, if you don't mind my asking?'
'I'm going to help you put them on, and then you're coming for a run.'
'Ah,' said Charteris.
'Yes. Just a gentle spin to keep you in training. Hullo, this looks
He plunged both hands into a box near the window and flung out a mass
of football clothes. It reminded Charteris of a terrier digging at a
'Don't, Babe. Treat 'em tenderly. You'll be spoiling the crease in
those bags if you heave 'em about like that. I'm very particular about
how I look on the football field. I was always taught to dress
myself like a little gentleman, so to speak. Well, now you've seen
them, put 'em away.'
'Put 'em on,' said the Babe firmly.
'You are a beast, Babe. I don't want to go for a run. I'm getting too
old for violent exercise.'
'Buck up,' said the Babe. 'We mustn't chuck any chances away. Now that
Tony can't play, we shall have to do all we know if we want to win.'
'I don't see what need there is to get nervous about it. Considering
we've got three of the First three-quarter line, and the Second Fifteen
back, we ought to do pretty well.'
'But look at Dacre's scrum. There's Prescott, to start with. He's worth
any two of our men put together. Then they've got Carter, Smith, and
Hemming out of the first, and Reeve-Jones out of the second. And their
outsides aren't so very bad, if you come to think of it. Bannister's in
the first, and the other three-quarters are all good. And they've got
both the second halves. You'll have practically to look after both of
them now that Tony's crocked. And Baddeley has come on a lot this
'Babe,' said Charteris, 'you have reason. I will turn over a new leaf.
I will be good. Give me my things and I'll come for a run. Only
please don't let it be anything over twenty miles.'
'Good man,' said the gratified Babe. 'We won't go far, and will take it
'I tell you what,' said Charteris. 'Do you know a place called Worbury?
I thought you wouldn't, probably. It's only a sort of hamlet, two
cottages, three public-houses, and a duck-pond, and that sort of thing.
I only know it because Welch and I ran there once last year. It's in
the Badgwick direction, about three miles by road, mostly along the
level. I vote we muffle up fairly well, blazers and sweaters and so on,
run to Worbury, tea at one of the cottages, and back in time for
lock-up. How does that strike you?'
'It sounds all right. How about tea though? Are you certain you can get
'Rather. The Oldest Inhabitant is quite a pal of mine.'
Charteris's circle of acquaintances was a standing wonder to the Babe
and other Merevalians. He seemed to know everybody in the county.
When once he was fairly started on any business, physical or mental,
Charteris generally shaped well. It was the starting that he found the
difficulty. Now that he was actually in motion, he was enjoying himself
thoroughly. He wondered why on earth he had been so reluctant to come
for this run. The knowledge that there were three miles to go, and that
he was equal to them, made him feel a new man. He felt fit. And there
is nothing like feeling fit for dispelling boredom. He swung along with
the Babe at a steady pace.
'There's the cottage,' he said, as they turned a bend of the road, and
Worbury appeared a couple of hundred yards away. 'Let's sprint.' They
sprinted, and arrived at the door of the cottage with scarcely a yard
between them, much to the admiration of the Oldest Inhabitant, who was
smoking a thoughtful pipe in his front garden. Mrs Oldest Inhabitant
came out of the cottage at the sound of voices, and Charteris broached
the subject of tea. The menu was sumptuous and varied, and even the
Babe, in spite of his devotion to strict training, could scarce forbear
to smile happily at the mention of hot cakes.
During the mauvais quart d'heure before the meal, Charteris kept
up an animated conversation with the Oldest Inhabitant, the Babe
joining in from time to time when he could think of anything to say.
Charteris appeared to be quite a friend of the family. He enquired
after the Oldest Inhabitant's rheumatics. It was gratifying to find
that they were distinctly better. How had Mrs O. I. been since his last
visit? Prarper hearty? Excellent. How was the O. I.'s nevvy?
At the mention of his nevvy the O. I. became discursive. He told his
audience everything that had happened in connection with the said nevvy
for years back. After which he started to describe what he would
probably do in the future. Amongst other things, there were going to be
some sports at Rutton today week, and his nevvy was going to try and
win the cup for what the Oldest Inhabitant vaguely described as 'a
race'. He had won it last year. Yes, prarper good runner, his nevvy.
Where was Rutton? the Babe wanted to know. About eight miles out of
Stapleton, said Charteris, who was well up in local geography. You got
there by train. It was the next station.
Mrs O. I. came out to say that tea was ready, and, being drawn into the
conversation on the subject of the Rutton sports, produced a programme
of the same, which her nevvy had sent them. From this it seemed that
the nevvy's 'spot' event was the egg and spoon race. An asterisk
against his name pointed him out as the last year's winner.
'Hullo,' said Charteris, 'I see there's a strangers' mile. I'm a demon
at the mile when I'm roused. I think I shall go in for it.'
He handed the programme back and began his tea.
'You know, Babe,' he said, as they were going back that evening, 'I
really think I shall go in for that race. It would be a most awful rag.
It's the day before the House-match, so it'll just get me fit.'
'Don't be a fool,' said the Babe. 'There would be a fearful row about
it if you were found out. You'd get extras for the rest of your life.'
