Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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MR. BRACKNELL, science master at Charminster, stood behind a sort of counter on which were glass retorts, scales, a Leyden jar, and various other simple chemical apparatus. To the right was a blackboard, and, behind him, shelves laden with labelled bottles.
Facing him, on seats raised in tiers against the wall, were the Lower Fourth Form, a motley collection of boys ranging from clever little youngsters of twelve up to big fellows of nearly fifteen. But there were more little boys than big, and the depressed expression on the keen, dark face of the science master seemed to show that teaching them even the elements of chemistry was a pretty hopeless task.
"No, Arden," he was saying, "CO is not the formula for carbon dioxide. It is CO². Come down here and write it on the blackboard. Then perhaps you will remember it."
Pearce Arden got up and came down the steps from his seat. He was tall, with arms as long as a monkey's. He had hair so red it was almost scarlet, greenish eyes, and a pale face which was disfigured by a sullen scowl. He was not a pretty person, and his disposition was one degree worse than his looks. The Fourth Form at large, especially the smaller boys, disliked him extremely, but feared him equally. Scowling worse than ever, Arden came forward.
On the front bench, next to one another, sat two small boys, one slim, dark-haired, distinctly good-looking, but paler and thinner than he ought to have been; the other solid and square, with fair hair, a freckled face, and a pair of merry blue eyes.
As Arden came past the fair boy turned to his companion.
"I say, Cartwright, I never thought they'd use the old blackboard," he said, in a whisper full of dismay.
"Why, what's the matter?" questioned Cartwright.
"Matter! You'll soon see," replied Jimmy Clayton. "My word, I'm in for it now!"
"CO², Arden," said Mr. Bracknell severely. "Good big letters. Don't be afraid of it."
Arden took the chalk. He was furious at being brought up like this before all the kids, and the chalk squeaked with the force with which he applied it to the board.
He was half-way through the first heavy down-stroke when, with a flash and a crack, the surface of the board burst into flame.
Arden gave a yell and leaped two feet into the air. The master's chair was just behind him. He hit this, fell over it backwards, and he and the chair together crashed to the bare boards with a force that made the windows rattle.
For a moment there was dead silence, then the funny side of it struck the Form, and with one accord the whole twenty-three boys went off into shrieks of laughter. Even Mr. Bracknell's lips were twitching as he helped Arden up.
"Are you hurt, Arden?"
Arden tried to speak, but simply could not. He was too angry.
"You can go back to your seat," said the master.
Little Ray Cartwright was exactly in front of Arden as Arden turned, and the glare in Arden's green eyes cut the smile from Ray's face as a sponge takes a chalk mark off a board. But Arden had seen it.
"All right, my beauty," he whispered as he passed; and Ray shrank as if someone had hit him.
"And now," said Mr. Bracknell quietly, "will the boy who played this silly trick stand up?"
Jimmy Clayton rose to his feet. "Ah! Chlorate of silver, I suppose?" said the master.
"Very ingenious, but not a trick to try in Form, Clayton. You will stay in for an hour's extra lesson."
Jimmy sat down, looking rather relieved. Chemistry was the one sort of work he really liked, and the extra lesson had no terrors for him.
"But Arden," whispered Ray, "he'll half kill you."
"He's got to catch me first," grinned Jimmy.
RAYMOND CARTWRIGHT was a newcomer to Charminster. He did not know the ropes like Jimmy Clayton. So, though he realised his danger well enough, he failed to escape Arden, and Arden caught him at the door of the Lower Fourth class-room.
"I'll teach you to laugh at me," said the big fellow, in a tone of concentrated malice. "Catch hold of him, Bulmer."
Ray found himself surrounded. There were not only Arden and his pal Bulmer, a great big ox of a fellow, but also Foxy Hogan, a sharp-nosed, thin-lipped boy with a peculiarly unpleasant expression. Ray was badly scared, but tried not to show it.
"What shall we do with him, Hogan?" said Arden.
"Put him in the haunted house," suggested Hogan promptly.
Arden shook his head.
"Not a bad notion, Hogan, but it's too risky. Someone might spot us as we took him across. I've got a better plan. What about Pussy in the Well?"
Hogan's thin lips parted in a cruel grin.
"Good egg, Arden. That'll teach him. Wait! I'll just see if any masters are about."
He was back in a minute.
"The coast's clear," he said. Arden nodded.
"Come on, then, you chaps. And hang on to him." He turned to Ray. "If you make a sound we'll half kill you."
Ray did not answer. He was so frightened that he could hardly stand. He had no idea what these boys were going to do with him, but felt certain it was something perfectly horrid.
He had not long to wait before he learned. They led him away down a passage, past the box-room, to a place he had never seen before. It was called the Old Yard. Charminster School was founded on the site of an ancient castle and the Old Yard was actually the courtyard of the vanished stronghold. A length of the massive old wall still remained, and outside it was a deep dry ditch that had once been the moat.
Close to this grey old wall gaped the mouth of a huge well. It was surrounded by a low kerb, and the ancient windlass, chain, and bucket were still in position.
At this time of day most of the boys were up in the playing- field, which lay across the road from the school, and the Old Yard was deserted. Ray's three persecutors ran him across to the old well.
"Get into that bucket," ordered Arden. "You're going to be Pussy in the Well."
Ray's terror got the better of him.
"No!" he cried frantically. "No! Don't put me in the well."
Bulmer's big hand closed over Ray's mouth. "Shut up, you little sneak," he growled. "Catch hold, Arden." Between them the two lifted Ray into the bucket.
"Keep still, or you'll fall out and break your neck," threatened Arden; and Ray, almost paralysed with fright, caught the chain with a convulsive grip.
Arden released the catch of the windlass, the drum began to clank round, and Ray found himself sinking into the depths of a great square pit. Beneath him was utter blackness and a sensation of terrible depth.
The bucket swung from side to side; and Ray, too giddy and terrified to utter a sound, could only hang on like grim death as he went dangling downward.
The square patch of light overhead steadily diminished, the darkness increased, the air struck cold and damp. At last his downward progress ceased.
"That'll do," he heard Arden's voice above. "Now chock the windlass."
Then Ray saw Arden's face far above as he peered over the edge.
"Laugh!" he sneered. "Why don't you laugh? You little rat; this will teach you to grin at your betters."
"Come on, Arden," It was Hogan speaking. "Come on before someone spots us. It's jolly near tea-time."
They went away; and Ray, shaking in every limb, sick with terror, was left hanging over the black abyss, quite alone.
JIMMY CLAYTON did his extra hour "on his head," as he would have expressed it. Though hopeless at Latin and Greek, the boy loved chemistry; and Mr. Bracknell, an enthusiast himself, gave him all the help in his power.
The hour over, Jimmy made off by a back way known only to himself. He knew Arden would be lying in wait for him, but Jimmy was quite capable of taking care of himself and had no idea of putting his head into the lion's mouth. Reaching his dormitory in safety, the first person he ran into was his pal, Bob Dane.
"Hulloa, Bob!" said Jimmy. "Where's Arden?"
"In class room, I expect. I say, do you know what those swabs have done to young Cartwright?"
"Stuck him in the well in the Old Yard. I watched them."
Jimmy looked serious. "That's the limit!" he growled. "The kid will be scared stiff. Look here, Dane, I'm going to get him out."
"You can't. Ferguson, Arden's fag, is on guard. He'll tell Arden, and you'll get toko[*]."
[* A caning, archaic British schoolboy slang].
Jimmy looked thoughtful.
"H'm! I don't specially want to bump into Arden. He's pretty sick about that jape I played on him."
He said no more, but slipped off, got out by the side gate, and hurried round to the back of the Old Yard. His idea was to climb the wall and so dodge Ferguson. But before he reached the wall he caught sight of a slim figure hurrying across a field in the distance. He stared a moment. "Why, it's Cartwright!" he exclaimed in great surprise, and started off in chase.
But Ray had a long start and was running, so in the end they were nearly a mile from the school before Jimmy caught him up.
"Hi, Cartwright!" he cried sharply. "Where are you going?"
Ray turned, and a look of relief crossed his drawn, white face. 'Oh, it's you, Clayton. "I thought—"
"Thought it was Arden, I suppose. But where on earth are you going to?"
Ray flushed and did not answer.
"You young idiot, you weren't running away?" demanded Jimmy bluntly.
Ray faced him.
"Yes; I was, if you want to know. I'm sick of the place and getting kicked and bullied. I'm going to clear out."
Jimmy turned suddenly serious. There was a lot of sound, good sense in that square head of his.
"Don't be an ass, old chap," he said quietly. "Fellows don't do things like that. You come on back, and I'll show you how to stick up to Arden and his crew. After all, there's only a small gang of bullies, and most of our chaps are decent. I'll help you."
Ray's lip quivered. He had not met much kindness during his first few days at Charminster, and it was a moment before he could speak.
"It—it's very decent of you, Clayton. You see, I've never been to school before, and I never had any brothers."
"You poor kid!" said Jimmy. "How rotten for you! Where do you live?"
"We—Father and I did live in London, but Father has gone abroad. He is in the Diplomatic Service and has been sent to Vienna by the Government. I—we haven't any home in England now."
"Then where were you going?"
"I don't know; anywhere," said Ray recklessly.
Jimmy hardly knew what to say. He had only just begun to realise how hard driven this youngster had been.
"Arden's a pig," he said curtly. "But you and I will score off him. How did you get out of that well?"
Before Ray could answer there came through the evening air the heavy clang of the school clock striking six.
"Crumbs!" groaned Jimmy. "That's locking-up time. We're late for gates."
"Late for gates?" repeated Ray.
"Yes; and a nice row we shall get into. It means being hauled up before the Head."
SOMEONE else heard the school clock strike six. Arden, sitting with Bulmer and Hogan in the box room devouring large slabs of black-looking plum cake, got up quickly.
"I say, it's about time we got that kid out of the well," he said.
"What's the hurry?" asked Bulmer, cutting a chunk of cake.
"We don't want him missed, you ass," answered Arden. "It's jolly near tea-time, and if he isn't there someone may start looking for him."
"You're right, Arden," said Hogan, who had more brains than the other two put together. "We don't want anyone interfering with our little amusements. And, anyhow, the young beggar has had his lesson. Come on."
It was getting very dusk in the walled yard under the shadow of the buildings as the trio reached the well. Arden looked over the kerb.
"Had enough, Cartwright?" he asked jeeringly. "Will you keep your ugly grins to yourself if we let you out?"
There was no answer.
"I hope he hasn't fainted," said Hogan quickly. "He's just the sort of young ass to crock up if he's a bit scared."
"Here, get hold of the windlass, Bulmer," snapped Arden uneasily. "Anyhow, he can't have hurt himself. There's no water in the well. Nothing but leaves and mud at the bottom."
Bulmer grasped the handle of the windlass and began to wind, or rather he tried to, but failed.
"What's the matter?" demanded Hogan.
"I don't know. It's frightfully heavy. I can't move it."
"Rot!" growled Hogan. "Here, I'll help."
Between them they were just able to turn the windlass, but it was about all they could do. The weight was enormous; the bucket seemed to weigh a ton, and the old windlass creaked and groaned as the chain wound slowly on the drum.
The perspiration streamed down Bulmer's fat cheeks, and the veins stood out on Hogan's forehead, while, as for Arden, there was something near to fright in his greenish eyes.
Foot by foot the bucket rose.
"Isn't he nearly up?" panted Bulmer.
"Yes; he's coming," answered Arden. "But—" He stopped, and suddenly jumped back from the rim of the well.
"What's the matter?" snapped Hogan.
His answer came from the well. Out of the dark mouth of it there leaped suddenly a figure that looked about seven feet high, and which was wrapped from head to foot in a long white sheet. Without a sound it made straight for Arden.
Arden gave one yell of ghastly terror, and, followed by Bulmer and Hogan, ran for dear life.
"WE shall have to go before Dr. Fawcett?" repeated Ray, turning pale.
Jimmy Clayton glanced at Ray and saw how scared he looked.
"It's all right, Cartwright," he said. "I don't suppose he'll lick us; only he'll want to know how we got out and what we were doing. The Head's a decent old bird; we'll have to tell him some of the story."
"Then I should have to tell him about the well!" said Ray, looking more unhappy than ever.
"No; you can't sneak, Cartwright. That's not cricket, even about a swab like Arden. You'll have to say that we went for a walk, and didn't remember how late it was." He pulled up short. "I say, you never told me how you got out of the well!" he exclaimed.
"By the passage under the wall."
"Passage under the wall!" Jimmy was all excitement. "My hat! You don't mean to say there's a secret passage?"
"Yes," said Ray simply. "There's a sort of bricked culvert. When they let me down in the bucket I found myself hanging just opposite the hole. It was easy enough to climb out of the bucket and get through."
"Where did it come out?"
"In that big, dry ditch outside the wall. You wouldn't notice the mouth, for it's all grown over with nettles and brambles."
Jimmy whistled softly.
"What a find! But see here, Cartwright, if you could get out, we can get back the same way!"
"Yes, we could get back into the well," answered Ray. "But how should we get up to the top? I don't think that we could climb the chain."
"We don't have to. Those chaps will be sure to come and pull you up before tea. They won't risk your being missed."
"But then they'd get hold of me again!" he stammered.
"Oh, don't be so scared!" returned Jimmy impatiently. But next moment he was sorry. "Don't you worry; I'll go up first! he added quickly.
"No!" said Ray firmly. "That won't do at all. You know that Arden is aching to catch you. He's got a bigger grudge against you than against me."
Instead of looking dismayed, Jimmy suddenly began to chuckle. Ray gazed at him in amazement.
"It's all right," grinned Jimmy. "I've got a notion for scoring off the lot of them. Oh, a topping idea! But come on—quick! We shan't have too much time to work it."
He started running as he spoke and in a few minutes they were back in the broad ditch under the old wall, where Ray showed Jimmy the entrance to the culvert.
