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Chapter III An Unsavory Interlude - Stalky & Co by Rudyard Kipling

AN UNSAVORY INTERLUDE.


It was a maiden aunt of Stalky who sent him both books, with the
inscription, "To dearest Artie, on his sixteenth birthday;" it was
McTurk who ordered their hypothecation; and it was Beetle, returned
from Bideford, who flung them on the window-sill of Number Five study
with news that Bastable would advance but ninepence on the two;
"Eric; or, Little by Little," being almost as great a drug as "St.
Winifred's." "An' I don't think much of your aunt. We're nearly out of
cartridges, too--Artie, dear."

Whereupon Stalky rose up to grapple with him, but McTurk sat on
Stalky's head, calling him a "pure-minded boy" till peace was
declared. As they were grievously in arrears with a Latin prose, as
it was a blazing July afternoon, and as they ought to have been at a
house cricket-match, they began to renew their acquaintance, intimate
and unholy, with the volumes.

"Here we are!" said McTurk. "'Corporal punishment produced on Eric the
worst effects. He burned _not_ with remorse or regret'--make a note
o' that, Beetle--' but with shame and violent indignation. He
glared'--oh, naughty Eric! Let's get to where he goes in for drink."

"Hold on half a shake. Here's another sample. 'The Sixth,' he says,'is
the palladium of all public schools.' But this lot--" Stalky rapped
the gilded book--"can't prevent fellows drinkin' and stealin', an'
lettin' fags out of window at night, an'--an' doin' what they please.
Golly, what we've missed--not goin' to St.  Winifred's!..."

"I'm sorry to see any boys of my house taking so little interest in
their matches."

Mr. Prout could move very silently if he pleased, though that is no
merit in a boy's eyes. He had flung open the study-door without
knocking--another sin--and looked at them suspiciously. "Very sorry,
indeed, I am to see you frowsting in your studies."

"We've been out ever since dinner, sir," said. McTurk wearily. One
house-match is just like another, and their "ploy" of that week
happened to be rabbit-shooting with saloon-pistols.

"I can't see a ball when it's coming, sir," said Beetle. "I've had my
gig-lamps smashed at the Nets till I got excused. I wasn't any good
even as a fag, then, sir."

"Tuck is probably your form. Tuck and brewing. Why can't you three
take any interest in the honor of your house?"

They had heard that phrase till they were wearied. The "honor of the
house" was Prout's weak point, and they knew well how to flick him on
the raw.

"If you order us to go down, sir, of course we'll go," said Stalky,
with maddening politeness. But Prout knew better than that. He had
tried the experiment once at a big match, when the three,
self-isolated, stood to attention for half an hour in full view of
all the visitors, to whom fags, subsidized for that end, pointed them
out as victims of Prout's tyranny. And Prout was a sensitive man.

In the infinitely petty confederacies of the Common-room, King and
Macrea, fellow house-masters, had borne it in upon him that by games,
and games alone, was salvation wrought. Boys neglected were boys
lost. They must be disciplined. Left to himself, Prout would have
made a sympathetic house-master; but he was never so left, and with
the devilish insight of youth, the boys knew to whom they were
indebted for his zeal.

"Must we go down, sir?' said McTurk.

"I don't want to order you to do what a right-thinking boy should do
gladly. I'm sorry." And he lurched out with some hazy impression that
he had sown good seed on poor ground.

"Now what does he suppose is the use of that?" said Beetle.

"Oh, he's cracked. King jaws him in Common-room about not keepin' us
up to the mark, an' Macrea burbles about 'dithcipline,' an' old Heffy
sits between 'em sweatin' big drops. I heard Oke (the Common-room
butler) talking to Richards (Prout's house-servant) about it down in
the basement the other day when I went down to bag some bread," said
Stalky.

"What did Oke say?" demanded McTurk, throwing "Eric" into a corner.

"Oh, he said, 'They make more nise nor a nest full o' jackdaws, an'
half of it like we'd no ears to our heads that waited on 'em. They
talks over old Prout--what he've done an' left undone about his boys.
An' how their boys be fine boys, an' his'n be dom bad.' Well, Oke
talked like that, you know, and Richards got awf'ly wrathy. He has a
down on King for something or other. Wonder why?"

"Why, King talks about Prout in form-room--makes allusions, an' all
that--only half the chaps are such asses they can't see what he's
drivin' at. And d'you remember what he said about the 'Casual House'
last Tuesday? He meant us. They say he says perfectly beastly things
to his own house, making fun of Prout's," said Beetle.

"Well, we didn't come here to mix up in their rows," McTurk said
wrathfully. "Who'll bathe after call-over? King's takin' it in the
cricket-field. Come on." Turkey seized his straw and led the way.

They reached the sun-blistered pavilion over against the gray
Pebbleridge just before roll-call, and, asking no questions, gathered
from King's voice and manner that his house was on the road to
victory.

"Ah, ha!" said he, turning to show the light of his countenance. "Here
we have the ornaments of the Casual House at last. You consider
cricket beneath you, I believe "--the crowd, flannelled, sniggered
"and from what I have seen this afternoon, I fancy many others of
your house hold the same view. And may I ask what you purpose to do
with your noble selves till tea-time?"

"Going down to bathe, sir," said Stalky.

"And whence this sudden zeal for cleanliness? There is nothing about
you that particularly suggests it. Indeed, so far as I remember--I
may be at fault--but a short time ago--"

"Five years, sir," said Beetle hotly.

King scowled. "_One_ of you was that thing called a water-funk. Yes, a
water-funk.  So now you wish to wash? It is well. Cleanliness never
injured a boy or--a house. We will proceed to business," and he
addressed himself to the call-over board.

"What the deuce did you say anything to him for, Beetle?" said McTurk
angrily, as they strolled towards the big, open sea-baths.