'Well, the final Houser comes off on a Thursday, so it won't affect
'Yes, but still—'
'I shall think about it,' said Charteris. 'You needn't go telling
'If you'll take my advice, you'll drop it.'
'Your suggestion has been noted, and will receive due attention,' said
Charteris. 'Put on the pace a bit.'
They lengthened their stride, and conversation came to an abrupt end.
'I shall go, Babe,' said Charteris on the following night.
The Sixth Form had a slack day before them on the morrow, there being a
temporary lull in the form-work which occurred about once a week, when
there was no composition of any kind to be done. The Sixth did four
compositions a week, two Greek and two Latin, and except for these did
not bother themselves very much about overnight preparation. The Latin
authors which the form were doing were Livy and Virgil, and when either
of these were on the next day's programme, most of the Sixth considered
that they were justified in taking a night off. They relied on their
ability to translate both authors at sight and without previous
acquaintance. The popular notion that Virgil is hard rarely appeals to
a member of a public school. There are two ways of translating Virgil,
the conscientious and the other. He prefers the other.
On this particular night, therefore, work was 'off'. Merevale was over
at the Great Hall, taking preparation, and the Sixth-Form Merevalians
had assembled in Charteris's study to talk about things in general. It
was after a pause of some moments, that had followed upon a lively
discussion of the House's prospects in the forthcoming final, that
Charteris had spoken.
'I shall go, Babe,' said he.
'Go where?' asked Tony, from the depths of a deck-chair.
The Babe turned to the company and explained.
'The lunatic's going in for the strangers' mile at some sports at
Rutton next week. He'll get booked for a cert. He can't see that. I
never saw such a man.'
'Rally round,' said Charteris, 'and reason with me. I'll listen. Tony,
what do you think about it?'
Tony expressed his opinion tersely, and Charteris thanked him. Welch,
who had been reading, now awoke to the fact that a discussion was in
progress, and asked for details. The Babe explained once more, and
Welch heartily corroborated Tony's remarks. Charteris thanked him too.
'You aren't really going, are you?' asked Welch.
'Rather,' said Charteris.
'The Old Man won't give you leave.'
'Shan't worry the poor man with such trifles.'
'But it's miles out of bounds. Stapleton station is out of bounds to
start with. It's against rules to go in a train, and Rutton's even more
out of bounds than Stapleton.'
'And as there are sports there,' said Tony, 'the Old Man is certain to
put Rutton specially out of bounds for that day. He always bars a St
Austin's chap going to a place when there's anything going on there.'
'I don't care. What have I to do with the Old Man's petty prejudices?
Now, let me get at my time-table. Here we are. Now then.'
'Don't be a fool,' said Tony,
'Certainly not. Look here, there's a train starts from Stapleton at
three. I can catch that all right. Gets to Rutton at three-twenty.
Sports begin at three-fifteen. At least, they are supposed to. Over
before five, I should think. At least, my race will be, though I must
stop to see the Oldest Inhabitant's nevvy win the egg and spoon canter.
But that ought to come on before the strangers' race. Train back at a
quarter past five. Arrives at a quarter to six. Lock up six-fifteen.
That gives me half an hour to get here from Stapleton. What more do you
want? I shall do it easily, and … the odds against my being booked
are about twenty-five to one. At which price if any gent present cares
to deposit his money, I am willing to take him. Now I'll treat you to a
tune, if you're good.'
He went to the cupboard and produced his gramophone. Charteris's
musical instruments had at one time been strictly suppressed by the
authorities, and, in consequence, he had laid in a considerable stock
of them. At last, when he discovered that there was no rule against the
use of musical instruments in the House, Merevale had yielded. The
stipulation that Charteris should play only before prep. was rigidly
observed, except when Merevale was over at the Hall, and the Sixth had
no work. On such occasions Charteris felt justified in breaking through
the rule. He had a gramophone, a banjo, a penny whistle, and a mouth
organ. The banjo, which he played really well, was the most in request,
but the gramophone was also popular.
'Turn on "Whistling Rufus",' observed Thomson.
'Whistling Rufus' was duly turned on, giving way after an encore to
'I always weep when I hear this,' said Tony.
'It is beautiful, isn't it?' said Charteris.
I'll be your sweetheart, if you—will be—mine,
All my life, I'll be your valentine.
Bluebells I've gathered—grrhhrh.
The needle of the gramophone, after the manner of its kind, slipped
raspingly over the surface of the wax, and the rest of the ballad was
'That,' said Charteris, 'is how I feel with regard to the Old Man. I'd
be his sweetheart, if he'd be mine. But he makes no advances, and the
stain on my scutcheon is not yet wiped out. I must say I haven't tried
gathering bluebells for him yet, nor have I offered my services as a
perpetual valentine, but I've been very kind to him in other ways.'
'Is he still down on you?' asked the Babe.
'He hasn't done much lately. We're in a state of truce at present. Did
I tell you how I scored about Stapleton?'
'You've only told us about a hundred times,' said the Babe brutally. 'I
tell you what, though, he'll score off you if he finds you going to
'Let's hope he won't.'
'He won't,' said Welch suddenly.