"Topping!" said Jimmy. "You wait here; I've got to fetch something. I sha'n't be two twos."
Much wondering, Ray stood waiting, while Jimmy darted off. He went to the right, in the direction of the Headmaster's garden. To the left, a little way off, there stood, among thick trees, an old house. When he had first got out Ray had been too flustered to notice it, but now he found himself looking at it with a sense of pleasure.
Ray had a love for beauty unusual in so young a boy, and this old house, with its red-tiled roof, tall, twisted', red-brick chimneys, and the thick ivy clinging to its walls, was very beautiful.
He was still gazing at it when Jimmy came racing back, carrying a bundle under his arm.
"What is that old house, Clayton?" asked Ray.
"That? Oh, the old Manor House!" Jimmy answered. "Yes, it's a queer old place; it's been empty for years. They say it's haunted, but never mind about that now. Look what I've got." As he spoke he unfolded a big sheet. "Mrs. Dawkes lent it to me. She's the gardener's wife, a decent old soul."
"But what's it for?" asked Ray.
"Why, to scare Arden, of course!"
"To dress up in, you mean?" asked Ray.
"Rather! Oh, we're going to jape with the gentle Arden! We're going to put the wind up him properly!"
RAY began to feel a thrill of excitement as Jimmy rapidly opened out the sheet. Then, carrying it and a stick, Jimmy scrambled into the mouth of the opening, with Ray close behind.
The culvert was about a yard wide and not quite that in height. The brickwork was still fairly sound, and Ray saw that it had been made to take the overflow of the old well out into the moat. As they scrambled along it Ray noticed another passage, opening on the right, that he had not seen before. He wondered where it led. But Jimmy was in such a hurry that he never spotted it; and Ray, of course, had then no time to investigate.
Presently the two were standing together on a ledge projecting from the side of the well.
"Good business!" whispered Jimmy. "The Bucket's still here. They haven't come yet."
"But they're coming," answered Ray, in an equally low tone. "I can hear steps."
"You've got jolly good ears!" said Jimmy. "Quick, now; help me on with the sheet!" Then a fresh idea seized him. "Here, stack some of those loose bricks into the bucket. Make 'em work to wind it up; they'll wonder what they've got hold of."
Ray worked like a Trojan, piling bricks into the bucket, and all was ready just as they heard Arden shouting down from above.
Ray's life up to coming to Charminster had been a very quiet one. He positively shook with excitement as he saw Jimmy, looking ghostly in his white robe, being slowly raised in the bucket. It seemed to him an endless time before he suddenly heard Arden's shriek of terror, and next moment down came the bucket, banging and rattling, the chain running out with a fearful clatter.
For a moment Ray was scared stiff, for he fully expected to see Jimmy precipitated to the bottom of the well. But not a bit of it. Jimmy knew a trick worth two of that, and as Hogan and Bulmer let go of the windlass he had leaped for the edge of the kerb and caught it.
Ray heard Jimmy give two or three hideous howls; then the clatter of running feet died out, and Jimmy's voice, choked with mirth, came from above.
"Done the trick, Cartwright!" he gurgled. "Scared 'em out of at least seven years' growth! Oh, hold me, or I shall burst!"
"Don't do that! Pull me up!" answered Ray.
Jimmy wasted no time, and soon Ray was safe on firm-ground. Jimmy had rolled his sheet up.
"Now we've got to clear," he said. "They'll smell a rat, of course, but they must never know what happened. You'll keep your mouth shut, Cartwright?"
"Of course I will. I'll never say a word," replied Ray earnestly. "Nothing shall induce me."
"You needn't make such a song about it. I know you'll keep mum. Come on now. What luck that well passage saved us having to come through the gates! If we can get to the dining hall without being spotted we're all right."
The two were safe in their places before Arden and company came in. Ray hardly dared to look up, but Jimmy stared brazenly at the bullies. Then he turned to his companion with a grin of joy.
"Did you see their faces? Oh, did you spot the way Arden looked at you? Talk of registering surprise, why, it beat any kinema I ever saw. Tell you what, Cartwright, they'll think twice before they monkey with us again."
"I'm sure I hope so," replied Ray. "I don't want to have anything more to do with them."
THE rest of the evening passed off quietly enough, and next day Ray found, to his surprise and delight, that Jimmy and his pal Bob Dane were both disposed to be really friendly. Ray had never had a boy friend, and his very delight kept him silent and awkward.
After morning school the other two suggested a visit to the tuck shop.
"Thanks," said Ray uncomfortably. "But I think I won't come, please."
Jimmy looked distinctly surprised.
"Why not?" he demanded.
"I—I can't afford it," stammered Ray.
There was an awkward pause.
"All right," said Jimmy at last. "Then you won't mind if Bob and I go?"
"N—no. Of course not," said Ray.
The two went off, and when they had turned the corner Bob spoke.
"Rum kid, that! I thought you told me his father was rich, Jimmy."
"He ought to be," answered Jimmy. "He's a big pot in the Diplomatic Service."
"Then why hasn't Cartwright got some tin? He can't have spent all his beginning-of-term money."
"Don't know, I'm sure."
"Sounds to me as if he were stingy," said Bob.
Jimmy did not answer. After all, he had t, admit to himself that he knew next to nothing about young Cartwright.
Ray meantime wandered off alone. What he had said was quite true, but he had not told the others the reason why he was so hard up. Now he wished he had, for it was bitter indeed to lose friends when he so badly needed them. Feeling more sad and lonely than ever, he walked out across the playing-field, climbed a stile, and found himself in a path leading down beside a hedge into the water meadows. He was mooning aimlessly along when, without the slightest warning, two boys jumped out from behind the hedge and caught hold of him.
"Hang on to him tight," came Arden's hated voice.
Ray's heart sank to his boots when he found that once more he had fallen into the hands of his enemies. But he could do nothing, and was dragged away into the cover of a clump of trees near the water.
"Now," demanded Arden viciously, "how did you get out of that well last night? Who helped you?" Ray's lips tightened. He made no reply.
"Sulky, eh?" said Arden, glowering at him. "Listen to me, you little brat. We don't allow kids like you to play games with their elders, and we're here to make you talk. Are you going to tell or are you not?"
"No!" said Ray briefly.
Arden caught him by the arm and gave it a sharp twist. The pain was so great that Ray quivered all over.
"Now will you tell?" asked Arden.
"No!" snapped Ray.
Another twist. Ray felt as if his arm would break, but he did not utter a sound.
"Don't damage him, Arden. I know a trick worth two of that."
Arden slackened his hold.
"What do you mean?" he asked sourly.
"Give him a ducking."
"Put him in the river, eh?"
"That's the ticket. I'll lay that will make him talk."
"Jolly good notion," he said. "The water's pretty cold, too."
Arden, holding Ray by the collar of the coat, swung him round.
"Do you hear what Hogan says? If you don't own up to what happened last night, and tell us who your pal was, we'll chuck you in."
Ray's face was as white as paper, but he remained obstinately silent. He had given his promise, and nothing that anyone could do would make him break it.
"Sulky, are you?" growled Arden. "All right, my son. You'll shout loud enough before we've done with you. Bring him along, you chaps."
Hogan and Bulmer caught Ray and hauled him toward the river, which here was fully fifty feet wide. It was deep, too, and the greenish water looked bitterly cold.
"This is your last chance, Cartwright," said Arden grimly. "If you don't speak out, in you go. Who was it got you out of the well last night?"
Ray looked at the chill water and shivered slightly. Then he turned to Arden, and, though his face was white, his eyes were brave.
"You can drown me if you like," he said, "but I won't tell." Arden's eyes flamed with rage.
"In he goes!" he said furiously. The other two seized Ray, lifted him and swung him off the ground. Next moment he went sailing through the air, to fall with a tremendous splash into the water.
THE very last thing that Arden and his gang had expected was that Ray could swim.
But Ray, who had spent the previous year with his father in Italy, and enjoyed hours in the warm sea off Capri, had learned to swim extremely well. In fact, it is safe to say that there was not another boy of his age at Charminster who could rival him in the water. True, the river was horribly cold, but in a moment the instinct of the swimmer brought him to the surface, and he struck out hard for the opposite bank.
Arden, Hogan, and Bulmer stared for an instant in speechless amazement. Here was their prey escaping them, and they had not got a word out of him. Arden was the first to find his voice.
"Why—why, he can swim!" he gasped.
"He certainly can," answered Hogan, drily, "and a jolly sight faster than you or me."
"But he hasn't told us. We haven't got a word out of him."
"And we shan't, unless we catch him," said Hogan. "There's only one thing to do. Come on to the bridge. We've got to collar him before he gets round by the upper road. There'll be the mischief to pay if any master sees him going back into Coll all dripping like that."
As he spoke he started off at a run, and the other two followed. There was a foot-bridge only about three hundred yards below, and the bullies made for it as hard as they could. But by the time they reached it Ray was already across the river and was standing, streaming, on the bank, trying to wring the water from his sopping clothes. Glancing round, he caught sight of the three just crossing the bridge, and was off like a shot.
Ray put his best foot foremost, but his wet clothes hung heavy on him, and the swim in itself had winded him badly.
In spite of his best efforts his pursuers gained rapidly. It was a water-meadow he was crossing, a stretch of low, boggy ground, with here and there patches of tall reeds or osiers. Ray ran in and out among these, heading straight as he could for the bridge above. But the bullies kept on gaining, and his heart sank as he began to realise that he could never get away from them. He spurted once more, but by this time he was panting for breath, and a nasty stitch in his side was hurting abominably. Just then, Ray suddenly felt his feet sinking into soft mud, and with a fresh shock of horror found that he had run into a patch of real bog.
The soft mud squelched beneath him, his feet sank over his boot-tops in clinging black slime and, worst of all, ugly tremors made the whole surface quiver, showing that the bog was deep and really dangerous.
Arden gave a shout. "We've got him. Come on, Hogan."
Ray dared not look round, but he plainly heard the splash of his pursuers' boots as they struck the boggy patch. As for himself, all his remaining energies were needed for jumping from one patch of reeds to another to escape the patches of black slime between the tufts.
"Look out, you chaps!" It was Hogan's voice. "It's not safe!"
Next instant came a heavy splash, then a shriek.
"Help! Help! I'm sinking!"
Ray never stopped. To his intense relief he saw that he had nearly reached the far side of the slough. Half a dozen jumps, and he was on firm ground. Then at last he did venture to look round.
Terrified as he was, he could hardly help laughing, for there was the fat Bulmer up to his waist in the black mud. He was struggling like a bogged bull, but seemingly fixed as tight as glue.
ARDEN and Hogan had got back to the edge of the bog, out of danger. Arden was in a flaming rage, and called Bulmer all sorts of names. But Ray did not stop to listen. He set off again for the bridge, and with a sigh of deepest relief found himself safe across it and on the road leading back to the school.
"What's up, Cartwright? How ever did you get so wet? Did you fall into the river?"
Ray pulled up short as he came face to face with Jimmy Clayton and Bob Dane. They had evidently been for a walk down the river, and had just come up through a gate leading out of the water meadows, on the other side of the road.
"I—er," stammered Ray, then pulled himself together. "No, I didn't fall in. Arden and Bulmer and Hogan chucked me in."
Jimmy was enormously interested, and soon got the whole story out of him.
"You swam across, and left Bulmer in the bog?" chuckled Jimmy in high delight, as Ray ended. "Oh, splendid! Topping! You've done 'em in the eye this time, Cartwright. When the story gets round the school everyone will be jeering at them. Isn't it a great score, Bob?"
"Top hole!" agreed Bob, beaming. Then he suddenly turned grave. "But, look here, Jimmy. Cartwright will get beans if he turns up in Coll like this. We must get him in on the quiet. I'll go ahead and scout. See here, I'll send Slade on some errand, then Cartwright and you can slip in safely."
Bob ran off, and Jimmy and Ray followed more slowly.
"Who's Slade?" asked Ray.
"The gate porter. A bit of a swab. He'd sneak to the Head if he saw you coming in like this. But it's all right. There's Bob signalling that the coast is clear."
Between them Jimmy and Bob got Ray safely to a change-room. Before they left him, they fetched dry clothes for him.
Ray was immensely cheered by their kindness, but rather puzzled, all the same, for he did not realise that he had done anything out of the way. He did not say much, however, for he was feeling shaky and chilly and anything but fit.
Just as he had finished dressing, the school bell rang, and, meeting Jimmy and Bob in the Quad, the boys went off together. They had nearly reached their class-room when Jimmy pulled up.
"There they are," he whispered, pinching Ray's arm. "Look! Do look at them, especially Bulmer!"
He went off into a fit of silent laughter, and so did Bob. No wonder, for Arden and Hogan were mud to their waists, while Bulmer looked as if he had been taking a bath in it. Even his face was plastered with black mire.
Half the school, hurrying across to their form rooms, stopped to look at them. The three bullies fairly bolted to their dormitory, pursued by shrieks of laughter.
"Slogger Flower will give them toko for being late," said Jimmy joyously, as the three settled to their places in form. Next minute in came the master.
Mr. John Flower, of the Lower Fourth, was the most popular master at Charminster, and at the same time the most feared. 'Nearly six feet high, he was immensely broad-shouldered and deep-chested, and it was his muscular strength that had given him his nickname of Slogger.
He had a big head, with a mass of thick hair, grey eyes which could be full of fun or fearfully stern, and a deep, booming voice. His temper was desperately quick, and would sometimes cause him to punish with undue severity. But, on the other hand, he had a wonderful sense of justice, and when he had been hasty he was never above saying so.
To add to it all, he was one of the most generous men alive, a fine cricketer, and a good sportsman. No wonder the unruly Lower Fourth loved as well as feared him.
The lesson began at once. This was history hour; and it was Mr. Flower's habit to ask questions, quick as a flash, from one boy after another. Presently Ray's turn came.
"Date of the Great Fire of London?"
Ray was silent.
"What's the matter, Cartwright? Didn't you hear me?"