"'Twasn't fair--remindin' one of bein' a water-funk. My first term,
too. Heaps of chaps are--when they can't swim."

"Yes, you ass; but he saw he'd fetched you. You ought never to answer
King."

"But it wasn't fair, Stalky."

"My Hat! You've been here six years, and you expect fairness. Well,
you are a dithering idiot."

A knot of King's boys, also bound for the baths, hailed them,
beseeching them to wash--for the honor of their house.

"That's what comes of King's jawin' and messin'. Those young animals
wouldn't have thought of it unless he'd put it into their heads. Now
they'll be funny about it for weeks," said Stalky. "Don't take any
notice."

The boys came nearer, shouting an opprobrious word. At last they moved
to windward, ostentatiously holding their noses.

"That's pretty," said Beetle. "They'll be sayin' our house stinks
next."

When they returned from the baths, damp-headed, languid, at peace with
the world, Beetle's forecast came only too true. They were met in the
corridor by a fag--a common, Lower-Second fag--who at arm's length
handed them a carefully wrapped piece of soap "with the compliments
of King's House."

"Hold on," said Stalky, checking immediate attack. "Who put you up to
this, Nixon?  Rattray and White? (Those were two leaders in King's
house.) Thank you. There's no answer."

"Oh, it's too sickening to have this kind o' rot shoved on to a chap.
What's the sense of it? What's the fun of it?" said McTurk.

"It will go on to the end of the term, though," Beetle wagged his head
sorrowfully.  He had worn many jests threadbare on his own account.

In a few days it became an established legend of the school that
Prout's house did not wash and were therefore noisome. Mr. King was
pleased to smile succulently in form when one of his boys drew aside
from Beetle with certain gestures.

"There seems to be some disability attaching to you, my Beetle, or
else why should Burton major withdraw, so to speak, the hem of his
garments? I confess I am still in the dark. Will some one be good
enough to enlighten me?"

Naturally, he was enlightened by half the form.

"Extraordinary! Most extraordinary! However, each house has its
traditions, with which I would not for the world interfere. _We_ have
a prejudice in favor of washing. Go on, Beetle--from
'_jugurtha_tamen_'--and, if you can, avoid the more flagrant forms of
guessing."

Prout's house was furious because Macrea's and Hartopp's houses joined
King's to insult them. They called a house-meeting after dinner--an
excited and angry meeting of all save the prefects, whose dignity,
though they sympathized, did not allow them to attend. They read
ungrammatical resolutions, and made speeches beginning, "Gentlemen,
we have met on this occasion," and ending with, "It's a beastly
shame," precisely as houses have done since time and schools began.

Number Five study attended, with its usual air of bland patronage. At
last McTurk, of the lanthorn jaws, delivered himself:

"You jabber and jaw and burble, and that's about all you can do.
What's the good of it? King's house'll only gloat because they've
drawn you, and King will gloat, too.  Besides, that resolution of
Orrin's is chock-full of bad grammar, and King'll gloat over that."

"I thought you an' Beetle would put it right, an'--an' we'd post it in
the corridor," said the composer meekly.

"_Par_si_je_le_connai_. I'm not goin' to meddle with the biznai," said
Beetle. "It's a gloat for King's house. Turkey's quite right."

"Well, won't Stalky, then?"

But Stalky puffed out his cheeks and squinted down his nose in the
style of Panurge, and all he said was, "Oh, you abject burblers!"

"You're three beastly scabs!" was the instant retort of the democracy,
and they went out amid execrations.

"This is piffling," said McTurk. "Let's get our sallies, and go and
shoot bunnies."

Three saloon-pistols, with a supply of bulleted breech-caps, were
stored in Stalky's trunk, and this trunk was in their dormitory, and
their dormitory was a three-bed attic one, opening out of a ten-bed
establishment, which, in turn, communicated with the great range of
dormitories that ran practically from one end of the College to the
other. Macrea's house lay next to Prout's, King's next to Macrea's,
and Hartopp's beyond that again. Carefully locked doors divided house
from house, but each house, in its internal arrangements--the College
had originally been a terrace of twelve large houses--was a replica
of the next; one straight roof covering all.

They found Stalky's bed drawn out from the wall to the left of the
dormer window, and the latter end of Richards protruding from a
two-foot-square cupboard in the wall.

"What's all this? I've never noticed it before. What are you tryin' to
do, Fatty?"

"Fillin' basins, Muster Corkran." Richards's voice was hollow and
muffled. "They've been savin' me trouble. Yiss."

"'Looks like it," said McTurk. "Hi! You'll stick if you don't take
care."

Richards backed puffing.

"I can't rache un. Yiss, 'tess a turncock, Muster McTurk. They've took
an' runned all the watter-pipes a storey higher in the houses--runned
'em all along under the 'ang of the heaves, like. Runned 'em in last
holidays. _I_ can't rache the turncock."

"Let me try," said Stalky, diving into the aperture.

"Slip 'ee to the left, then, Muster Corkran. Slip 'ee to the left, an'
feel in the dark."

To the left Stalky wriggled, and saw a long line of lead pipe
disappearing up a triangular tunnel, whose roof was the rafters and
boarding of the college roof, whose floor was sharp-edged joists, and
whose side was the rough studding of the lath and plaster wall under
the dormer.

"Rummy show. How far does it go?"

"Right along, Muster Corkran--right along from end to end. Her runs
under the 'ang of the heaves. Have 'ee rached the stopcock yet? Mr.
King got un put in to save us carryin' watter from down-stairs to
fill the basins. No place for a lusty man like old Richards. I'm tu
thickabout to go ferritin'. Thank 'ee, Muster Corkran."

The water squirted through the tap just inside the cupboard, and,
having filled the basins, the grateful Richards waddled away.