'Because you won't go. I'll bet you anything you like that you won't
That settled Charteris. It was the sort of remark that always acted on
him like a tonic. He had been intending to go all the time, but it was
this speech of Welch's that definitely clinched the matter. One of his
mottoes for everyday use was 'Let not thyself be scored off by Welch.'
'That's all right,' he said. 'Of course I shall go. What's the next
item you'd like on this machine?'
The day of the sports arrived, and the Babe, meeting Charteris at
Merevale's gate, made a last attempt to head him off from his purpose.
'How are you going to take your things?' he asked. 'You can't carry a
bag. The first beak you met would ask questions.'
If he had hoped that this would be a crushing argument, he was
Charteris patted a bloated coat pocket.
'Bags,' he said laconically. 'Vest,' he added, doing the same to his
other pocket. 'Shoes,' he concluded, 'you will observe I am carrying in
a handy brown paper parcel, and if anybody wants to know what's in it,
I shall tell them it's acid drops. Sure you won't come, too?'
'All right. So long then. Be good while I'm gone.'
And he passed on down the road that led to Stapleton.
The Rutton Recreation Ground presented, as the Stapleton Herald
justly remarked in its next week's issue, 'a gay and animated
appearance'. There was a larger crowd than Charteris had expected. He
made his way through them, resisting without difficulty the entreaties
of a hoarse gentleman in a check suit to have three to two on 'Enery
something for the hundred yards, and came at last to the dressing-tent.
At this point it occurred to him that it would be judicious to find out
when his race was to start. It was rather a chilly day, and the less
time he spent in the undress uniform of shorts the better. He bought a
correct card for twopence, and scanned it. The strangers' mile was down
for four-fifty. There was no need to change for an hour yet. He wished
the authorities could have managed to date the event earlier.
Four-fifty was running it rather fine. The race would be over by about
five to five, and it was a walk of some ten minutes to the station,
less if he hurried. That would give him ten minutes for recovering from
the effects of the race, and changing back into his ordinary clothes
again. It would be quick work. But, having come so far, he was not
inclined to go back without running in the race. He would never be able
to hold his head up again if he did that. He left the dressing-tent,
and started on a tour of the field.
The scene was quite different from anything he had ever witnessed
before in the way of sports. The sports at St Austin's were decorous to
a degree. These leaned more to the rollickingly convivial. It was like
an ordinary race-meeting, except that men were running instead of
horses. Rutton was a quiet little place for the majority of the year,
but it woke up on this day, and was evidently out to enjoy itself. The
Rural Hooligan was a good deal in evidence, and though he was
comparatively quiet just at present, the frequency with which he
visited the various refreshment stalls that dotted the ground gave
promise of livelier times in the future. Charteris felt that the
afternoon would not be dull.
The hour soon passed, and Charteris, having first seen the Oldest
Inhabitant's nevvy romp home in the egg and spoon event, took himself
off to the dressing-tent, and began to get into his running clothes.
The bell for his race was just ringing when he left the tent. He
trotted over to the starting place.
Apparently there was not a very large 'field'. Two weedy-looking youths
of about Charteris's age, dressed in blushing pink, put in an
appearance, and a very tall, thin man came up almost immediately
afterwards. Charteris had just removed his coat, and was about to get
to his place on the line, when another competitor arrived, and, to
judge by the applause that greeted his appearance, he was evidently a
favourite in the locality. It was with shock that Charteris recognized
his old acquaintance, the Bargees' secretary.
He was clad in running clothes of a bright orange and a smile of
conscious superiority, and when somebody in the crowd called out 'Go
it, Jarge!' he accepted the tribute as his due, and waved a
condescending hand in the speaker's direction.
Some moments elapsed before he recognized Charteris, and the latter had
time to decide upon his line of action. If he attempted concealment in
any way, the man would recognize that on this occasion, at any rate, he
had, to use an adequate if unclassical expression, got the bulge, and
then there would be trouble. By brazening things out, however, there
was just a chance that he might make him imagine that there was more in
the matter than met the eye, and that, in some mysterious way, he had
actually obtained leave to visit Rutton that day. After all, the man
didn't know very much about School rules, and the recollection of the
recent fiasco in which he had taken part would make him think twice
about playing the amateur policeman again, especially in connection
So he smiled genially, and expressed a hope that the man enjoyed robust
The man replied by glaring in a simple and unaffected manner.
'Looked up the Headmaster lately?' asked Charteris.
'What are you doing here?'
'I'm going to run. Hope you don't mind.'
'You're out of bounds.'
'That's what you said before. You'd better enquire a bit before you
make rash statements. Otherwise, there's no knowing what may happen.
Perhaps Mr Dacre has given me leave.'
The man said something objurgatory under his breath, but forbore to
continue the discussion. He was wondering, as Charteris had expected
that he would, whether the latter had really got leave or not. It was a
Whether such a result was due to his mental struggles, or whether it
was simply to be attributed to his poor running, is open to question,
but the fact remains that the secretary of the Old Crockfordians did
not shine in the strangers' mile. He came in last but one, vanquishing
the pink sportsman by a foot. Charteris, after a hot finish, was beaten
on the tape by one of the weedy youths, who exhibited astounding
sprinting powers in the last two hundred yards, overhauling Charteris,
who had led all the time, in fine style, and scoring what the
Stapleton Herald described as a 'highly popular victory'.