"Yes, sir," said Ray, in a low voice.
"Then answer. What was the date of the Great Fire?"
No reply. Mr. Flower's quick temper flared.
"Haven't you learned your lesson?"
"What! You have the impertinence to tell me you have not learned your lesson? Then write out the two pages five times, and bring it to me tomorrow evening. And go to the bottom of the form."
Ray got up slowly; then suddenly and quite silently he slipped down in a heap on the floor.
For a moment there was dead silence, and, before anyone else could move, Mr. Flower had leaped across the room and picked up Ray in his arms.
"The boy has fainted," he said. He swung round on the others. "You young idiots!" he roared.
"Why didn't you tell me the poor lad was ill?" He started for the door, then stopped. "Clayton, run for Doctor Wade. Tell him to come straight to my room. Skip!"
NEXT morning, when Jimmy Clayton met Bob Dane at breakfast, Bob's first question was:
"Pretty bad," replied Jimmy. "He's got a chill, and Wade says he's afraid of pneumonia."
Bob pursed his lips.
"That's rotten. I hope he pulls through all right. I believe there's something in that kid, even if he does look like a mother's darling."
"He hasn't got any mother," replied Jimmy gravely. "And his father's abroad. See here, Bob, when he gets better I vote we give him a leg up."
Bob nodded. "I'm with you, old son. We'll do what we can."
Just then Slade came, along, carrying the morning post. The gate porter was a big, heavily-built man, with a bald head, narrow eyes, and beetling eyebrows. The boys disliked him, but he was a good servant.
"Parcel for you, Mr. Clayton," he said, handing over a huge parcel two feet long and a foot thick.
"Help, Jimmy! What have you got there?" demanded Bob. "Is that tuck?"
"No." Jimmy's eyes were glistening with excitement. "It's better than tuck. Don't talk about it. I'll tell you afterwards."
The moment they were out of Hall, Jimmy led Bob off to the box-room.
"It's those chemicals my Uncle Nicholas promised me," he said eagerly, as he cut the string. "I say, isn't it topping of him? Just what I wanted."
"But where are you going to keep them?" asked the practical Bob. "You can't do experiments here or in class room."
"No." Jimmy looked round to make sure no one was in earshot. "But I've got a place all right. I'm going to show you, Bob, for I can trust you not to give it away."
"I'm mum," declared Bob.
"Then come on," said Jimmy, and led the way out of the gates, round behind the bathing place and the masters' gardens, until they came to the old wall with its deep ditch. Here Jimmy pulled up and looked round.
"Don't want anyone to spot us," he said, then slipped quietly into the thick shrubbery close by.
"What, not the haunted house!" exclaimed Bob.
"It'll be a bit more haunted before I've done with it," chuckled Jimmy, as he took his pal round to the back. "I've found a window I can open," he went on, "and there's an old kitchen which is top-hole for a laboratory. It's half underground, too, so there won't be much chance of being spotted."
"It's a great notion," declared Bob, as he followed Jimmy down into a big, stone-floored room with dusty windows and a rusty range.
Here Jimmy stowed his chemicals in a cupboard, and, after padlocking the door of it, the two crept out.
As they came back into the quadrangle, they ran right into Arden, who pulled up and glared at them unpleasantly.
"Where's young Cartwright?" he demanded.
"In the sick room," Jimmy answered curtly.
"Oh, he's shamming, is he?" sneered Arden.
"Shamming! You jolly well know better than that," replied Jimmy hotly.
"I know it's jolly convenient for the young thief to have sneaked into hospital," said Arden.
"Thief?" repeated Jimmy. "What do you mean?"
"Just what I say. Bulmer found three half-crowns missing from the pockets of his trousers that were hung up in the change-room, and Cartwright was the only fellow there between the time Bulmer left and we three came back."
"CARTWRIGHT is out of hospital," was the news that Bob Dane gave Jimmy one morning about a week after Ray's last adventure with the bullies and his escape from them across the river. "I saw him coming out."
"Did you speak to him?" asked Jimmy.
Bob looked uncomfortable.
"No, I didn't," he confessed. "Fact is, Jimmy, it's a bit awkward with all these stories that Arden has spread about Cartwright having taken that money from Bulmer's pocket."
"Bah! I don't believe a word of it," retorted Jimmy. "Cartwright's a bit of an ass, I'll allow, but I'm jolly sure he's not a thief. Arden's spread this story out of sheer spite."
"A lot of fellows believe it," said Bob.
"Well, I don't, and I'm jolly well going to speak to Cartwright as soon as I see him." answered Jimmy stoutly.
"All right," said Bob. "Then I shall too. After all, Cartwright scored off Arden jolly neatly the other day, and that's all to the good. Arden's lot are getting a bit above themselves these days."
As the chums strolled into their class-room, the first person they saw was Raymond Cartwright. A big fellow, Arthur Repton, who was treasurer of the school football team, was talking to him.
"All boys pay five shillings each term to the Games Fund," he was saying. "Surely you have not yet spent the whole of your beginning-of-term money?"
Ray flushed miserably.
"I—I'm very sorry, Repton," he stammered. "I haven't got any money; but I expect I shall get some soon, and then I promise I'll pay at once."
"Well, mind you do," said Repton curtly. "Bring it me in my study as soon as you have it."
As Repton left the room, Arden, who had been sitting reading in a corner hidden by the blackboard, suddenly got up.
"So you can't pay your games subscription, you young beggar!" he sneered. "What have you done with the money, you stole from Bulmer last week?"
Ray stared a moment in a sort of staggered amazement. Then all in a flash he flared up and swung round upon Arden with a fury of which Jimmy would never have believed him capable.
"You dare call me a thief?" he cried.
For a moment Arden looked rather as if a rabbit had turned and bitten him, but he recovered himself quickly.
"I dare and I do," he mimicked. "We all know you were the only one who was in the change room before us that day you went in swimming."
"You mean the day you fell into the bog," retorted Ray, with a quickness that surprised and delighted Jimmy. "I suppose this is the way you think you'll get back on me—by trumping up this lying story against me."
"Good for you, Cartwright!" cried Jimmy. "That's just about the size of it."
Arden whirled on Jimmy. His queer eyes were aflame with fury. But Jimmy stood his ground, and Arden hesitated. He could have licked Jimmy easily enough, but to tackle him and Bob together was a bit beyond his mark. The two were notoriously the toughest youngsters in the school, and just at the moment Arden had not Hogan or Bulmer to back him.
"I'll make you sorry for that," he snarled.
"Try it," returned Jimmy, standing his ground.
Angry as he was, Arden knew better. He went for Ray again, and began to twist his arm.
"Own up, you brat. Own up that you stole that money."
"I never touched it, and you know it," cried Ray.
"Let him alone, Arden," broke in Jimmy sharply. "Chuck that, or we'll both go for you."
Arden dropped his hold of Ray.
"You'd better try it. I'd knock your heads off," he bluffed.
"You might, but yours would suffer too," replied Jimmy grimly. "Cut for it, Cartwright. We'll keep him."
"Go on, you idiot!" cried Jimmy sharply, and Ray, seeing that he meant it, slipped out of the room.
Arden was raging.
"You young fools, you're backing up a thief," he declared. "When it's proved, you'll suffer with Cartwright."
"Yes, when it's proved," replied Jimmy coolly. "But you'll have a job to prove it, Arden."
"I'll prove it—and sooner than you think," growled Arden, as he picked up his book again.
Jimmy and Bob went off.
"I'm off to find Cartwright," said Jimmy. "I'm going to have a talk with that kid. I'm sure there's something in him. Did you see the way he stood up to Arden?"
"Yes, he's not a funk, anyhow," agreed Bob. "Well, I'm going down to the shop to get some fives balls."
The two parted, and Jimmy slipped off to his secret laboratory in the old Manor House. He was doing some experiments with coal- tar dyes, and spent every spare minute in his workshop.
He got in unnoticed, as usual, by the window, and was in the act of opening the cupboard where he kept his chemicals when there came to his ears a long, very high-pitched wail.
He pulled up short.
"What the mischief?" he muttered, and stood still, listening.
The sound came again, faint yet distinct, and to Jimmy it sounded exactly as though it rose from the depths of the earth beneath the flagged floor. It was so weird and unearthly that he felt his skin creep while his whole scalp tingled and prickled.
But Jimmy was not the sort to give way to panic.
"Sit tight, you idiot!" he said to himself. "I've got to find out what's up."
IT was all very well to talk of finding out what was up, but quite another thing to do it.
Ten minutes later Jimmy was back in the old kitchen. He had been in every room in the house, and had found nothing but dust and spiders.
"This beats me," he said almost angrily. "Yet the noise must have come from somewhere. I couldn't have dreamed it."
As he spoke the sound came again—a long, high-pitched note, ending in a sort of sobbing wail. It was too much for Jimmy. Panic seized him, and the next minute he was outside, very grateful for the fresh air and the daylight.
"No; I'm blessed if I'm going to panic," he snapped, and turned back resolutely to the window. As he did so he heard the clang of the school clock striking one. It meant that he had only five minutes to wash and brush up and get to the dining-hall. He ran for it.
That afternoon Jimmy was playing football, so had no opportunity to go again to the Manor House. Nor did he see Ray except in form. It was not until the following morning that he met him. He was hurrying along the study corridor when he ran into Ray just coming out of the door of Repton's study.
"I say, Clayton," said Ray, rather breathlessly, "will you—that is, would you care for a slice of cake?"
Jimmy opened his eyes.
"I—I've got rather a good one," went on Ray in a hurry. "I wish you and Dane would have some."
"It's much too good an offer to turn down," replied Jimmy, with a grin. "Come on. I expect Bob's in the box-room."
Bob was in the box-room and quite ready for cake. But he and Jimmy both stared when they saw Ray's cake. It was a huge Dundee that must have cost half a ten shilling note, rich and full of fruit.
"You've been going it, young 'un," remarked Jimmy, as Ray began to cut the cake. "Here, steady on! I can't eat more than half a pound at one go."
"I'm sorry I said that Cartwright was stingy," remarked Bob to Jimmy a little later as the two strolled across the Quad. At the moment the two were passing under the windows of the Fourth Form room, and just then a voice came from above.
"Here he is. Hang on to him, Bulmer. Don't let him go."
Jimmy pulled up short.
"That's Arden," he said. "And I'll bet they've got Cartwright again. Come on, Bob. We've got to see what's up."
Bob nodded, and they ran. Inside the class-room they found about a dozen boys, who stood in a ring. Ray was in the middle, with Bulmer holding him and Arden and Hogan standing over him. Ray was looking very white, yet faced his tormentors with a sort of desperate pluck.
Arden was speaking.
"It's no use telling lies. You've got to own up this time."
"What's up?" demanded Jimmy of the nearest boy.
"Haven't you heard? Someone has stolen a pound out of Repton's study, and they say it's young Cartwright. He paid his games subscription this morning."
FOR a moment Jimmy was staggered. He had himself seen Ray coming out of Repton's room, and he had no means of knowing whether Repton had been there or not. Then, like a flash, it came to him that Ray must have had the money much earlier in the day or he would never have had time to buy the cake.
Next moment Ray was speaking. "I've told you my father sent me the money," he said sharply. "I had a pound note from him this morning."
"That's true," broke in Jimmy. "At least, I saw Cartwright get a letter with a foreign stamp at breakfast."
Arden glared at Jimmy.
"Everyone knows you're in with the young thief," he said harshly, "so your evidence doesn't count."
"It's as good as your beastly accusation," retorted Jimmy. "We all know you hate Cartwright because you spotted him laughing at you the other day in stinks."
There was a titter at this, and some of the other chaps looked at Jimmy as though they agreed with him. Arden was furious.
"I'll deal with you, Clayton, when I've finished with Cartwright," he threatened.
"You'd bully anyone as long as they were not big enough to lick you," returned Jimmy recklessly. He turned to the others. "I say, you chaps, haven't we put up with these cads about long enough?"
Arden made a jump at Jimmy and his fist whizzed out. Jimmy ducked and caught Arden round the knees. The bully shot a yard onward and landed with a crash on the floor.
"Now's our chance," shouted Jimmy. "Boot 'em out!"
Even as he spoke Hogan, who was the brains of the three bullies, saw the danger and hit Jimmy hard in the mouth, sending him down on the boards. But Hogan had forgotten Bob Dane, and Bob, furious at the cowardly blow which had felled his chum, went for Hogan like a wild cat. Hogan managed to ward the first blow, but Bob collared him round the waist, and the two went trampling round together, knocking over benches and banging into desks.
Bulmer, seeing both his chums in trouble, dropped Ray. Next instant he got the shock of his life, for Ray, instead of clearing out, ran at him, butting like a ram.
"Ouch!" gasped Bulmer, as Ray's head got him full in the stomach, and down he went with a crash that shook the boards.
"Good for you, kid!" shouted a boy called Guise, a rather decent sort. "Here, you chaps, lend a hand. I'm fed up with these bullies."
Arden, who was on his feet again, made a rush at Guise; Hogan, who had flung Bob aside, joined him, and Bulmer scrambled to his feet. Ferguson and two more of their toadies backed them, but some slunk away. The rest joined Jimmy's party.
"Slay the little brutes," roared Arden, and rushed. Next moment the fiercest battle the Lower Fourth had ever known was raging.
Arden's lot were much the taller and stronger, and numbered six in all, while the others, though there were eight of them, were much smaller and lighter. At first it looked all odds on Arden's side, especially as Ray knew nothing of using his fists. But Jimmy, who had recovered from his fall, had a head on his shoulders, and so had Bob. They both went straight for Arden, and, though they got badly hammered, stuck to him like terriers to a bear. They pinned him against a desk and forced him backward.
The desk was heavy and solid, but it could not stand the pressure. Over it went, and over went the three boy's, thundering to the bare boards.
The row was so tremendous that the others all stopped and stared.
At that moment the door was flung open and a boy dashed in.
"Cave!" he shouted. "Look out! Slogger's coming with his biggest cane."