The boys sat round-eyed on their beds considering the possibilities of
this trove.  Two floors below them they could hear the hum of the
angry house; for nothing is so still as a dormitory in mid-afternoon
of a midsummer term.

"It has been papered over till now." McTurk examined the little door.
"If we'd only known before!"

"I vote we go down and explore. No one will come up this time o' day.
We needn't keep _cave'_."

They crawled in, Stalky leading, drew the door behind them, and on all
fours embarked on a dark and dirty road full of plaster, odd
shavings, and all the raffle that builders leave in the waste room of
a house. The passage was perhaps three feet wide, and, except for the
struggling light round the edges of the cupboards (there was one to
each dormer), almost pitchy dark.

"Here's Macrea's house," said Stalky, his eye at the crack of the
third cupboard. "I can see Barnes's name on his trunk. Don't make
such a row, Beetle! We can get right to the end of the Coll. Come
on!... We're in King's house now--I can see a bit of Rattray's trunk.
How these beastly boards hurt one's knees!" They heard his nails
scraping, on plaster.

"That's the ceiling below. Look out! If we smashed that the plaster
'ud fall down in the lower dormitory," said Beetle.

"Let's," whispered McTurk.

"An' be collared first thing? Not much. Why, I can shove my hand ever
so far up between these boards."

Stalky thrust an arm to the elbow between the joists.

"No good stayin' here. I vote we go back and talk it over. It's a
crummy place.  'Must say I'm grateful to King for his water-works."

They crawled out, brushed one another clean, slid the saloon-pistols
down a trouser-leg, and hurried forth to a deep and solitary
Devonshire lane in whose flanks a boy might sometimes slay a young
rabbit. They threw themselves down under the rank elder bushes, and
began to think aloud.

"You know," said Stalky at last, sighting at a distant sparrow, "we
could hide our sallies in there like anything."

"Huh!" Beetle snorted, choked, and gurgled. He had been silent since
they left the dormitory. "Did you ever read a book called 'The
History of a House' or something? I got it out of the library the
other day. A French woman wrote it--Violet somebody.  But it's
translated, you know; and it's very interestin'. Tells you how a house
is built."

"Well, if you're in a sweat to find out that, you can go down to the
new cottages they're building for the coastguard."

"My Hat! I will." He felt in his pockets. "Give me tuppence, some
one."

"Rot! Stay here, and don't mess about in the sun."

"Gi' me tuppence."

"I say, Beetle, you aren't stuffy about anything, are you?" said
McTurk, handing over the coppers. His tone was serious, for though
Stalky often, and McTurk occasionally, manoeuvred on his own account,
Beetle had never been known to do so in all the history of the
confederacy.

"No, I'm not. I'm thinking."

"Well, we'll come, too," said Stalky, with a general's suspicion of
his aides.

"Don't want you."

"Oh, leave him alone. He's been taken worse with a poem," said McTurk.
"He'll go burbling down to the Pebbleridge and spit it all up in the
study when he comes back."

"Then why did he want the tuppence, Turkey? He's gettin' too beastly
independent.  Hi! There's a bunny. No, it ain't. It's a cat, by Jove!
You plug first."

Twenty minutes later a boy with a straw hat at the back of his head,
and his hands in his pockets, was staring at workmen as they moved
about a half-finished cottage.  He produced some ferocious tobacco,
and was passed from the forecourt into the interior, where he asked
many questions.

"Well, let's have your beastly epic," said Turkey, as they burst into
the study, to find Beetle deep in Viollet-le-Duc and some drawings.
"We've had no end of a lark."

"Epic? What epic? I've been down to the coastguard."

"No epic? Then we will slay you, O Beetle," said Stalky, moving to the
attack.  "You've got something up your sleeve. _I_ know, when you
talk in that tone!"

"Your Uncle Beetle"--with an attempt to imitate Stalky's
war-voice--"is a great man."

"Oh, no; he jolly well isn't anything of the kind. You deceive
yourself, Beetle.  Scrag him, Turkey!"

"A great man," Beetle gurgled from the floor. "_You_ are futile--look
out for my tie!--futile burblers. I am the Great Man. I gloat. Ouch!
Hear me!"

"Beetle, de-ah"--Stalky dropped unreservedly on Beetle's chest--" we
love you, an' you're a poet. If I ever said you were a doggaroo, I
apologize; but you know as well as we do that you can't do anything
by yourself without mucking it."

"I've got a notion."

"And you'll spoil the whole show if you don't tell your Uncle Stalky.
Cough it up, ducky, and we'll see what we can do. Notion, you fat
impostor--I knew you had a notion when you went away! Turkey said it
was a poem."

"I've found out how houses are built. Le' me get up. The floor-joists
of one room are the ceiling-joists of the room below."

"Don't be so filthy technical."

"Well, the man told me. The floor is laid on top of those
joists--those boards on edge that we crawled over--but the floor
stops at a partition. Well, if you get behind a partition, same as
you did in the attic, don't you see that you can shove anything you
please under the floor between the floor-boards and the lath and
plaster of the ceiling below? Look here. I've drawn it."

He produced a rude sketch, sufficient to enlighten the allies. There
is no part of the modern school curriculum that deals with
architecture, and none of them had yet reflected whether floors and
ceilings were hollow or solid. Outside his own immediate interests
the boy is as ignorant as the savage he so admires; but he has also
the savage's resource.

"I see," said Stalky. "I shoved my hand there. An' then?"

"An' then They've been calling us stinkers, you know. We might shove
somethin' under--sulphur, or something that stunk pretty bad--an'
stink 'em out. I know it can be done somehow." Beetle's eyes turned
to Stalky handling the diagrams.