As soon as he had recovered his normal stock of wind—which was not
immediately—it was borne in upon Charteris that if he wanted to catch
the five-fifteen back to Stapleton, he had better be beginning to
change. He went to the dressing-tent, and on examining his watch was
horrified to find that he had just ten minutes in which to do
everything, and the walk to the station, he reflected, was a long five
minutes. He literally hurled himself into his clothes, and,
disregarding the Bargee, who had entered the tent and seemed to wish to
continue the discussion at the point where they had left off, shot off
towards the gate nearest the station. He had exactly four minutes and
twenty-five seconds in which to complete the journey, and he had just
run a mile.
Fortunately the road was mainly level. On the other hand, he was
hampered by an overcoat. After the first hundred yards he took this
off, and carried it in an unwieldy parcel. This, he found, answered
admirably. Running became easier. He had worked the stiffness out of
his legs by this time, and was going well. Three hundred yards from the
station it was anybody's race. The exact position of the other
competitor, the train, could not be defined. It was at any rate not yet
within earshot, which meant that it still had at least a quarter of a
mile to go. Charteris considered that he had earned a rest. He slowed
down to a walk, but after proceeding at this pace for a few yards,
thought that he heard a distant whistle, and dashed on again. Suddenly
a raucous bellow of laughter greeted his ears from a spot in front of
him, hidden from his sight by a bend in the road.
'Somebody slightly tight,' thought Charteris, rapidly diagnosing the
case. 'By Jove, if he comes rotting about with me I'll kill him.'
Having to do anything in a desperate hurry always made Charteris's
temper slightly villainous. He turned the corner at a sharp trot, and
came upon two youths who seemed to be engaged in the harmless
occupation of trying to ride a bicycle. They were of the type which he
held in especial aversion, the Rural Hooligan type, and one at least of
the two had evidently been present at a recent circulation of the
festive bowl. He was wheeling the bicycle about the road in an aimless
manner, and looked as if he wondered what was the matter with it that
it would not stay in the same place for two consecutive seconds. The
other youth was apparently of the 'Charles-his-friend' variety, content
to look on and applaud, and generally to play chorus to his companion's
'lead'. He was standing at the side of the road, smiling broadly in a
way that argued feebleness of mind. Charteris was not quite sure which
of the two types he loathed the more. He was inclined to call it a tie.
However, there seemed to be nothing particularly lawless in what they
were doing now. If they were content to let him pass without hindrance,
he, for his part, was content generously to overlook the insult they
offered him in daring to exist, and to maintain a state of truce. But,
as he drew nearer, he saw that there was more in this business than the
casual spectator might at first have supposed. A second and keener
inspection of the reptiles revealed fresh phenomena. In the first
place, the bicycle which Hooligan number one was playing with was a
lady's bicycle, and a small one at that. Now, up to the age of fourteen
and the weight of ten stone, a beginner at cycling often finds it more
convenient to learn to ride on a lady's machine than on a gentleman's.
The former offers greater facilities for rapid dismounting, a quality
not to be despised in the earlier stages of initiation. But, though
this is undoubtedly the case, and though Charteris knew that it was so,
yet he felt instinctively that there was something wrong here.
Hooligans of twenty years and twelve stone do not learn to ride on
small ladies' machines, or, if they do, it is probably without the
permission of the small lady who owns the same. Valuable as his time
was, Charteris felt that it behoved him to spend a thoughtful minute or
so examining into this affair. He slowed down once again to a walk,
and, as he did so, his eye fell upon the character in the drama whose
absence had puzzled him, the owner of the bicycle. And from that moment
he felt that life would be a hollow mockery if he failed to fall upon
those revellers and slay them. She stood by the hedge on the right, a
forlorn little figure in grey, and she gazed sadly and helplessly at
the manoeuvres that were going on in the middle of the road. Her age
Charteris put down at a venture at twelve—a correct guess. Her state
of mind he also conjectured. She was letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I
would', like the late Macbeth, the cat i' the adage, and numerous other
celebrities. She evidently had plenty of remarks to make on the subject
in hand, but refrained from motives of prudence.
Charteris had no such scruples. The feeling of fatigue that had been
upon him had vanished, and his temper, which had been growing steadily
worse for some twenty minutes, now boiled over gleefully at the
prospect of something solid to work itself off upon. Even without a
cause Charteris detested the Rural Hooligan. Now that a real,
copper-bottomed motive for this dislike had been supplied to him, he
felt himself capable of dealing with a whole regiment of the breed. The
criminal with the bicycle had just let it fall with a crash to the
ground when Charteris went for him low, in the style which the Babe
always insisted on seeing in members of the First Fifteen on the
football field, and hove him without comment into a damp ditch.
'Charles his friend' uttered a shout of disapproval and rushed into the
fray. Charteris gave him the straight left, of the type to which the
great John Jackson is reported to have owed so much in the days of the
old Prize Ring, and Charles, taking it between the eyes, stopped in a
discouraged and discontented manner, and began to rub the place.
Whereupon Charteris dashed in, and, to use an expression suitable to
the deed, 'swung his right at the mark'. The 'mark', it may be
explained for the benefit of the non-pugilistic, is that portion of the
anatomy which lies hid behind the third button of the human waistcoat.