CANE in hand, Slogger Flower stood at the door of the Lower Fourth class-room.
He was so big that he seemed to block the whole doorway, and his eyes roved over the wrecked room and its dishevelled occupants. All were covered with dust from head to foot, and more than one held a handkerchief to a bleeding nose.
Arden's appearance was perhaps the most peculiar of any, for, as he had fallen, all the ink in one of the wells had been discharged over his head. His hair dripped with it, and long black streaks ran down his face and beneath his collar.
A dreadful silence was broken at last by the master.
"You seem to have been enjoying yourselves," he remarked sweetly.
No answer; and Slogger's eyes settled on Arden.
"Do you generally use the ink-pot to wash in?" he questioned.
Arden scowled and shuffled his feet, but Slogger went on:
"I can't say that it improves your appearance, Arden. It makes you look like a Dalmatian dog."
A hideous snort came from Jimmy. It was not caused by pain, but merely by a fierce attempt to choke down his mirth.
"You seem amused, Clayton," continued Slogger mildly. "But I have here a cure for unseemly mirth. Step forward, and I will administer a dose."
Jimmy took a couple of cuts without flinching. Then, one by one, the rest had to come up and take their medicine.
It seemed to Bob that the three big chaps got much sharper cuts than the smaller, and as for Bulmer he yelped like a hurt puppy. Ray was last. He came up quite steadily, but his face was very white, and a big black bruise showed up plainly on one cheek.
Bob suddenly spoke up.
"It wasn't Cartwright's fault, sir," he blurted out.
Mr. Flower looked hard at him.
"I am not asking whose fault it was. You were all fighting, were you not?"
"Yes, sir," said Ray at once, and he, too, got his cuts, but they were not hard ones.
"And now clean up the mess," ordered the master. "No; you will take your share, Arden—you and Hogan and Bulmer. I propose to wait and see that the work is properly done."
So Arden had to go on his knees and swab up ink, and the expression on his face was such that Jimmy nearly bit his tongue through in his desperate efforts not to laugh.
When at last it was over, Jimmy seized Bob by one arm and Ray by the other and ran for the change room, where he fell against the wall and laughed and laughed till the tears ran down his dusty cheeks.
"A Dalmatian dog! Oh, Bob, hold me or I shall burst! A Dalmatian dog that uses the ink-pot to wash in!"
"Priceless!" gasped Bob, waggling his head feebly. "Oh, I'd have taken a dozen of Slogger's best to hear it!"
Jimmy pulled himself together.
"Cartwright, he let you off easy. He spotted that eye of yours. Who gave it you?"
"It was Ferguson," replied Ray, "but I hit him back."
"Splendid! Hope you hurt him. We'll make a man of you yet."
Ray flushed with pleasure. Praise came his way so very rarely. Then he became grave again.
"But, Clayton, who did steal that money?" he asked.
"Haven't a dog's notion. But that's the second in a week. We'll have to do a Sherlock stunt and find out. Stealing's rotten for the school. Now bathe your face well, Cartwright—hot water first, then cold. It's nearly time for school."
Slogger arrived to find his form as quiet as mice. There was a ghost of a twinkle in his eyes as he glanced them over, but he made no reference to the recent events, and did not appear to notice the various black eyes and cut lips. Instead, he got up and spoke about something quite different.
"A new scholarship has been offered for Lower boys at Charminster," he announced. "It is given by an old boy, Mr. Charles de Salis, and is worth £50 a year. The examination will be held at the end of the present term. I want one of you boys to win it, and I will take the names of entrants."
THERE was a low hum of excitement. This was a big thing. A fifty-pound scholarship had never before been offered to the Lower boys. But no one spoke.
"Come, now!" said Slogger. "Don't be shy. It isn't a crime of which I have ever yet had to accuse you. Speak up."
"I'd like to try, sir," he said. Slogger nodded.
"Very good. Now the next."
A boy called Arbuthnot raised his hand, then a couple of others.
"Right; that's four," said Slogger, "but we can do better than that."
Suddenly Jimmy put up his hand.
Some boys tittered, for Jimmy, though good at science, was hopeless at classics, and usually among the last ten in the weekly order list.
Slogger stared a moment, but spoke quickly:
"Some of you will have something better to do than laugh very shortly," he said ominously. "Quite right, Clayton, I like your pluck, and your science will help you. I have your name down."
There was a pause while Slogger's eyes roamed down the long line of boys. "Cartwright," he said suddenly, "what about you?"
Ray went red as fire. Every eye was on him.
"You need not enter unless you like," said Slogger, kindly; "but you have brains if you will settle down and use them. Would you like me to put your name down?"
"Y-yes please, sir," stammered Ray.
"Any more?" asked Slogger; but there was no reply. "Very well. We will get on with the lesson."
They got on, and the rest of the hour passed quietly. But the minute school was over there was excitement enough. Everyone was talking at once.
"The cheek of young Clayton!" snarled Arden. "But you ought to do it on your head, Hogan."
"I ought to have a good chance," replied Hogan, with a self- satisfied smirk. Clever as Hogan was, his weak point was his great vanity.
"Of course you'll get it," said Bulmer.
Arden spoke again:
"Look here, you chaps! These kids are getting out of hand, and we've jolly well got to give them a lesson. Now, I'm not going to risk a row like we had this morning. What are we going to do?"
"We'd have hammered them right enough if Slogger hadn't interfered," growled Bulmer.
Arden bit his lip.
"I'll be even with him before I'm finished," he said bitterly. "But that can wait. Our first job is to take down Clayton and Dane."
"And Cartwright," added Bulmer. "The little brute butted me like a ram."
Arden gave a sharp laugh.
"Served you right for letting him go. But listen to me. It's no use tackling them inside the school where masters or prefects can interfere. We've got to catch them outside, and put them through it."
"I don't know," said Hogan, doubtfully. "It wouldn't be easy."
"We can do it," replied Arden. "I jolly well know we can. We can use Ferguson to trap them."
"You can try if you like," said Hogan; "but my notion is that it would be much better to get them into a row. That thieving business is our strong suit."
"We seem to have mucked that up," said Arden angrily.
"Not altogether. The evidence against young Cartwright is pretty strong. We've got to work it up for all we're worth. Chuck enough mud, and it's sure to stick."
"Try it by all means, but I'm going to try my dodge first. I shan't be satisfied till I've given them all three a good hammering. Now I'm going to give Ferguson his orders."
NOT even to Bob had Jimmy said a word about the scare which he had had in the old Manor House.
The truth was, Jimmy was ashamed of his panic, and had secretly made up his mind that he was going to get to the bottom of the business on his own.
On the afternoon of the day of the scholarship announcement he went off to his secret laboratory, but instead of starting at once to work he sat down on an old packing case and began to think.
"What on earth made me go in for that schol?" he asked himself. "I've as much chance as an icicle in a furnace." Then he grinned. "It was Hogan. I had to buck against him. Well, I'll give the chap a run for his money. I vow I will, for if there's a stinks paper I can beat him in that. But he's bound to win it, worse luck; and then he'll be more cocky than ever."
The old house was still as death; and Jimmy, deep in thought, sat quiet as a mouse. Then all of a sudden he started, stiffened, and froze—for out of the deep silence had come the long, sweet, wailing sound that he had heard before.
"The ghost!" muttered Jimmy, and once more was conscious of that unpleasant creepy feeling down his spine.
The sound came again, then, after a short pause, changed into a sort of music, so sad and mournful that it made Jimmy feel that he wanted to cry, yet so beautiful that it did not seem like anything earthly.
The ghostly player gained confidence, and the wailing notes rose and fell, filling the dull underground place with a faint, delicious melody.
Jimmy sat entranced. It was ghost music, of course, for it came from right under his feet, but, scared as he was, he loved it. And surely nothing that was so beautiful could hurt him!
The sounds died away, and again the same intense silence reigned. It was a heavy, rather thundery afternoon, and thick clouds covered the sky. So it was very dark in the basement kitchen of the old deserted house.
Presently Jimmy pulled himself together, and his jaw set firmly.
"I've got to find out what it is," he muttered; and, leaving his seat, he opened the door softly and crept up the stairs.
Arrived at the top, he found himself in a long passage. The boards of the floor were soft with dry rot, the paper hung in ragged festoons from the damp, stained walls; there was an unpleasant odour of decay. Also it was very dark, for shutters covered the windows, and what light there was leaked through the cracks in them.
But Jimmy knew his way, and tiptoed cautiously forward. As he went he was straining his ears for any sound of the mysterious musician.
Passing one or two doors he reached the end of the passage, where a door, covered with tattered green baize, led into the front of the house. Jimmy had his hand on this door to push it open when he distinctly caught a rustling sound behind him.
Turning quickly, he was just in time to see a figure, which had evidently come out of one of the doors that he had passed, going swiftly away down the passage.
Its back was turned to Jimmy, so he could not see its face. All he could tell was that its head was big and broad, with a great shock of dark curly hair. Also that it was wearing rubber- soled shoes, for it made no sound as it went.
In a flash Jimmy had spun round and was racing after it. At the head of the stairs the figure suddenly vanished. Jimmy saw that it had turned down into the old kitchen, and rushed recklessly after it. But when he reached the head of the stairs it had gone. There was no sign of it.
Jimmy tore down the stairs. As he reached the bottom, suddenly a crashing blow fell upon his head and sent him reeling across the floor, to tumble in a heap over against the opposite wall.
Half-stunned, he was pluckily trying to regain his feet when he became conscious of a third figure which came shooting into the place from the stairway. This went for Jimmy's assailant, striking at him with a piece of scantling which it swung in both hands.
The big man did not wait for the attack. He dodged, dashed back up the stairs, and the boom of the door above as it was slammed and locked echoed through the gloom.
Jimmy's rescuer ran up to him. "Clayton, are you hurt?" he cried.
Jimmy simply stared.
"You, Cartwright?" he gasped.
"ARE you hurt, Clayton?" repeated Ray sharply.
Jimmy sat up. He felt his head, and grinned ruefully.
"I feel a bit muzzy," he remarked, "but I don't think there's much wrong."
"I thought the brute had killed you," said Ray.
The grin left Jimmy's face.
"Who was it?" he demanded.
"I haven't the slightest idea," replied Ray. "A big chap, whoever he was."
"And a big head of hair," said Jimmy. "For a moment I almost thought it was Slogger."
Ray simply stared.
"Oh, I know it was silly!" went on Jimmy quickly. "I expect it was a tramp. Anyhow, Cartwright, I'm jolly grateful to you for turning up just when you did. I believe the fellow would have damaged me pretty badly if you hadn't."
"But what were you doing, Clayton?" asked Ray. "How did you come to be here at all?"
Jimmy looked at the other for a moment, before replying.
"Just what I was going to ask you," he said. "No; it's all right. I'll tell you." He pointed to the cupboard where his chemicals were hidden, to the blackened shelf where he did his experiments, and the old sink in the corner. "I use this old show as a laboratory," he explained. "I'd only just come in about ten minutes ago when I heard an awful rum noise. I'd heard it before, and I don't mind saying that it put the wind up me pretty badly. So I went off, and was trying to find out what it was when I ran into that chap who chased me."
"What sort of a noise was it?" asked Ray.
"A sort of horrible wail. At first I thought it was someone screaming; then it sounded more like ghost music. The beastly part of it was that I couldn't tell where it came from." He pulled up short. "What are you grinning at?" he demanded sharply.
Ray was more than grinning. He was chuckling.
"Horrible wail!" he repeated. "Oh, Clayton, it doesn't say much for my playing!"
"Your playing! What are you talking about?" exclaimed Jimmy.
"Don't you understand? It was my violin."
"I never knew you had one. And where were you playing it?"
"I'll show you," said Ray. "That is, if you feel like walking."
"Rather! I'm all right," replied Jimmy.
Ray led the way up the stairs and into the dusky passage above. Along this he walked a few steps, then opened a door to the left. Here he stopped and struck a match, the light of which showed another flight of stone steps descending into gloom.
"Another cellar," said Jimmy eagerly. "I always wondered where that door led, but I never could get it open. How did you manage it?"
"Easy enough. It was bolted inside. The bolt was all rusted up, but I put a drop of oil on it."
"But how did you get the other side?" demanded Jimmy.
"I'll show you," promised Ray.
At the bottom of the steps was a big cellar, a great vaulted place very much larger than Jimmy's kitchen. Some old barrels were stacked along one wall. Two of these had been pulled out, and a plank laid across them. On this improvised table was a lighted candle, also a violin and some sheets of music.
"This is my laboratory," smiled Ray.
Jimmy looked about with much interest.
"Topping place!" he observed. "A heap better than mine. But it beats me how you got here, especially as you say that door was bolted on the inside."
Ray smiled again.
"Come here," he said, and picked up the candle.
Jimmy followed him down the cellar. At the far end Ray dodged behind another pile of broken casks, and pointed to the mouth of a dark tunnel.
Jimmy's eyes lit up with excitement.
"Another secret passage!" he said quickly.
"No; the same one," replied Ray.
JIMMY stared, and Ray went on to explain.
"It comes off that passage leading from the well," he said. "I spotted it the night you gave Arden the scare. So next day I went back and had a look. The passage was in quite good repair, and I got in here easily enough. Then I knew fairly well where I was, and it struck me it was just the place I wanted."
Jimmy looked at Ray with new respect.
"I think it was jolly sporting of you," he said.
"I don't see that. You can't think how pleased I was to find a place where I could keep my violin safe and practise where no one could hear me."
"But you never told me that you played the fiddle," said Jimmy.
"I never told anyone. I thought the other fellows would laugh at me. And my father wouldn't let me bring my violin to school with me. He thought it would interfere with my work."
"Then how on earth did you get it?" asked Jimmy, wide- eyed.
"I got Vint, a servant my father had in our London house, to bring it. That's what made me so hard up at the beginning of term," he added. "You see, I had to pay his fare here and back, and his time into the bargain, so it took every shilling I had."