"Stinks?" said Stalky interrogatively. Then his face grew luminous
with delight. "By gum! I've got it. Horrid stinks! Turkey!" He leaped
at the Irishman. "This afternoon--just after Beetle went away!
_She's_ the very thing!"

"Come to my arms, my beamish boy," caroled McTurk, and they fell into
each other's arms dancing. "Oh, frabjous day! Calloo, callay! She
will! She will!"

"Hold on," said Beetle. "I don't understand."

"Dearr man! It shall, though. Oh, Artie, my pure-souled youth, let us
tell our darling Reggie about Pestiferous Stinkadores."

"Not until after call-over. Come on!"

"I say," said Orrin, stiffly, as they fell into their places along the
walls of the gymnasium. "The house are goin' to hold another
meeting."

"Hold away, then." Stalky's mind was elsewhere.

"It's about you three this time."

"All right, give 'em my love... _Here,_sir_," and he tore down the
corridor.

Gamboling like kids at play, with bounds and sidestarts, with
caperings and curvetings, they led the almost bursting Beetle to the
rabbit-lane, and from under a pile of stones drew forth the new-slain
corpse of a cat. Then did Beetle see the inner meaning of what had
gone before, and lifted up his voice in thanksgiving for that the
world held warriors so wise as Stalky and McTurk.

"Well-nourished old lady, ain't she?" said Stalky. "How long d'you
suppose it'll take her to get a bit whiff in a confined space?"

"Bit whiff! What a coarse brute you are!" said McTurk. "Can't a poor
pussy-cat get under King's dormitory floor to die without your
pursuin' her with your foul innuendoes?"

"What did she die under the floor for?' said Beetle, looking to the
future.

"Oh, they won't worry about that when they find her," said Stalky.

"A cat may look at a king." McTurk rolled down the bank at his own
jest. "Pussy, you don't know how useful you're goin' to be to three
pure-souled, high-minded boys."

"They'll have to take up the floor for her, same as they did in Number
Nine when the rat croaked. Big medicine--heap big medicine! Phew! Oh,
Lord, I wish I could stop laughin'," said Beetle.

"Stinks! Hi, stinks! Clammy ones!" McTurk gasped as he regained his
place. "And"--the exquisite humor of it brought them sliding down
together in a tangle--"it's all for the honor of the house, too!"

"An' they're holdin' another meeting--on us," Stalky panted, his knees
in the ditch and his face in the long grass. "Well, let's get the
bullet out of her and hurry up.  The sooner she's bedded out the
better."

Between them they did some grisly work with a penknife; between them
(ask not who buttoned her to his bosom) they took up the corpse and
hastened back, Stalky arranging their plan of action at the full
trot.

The afternoon sun, lying in broad patches on the bed-rugs, saw three
boys and an umbrella disappear into a dormitory wall. In five minutes
they emerged, brushed themselves all over, washed their hands, combed
their hair, and descended.

"Are you sure you shoved her far enough under?" said McTurk suddenly.

"Hang it, man, I shoved her the full length of my arm and Beetle's
brolly. That must be about six feet. She's bung in the middle of
King's big upper ten-bedder. Eligible central situation, _I_ call it.
She'll stink out his chaps, and Hartopp's and Macrea's, when she
really begins to fume. I swear your Uncle Stalky is a great man.  Do
you realize what a great man he is, Beetle?"

"Well, I had the notion first, hadn't I--? only--"

"You couldn't do it without your Uncle Stalky, could you?"

"They've been calling us stinkers for a week now," said McTurk. "Oh,
_won't_ they catch it!"

"Stinker! Yah! Stink-ah!" rang down the corridor.

"And she's there," said Stalky, a hand on either boy's shoulder.
"She--is--there, gettin' ready to surprise 'em. Presently she'll
begin to whisper to 'em in their dreams. Then she'll whiff. Golly,
how she'll whiff! Oblige me by thinkin' of it for two minutes."

They went to their study in more or less of silence. There they began
to laugh--laugh as only boys can. They laughed with their foreheads
on the tables, or on the floor; laughed at length, curled over the
backs of chairs or clinging to a book-shelf; laughed themselves limp.

And in the middle of it Orrin entered on behalf of the house. "Don't
mind us, Orrin; sit down. You don't know how we respect and admire
you. There's something about your pure, high young forehead, full of
the dreams of innocent boyhood, that's no end fetchin'. It is,
indeed."

"The house sent me to give you this." He laid a folded sheet of paper
on the table and retired with an awful front.

"It's the resolution! Oh, read it, some one. I'm too silly-sick with
laughin' to see," said Beetle. Stalky jerked it open with a
precautionary sniff. "Phew! Phew!  Listen.
'_The_house_notices_with_pain_and_contempt_the_attitude_of_indiference_'
--how many f's in indifference, Beetle?"

"Two for choice."

"Only one here--'_adopted_by_the_occupants_of_Number_Five_study_in_
relation_to_the_insults_offered_to_Mr._Prout's_house_at_the_recent_
meeting_in_Number_Twelve_form-room,_and_the_House_hereby_pass_a_
vote_of_censure_on_the_said_study._ That's all."

"And she bled all down my shirt, too!" said Beetle.

"An' I'm catty all over," said McTurk, "though I washed twice."

"An' I nearly broke Beetle's brolly plantin' her where she would blossom!"

The situation was beyond speech, but not laughter. There was some
attempt that night to demonstrate against the three in their
dormitory; so they came forth.

"You see," Beetle began suavely as he loosened his braces, "the
trouble with you is that you're a set of unthinkin' asses. You've no
more brains than spidgers. We've told you that heaps of times,
haven't we.?"

"We'll give the three of you a dormitory lickin'. You always jaw at us
as if you were prefects," cried one.