It covers—in a most inadequate way—the wind, and even a gentle tap in
the locality is apt to produce a fleeting sense of discomfort. A
genuine flush hit on the spot, shrewdly administered by a muscular arm
with the weight of the body behind it, causes the passive agent in the
transaction to wish fervently, as far as he is at the moment physically
capable of wishing anything, that he had never been born. 'Charles his
friend' collapsed like an empty sack, and Charteris, getting a grip of
the outlying portions of his costume, dragged him to the ditch and
rolled him in on top of his friend, who had just recovered sufficiently
to be thinking about getting out again. The pair of them lay there in a
tangled heap. Charteris picked up the bicycle and gave it a cursory
examination. The enamel was a good deal scratched, but no material
damage had been done. He wheeled it across to its owner.
'It isn't much hurt,' he said, as they walked on slowly together. 'Bit
scratched, that's all.'
'Thanks awfully,' said the small lady.
'Oh, not at all,' replied Charteris. 'I enjoyed it.' (He felt he had
said the right thing there. Your real hero always 'enjoys it'.) 'I'm
sorry those bargees frightened you.'
'They did rather. But'—she added triumphantly after a pause—'I didn't
'Rather not,' said Charteris. 'You were awfully plucky. I noticed. But
hadn't you better ride on? Which way were you going?'
'I wanted to get to Stapleton.'
'Oh. That's simple enough. You've merely got to go straight on down
this road, as straight as ever you can go. But, look here, you know,
you shouldn't be out alone like this. It isn't safe. Why did they let
The lady avoided his eye. She bent down and inspected the left pedal.
'They shouldn't have sent you out alone,' said Charteris, 'why did
'They—they didn't. I came.'
There was a world of meaning in the phrase. Charteris felt that he was
in the same case. They had not let him. He had come. Here was a
kindred spirit, another revolutionary soul, scorning the fetters of
convention and the so-called authority of self-constituted rules, aha!
'Shake hands,' he said, 'I'm in just the same way.'
They shook hands gravely.
'You know,' said the lady, 'I'm awfully sorry I did it now. It was very
'I'm not sorry yet,' said Charteris, 'I'm rather glad than otherwise.
But I expect I shall be sorry before long.'
'Will you be sent to bed?'
'I don't think so.'
'Will you have to learn beastly poetry?'
She looked at him curiously, as if to enquire, 'then if you won't have
to learn poetry and you won't get sent to bed, what on earth is there
for you to worry about?'
She would probably have gone on to investigate the problem further, but
at that moment there came the sound of a whistle. Then another, closer
this time. Then a faint rumbling, which increased in volume steadily.
Charteris looked back. The railway line ran by the side of the road. He
could see the smoke of a train through the trees. It was quite close
now, and coming closer every minute, and he was still quite a hundred
and fifty yards from the station gates.
'I say,' he cried. 'Great Scott, here comes my train. I must rush.
Good-bye. You keep straight on.'
His legs had had time to grow stiff again. For the first few strides
running was painful. But his joints soon adapted themselves to the
strain, and in ten seconds he was sprinting as fast as he had ever
sprinted off the running-track. When he had travelled a quarter of the
distance the small cyclist overtook him.
'Be quick,' she said, 'it's just in sight.'
Charteris quickened his stride, and, paced by the bicycle, spun along
in fine style. Forty yards from the station the train passed him. He
saw it roll into the station. There were still twenty yards to go,
exclusive of the station's steps, and he was already running as fast as
it lay in him to run. Now there were only ten. Now five. And at last,
with a hurried farewell to his companion, he bounded up the steps and
on to the platform. At the end of the platform the line took a sharp
curve to the left. Round that curve the tail end of the guard's van was
'Missed it, sir,' said the solitary porter, who managed things at
Rutton, cheerfully. He spoke as if he was congratulating Charteris on
having done something remarkably clever.
'When's the next?' panted Charteris.
'Eight-thirty,' was the porter's appalling reply.
For a moment Charteris felt quite ill. No train till eight-thirty! Then
was he indeed lost. But it couldn't be true. There must be some sort of
a train between now and then.
'Are you certain?' he said. 'Surely there's a train before that?'
'Why, yes, sir,' said the porter gleefully, 'but they be all exprusses.
Eight-thirty be the only 'un what starps at Rootton.'
'Thanks,' said Charteris with marked gloom, 'I don't think that'll be
much good to me. My aunt, what a hole I'm in.'
The porter made a sympathetic and interrogative noise at the back of
his throat, as if inviting him to explain everything. But Charteris
felt unequal to conversation. There are moments when one wants to be
alone. He went down the steps again. When he got out into the road, his
small cycling friend had vanished. Charteris was conscious of a feeling
of envy towards her. She was doing the journey comfortably on a
bicycle. He would have to walk it. Walk it! He didn't believe he could.