Jimmy whistled softly.
"You must be dead nuts on music," he remarked, as he stared at Ray. It was quite beyond Jimmy to imagine how anyone could have spent all that money just on fetching a fiddle from London, and in his heart he thought Ray was just a little mad. Yet, all the same, he was filled with a new respect for him. A chap who could crawl down a secret passage to find a place like this, and go there on his own to practise, was certainly no fool, while Ray's quick attack on the intruder showed he was no funk either.
Meantime Ray had picked up his violin, and, running the bow across the strings, began to play. All in a moment the dim old cellar was full of the most delightful music. It was an old sea chanty. "Lowlands," that Ray played; and Jimmy, though he knew nothing whatever of music, loved it.
He stood quite still, hardly breathing, until the last soft, fluty strain died away.
"Hope I didn't bore you," said Ray quickly. "I just wanted to show you that I could make better sounds than you heard."
"Bore me!" repeated Jimmy. "I tell you it's simply topping! I say, if that scholarship was given for music you'd simply walk off with it."
Ray turned quickly.
"You're in for the scholarship?" he said.
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.
"It was foolishness. I only did it to get upside with Hogan."
"I don't know," Ray answered quietly. "You'd lick him hollow in science."
"That's nothing! Only one paper in half a dozen. It's a cert for him."
"If you think that, of course it's going to be," said Ray quietly.
Jimmy's eyes widened.
"You don't mean to say either of us has a chance?"
"Why not? I'm not quite a duffer at classics, and I believe I can beat Hogan in French. I lived in France, and can talk it as easily as English. He'll probably beat us both at mathematics, but if we could lay him out at these other subjects he might not be top."
"You mean—" he began, and stopped.
"I mean that, if you like, you and I will work together. I'll help you with French and Latin, and you help me with science." He flushed. "It's cheek of me, I know, but—"
"But nothing!" cried Jimmy, his whole face lighting up. "If you say so it's a go, and, if we can't beat the beggar, at any rate we'll make him sit up and take notice. Shake hands on it, Cartwright."
Ray's hand met Jimmy's, and so began a friendship which was to have big results, not only for the two boys themselves, but also for others at Charminster.
ONE fine morning about ten days later Arden and his two pals were standing on the touch-line of the Lower Games Practice Ground, watching a number of boys punting about, practising dribbling, and so on. Arden turned to Hogan.
"Do you see?" he said sharply, "They've got young Cartwright playing."
Hogan merely nodded.
"You take it pretty coolly," he snapped.
Hogan raised his dark eyebrows.
"What a chap you are for getting in a bait!" he remarked. "Why should you excite yourself about the fact that an utterly insignificant new boy is playing footer with a lot of other little brats?"
"I'm not exciting myself," growled Arden. "But I thought we had agreed that Cartwright was to be squashed. If he gets in with Clayton and Dane it's going to make it much more difficult."
Foxy Hogan did not answer at once. He was watching the players.
"He's got pace—that kid," he remarked thoughtfully. "I should not wonder if he'd be worth playing in a dormitory match when he's had a bit more practice."
Arden's jaw dropped.
"What are you talking about?" he demanded fiercely. "Are you crazy, Hogan? Next thing you'll be saying that you want him to win the scholarship."
Hogan's thin lips parted in a smile, but there was no smile in his eyes. "No, Arden; I don't go so far as that," he said coolly.
"I do wish you'd say what you mean," snarled Arden. "I never know what you're driving at."
"That's because you won't take the trouble to think things out ahead," returned Hogan. "You always want to run at them like a bull at a gate. You can't stop Clayton from teaching Cartwright to play footer, so the only thing is to make the best of it."
"What! Leave him to play for his dormitory?" sneered Arden.
"Just so," replied Hogan, quite unruffled—and paused. "I've known chaps get quite badly damaged at footer," he added significantly.
Arden's eyes gleamed.
"You mean?" he asked.
"I mean that if young Cartwright got a sprained ankle, it would put 'paid' to any chance he has of winning that scholarship."
"How can you do it?" demanded Arden eagerly.
"I haven't worked it out yet, but I think we can manage it all right," was all that Hogan would say as he turned and strolled away.
Ray, meantime, had hardly noticed the bullies. He was dead keen on doing all that Jimmy told him, and even a bit more. Since the day of their meeting in the old Manor House Jimmy, who was never one to do things by halves, had taken Ray in hand most thoroughly. He and Bob between them had introduced him to football; and Ray, slight and slim as he looked, had developed a most unexpected turn of speed. He had, indeed, very soon shown that there was not a boy of his age in the school so fast or so quick on his feet. And Jimmy, on his side, was delighted with his pupil.
"You're all right, Ray," he vowed as, the practice over, the two walked down together. "If you stick to it you'll do jolly well. Why, next term you might play for our dormitory!"
"Do you really think so?" asked Ray, flushing with pleasure.
"I'm sure of it," vowed Jimmy. "You're not heavy enough for the scrum, but you could play three-quarter. I say"—he lowered his voice—"did you see Arden and Co. watching? Arden was looking like a bear that's lost its bun."
Ray shrugged uncomfortably.
"I don't want to think of him," he said.
"But you've got to, old son," returned Jimmy. "He and his pals are still trying to make out that you took that money. See here, Ray, I wish you'd let me tell the chaps how you really got it."
"No," replied Ray, with decision. "That means telling about the violin and everything, and I won't have that. You promised you wouldn't say a word, Jimmy, and I hold you to it. Anyone who likes to think me a thief on Arden's evidence is welcome to do so."
Before Jimmy could reply another boy joined them. He was Searle, a tall, fair-haired boy and captain of their dormitory.
He dropped his hand on Jimmy's shoulder.
"Cartwright's doing you credit, Clayton," he said. "If you keep him up to it it's possible I shall try him in the next dormitory match."
"DON'T be scared, Ray," said Jimmy.
"I—I'm not scared; at least, not in a way you think I'm scared," returned Ray.
"There's only one way of being scared," he said.
"There isn't. Can't you understand? I'm scared of being scared, of getting nervous and making a mess of it."
Jimmy grinned broadly.
"Don't you worry, old chap. We all get that feeling, especially in our first match. But what really happens is that, once you start in, you forget all about it and think of nothing but the ball. That's it, isn't it, Bob?"
"That's it," echoed Bob Dane. "You'll be all right, Ray, and if you play as well as you did in the last practice game, I do believe we'll hammer C Dormitory."
The three were talking in the changing room, where they were getting into flannels and shorts and jerseys before the first dormitory match of the season.
Dormitory matches were the big thing at Charminster. There were seven big dormitories, running from A to G, and each year there was keen competition for the cup given to the winning dormitory. In the previous year B had been top dormitory, and the great silver cup stood on a bracket over the fireplace in the long room.
Unfortunately, no fewer than six of B's biggest and best players had left during the summer, and those who remained, though keen as mustard, were mostly small and rather young boys. Searle, their captain, knew only too well that there was precious little chance of B Dormitory keeping the trophy for another year.
But Searle, himself a fine player, was also a good captain, and, knowing how hard he was going to be driven for good material, had started work on the very first day of term. He had got together the nine old members of the team and set them to practise. Then, one after another, he had tried out every one of the newer boys who showed any sign of promise.
At first he had given hardly two thoughts to Raymond Cartwright, for the boy looked so slight, and, in truth, so scared, that it did not seem likely he would make a footballer. Also, he had never played before. But when Jimmy had got Ray up to the field and Ray had displayed this quite startling and unexpected turn of speed, it was not long before Searle began to take notice. Very soon he had made up his mind that Ray would make a very useful three-quarter.
The announcement that he was to play for the dormitory had made a bigger difference to Ray than anything yet. It filled him with a new ambition, and, besides, he was desperately anxious to do credit to Jimmy.
He practised early and late; he gave up cake and pudding; he went for training runs; and everyday he got harder and fitter.
Indeed, the change in Ray was so great that Jimmy could hardly believe his eyes. It didn't seem possible that this shy, delicate-looking boy could develop so rapidly.
Then there was another side to it. The boys in B, who were a clannish lot, and with whom Jimmy was very popular, had at first shown Ray the cold shoulder; but now they began to change.
"If Cartwright's good enough to be Jimmy Clayton's pal, he's good enough for us," was the way they reasoned.
So they began to treat him as one of themselves, and that was the best thing in the world for Ray. He responded as a flower does to a warm sun. He gained the self-confidence that he had so badly needed.
In Form, too, it made a difference. Though Arden and his unpleasant gang were even more hostile than ever, and did their best to make things hot for Ray, a good many of the other boys changed round and became friendly.
Ray did not neglect his music, but he worked hard at his lessons and began to go up in class. In the last weekly order he had been among the first ten; and Slogger himself had twice commended him for a specially good bit of work.
It need not be supposed that all this had escaped the notice of the bullies. Not a bit of it. Arden, and Bulmer were furious. As for Hogan, though he never said as much as the other two, secretly he was much more upset than they.
Hogan was no fool, and he saw more plainly than any of them that Ray, whom at first he had utterly despised, really had a good chance for the de Salis scholarship. And he vowed to himself that, whatever happened, Ray should never win it.
"GROUND is in a nice mess," remarked Jimmy as he and Ray and Bob arrived in the playing-field.
"It is pretty wet," agreed. Ray. "But I don't think that will be any the worse for us, Jimmy."
"How do you mean?"
"Why, I think we can keep our feet better than those big chaps in C."
"Hope you're right," said Jimmy, as they joined the other members of their team.
Searle was speaking.
"We don't want too much scrumming, you chaps," he said. "Their pack is too heavy for us. Our tactics are to keep the ball moving. Now keep your heads, all of you, and remember that if we can beat this crowd we ought to keep the cup."
The whistle blew, the two teams lined up, and Ray, glancing at the burly figures of Arden, Bulmer and others opposite, felt his heart sink.
C Dormitory had half as much weight again as B. There did not seem a possible chance for his own side. But with an effort of will he put these thoughts aside, and vowed to himself that he would do his best.
Next moment Searle had kicked off, and the game began.
Everyone knew it was going to be hot, but perhaps no one except Searle had the least notion how hot. The fact was that C fancied themselves for the cup, and they were out to beat B thoroughly in the first tie.
Also, there was a certain amount of spite. Arden and Co. were out to down Jimmy and Ray at any price.
Just as Searle had prophesied, the big C forwards proved too strong for his lighter team, and it became plain that B's only chance was to play an open game and trust largely to their backs.
At first the advantage was all with the C team, whose heavy pack kept bursting through, and it was all that Searle's boys could do to drive back the constant attacks on their goal line.
Suddenly the ball shot out of the scrum straight toward Ray, and in a flash he had got it and was off.
Dashing round the outer edge of the C forwards, he gained speed at every yard, and a roar of cheering rose from the lookers-on as it was seen that there were only three boys, including the full-back, between him and the goal.
Dodging, twisting, swerving, he passed two of them, then the full-back—Hogan himself—rushed to meet him.
Ray, with his heart in his mouth, knew that his only chance was to dodge; yet knew, too, that he must not let the other realise his intention. He went straight for Hogan, and the spectators held their breath for the expected collision.
Then—it was all so quick the eye could hardly follow it—Hogan was left wildly clawing the air, while Ray had raced in and touched down actually between the goal posts. Roars—shrieks—greeted this performance; but Ray's real reward was Searle's hand on his shoulder and his warm:
"Oh, well played, kid!"
Searle kicked the goal, and the game went on.
Ray's team were tremendously set up, but Arden's face was uglier than usual, and as for Hogan his narrowed eyes and tight- set lips told Ray that next time they met there was trouble in store.
Half-time came without further score. Then the C men rallied, and began to press the B's heavily; and in spite of every effort they scored a try. But it was far out, and they failed to turn it into a goal; so B still led.
A quarter of an hour to go; then suddenly C broke through again and got a second try.
Searle's hopes fell to zero, for unless his team could make another score the game was lost. He whispered a word or two to those nearest, and next moment he had the ball himself and was dribbling it down the ground at great speed.
He was more than half-way down before he was forced over the touch line. A scrum followed the line-out and one of the B three- quarters got the ball. He was instantly collared, but not before he had "passed," and once more Ray found the ball in his hands. Again he was off, and this time the dead silence of the spectators showed how they were keyed up.
ALMOST at once Ray was clear, and running at pretty nearly hundred-yards pace down the field.
Again only Hogan was between him and the goal-line, but this time Ray felt it in his bones that he would not dodge him so easily. Hogan's hard face was black with anger and malice as he charged at Ray. Ray dared to glance back and saw that Jimmy was racing up behind him. In a flash he had made up his mind what to do, and saw, too, that Jimmy had guessed his intention.
Just as Hogan was almost on him, Ray flung the ball back to Jimmy. Whether he caught it or not he could not see, for almost at the same instant Hogan was on him.
Even in that fraction of a second Ray realised Hogan's intention—saw that it was not the ball he was after, but revenge.
It was too late to dodge. Next instant, Hogan's whole weight struck him with a stunning shock. Stars flashed before his eyes. He went reeling back, fell full length in the trampled mud, and lay there very still.
For the moment no one paid any attention, for all eyes were on Jimmy, who, closely pursued by two of the C players, raced desperately for the goal-line. Then came such a roar of cheering as sent the rooks fluttering up from the big elms at the end of the field as it was seen that Jimmy was over the line and that B dormitory had scored for a second time, and, barring accidents, had won the match.
Searle was the first to reach the spot where Ray was lying, and his face was very grim as he swung round on Hogan.
"You did that on purpose," he said in a low, tense voice. "Cartwright had passed the ball before you tackled him."
Hogan was much too clever to contradict Searle flatly.
"I saw he had, Searle, but I was too late to stop," he answered quietly. "I only hope he isn't hurt much."
"If he is, you'll pay for it," was all that Searle said as he picked up Ray and carried him toward the pavilion.
The school doctor took him, and the others went back to finish the game.