"Oh, no, you won't," said Stalky, "because you know that if you did
you'd get the worst of it sooner or later. _We_ aren't in any hurry.
We can afford to wait for our little revenges. You've made howlin'
asses of yourselves, and just as soon as King gets hold of your
precious resolutions to-morrow you'll find that out. If you aren't
sick an' sorry by to-morrow night, I'll--I'll eat my hat."

But or ever the dinner-bell rang the next day Prout's were sadly aware
of their error. King received stray members of that house with an
exaggerated attitude of fear. Did they purpose to cause him to be
dismissed from the College by unanimous resolution? What were their
views concerning the government of the school, that he might hasten
to give effect to them? he would not offend them for worlds; but he
feared--he sadly feared--that his own house, who did not pass
resolutions (but washed), might somewhat deride.

King was a happy man, and his house, basking in the favor of his
smile, made that afternoon a long penance to the misled Prouts. And
Prout himself, with a dull and lowering visage, tried to think out
the rights and wrongs of it all, only plunging deeper into
bewilderment. Why should his house be called "Stinkers"? Truly, it was
a small thing, but he had been trained to believe that straws show
which way the wind blows, and that there is no smoke without fire. He
approached King in Common-room with a sense of injustice, but King
was pleased to be full of airy persiflage that tide, and brilliantly
danced dialectical rings round Prout.

"Now," said Stalky at bedtime, making pilgrimage through the
dormitories before the prefects came by, "_now_ what have you got to
say for yourselves? Foster, Carton, Finch, Longbridge, Marlin, Brett!
I heard you chaps catchin' it from King--he made hay of you--an' all
you could do was to wriggle an' grin an' say, 'Yes, sir,' an' 'No,
sir,'' an' 'O, sir,' an' 'Please, sir'! You an' your resolution!
Urh!"

"Oh, shut up, Stalky."

"Not a bit of it. You're a gaudy lot of resolutionists, you are!
You've made a sweet mess of it. Perhaps you'll have the decency to
leave us alone next time."

Here the house grew angry, and in many voices pointed out how this
blunder would never have come to pass if Number Five study had helped
them from the first.

"But you chaps are so beastly conceited, an'--an' you swaggered into
the meetin' as if we were a lot of idiots," growled Orrin of the
resolution.

"That's precisely what you are! That's what we've been tryin' to
hammer into your thick heads all this time," said Stalky. "Never
mind, we'll forgive you. Cheer up.  You can't help bein' asses, you
know," and, the enemy's flank deftly turned, Stalky hopped into bed.

That night was the first of sorrow among the jubilant King's. By some
accident of under-floor drafts the cat did not vex the dormitory
beneath which she lay, but the next one to the right; stealing on the
air rather as a pale-blue sensation than as any poignant offense. But
the mere adumbration of an odor is enough for the sensitive nose and
clean tongue of youth. Decency demands that we draw several
carbolized sheets over what the dormitory said to Mr. King and what
Mr. King replied. He was genuinely proud of his house and fastidious
in all that concerned their well-being. He came; he sniffed; he said
things. Next morning a boy in that dormitory confided to his bosom
friend, a fag of Macrea's, that there was trouble in their midst
which King would fain keep secret.

But Macrea's boy had also a bosom friend in Prout's, a shock-headed
fag of malignant disposition, who, when he had wormed out the secret,
told--told it in a high-pitched treble that rang along the corridor
like a bat's squeak.

"An'--an' they've been calling us 'stinkers' all this week. Why,
Harland minor says they simply can't sleep in his dormitory for the
stink. Come on!"

"With one shout and with one cry" Prout's juniors hurled themselves
into the war, and through the interval between first and second
lesson some fifty twelve-year-olds were embroiled on the gravel
outside King's windows to a tune whose _leit-motif_ was the word
"stinker."

"Hark to the minute-gun at sea!" said Stalky. They were in their study
collecting books for second lesson--Latin, with King. "I thought his
azure brow was a bit cloudy at prayers. 'She is comin', sister Mary.
She is--'"

"If they make such a row now, what will they do when she really begins
to look up an' take notice?"

"Well, no vulgar repartee, Beetle. Ali we want is to keep out of this
row like gentlemen."

"'Tis but a little faded flower.' Where's my Horace? Look here, I
don't understand what she means by stinkin' out Rattray's dormitory
first. We holed in under White's, didn't we?" asked McTurk, with a
wrinkled brow.

"Skittish little thing. She's rompin' about all over the place, I
suppose."

"My Aunt! King'll be a cheerful customer at second lesson. I haven't
prepared my Horace one little bit, either," said Beetle. "Come on!"

They were outside the form-room door now. It was within five minutes
of the bell, and King might arrive at any moment.

Turkey elbowed into a cohort of scuffling fags, cut out Thornton
tertius (he that had been Harland's bosom friend), and bade him tell
his tale.

It was a simple one, interrupted by tears. Many of King's house trod
already battered him for libel.

"Oh, it's nothing," McTurk cried. "He says that King's house stinks.
That's all."

"Stale!" Stalky shouted. "We knew that years ago, only we didn't
choose to run about shoutin' 'stinker.' We've got some manners, ir
they haven't. Catch a fag, Turkey, and make sure of it."

Turkey's long arm closed on a hurried and anxious ornament of the
Lower Second.

"Oh, McTurk, please let me go. I don't stink--I swear I don't!"

"Guilty conscience!" cried Beetle. "Who said you did?"

"What d'you make of it?" Stalky punted the small boy into Beetle's
arms.

"Snf! Snf! He does, though. I think it's leprosy--or thrush. P'raps
it's both. Take it away."

"Indeed, Master Beetle"--King generally came to the house-door for a
minute or two as the bell rang--" we are vastly indebted to you for
your diagnosis, which seems to reflect almost as much credit on the
natural unwholesomeness of your mind as it does upon your pitiful
ignorance of the diseases of which you discourse so glibly. We will,
however, test your knowledge in other directions."