The strangers' mile, followed by the Homeric combat with the two
Hooligans and that ghastly sprint to wind up with, had left him
decidedly unfit for further feats of pedestrianism. And it was eight
miles to Stapleton, if it was a yard, and another mile from Stapleton
to St Austin's. Charteris, having once more invoked the name of his
aunt, pulled himself together with an effort, and limped gallantly on
in the direction of Stapleton. But fate, so long hostile to him, at
last relented. A rattle of wheels approached him from behind. A thrill
of hope shot through him at the sound. There was the prospect of a
lift. He stopped, and waited for the dog-cart—it sounded like a
dog-cart—to arrive. Then he uttered a shout of rapture, and began to
wave his arms like a semaphore. The man in the dog-cart was Dr Adamson.
'Hullo, Charteris,' said the Doctor, pulling up his horse, 'what are
you doing here?'
'Give me a lift,' said Charteris, 'and I'll tell you. It's a long yarn.
Can I get in?'
'Come along. Plenty of room.'
Charteris climbed up, and sank on to the cushioned seat with a sigh of
pleasure. What glorious comfort. He had never enjoyed anything more in
'I'm nearly dead,' he said, as the dog-cart went on again. 'This is how
it all happened. You see, it was this way—'
And he embarked forthwith upon his narrative.
By special request the Doctor dropped Charteris within a hundred yards
of Merevale's door.
'Good-night,' he said. 'I don't suppose you will value my advice at
all, but you may have it for what it is worth. I recommend you stop
this sort of game. Next time something will happen.'
'By Jove, yes,' said Charteris, climbing painfully down from the
dog-cart, 'I'll take that advice. I'm a reformed character from this
day onwards. This sort of thing isn't good enough. Hullo, there's the
bell for lock-up. Good-night, Doctor, and thanks most awfully for the
lift. It was frightfully kind of you.'
'Don't mention it,' said Dr Adamson, 'it is always a privilege to be in
your company. When are you coming to tea with me again?'
'Whenever you'll have me. I must get leave, though, this time.'
'Yes. By the way, how's Graham? It is Graham, isn't it? The fellow who
broke his collar-bone?'
'Oh, he's getting on splendidly. Still in a sling, but it's almost well
again now. But I must be off. Good-night.'
'Good-night. Come to tea next Monday.'
'Right,' said Charteris; 'thanks awfully.'
He hobbled in at Merevale's gate, and went up to his study. The Babe
was in there talking to Welch.
'Hullo,' said the Babe, 'here's Charteris.'
'What's left of him,' said Charteris.
'How did it go off?'
'Did you win?' asked Welch.
'No. Second. By a yard. Oh, Lord, I am dead.'
'Rather. It wasn't that, though. I had to sprint all the way to the
station, and missed my train by ten seconds at the end of it all.'
'Then how did you get here?'
'That was the one stroke of luck I've had this afternoon. I started to
walk back, and after I'd gone about a quarter of a mile, Adamson caught
me up in his dog-cart. I suggested that it would be a Christian act on
his part to give me a lift, and he did. I shall remember Adamson in my
'Tell us what happened.'
'I'll tell thee everything I can,' said Charteris. 'There's little to
relate. I saw an aged, aged man a-sitting on a gate. Where do you want
me to begin?'
'At the beginning. Don't rot.'
'I was born,' began Charteris, 'of poor but honest parents, who sent
me to school at an early age in order that I might acquire a grasp of
the Greek and Latin languages, now obsolete. I—'
'How did you lose?' enquired the Babe.
'The other man beat me. If he hadn't, I should have won hands down. Oh,
I say, guess who I met at Rutton.'
'Not a beak?'
'No. Almost as bad, though. The Bargee man who paced me from Stapleton.
Man who crocked Tony.'
'Great Scott!' cried the Babe. 'Did he recognize you?'
'Rather. We had a very pleasant conversation.'
'If he reports you,' began the Babe.
Charteris looked up. Tony Graham had entered the study.
'Hullo, Tony! Adamson told me to remember him to you.'
'So you've got back?'
Charteris confirmed the hasty guess.
'But what are you talking about, Babe?' said Tony. 'Who's going to be
reported, and who's going to report?'
The Babe briefly explained the situation.
'If the man,' he said, 'reports Charteris, he may get run in tomorrow,
and then we shall have both our halves away against Dacre's. Charteris,
you are a fool to go rotting about out of bounds like this.'
'Nay, dry the starting tear,' said Charteris cheerfully. 'In the first
place, I shouldn't get kept in on a Thursday anyhow. I should be shoved
into extra on Saturday. Also, I shrewdly conveyed to the Bargee the
impression that I was at Rutton by special permission.'
'He's bound to know that that can't be true,' said Tony.
'Well, I told him to think it over. You see, he got so badly left last
time he tried to compass my downfall, that I shouldn't be a bit
surprised if he let the job alone this journey.'
'Let's hope so,' said the Babe gloomily.
'That's right, Babby,' remarked Charteris encouragingly, nodding at the
'You buck up and keep looking on the bright side. It'll be all right.
You see if it won't. If there's any running in to be done, I shall do
it. I shall be frightfully fit tomorrow after all this dashing about
today. I haven't an ounce of superfluous flesh on me. I'm a fine,
strapping specimen of sturdy young English manhood. And I'm going to
play a very selfish game tomorrow, Babe.'
'Oh, my dear chap, you mustn't.' The Babe's face wore an expression of
horror. The success of the House-team in the final was very near to his
heart. He could not understand anyone jesting on the subject. Charteris
respected his anguish, and relieved it speedily.