There was barely five minutes left to go, and neither side scored again before the whistle blew, so, although the B team failed to convert the last try, they won by a goal and a try to two tries.
In spite of their natural delight at winning the great match, the faces of the B Dormitory team were grave as they hurried back to change. Each one of them knew that they owed their victory entirely to the pluck and pace of the once-despised new boy and they were anxious and upset about the accident.
Jimmy's face in particular was positively grim as he strode alongside Bob Dane. He never said a word, but his eyes were on Arden and his two companions, who were walking quickly on ahead.
They seemed bent on getting back to their change room as soon as possible.
Arrived there, Arden for the first time permitted himself to grin.
"You did that jolly neatly, Hogan," he remarked, with an ugly chuckle. "That brat ought to be out of the running for the rest of term. You're safe for the scholarship all right now."
The Words were hardly out of his mouth before another boy burst in upon them. It was Jimmy Clayton, his honest face flaming.
"You brute!" he cried. "I knew all along that was what you were after. But now I've heard what you said, Arden, I'll take jolly good care that everyone else knows it, too."
THE threat had hardly left Jimmy Clayton's lips before he realised that he had been foolish to make it.
For in a flash all the three bullies were on their feet; and Hogan, always the quickest of the three, was dashing straight at him.
"Hold him! Don't let him get away!" Jimmy heard Arden cry fiercely; and Hogan's hands were grabbing at his collar as he spun round and bolted out of the door.
There was no time to slam it. Hogan was too near. There was nothing for it but to run, and not even during the hardly fought game from which he had just come had Jimmy run faster.
He had no one to help him. Bob Dane was still changing; Ray had been taken to the sick room; the rest of his chums were probably in the Lower Fourth class-room, but that Jimmy could not reach, for his pursuers were between him and it. The only thing left was to make for the stairs leading to the side entrance and trust to his speed to get away into the quadrangle.
The one thing he must avoid was being caught. Jimmy was no fool, and he knew what the consequences would be if the bullies once got hold of him. They would drag him into one of the empty dormitories or class-rooms, and there try to force him to swear silence. And the methods they would use—well, Jimmy had been long enough at Charminster to know something of these, and he certainly did not want them tried upon himself.
The pace at which he went down the corridor was terrific. He reached the head of the stairs just a step ahead of Hogan, caught the corner post of the banister, swung himself round, and went down the stone steps at breakneck speed.
Something whizzed past his head and thudded against the wall. It was an old football boot hurled by Bulmer. It only made Jimmy run the faster, and when he reached the bottom he had gained a bit.
He spun round the corner below, flashed along a tiled passage, and next instant was outside in the cold grey of the late afternoon.
This way out had led him not into the main quadrangle, but a side one known as New Court. Jimmy had half hoped to see other boys about, but a drizzle had begun to fall and there was not a soul within sight. He saw that he had to depend entirely upon himself.
There was a passage opposite, leading past the gymnasium to the fives courts. He made for it, dashed through it, and when he reached the end suddenly whirled to the right and flattened himself behind a buttress of one of the fives courts.
His ruse worked, for Hogan, fully supposing that his quarry would turn to the left and make for the open quadrangle, went that way.
Instantly Jimmy was off again, keeping to the right, and making for the old Well Court. For a moment he believed that he had tricked the lot, but unfortunately the crunch of his boots on the gravel betrayed him, and next moment he heard Arden's voice:
"Not that way, Hogan! He's gone to the right." Then he heard Arden's pounding steps behind him.
Jimmy's heart sank. His plan had been to go for the old well, climb down the drain, and so reach the secret passage. If he could have done that he knew he would have been able to puzzle his pursuers completely. Now it was too late. He would not have time.
Worse still, he had got himself into a blind alley from which there was no escape. Yet he kept on at top speed, hoping against hope, and racking his brains for some way out.
The Well Court was unlighted and full of thick mist. There might be some sort of chance of dodging the bullies by hiding. But Arden was sprinting, and Hogan was close behind him, while Jimmy, tired already with his desperate exertions in the football field, felt his powers beginning to fail.
"It's all right," he heard Arden's voice close behind. "It's all right, Hogan. The little brute can't get away. We've got him when we want him."
JIMMY felt fairly desperate. For the moment he was tempted to turn and go for Arden with all his might. He would have done it without hesitation had Arden been alone. But Hogan was only just behind him, and the fat, hard-fisted Bulmer quite close up. The odds were too great.
It is always when one is in the tightest place that the brain works most rapidly, and Jimmy's was no exception to this rule. All in a flash he remembered the bit of old wall at the end of the yard.
It was not nearly so high as the rest, and its surface was rough and broken. There was just a chance he might get over, though he had never before tried it. He ran straight for it, then collecting every atom of strength he had left, made a frantic jump.
Joy! His clutching fingers got a good hold at the top, and he dragged himself up just in the nick of time to escape Arden's wild grab.
"Hogan—quick—give me a back! The brat's on the wall," cried Arden.
But long before Hogan could do as Arden had ordered, Jimmy had let himself down and was hanging by his finger-tips on the far side. Taking his courage in both hands, he dropped into the dry moat.
The thick nettles and grass broke his fall, and, though he was pretty badly stung, he reached the bottom little the worse. Up above he heard Arden scrambling wildly to reach the top, but Jimmy did not wait. In a twinkling he was in the old overflow passage running out of the well, and from that into Ray's secret passage. Three minutes later he was safe in Ray's cellar.
The place was almost pitch dark, and Jimmy dropped on Ray's bench and sat there, panting, until he had got his breath again. Soon he felt all right, and his lips widened in a grin!
"A close call," he said to himself, "but, my word, it was worth it. I wonder if they came over the wall after me. I only hope they did, and had to walk all the way back."
He began fumbling in his pocket for matches.
There was no direct communication between Ray's cellar and Jimmy's kitchen. To get from one to the other it was necessary to go up the steps into the long passage, then through the door and down the half flight into the kitchen. Jimmy could not find a match, but he remembered that there was a box in his own place.
He looked at his watch, which had a luminous dial.
"Just time for a bit of work before tea," he said to himself. "And, anyhow. I'm not going back just yet. Those beggars will be waiting for me near the school gates, so I'll have to leave it till the last minute."
A new thought came into his mind, and his grin broadened.
"I can do better than that. I can get back by the passage and the old wall, and leave Arden and Co. to wait in the rain for a good hour. What a gorgeous rag! And won't they be mystified when they find me back in Hall, and don't know how on earth I got there!"
It was a situation which appealed to Jimmy's sense of humour, and he resolved to act upon it.
He found his way up the dark steps, and then he quietly unbolted the door at the top, got into the passage, made sure that all was clear, and stepped out. He closed the door behind him, found the other door, and a minute later was safe in his own place.
Jimmy had taken the precaution to rig a curtain made of some old sacking across the window of his kitchen, so that when he had a light inside no one could see it from outside the house. Now he went to the window to draw the curtain, but, just as he was going to do so, a sound made him stop short.
The sound was of steps. Someone was moving outside, and Jimmy's heart beat hard.
For the moment he quite believed that in some way Arden and Co. had got on his track and were hunting for him round the house. He ducked down so that his eyes were level with the sill, and waited. It was not yet quite dark outside, and next moment he saw a figure coming past the window.
It was not Arden or one of his pals. This was a man—a big man wearing a long mackintosh. He had a soft felt hat on his head, and under this showed a quantity of thick curly hair.
"Slogger!" gasped Jimmy. "It's Slogger Flower. What on earth is he doing here?"
The man had gone in a moment and had disappeared among the trees. Jimmy, forgetting all about his previous plans, pushed the window softly up, slipped through, closed it again, then went rapidly off on the track of the master.
But by the time that Jimmy was free of the thick shrubbery which surrounded the old house he could no longer see a sign of Slogger. Not much wonder, either, for it was now nearly dark and raining quite hard.
So Jimmy made straight for the moat, crawled back through the conduit, and, without much difficulty, climbed the chain of the old well, and so found his way back to his class-room.
THE very first person Jimmy ran into was Bob Dane.
"How's Ray Cartwright?" he asked. "Have you heard yet?"
"Yes; just got word from the Matron. He's doing fine. He was only stunned, and got one tooth knocked out. She say's he will be out and about again tomorrow."
"Topping!" said Jimmy, in real delight. Then he laughed outright. "What a sell for Arden and Hogan!"
"How do you mean?" questioned Bob
"Mean! Why you must be blind!" said Jimmy loudly—so loudly that all the boys in the room could hear. "Couldn't you see that Hogan charged Ray on purpose—that he meant to hurt him?"
A dozen boys did hear, among them Arden's fag and toady, Ferguson. He spoke up.
"I say, that's a pretty nice thing to say, Clayton," he remarked. "I don't believe a word of it. Hogan wouldn't do such a thing."
Jimmy at once spun round and faced Ferguson.
"Of course you'd say so!" he retorted. "You're bound to stick up for your pals. But I can tell you I'm not talking through my hat. And I'll tell you why." He paused. By this time every boy in the room was listening. "As it happens," went on Jimmy, "I heard Arden boasting about it. He said, 'You did that jolly neatly, Hogan. That brat ought to be out of the running for the rest of term. You're safe for the scholarship now.'"
There was a gasp all round.
"You heard that, Clayton?" exclaimed Guise.
"Give you my word I did, Guise. I've repeated exactly what Arden said."
"Well, if that isn't the limit!"
"A bit beyond it," said another boy called Bailey, and his tone was distinctly grim. "If you ask me, it's about the dirtiest trick I've ever heard of."
Ferguson broke in again.
"You've only got Clayton's word for it," he said, with a sneer.
"Well, I'd a sight sooner take his word than yours," cut in Guise curtly.
"So would I!" "So would I!" broke in a dozen other voices; and Ferguson, seeing he had no one to back him, subsided and slipped quietly out of the room.
Meantime everyone was round Jimmy, all talking hard and asking questions. Jimmy told them how he had gone into the change room and what he had overheard. He said they had chased him and that he had dodged them and got away, but naturally did not explain how or where he had gone.
The Fourth was thoroughly stirred up, and various suggestions were made for putting Arden and Co. into Coventry. But Jimmy could plainly see that even now a certain following remained to the bullies. Some of the smaller boys were scared of them; others were attracted to them by the fact that Arden and Bulmer had plenty of money and spent it freely.
In the middle of the discussion the tea-bell rang and everyone bolted. Jimmy and Bob Dane were walking together into the dining hall when they ran into a boy called Knowles—a small, clever fellow in a higher form, but who was in B dormitory.
"I say, you chaps, have you heard the news?" he cried. "There's been another robbery!"
"Another robbery!" exclaimed Bob Dane.
"Yes; someone has been into Beaky Sharp's room, and bagged his gold watch and chain, and some money too!"
"Well, if that isn't the limit!" said Bob. "But there's one thing; they can't say it's Ray this time."
But Jimmy said nothing. He felt as if someone had hit him a blow on the head. Before his mind's eye was the picture of Slogger stealing through the wet shrubbery past the empty house.
RAY Cartwright, a little pale and limping a trifle but otherwise quite himself again, was walking with Jimmy along the quiet path leading up under the elms in the playing- field.
It was the morning after the match and the free hour between school and dinner. Ray had persuaded the doctor to let him out early, for he had been anxious not to miss a single hour from work.
He had met with a most cheery reception from the Form, the majority at any rate, and his eyes were still sparkling with the unwonted excitement of feeling himself a popular person.
Jimmy, on the other hand, was very silent, and Ray was troubled to see how worried he looked.
"What's up?" he asked quietly when he was sure no one was within earshot. "There's something worrying you. I can see that."
"You're right, Ray. There is. Did you hear about this last piece of stealing?"
"Yes; I heard about it in the sick room. Beaky Sharp had his watch bagged. It's pretty rotten, Jimmy, but I don't see why it should worry you particularly."
Jimmy looked at Ray, and Ray saw that his face was very solemn.
"Do you remember that day we first met in the old house?"
"Why, of course. But what about it?"
"Do you remember the man who tackled me?"
"Yes, and I remember how puzzled we were because he had a look of dear old Slogger."
"I saw him again yesterday outside my laboratory, and, Ray, it was Slogger."
Ray stared in silence.
"And that was just after the watch was stolen," went on Jimmy.
There was silence a moment, then Ray spoke.
"Jimmy, you're not trying to persuade yourself that Slogger was the thief?" he said sharply.
"Persuade myself!" echoed Jimmy bitterly. "Man, alive, it's the other way on. I'm trying to kid myself it couldn't have been Slogger."
"But what nonsense, Jimmy! Of all people in the world Slogger would be the very last to do a beastly thing like that."
"So I should have thought. But that's the second time he's been in there, and each time just after a theft, and you've got to remember another thing—that his rooms are next to Beaky Sharp's."
"Is that all you have to go on?" asked Ray.
"No. You know young Wilton?"
"Well, Wilton is Slogger's nephew, and he let out to me one day last term, when we were having a yarn, that Slogger looks after a sister who's an invalid. She's in a home down at Bournemouth, and he pays for her. It costs a fearful lot, and Wilton said he didn't see how Slogger could possibly do it because he hadn't anything except his salary."
Ray's face grew graver as he listened, but he still refused to be convinced.
"I don't care what anyone says, Jimmy, or what the evidence. I'd never believe that Slogger could steal. I don't think I'd believe it if I saw it with my own eyes."
"Then how do you explain what has happened?"
"I don't, or rather I can't. But I'm dead certain there is some explanation. What's more, I think it's up to you and me to try and find out exactly what it is."
"I'd do anything," said Jimmy eagerly, "but what can we do?"
"Keep your eyes open. Search the old house. See if there's anything hidden there or about it."
A deep voice broke in upon them.
"Hullo, my merry footballer! So you're on your pins again, are you?"
Both the boys wheeled round, to see Slogger himself striding up behind them. His big hand fell on Ray's shoulder.