That was a merry lesson, but, in his haste to scarify Beetle, King
clean neglected to give him an imposition, and since at the same time
he supplied him with many priceless adjectives for later use, Beetle
was well content, and applied himself most seriously throughout third
lesson (algebra with little Hartopp) to composing a poem entitled
"The Lazar-house."

After dinner King took his house to bathe in the sea off the
Pebbleridge. It was an old promise; but he wished he could have
evaded it, for all Prout's lined up by the Fives Court and cheered
with intention. In his absence not less than half the school invaded
the infected dormitory to draw their own conclusions. The cat had
gained in the last twelve hours, but a battlefield of the fifth day
could not have been so flamboyant as the spies reported.

"My word, she _is_ doin' herself proud," said Stalky. "Did you ever
smell anything like it? Ah, an' she isn't under White's dormitory at
all yet."

"But she will be. Give her time," said Beetle. "She'll twine like a
giddy honeysuckle. What howlin' Lazarites they are! No house is
justified in makin' itself a stench in the nostrils of decent--"

"High-minded, pure-souled boys. Do you burn with remorse and regret?"
said McTurk, as they hastened to meet the house coming up from the
sea. King had deserted it, so speech was unfettered. Round its front
played a crowd of skirmishers--all houses mixed--flying, reforming,
shrieking insults. On its tortured flanks marched the Hoplites,
seniors hurling jests one after another--simple and primitive jests of
the Stone Age. To these the three added themselves, dispassionately,
with an air of aloofness, almost sadly.

"And they look all right, too," said Stalky. "It can't be Rattray, can
it? Rattray?"

No answer.

"Rattray, dear? He seems stuffy about something or other. Look here,
old man, we don't bear any malice about your sending that soap to us
last week, do we? Be cheerful, Rat. You can live this down all right.
I dare say it's only a few fags.  Your house is so beastly slack,
though."

"You aren't going back to the house, are you?" said McTurk. The
victims desired nothing better. "You've simply no conception of the
reek up there. Of course, frowzin' as you do, you wouldn't notice it;
but, after this nice wash and the clean, fresh air, even you'd be
upset. 'Much better camp on the Burrows. We'll get you some straw.
Shall we'?" The house hurried in to the tune of "John Brown's body,"
sung by loving schoolmates, and barricaded themselves in their
form-room. Straightway Stalky chalked a large cross, with "Lord, have
mercy upon us," on the door, and left King to find it.

The wind shifted that night and wafted a carrion-reek into Macrea's
dormitories; so that boys in nightgowns pounded on the locked door
between the houses, entreating King's to wash. Number Five study went
to second lesson with not more than half a pound of camphor apiece in
their clothing; and King, too wary to ask for explanations, gibbered
a while and hurled them forth. So Beetle finished yet another poem at
peace in the study.

"They're usin' carbolic now. Malpas told me," said Stalky. "King
thinks it's the drains."

"She'll need a lot o' carbolic," said McTurk. "No harm tryin', I
suppose. It keeps King out of mischief."

"I swear I thought he was goin' to kill me when I sniffed just now. He
didn't mind Burton major sniffin' at me the other day, though. He
never stopped Alexander howlin' 'Stinker!' into our form-room
before--before we doctored 'em. He just grinned," said Stalky. "What
was he frothing over you for, Beetle?"

"Aha! That, was my subtle jape. I had him on toast. You know he always
jaws about the learned Lipsius."

"'Who at the age of four'--that chap?" said McTurk.

"Yes. Whenever he hears I've written a poem. Well, just as I was
sittin' down, I whispered, 'How is our learned Lepsius?' to Burton
major. Old Butt grinned like an owl. _He_ didn't know what I was
drivin' at; but King jolly well did. That was really why he hove us
out. Ain't you grateful? Now shut up. I'm goin' to write the 'Ballad
of the Learned Lipsius.'"

"Keep clear of anything coarse, then," said Stalky. "I shouldn't like
to be coarse on this happy occasion."

"Not for wo-orlds. What rhymes to 'stenches,' someone?"

In Common-room at lunch King discoursed acridly to Prout of boys with
prurient minds, who perverted their few and baleful talents to sap
discipline and corrupt their equals, to deal in foul imagery and
destroy reverence.

"But you didn't seem to consider this when your house called
us--ah--stinkers. If you hadn't assured me that you never interfere
with another man's house, I should almost believe that it was a few
casual remarks of yours that started all this nonsense."

Prout had endured much, for King always took his temper to meals.

"You spoke to Beetle yourself, didn't you? Something about not
bathing, and being a water-funk?" the school chaplain put in. "I was
scoring in the pavilion that day."

"I may have--jestingly. I really don't pretend to remember every
remark I let fall among small boys; and full well I know the Beetle
has no feelings to be hurt."

"May be; but he, or they--it comes to to same thing--have the fiend's
own knack of discovering a man's weak place. I confess I rather go
out of my way to conciliate Number Five study. It may be soft, but so
far, I believe, I am the only man here whom they haven't maddened by
their--well--attentions."

"That is all beside the point. I flatter myself I can deal with them
alone as occasion arises. But if they feel themselves morally
supported by those who should wield an absolute and open-handed
justice, then I say that my lot is indeed a hard one. Of all things I
detest, I admit that anything verging on disloyalty among ourselves
is the first."

The Common-room looked at one another out of the corners of their
eyes, and Prout blushed.

"I deny it absolutely," he said. "Er--in fact, I own that I personally
object to all three of them. It is not fair, therefore, to--"

"How long do you propose to allow it?" said King.