'I was only ragging,' he said. 'Considering that our three-quarter line
is our one strong point, I'm not likely to keep the ball from it, if I
get a chance of getting it out. Make your mind easy, Babe.'
The final House-match was always a warmish game. The rivalry between
the various Houses was great, and the football cup especially was
fought for with immense keenness. Also, the match was the last fixture
of the season, and there was a certain feeling in the teams that if
they did happen to disable a man or two, it would not matter
much. The injured sportsman would not be needed for School-match
purposes for another six months. As a result of which philosophical
reflection, the tackling was ruled slightly energetic, and the
handing-off was done with vigour.
This year, to add a sort of finishing touch, there was just a little
ill-feeling between Dacre's and Merevale's. The cause of it was the
Babe. Until the beginning of the term he had been a day boy. Then the
news began to circulate that he was going to become a boarder, either
at Dacre's or at Merevale's. He chose the latter, and Dacre's felt
slightly aggrieved. Some of the less sportsmanlike members of the House
had proposed that a protest should be made against his being allowed to
play, but, fortunately for the credit of Dacre's, Prescott, the captain
of the House Fifteen, had put his foot down with an emphatic bang at
the suggestion. As he sagely pointed out, there were some things which
were bad form, and this was one of them. If the team wanted to express
their disapproval, said he, let them do it on the field by tackling
their very hardest. He personally was going to do his best, and he
advised them to do the same.
The rumour of this bad blood had got about the School in some
mysterious manner, and when Swift, Merevale's only First Fifteen
forward, kicked off up the hill, a large crowd was lining the ropes. It
was evident from the outset that it would be a good game.
Dacre's were the better side—as a team. They had no really weak spot.
But Merevale's extraordinarily strong three-quarter line somewhat made
up for an inferior scrum. And the fact that the Babe was in the centre
was worth much.
At first Dacre's pressed. Their pack was unusually heavy for a
House-team, and they made full use of it. They took the ball down the
field in short rushes till they were in Merevale's twenty-five. Then
they began to heel, and, if things had been more or less exciting for
the Merevalians before, they became doubly so now. The ground was dry,
and so was the ball, and the game consequently waxed fast. Time after
time the ball went along Dacre's three-quarter line, only to end by
finding itself hurled, with the wing who was carrying it, into touch.
Occasionally the centres, instead of feeding their wings, would try to
dodge through themselves. And that was where the Babe came in. He was
admittedly the best tackler in the School, but on this occasion he
excelled himself. His man never had a chance of getting past. At last a
lofty kick into touch over the heads of the spectators gave the players
a few seconds' rest.
The Babe went up to Charteris.
'Look here,' he said, 'it's risky, but I think we'll try having the
ball out a bit.'
'In our own twenty-five?' said Charteris.
'Wherever we are. I believe it will come off all right. Anyway, we'll
try it. Tell the forwards.'
For forwards playing against a pack much heavier than themselves, it is
easier to talk about letting the ball out than to do it. The first half
dozen times that Merevale's scrum tried to heel they were shoved off
their feet, and it was on the enemy's side that the ball went out. But
the seventh attempt succeeded. Out it came, cleanly and speedily.
Daintree, who was playing instead of Tony, switched it across to
Charteris. Charteris dodged the half who was marking him, and ran.
Heeling and passing in one's own twenty-five is like smoking—an
excellent practice if indulged in in moderation. On this occasion it
answered perfectly. Charteris ran to the half-way line, and handed the
ball on to the Babe. The Babe was tackled from behind, and passed to
Thomson. Thomson dodged his man, and passed to Welch on the wing. Welch
was the fastest sprinter in the School. It was a pleasure—if you did
not happen to be one of the opposing side—to see him race down the
touch-line. He was off like an arrow. Dacre's back made a futile
attempt to get at him. Welch could have given the back fifteen yards in
a hundred. He ran round him, and, amidst terrific applause from the
Merevale's-supporting section of the audience, scored between the
posts. The Babe took the kick and converted without difficulty. Five
minutes afterwards the whistle blew for half-time.
The remainder of the game does not call for detailed description.
Dacre's pressed nearly the whole of the last half hour, but twice more
the ball came out and went down Merevale's three-quarter line. Once it
was the Babe who scored with a run from his own goal-line, and once
Charteris, who got in from half-way, dodging through the whole team.
The last ten minutes of the game was marked by a slight excess of
energy on both sides. Dacre's forwards were in a decidedly bad temper,
and fought like tigers to break through, and Merevale's played up to
them with spirit. The Babe seemed continually to be precipitating
himself at the feet of rushing forwards, and Charteris felt as if at
least a dozen bones were broken in various portions of his anatomy. The
game ended on Merevale's line, but they had won the match and the cup
by two goals and a try to nothing.
Charteris limped off the field, cheerful but damaged. He ached all
over, and there was a large bruise on his left cheek-bone. He and Babe
were going to the House, when they were aware that the Headmaster was
beckoning to them.
'Well, MacArthur, and what was the result of the match?'
'We won, sir,' boomed the Babe. 'Two goals and a try to nil.'
'You have hurt your cheek, Charteris?'
'How did you do that?'
'I got a kick, sir, in one of the rushes.'