"Congratulations, Cartwright. Your dormitory can thank you for their win yesterday." Then he turned to Jimmy. "You, too, Clayton. I congratulate you, for I am quite aware to whom we owe our new three-quarter." Both boys reddened with pleasure. Slogger went on: "And the work, Cartwright. How does that go?"
"I—I'm trying, sir," stammered Ray.
"I know that, my boy. You wouldn't have risen so well in Form if you hadn't. Keep it up, and if you want any hints come to me at any time." Then he strode on.
Ray watched him disappear.
"He a thief, Jimmy!" he said, with intense scorn.
"No, Ray; they don't make 'em like that."
NEXT day Jimmy and Ray hunted all through the old house. They searched every mouldy corner of it, but found nothing except dust.
Meantime, Mr. Sharp was making a terrible upset about his watch. He had been to Dr. Glennie, and it was understood had wanted to call in the police. But the Head, so it was said, had been afraid of the scandal, and had persuaded him to wait a while.
Meantime, masters and prefects alike were quietly warned to keep their eyes open, and Slade, the porter, to keep a careful watch on any stranger coming in or out.
After a day or two the business began to be forgotten. Between work and football Jimmy and Ray had their whole time occupied. Every day they became better friends.
As for Ray, his plucky play in the dormitory match had made him popular all round, and he began really to enjoy his school life.
His father, hearing of his success, sent him a good tip, most of which he spent in treating his dormitory to a feed down at the tuck shop. He played football every day, and improved steadily.
But it was in Form that he blossomed out most wonderfully. For the next two weeks he was third in the Form order, and well above boys who were more than a year older than he.
But no one grudged his rise except Arden and Hogan.
Foxy Hogan, it was plain, was working hard and meant to have that scholarship if he could get it. But the feeling in the Form was decidedly against him. All the decent boys, knowing the ugly trick that he had tried on Ray, were against him, and he and Arden and Bulmer had sense enough to realise that this was no time to play up. For the present, therefore, all three were sitting tight, and had not made any effort to get square with Jimmy.
Jimmy himself was rather cock-a-hoop. He thought that their power was broken and that there was no more to fear from them, Not so Ray. By this time Ray had a much better understanding of Hogan's dark, sullen nature than Jimmy. He felt perfectly certain that Hogan was only biding his time, and that sooner or later there would be fresh trouble; and more than once he tried to warn Jimmy.
But Jimmy refused to take the matter seriously.
"They're done in," he told Ray. "I tell you they're done in. If they'd had any beans left in them they'd have put me through it for downing them that evening. Don't you worry about them, Ray."
Seeing that it was no use trying to convince Jimmy, Ray gave that up, but all the same he kept his eyes open. To him it was the more ominous that Arden and Co. seemed to have given up their bullying. They kept very much to themselves, though Ferguson, as usual, was generally hanging about with them.
Ray and Jimmy did all their work together, and both got a deal of advantage out of this plan. Ray learned a lot of chemistry from Jimmy, while Jimmy, on his part, began to improve in his Latin and to work up several places from his usual position at the bottom of the class. One day he actually made a brilliant answer which sent him right up even above Ray.
He had never before sat so high, and the sensation was so pleasant that he worked as he had never worked before, and that week was ten places up in the Form order.
As for Ray, that week saw him second in the order and actually above Hogan.
On the following morning Ray and Jimmy met in their class- room, just before morning school.
"I say, Ray," said Jimmy in a hurry, "have you got my Ovid? I believe I lent it to you on Saturday. Yes; that's it under your arm."
Ray looked at the book.
"Why, so it is. I thought I'd got my own."
He handed it over, bolted to his locker, and got out his own, and was just back in his seat as Slogger came in.
Slogger was quieter than usual that morning. The fact was he had just had bad news of his sister, but naturally he kept that to himself. He would usually talk about the Form order, and good- naturedly chaff boys who were up or down, but now he merely said good morning and went straight on with the work.
It was his custom to pick on boys here and there and tell them to translate a few lines, and as it happened this morning the very first he chose was Ray. The lesson was the first part of Ovid's ode. "The Death of the Parrot," and Ray got up and began fluently:
"The Parrot, a talking bird from the Indies, is dead. All ye birds, go to the funeral. Go and—" He stuck.
Slogger looked at him, waited a moment.
"Go on," he said rather curtly. "Plangite pectora pennis."[*]
[* From Ovid, Psitacci Mors (Death of a Parrot), Amor. lib. ii. El. vi. 5. 1.
Psittacus, Eois imitatrix ales ab Indis,
Occidit: exequias ite frequenter, aves.
Ite, piae volucres, et plangite pectora pennis,
Et rigido teneras ungue notate genas.
Horrida pro moestis lanietur pluma capillis,
Pro longa resonent carmina vestra tuba.
("Our parrot, winged mimic of the human voice, sent from farthest Ind, is dead. Come ye in flocks, ye birds, unto his obsequies. Come, ye pious denizens of the air; beat your bosoms with your wings and with your rigid claws, score furrows on your dainty heads. Even as mourners rend their hair, rend ye your ruffled plumes. Since the far-sounding clarion is silent, sing ye a doleful song.")
Ray still boggled. As a matter of fact he had forgotten the meaning of plangite.
Mr. Flower was in an impatient mood.
"Sit dawn, Cartwright. You try, Clayton."
Jimmy, who had been busy making some notes, had not even opened his Ovid. Now he did so quickly and stood up.
"Go on!" said the master. "Plangite pectora pennis."
Instead of going on, Jimmy went suddenly red and stood stupidly silent. Everyone in the class stared at him in astonishment.
"WHAT is the matter, Clayton?" demanded Slogger, his quick temper rising. "First Cartwright collapses, then you stand up and stare at me like a Stuck pig."
Jimmy made no reply. His cheeks were red as fire. Some of the boys were tittering, while Ray was looking at his chum rather anxiously.
Slogger rapped his desk.
"Come here, Clayton. Come out into the middle of the room."
Jimmy—"Cheeky Clayton," as he was often called—and usually the calmest and coolest youngster in the Form, seemed now to be in a state of miserable nervousness and hesitation. He stepped back over the bench, caught his foot, half tripped, and dropped his book with a bang. As he did so a loose sheet fluttered out of it. He stooped, picked it up, and was thrusting it hastily into his notebook when Slogger spoke again.
"What is that sheet? What is that paper? Bring it here, Clayton."
From red Jimmy went deathly white. Everyone seemed suddenly to sense that something was wrong. On Hogan's face in particular was a most curious expression, half astonishment, wholly triumph.
Jimmy picked up the sheet, and, with it in one hand and the book in the other, walked up to Slogger's desk. The silence in the big class-room was such that it could almost be felt.
Slogger seemed to have forgotten all about the lesson.
"That sheet," he said, and his voice was suddenly hard and stern.
There was no help for it. Jimmy handed it over.
For perhaps a quarter of a minute Slogger looked at it, and as he did so his whole face changed. No boy present had ever seen it wear such a terrifying expression. Then he raised his eyes from the paper and fixed them upon Jimmy.
"Oh!" he said, and his voice was like ice. "And so this is the explanation of your sudden rise in Form, Clayton? A crib—a printed crib, too. And where, may I ask, did you get this guide to knowledge?"
Jimmy was silent.
"Answer me," ordered Slogger. "Answer at once."
Not a word from Jimmy.
Slogger half started from his seat. For a moment it looked as though his fierce temper were going to master him. But no. With an effort he mastered himself. "Are you going to obey me, Clayton?" he asked cuttingly.
Jimmy set his lips.
"I—I can't tell you, sir."
Slogger gazed at him with eyes that seemed to bore through to his backbone.
"I take it, then, you got it from some other boy?"
Jimmy faced him steadily, but still remained obstinately silent.
"Well," said Slogger, still in that deadly calm voice, "I shall not ask any more questions. It is sufficient, Clayton, that you have been caught in possession of this printed translation. You have bitterly disappointed me, for I had thought better things of you. Go and sit at the bottom of the Form, and wait in at the end of the hour. By that time I shall have considered what punishment I shall give you."
The same dead silence reigned as Jimmy took his seat at the very bottom of the class. But Arden was grinning evilly, and on Hogan's hard lips was a smile of triumph.
WHEN the long hour at last was over and the boys streamed out, Ray waited near the door for Jimmy. Ten minutes passed—ten of the longest minutes that Ray had ever known.
At last the door opened, and Slogger, still looking as grim as ever, came striding out. He did not look to right or left, and Ray, who was standing back in a doorway, quite escaped his notice. He vanished into the cloisters on the way to the common room, and Ray hurried back into the empty Form room.
Empty except for Jimmy Clayton, who was still sitting where Ray had seen him last, at the end of the last bench. He was sitting quite still, bending forward, with his head on his hands. He did not move at the sound of Ray's entrance.
Ray went up. "Jimmy!" he said.
Jimmy turned, and the expression on his face startled Ray so greatly that he stopped and stood stock still, staring at his friend.
"W-what's the matter, Jimmy?" he stammered.
"The matter?" repeated Jimmy; and the tone in which he spoke was worse than his face. It was one that Ray, at any rate, had never before heard from him.
Ray felt suddenly lost and confused, but he tried to pull himself together.
"It was silly of me to say that, Jimmy. It's horrid for you, I know. But what has Slogger given you?"
Jimmy's queer expression did not change.
"So that's the line you're taking?" he said with bitter scorn.
Ray stared. "What on earth are you talking about, Jimmy?" he asked.
Jimmy's face was very white, but his eyes had begun to flash ominously.
"What am I talking about?" he repeated. "I'm not talking at all except to tell you to take your humbugging face and yourself, too, somewhere where I can't see you."
Ray felt as if the roof had fallen on his head. He stood dumb, gazing helplessly at the other.
"All right," said Jimmy scornfully. "If you won't go, I will." He started getting his books together, then, putting them under his arm, rose to his feet and started toward his locker.
The movement roused Ray.
"Jimmy!" he cried. "Jimmy! Don't go away like that. Tell me what I've done."
Jimmy swung round on Ray, and two red spots blazed on his cheeks.
"You mean little humbug!" he cried. "You get me into this awful row, then pretend you don't know what you've done."
"Me get you into this row?" For the moment Ray had forgotten all about the incident of the changed books, and suddenly he was as angry as Jimmy himself. "You're crazy. What have I to do with it?"
Jimmy flung his books down again on the desk and snatched up the Ovid.
"I suppose you'll tell me you haven't had this Ovid since Saturday?" he said furiously. "And that it wasn't your beastly crib that Slogger found in it? Bah! and I thought you were straight!"
He paused a moment and stared Ray full in the face.
"I believe I'd have forgiven you having the crib if you'd come and owned up, but to pretend you don't know anything about it is the limit. And now clear out, or I'll pretty soon make you."
Ray's temper, once aroused, was as hot as Jimmy's.
"Oh, I'll go!" he said with sudden fierce bitterness. "I can't get far enough from a fellow who thinks what you do of me."
Boiling, he swung on his heel and strode out of the room.
Quite how he spent the time until next lesson Ray hardly knew. He found himself under the elms in the playing-fields, walking up and down like a crazy thing. At one time he was blaming himself bitterly for not having made a better attempt at explaining things to Jimmy; at another he was so angry with Jimmy that he did not seem to care whether he ever say; him again or, not.
But Ray had plenty of self-control. His lonely life had taught him that. So by degrees he pulled himself together and began to think matters over more calmly. And the first question that he came up against was that of the crib.
How had it come in his book, or, rather, in Jimmy's book?
THERE are schools where cribs are used and winked at, but this was not the case at Charminster.
Even among the boys themselves they were considered bad form. It was fairly certain, of course, that, a few bone-lazy boys, who never did a stroke more than they could help, used them on the quiet in preparing their lessons. But even they kept them dark, and, as for bringing them into Form, such a thing was unheard of.
The questions in Ray's mind were, first, who had originally owned the crib? Secondly, who had put it in the Ovid? This book, Ray remembered, he had put away in his locker on the Saturday morning, and he had only been to the locker once on Sunday. Then he had certainly turned the key.
So the book had been under lock and key all the time, and he was very certain that the crib had not been in it when he had put it away on Saturday.
As Ray got calmer he began to smell a rat, and the more he thought it over the more certain it seemed to him that there was foul play somewhere. It looked to him as if someone had deliberately plotted to queer his pitch, and had put the crib in the book with that object. Yes, surely, that was it; and whoever had done it had meant that he should be caught in the act and discredited in Slogger's eyes.
Naturally, Ray's thoughts flew to Hogan. But he was up against a blank wall. Some of Hogan's people had been down during the week-end, and Hogan himself had been away all Saturday afternoon and Sunday. It was plainly out of the question that Hogan could have done this thing.
Ray had got to this point when he heard the big clock over the gate striking, and he ran for all he was worth. But even as he ran he was mentally kicking himself because he had not thought this all out earlier and before he had quarrelled with Jimmy.
He reached his place just in time, and presently glanced across to where Jimmy was sitting at the very bottom of the Form.
That glance was enough. Jimmy's face, hard as a rock, told Ray only too plainly that it was too late for any explanation, and his heart sank as he realised that he had lost the one friendship that had made his school life worth while.
During that next hour Ray made a hopeless botch of his work, and went down several places. Yet Slogger neither rebuked nor punished him, and that fact made things all the worse for Ray. In his heart, he knew that Slogger, with his intimate knowledge of all the boys in his Form, was thinking that Ray was grieving for Jimmy, and in the end Ray felt almost desperate enough to go and tell the master all he knew or suspected.
Yet, if he did, the result could only be that Slogger must hold a regular inquiry into the matter. Ray himself would be branded as a sneak, and even then, perhaps, no good would come of it.
All the rest of that unhappy day and most of the night Ray thought the matter over and over, and in the end decided that for the present, at any rate, he must keep his mouth shut, but at the same time do his best, alone, to discover the plotter.