"But surely," said Macrea, deserting his usual ally, "the blame, if
there be any, rests with you, King. You can't hold them responsible
for the--you prefer the good old Anglo-Saxon, I believe--stink in
your house. My boys arc complaining of it now."

"What can you expect? You know what boys are. Naturally they take
advantage of what to them is a heaven-sent opportunity," said little
Hartopp. "What _is_ the trouble in your dormitories, King?"

Mr. King explained that as he had made it the one rule of his life
never to interfere with another man's house, so he expected not to be
too patently interfered with. They might be interested to learn
--here the chaplain heaved a weary sigh--that he had taken all steps
that, in his poor judgment, would meet the needs of the case. Nay,
further, he had himself expended, with no thought of reimbursement,
sums, the amount of which he would not specify, on disinfectants.
This he had done because he knew by bitter--by most bitter--experience
that the management of the college was slack, dilatory, and
inefficient. He might even add, almost as slack as the administration
of certain houses which now thought fit to sit in judgment on his
actions. With a short summary of his scholastic career, and a precis
of his qualifications, including his degrees, he withdrew, slamming
the door.

"Heigho!" said the chaplain. "Ours is a dwarfing life--a belittling
life, my brethren. God help all schoolmasters! They need it."

"I don't like the boys, I own"--Prout dug viciously with his fork into
the table-cloth--"and I don't pretend to be a strong man, as you
know. But I confess I can't see any reason why I should take steps
against Stalky and the others because King happens to be annoyed
by--by--"

"Falling into the pit he has digged," said little Hartopp. "Certainly
not, Prout. No one accuses you of setting one house against another
through sheer idleness."

"A belittling life--a belittling life." The chaplain rose. "I go to
correct French exercises. By dinner King will have scored off some
unlucky child of thirteen; he will repeat to us every word of his
brilliant repartees, and all will be well."

"But about those three. Are they so prurient-minded?"

"Nonsense," said little Hartopp. "If you thought for a minute, Prout,
you would see that the 'precocious flow of fetid imagery,' that King
complains of, is borrowed wholesale from King. He 'nursed the pinion
that impelled the steel.' Naturally he does not approve. Come into
the smoking-room for a minute. It isn't fair to listen to boys; but
they should be now rubbing it into King's house outside. Little
things please little minds."

The dingy den off the Common-room was never used for anything except
gowns. Its windows were ground glass; one could not see out of it,
but one could hear almost every word on the gravel outside. A light
and wary footstep came up from Number Five.

"Rattray!" in a subdued voice--Rattray's study fronted that way.
"D'you know if Mr.  King's anywhere about? I've got a--" McTurk
discreetly left the end of the sentence open.

"No. he's gone out," said Rattray unguardedly.

"Ah! The learned Lipsius is airing himself, is he? His Royal Highness
has gone to fumigate." McTurk climbed on the railings, where he held
forth like the never-wearied rook.

"Now in all the Coll. there was no stink like the stink of King's
house, for it stank vehemently and none knew what to make of it. Save
King. And he washed the fags _privatim_et_seriatim_. In the fishpools
of Hesbon washed he them, with an apron about his loins."

"Shut up, you mad Irishman!" There was the sound of a golf-ball
spurting up gravel.

"It's no good getting wrathy, Rattray. We've come to jape with you.
Come on, Beetle.  They're all at home. You can wind 'em."

"Where's the Pomposo Stinkadore? 'Tisn't safe for a pure-souled,
high-minded boy to be seen round his house these days. Gone out, has
he? Never mind. I'll do the best I can, Rattray. I'm
_in_loco_parentis_ just now."

("One for you, Prout," whispered Macrea, for this was Mr. Prout's pet
phrase.)

"I have a few words to impart to you, my young friend. We will
discourse together a while."

Here the listening Prout sputtered: Beetle, in a strained voice, had
chosen a favorite gambit of King's.

"I repeat, Master Rattray, we will confer, and the matter of our
discourse shall not be stinks, for that is a loathsome and obscene
word. We will, with your good leave--granted, I trust, Master
Rattray, granted, I trust--study this--this scabrous upheaval of
latent demoralization. What impresses me most is not so much the
blatant indecency with which you swagger abroad under your load of
putrescence" (you must imagine this discourse punctuated with
golf-balls, but old Rattray was ever a bad shot) "as the cynical
immorality with which you revel in your abhorrent aromas. Far be it
from me to interfere with another's house--"

("Good Lord!" said Prout, "but this is King."

"Line for line, letter for letter; listen;" said little Hartopp.)

"But to say that you stink, as certain lewd fellows of the baser sort
aver, is to say nothing--less than nothing. In the absence of your
beloved house-master, for whom no one has a higher regard than
myself, I will, if you will allow me, explain the grossness--the
unparalleled enormity--the appalling fetor of the stenches (I believe
in the good old Anglo-Saxon word), stenches, sir, with which you have
seen fit to infect your house... Oh, bother! I've forgotten the rest,
but it was very beautiful. Aren't you grateful to us for laborin'
with you this way, Rattray? Lots of chaps 'ud never have taken the
trouble, but we're grateful, Rattray."

"Yes, we're horrid grateful," grunted McTurk. "We don't forget that
soap. We're polite. Why ain't you polite, Rat?"

"Hallo!" Stalky cantered up, his cap over one eye. "Exhortin' the
Whiffers, eh? I'm afraid they're too far gone to repent. Rattray!
White! Perowne! Malpas! No answer.  This is distressin'. This is
truly distressin'. Bring out your dead, you glandered lepers!"

"You think yourself funny, don't you?" said Rattray, stung from his
dignity by this last. "It's only a rat or something under the floor.
We're going to have it up to-morrow."

"Don't try to shuffle it off on a poor dumb animal, and dead, too. I
loathe prevarication. 'Pon my soul, Rattray--"

"Hold on. The Hartoffles never said 'Pon my soul' in all his little
life," said Beetle critically.