'Ah. I should bathe it, Charteris. Bathe it well. I hope it will not be
very painful. Bathe it well in warm water.'
He walked on.
'You know,' said Charteris to the Babe, as they went into the House,
'the Old Man isn't such a bad sort after all. He has his points, don't
The Babe said that he did.
'I'm going to reform, you know,' continued Charteris confidentially.
'It's about time,' said the Babe. 'You can have the bath first if you
like. Only buck up.'
Charteris boiled himself for ten minutes, and then dragged his weary
limbs to his study. It was while he was sitting in a deck-chair eating
mixed biscuits, and wondering if he would ever be able to summon up
sufficient energy to put on garments of civilization, that somebody
knocked at the door.
'Yes,' shouted Charteris. 'What is it? Don't come in. I'm changing.'
The melodious treble of Master Crowinshaw, his fag, made itself heard
through the keyhole.
'The Head told me to tell you that he wanted to see you at the School
House as soon as you can go.'
'All right,' shouted Charteris. 'Thanks.'
'Now what,' he continued to himself, 'does the Old Man want to see me
for? Perhaps he wants to make certain that I've bathed my cheek in warm
water. Anyhow, I suppose I must go.'
A quarter of an hour later he presented himself at the Headmagisterial
door. The sedate Parker, the Head's butler, who always filled Charteris
with a desire to dig him hard in the ribs just to see what would
happen, ushered him into the study.
The Headmaster was reading by the light of a lamp when Charteris came
in. He laid down his book, and motioned him to a seat; after which
there was an awkward pause.
'I have just received,' began the Head at last, 'a most unpleasant
communication. Most unpleasant. From whom it comes I do not know. It
is, in fact—er—anonymous. I am sorry that I ever read it.'
He stopped. Charteris made no comment. He guessed what was coming. He,
too, was sorry that the Head had ever read the letter.
'The writer says that he saw you, that he actually spoke to you, at the
athletic sports at Rutton yesterday. I have called you in to tell me if
that is true.' The Head fastened an accusing eye on his companion.
'It is quite true, sir,' said Charteris steadily.
'What!' said the Head sharply. 'You were at Rutton?'
'You were perfectly aware, I suppose, that you were breaking the School
rules by going there, Charteris?' enquired the Head in a cold voice.
'Yes, sir.' There was another pause.
'This is very serious,' began the Head. 'I cannot overlook this. I—'
There was a slight scuffle of feet in the passage outside. The door
flew open vigorously, and a young lady entered. It was, as Charteris
recognized in a minute, his acquaintance of the afternoon, the young
lady of the bicycle.
'Uncle,' she said, 'have you seen my book anywhere?'
'Hullo!' she broke off as her eye fell on Charteris.
'Hullo!' said Charteris, affably, not to be outdone in the courtesies.
'Did you catch your train?'
'No. Missed it.'
'Hullo! what's the matter with your cheek?'
'I got a kick on it.'
'Oh, does it hurt?'
'Not much, thanks.'
Here the Head, feeling perhaps a little out of it, put in his oar.
'Dorothy, you must not come here now. I am busy. And how, may I ask, do
you and Charteris come to be acquainted?'
'Why, he's him,' said Dorothy lucidly.
The Head looked puzzled.
'Him. The chap, you know.'
It is greatly to the Head's credit that he grasped the meaning of these
words. Long study of the classics had quickened his faculty for seeing
sense in passages where there was none. The situation dawned upon him.
'Do you mean to tell me, Dorothy, that it was Charteris who came to
your assistance yesterday?'
Dorothy nodded energetically.
'He gave the men beans,' she said. 'He did, really,' she went on,
regardless of the Head's look of horror. 'He used right and left with
Dorothy's brother, a keen follower of the Ring, had been good enough
some days before to read her out an extract from an account in The
Sportsman of a match at the National Sporting Club, and the account
had been much to her liking. She regarded it as a masterpiece of
'Dorothy,' said the Headmaster, 'run away to bed.' A suggestion which
she treated with scorn, it wanting a clear two hours to her legal
bedtime. 'I must speak to your mother about your deplorable habit of
using slang. Dear me, I must certainly speak to her.'
And, shamefully unabashed, Dorothy retired.
The Head was silent for a few minutes after she had gone; then he
turned to Charteris again.
'In consideration of this, Charteris, I shall—er—mitigate slightly
the punishment I had intended to give you.'
Charteris murmured his gratification.
'But,' continued the Head sternly, 'I cannot overlook the offence. I
have my duty to consider. You will therefore write me—er—ten lines of
Virgil by tomorrow evening, Charteris.'
'Latin and English,' said the relentless pedagogue.
'And, Charteris—I am speaking now—er—unofficially, not as a
headmaster, you understand—if in future you would cease to break
School rules simply as a matter of principle, for that, I fancy, is what
it amounts to, I—er—well, I think we should get on better together.
And that is, on my part at least, a consummation—er—devoutly to be
wished. Good-night, Charteris.'
The Head extended a large hand. Charteris took it, and his departure.
The Headmaster opened his book again, and turned over a new leaf.
Charteris at the same moment, walking slowly in the direction of
Merevale's, was resolving for the future to do the very same thing. And