("Ah!" said Prout to little Hartopp.)

"Upon my word, sir, upon my word, sir, I expected better things of
you, Rattray. Why can you not own up to your misdeeds like a man?
Have _I_ ever shown any lack of confidence in _you_?"

("It's not brutality," murmured little Hartopp, as though answering a
question no one had asked. "It's boy; only boy.")

"And this was the house," Stalky changed from a pecking, fluttering
voice to tragic earnestness. "This was the--the--open cesspit that
dared to call us 'stinkers.' And now--and now, it tries to shelter
itself behind a dead rat. You annoy me, Rattray.  You disgust me! You
irritate me unspeakably! Thank Heaven, I am a man of equable
temper--"

("This is to your address, Macrea," said Prout.

"I fear so, I fear so.")

"Or I should scarcely be able to contain myself before your mocking
visage."

"_Cave_!" in an undertone. Beetle had spied King sailing down the
corridor.

"And what may you be doing here, my little friends?" the house-master
began. "I had a fleeting notion--correct me if I am wrong" (the
listeners with one accord choked)--"that if I found you outside my
house I should visit you with dire pains and penalties."

"We were just goin' for a walk, sir," said Beetle.

"And you stopped to speak to Rattray _en_route_?"

"Yes, sir. We've been throwing golf-balls," said Rattray, coming out
of the study.

("Old Rat is more of a diplomat than I thought. So far he is strictly
within the truth," said little Hartopp. "Observe the ethics of it,
Prout.")

"Oh, you were sporting with them, were you? I must say I do not envy
you your choice of associates. I fancied they might have been engaged
in some of the prurient discourse with which they have been so
disgustingly free of late. I should strongly advise you to direct
your steps most carefully in the future. Pick up those golf-balls."
He passed on.

Next day Richards, who had been a carpenter in the Navy, and to whom
odd jobs were confided, was ordered to take up a dormitory floor; for
Mr. King held that something must have died there.

"We need not neglect all our work for a trumpery incident of this
nature; though I am quite aware that little things please little
minds. Yes, I have decreed the boards to be taken up after lunch
under Richards's auspices. I have no doubt it will be vastly
interesting to a certain type of so-called intellect; but any boy of
my house or another's found on the dormitory stairs will _ipso_facto_
render himself liable to three hundred lines."

The boys did not collect on the stairs, but most of them waited
outside King's.  Richards had been bound to cry the news from the
attic window, and, if possible, to exhibit the corpse.

"'Tis a cat, a dead cat!" Richards's face showed purple at the window.
He had been in the chamber of death and on his knees for some time.

"Cat be blowed!" cried McTurk. "It's a dead fag left over from last
term. Three cheers for King's dead fag!"

They cheered lustily.

"Show it, show it! Let's have a squint at it!" yelled the juniors.
"Give her to the Bug-hunters." (This was the Natural History
Society). "The cat looked at the King--and died of it! Hoosh! Yai!
Yaow! Maiow! Ftzz!" were some of the cries that followed.

Again Richards appeared.

"She've been"--he checked himself suddenly--"dead a long taime."

The school roared.

"Well, come on out for a walk," said Stalky in a well-chosen pause.
"It's all very disgustin', and I do hope the Lazar-house won't do it
again."

"Do what?" a King's boy cried furiously.

"Kill a poor innocent cat every time you want to get off washing. It's
awfully hard to distinguish between you as it is. I prefer the cat, I
must say. She isn't quite so whiff. What are you goin' to do,
Beetle?"

"_Je_vais_gloater_. _Je_vais_gloater_tout_le_ blessed afternoon.
_Jamais_j'ai_ _gloate'_comme_je_gloaterai_aujourd'hui_.
_Nous_bunkerons_aux_ bunkers."

And it seemed good to them so to do.

Down in the basement, where the gas flickers and the boots stand in
racks, Richards, amid his blacking-brushes, held forth to Oke of the
Common-room, Gumbly of the dining-halls, and fair Lena of the
laundry.

"Yiss. Her were in a shockin' staate an' condition. Her nigh made me
sick, I tal 'ee. But I rowted un out, and I rowted un out, an' I made
all shipshape, though her smelt like to bilges."

"Her died mousin', I reckon, poor thing," said Lena.

"Then her moused different to any made cat o' God's world, Lena. I up
with the top-board, an' she were lying on her back, an' I turned un
ovver with the brume-handle, an' 'twas her back was all covered with
the plaster from 'twixt the lathin'. Yiss, I tal 'ee. An' under her
head there lay, like, so's to say, a little pillow o' plaster druv up
in front of her by raison of her slidin' along on her back. No cat
niver went mousin' on her back, Lena. Some one had shoved her along
right underneath, so far as they could shove un. Cats don't make
theyselves pillows for to die on. Shoved along, she were, when she
was settin' for to be cold, laike."

"Oh, yeou'm too clever to live, Fatty. Yeou go get wed an' taught some
sense," said Lena, the affianced of Gumbly.

"Larned a little 'fore iver some maidens was born. Sarved in the
Queen's Navy, I have, where yeou'm taught to use your eyes. Yeou go
'tend your own business, Lena."

"Do 'ee mean what you'm been tellin' us?" said Oke.

"Ask me no questions, I'll give 'ee no lies. Bullet-hole clane thru
from side to side, an' tu heart-ribs broke like withies. I seed un
when I turned un ovver.  They're clever, oh, they'm clever, but
they'm not too clever for old Richards! 'Twas on the born tip o' my
tongue to tell, tu, but... he said us niver washed, he did.  Let his
dom boys call us 'stinkers,' he did. Sarve un dom well raight, I
say!"

Richards spat on a fresh boot and fell to his work, chuckling.


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