The next days were the most miserable that Ray had ever known. They were much worse than his first utterly lonely weeks, for now he had known the joy of having a pal, and had lost him. Jimmy treated Ray as if he did not exist. He never spoke to him, never even looked at him. Most of the time he seemed to be busy with the tremendous imposition that Slogger had given him.
Of course, the other boys very quickly spotted that Jimmy and Ray had parted. What Ray found hardest to bear were the covert sneers of Arden and Hogan. They did not say much, but he could see how they were chuckling at the break between himself and Jimmy.
Needless to say, Ray's work suffered. He tried hard to set himself to it, but nevertheless he went down many places below Hogan. Hogan was evidently working hard and he and everyone else seemed sure that he was absolutely safe for the scholarship.
Now and then Ray slipped off to the empty house and tried to comfort himself with his beloved violin, but he never stayed long. The place gave him a terrible feeling of loneliness.
A dreary week dragged by. Then one morning a notice was posted on the big board that there would be a school run that afternoon.
Searle, captain of B dormitory, caught Ray just as he was coming out from breakfast.
"Cartwright," he said crisply, "you're slacking. Now, you'll please remember that we've got another dormitory match on next week, and that you've got to keep fit. You'll run this afternoon."
He was off before Ray could find a word, and, little as he liked the prospect, Ray knew he must run.
THE sky was blue, but a cold breeze was blowing as Ray, in shorts and jersey, joined the crowd of similarly dressed boys at the school gates.
The hares, Gray and Felton, with their bags of paper strapped over their backs, were ready to start.
"They're going round One Tree Barrow," said someone at Ray's elbow. "No need to worry about the scent. Thing is to go straight for the Barrow and get round."
Another boy cut in:
"If I were you I'd be a bit careful of short cuts, old son. There'll be trouble if anyone cuts through Sir Peter Truscott's place. He's a Tartar, and—"
At that moment Slogger dropped his arm and shouted "Off you go!" and as everyone craned his eyes after the hares Ray heard no more.
The hares had five minutes' start, then another word from Slogger started the hounds, and the whole pack, sixty or more in number, went streaming across the road and up the opposite slope.
Ray ran alone. There were boys he could have run with, but as he could not run with Jimmy he preferred to go alone. Reaching the top of the long slope above the school, he found himself well up with the leaders. He got his second wind quickly, and the joy of speed took hold of him. He let himself go, making straight for the distant hill which he could see quite plainly.
School runs were keenly contested at Charminster. Every boy was timed, and the competition between the big dormitories was very keen.
Ray, who had not been caring much when he started, suddenly made up his mind, that he would do his best for "B." One field after another was crossed, and when he rounded the Barrow he was still in the first flight.
Scent led along a ridge above the valley of the Var, and presently Ray sighted the hares less than half-a-mile ahead. He started running along the upper edge of a good-sized wood.
He saw at once that he could cut the distance by going through the wood, and for a moment was on the point of trying. Then he remembered what he had overheard about Sir Peter Truscott's coverts and decided to keep straight on.
Just at that moment he caught sight of a boy who had turned down the slope and was running toward the Wood. There was something familiar about him and Ray, pausing an instant, suddenly realised that it was Jimmy—Jimmy making for the forbidden coverts!
Ray stopped short. A struggle was raging within him. One side said, "Let him go. He treated you rottenly. Why should you worry if he gets into trouble? Besides, if you follow him you'll lose your place in the run."
The other argued, "Whatever Jimmy is now, he's been a good pal to you. You wouldn't be running at all if it weren't for him. Be a sportsman. Warn him."
Ray's better side won, and next instant he was dashing down the hill. But Jimmy had a longish start, and before Ray was near him he was very near the wood.
"Jimmy!" shouted Ray, as he ran, "Jimmy!"
Jimmy turned, saw who it was, and without a word in reply raced on again. Next moment he had plunged through the fence and disappeared into the wood.
Ray bit his lip and stopped. His first impulse was to leave Jimmy to, his fate.
Just opposite him was an open ride cutting through the wood, and suddenly he caught sight of a burly man with a gun over his shoulder hurrying across it. It was a keeper, who had apparently either seen or heard Jimmy.
Ray hesitated no longer, but dashed in pursuit.
RAY knew little of woods, and this wood was extraordinarily thick.
He was not twenty yards inside before he had lost his direction. He paused a moment and listened, and almost at once heard heavy footsteps crashing through the undergrowth at some distance to his right. He thought, but could not be sure, that he heard other steps much lighter ones—somewhere ahead. The heavy ones, at any rate, were those of the keeper.
Ray hurried on downhill and carefully kept his eyes on the ground, looking for the tracks of Jimmy's boots in the soft soil. He broke through a thick tangle of thorny blackberry bushes and suddenly found himself on a narrow path, and here the first thing he saw were the prints of Jimmy's boots.
He ran on more quickly, at the same time trying to go as quietly as possible; but the crashing of the heavy footfalls over to the right grew louder and nearer.
Quite suddenly the rough path came to an end, and beyond was a perfect tangle of hazel and thorns.
Ray's heart sank, for it was an awful place to get through, and he felt convinced the keeper would have him before he could pass it. He pulled up again, hesitating what to do, and every moment the keeper was coming nearer.
And just then Ray heard a sharp whistle from the thick growth to his left.
"Duck down. Get in under here," said a voice curtly.
Ray obeyed. There was nothing else to do. He found himself creeping on hands and knees down a sort of tunnel in the heavy brush. And it was Jimmy who was leading the way!
On and on they went, scratched by thorns, their knees blackened with mud, till Ray's guide led him into a little hollow, domed over by prickly gorse so thickly that it was nearly dark. Here Jimmy stopped.
"It's tremendously good of you," began Ray, in a whisper.
"Shut up!" retorted Jimmy harshly. "Do you want the keeper to hear us?"
Ray subsided, and sat hugging his knees and listening with beating heart to the big, nailed boots of the keeper crashing here and there. The man came hearer, and nearer.
"The young, varmint!" they heard him mutter angrily. "I'll take me davy he isn't far off. Only wish I'd got Dash along. He'd soon ferret 'im out."
Ray heard him beating the brambles with his stick, and presently the fellow was so close that he could actually see his dark-brown gaiters through the brush only three or four yards away.
Ray gave up hope, but, copying Jimmy's example, he did not move or make a sound. But the gorse bush apparently looked impenetrable from above, for, to Ray's intense relief, the man turned away and pushed down the slope toward the nut bushes below.
Even then Jimmy did not stir, and it was not till the sound of the keeper's progress had almost died away that he made a movement. Then he turned to Ray.
"That's your way," he said, and pointed.
Ray gasped as if a bucket of cold water had been flung over him. But he pulled himself together and spoke.
"I—I thank you, Jimmy," he got out. "It was very good of you to show me where to hide."
Jimmy looked him in the face.
"I'd have done as much for any chap in the school," he answered; and his voice, like ice, rang in Ray's ears as he turned away and crept out of the wood.
He was one of the last home, but he did not care.
THERE came days of rain. Football was out of the question, for the playing-fields sopped like a wet sponge. Every day was the same—a cold, grey sky and steady downpour.
A few of the bolder spirits put on mackintoshes, and tramped the streaming roads. The Var, they said, was a fine sight, coming down a "banker."
As for Ray, the weather suited his mood. He seemed to have reached a stage when he did not care what happened.
One day Slogger kept him after lessons and talked to him seriously. He told him that he was flinging away his chances; but he spoke kindly, and Ray felt that he was asking for his confidence.
But by this time Ray, could not have opened his heart to anyone. He was too miserable. The only effect was that he did make an effort to prepare his work better, and he managed to stay his descent toward the lowest bench, where Jimmy still sat. But he did not rise. Try as he might, his power of work seemed to have left him.
Always he watched Arden and Hogan. Inwardly he was convinced that they were at the bottom of the trouble, but as for getting any proof, that grew more hopeless day by day.
At last came a fine morning, and Searle gave orders for the dormitory to go out after dinner for a training run.
Just before dinner Ray went up to the change room to look for a pair of running shoes. At that time of day the change room was usually deserted, but as he neared the door he became aware of voices inside, and one was Foxy Hogan's.
Ray pulled up short. He had no idea of eavesdropping, but he did not want to run into Hogan. Life was bad enough without his sneers.
Yet he could not help hearing what Hogan said.
"I tell you you've got to do it," exclaimed Foxy harshly. "You can go for the run with the rest and dodge into Harmon's place. Here's the money."
"But it's an awful risk," came the reply in Ferguson's whine. "And if I'm caught I shall be sacked."
"Don't be an ass. You won't be caught. Here, take the five shillings and tell him to put it on Ducat for the second race."
Ray turned and slipped away. He knew enough to realise what was up. Harmon was the proprietor of a shop at the cross-road near Ashington, a place of resort of racing men and, of course, out of bounds for any schoolboy.
His lips curled as he walked back toward the dining-hall. Already he had suspected that Hogan and his friends did a certain amount of betting, but the idea of forcing the wretched Ferguson to take their risks made him rather sick.
During dinner he kept thinking about it, but, after all, he could do nothing; and afterwards, in the hurry of changing, he forgot all about it. Two dormitories besides B had been ordered out for a run, and there was a biggish crowd at the gates.
Searle spotted Ray.
"You hurry up, Cartwright," he said. "You've got to do a bit better than you did in the school run last week."
"I'll try," replied Ray quietly.
Try he did, but the going was very bad indeed and a couple of miles out, crossing a big field, he got into some clay so deep and sticky that he pulled one of his shoes clean off, and, of course, got his foot coated with mud.
It was a job to scrape it off and get the shoe on again, and then, to make matters worse, he found a nail had worked through the sole and was hurting his foot badly. He hobbled out of the field into a lane, reached a stile, and sat down to take the shoe off again.
He banged the nail flat with a stone, but by the time he had repaired the damage he was alone. All the other boys were quite out of sight.
He jogged on down the steep, winding lane, but he was in country that he did not know, and presently had to own that he was lost. He had not the faintest idea where he was, which way the other boys had gone, or even in which direction the school lay.
His first idea was to climb out of the lane, but then he saw a turning a little way ahead. This led down a steep slope, and all of a sudden he saw the river, the Var, swirling through the water-meadows quite close below. A glint of pale sunlight fell on the stream, showing the eddies that curled on its swollen surface.
Ray knew where he was now. There was a bridge a mile higher up, and it was the bridge that his lot would cross by on their way home. If he hurried he might catch them up.
He began to run again. A long point of wood cut off sight of the bridge until he was quite close to it, and when at last he rounded it he got a shock. The bridge was broken. The big floods of the past few days had washed away the central span, and a big gap yawned in its place. There was no crossing that way.
THE question was, which way to go?
There was another bridge farther up, but how far Ray did not know. Nor did he know whether the other fellows had gone round by it, or whether they had turned back toward the main road bridge by which they had come.
While he hesitated he saw something which made him cry out. A boat was coming down the river. It had just swung round the bend a couple of hundred yards above the bridge. It was right in the centre of the flooded stream and travelling pretty fast.
No wonder, for it was under no sort of control. Its one occupant had apparently lost his oars, and the boat spun in the eddies like a bit of drift-wood.
The person in it was a boy, a boy in shorts and a striped jersey. The stripes were mauve and white, the colours of C dormitory.
Ray did not waste any more time watching, but started running for all he was worth toward the bridge. As he reached it the boat was still fifty yards above it, and the boy in it shouted wildly for help.
"Why—why, it's Ferguson!" gasped Ray, and reached the gap in about three jumps.
"Help!" cried Ferguson wildly. "Help! I've lost my oars!"
"Paddle with your hands! Swing her round to this buttress!" cried Ray.
But Ferguson had completely lost his head, and Ray saw that fie would be carried straight through the gap, where the full force of the swollen river roared sullenly.
For the moment he was at his wits' end. He did not know what to do. If he had had a boat-hook, or a pole he might have thrust it out for Ferguson to catch, but there was nothing of the sort within reach.
Then Ray spotted the fact that, though the centre arch had gone, the rail was still in place. It was an iron rail and looked solid, but, even so, if he had had time to think, he would never have trusted himself on it.
But there was no time for anything, for the boat was almost in the gap, and on the spur of the moment Ray swung himself out along the rail, hand over hand.
It sagged ominously. He heard it creaking, cracking. His feet dangled less than a yard above the steel-grey surface of the cold flood, Then, almost before he had time to be frightened, there was the boat underneath him.
Instinctively he let go and dropped straight into it. Luckily he fell straight, or he would most certainly have upset it. As it was, the water splashed over the gunwale and the boat swerved.
The force of his fall had knocked the wind out of Ray, but he was up again almost at once. Ferguson, cowering in the stern with grey face, stared at him terrified.
"What did you do that for?" he asked hoarsely.
Ray laughed recklessly.
"Might ask you the same question," he retorted. "What are you doing in this boat?"
"I—I—someone chased me!" he stammered. "I bagged the boat because it was the only chance of getting away from him!"
"You've been to Harmon's," said Ray.
Ferguson's jaw dropped. "W-what do you know about it?" he gasped.
"More than you think perhaps," retorted Ray grimly. "But never mind about that now. Our job is to get ashore."
"We can't! I caught a crab and broke one oar, and dropped the other."
"Isn't there a bottom board or anything that we could use to steer her?"
"There's nothing," said Ferguson dully. "And there's nothing to stop us between here and the sea."
"Nonsense!" retorted Ray. "There's the bridge at Charminster. Someone is sure to see us there and throw us a rope or something."
"If they don't, we're done for!" said Ferguson.
"Oh, don't be so gloomy!" snapped Ray. "We'll get out of this somehow or other."
But the river was growing broader all the time, and in his heart Ray knew only too well that if they did not get stopped at Charminster Bridge there was nothing between them and the broad estuary a few miles below.
OWING to the floods which for days past had been sweeping down the Var there was not another boat on the water.
But Ray, though he knew this, did not despair. At Charminster the road bridge crossed the river, and there were sure to be people on it, or near by.
Someone would throw them a rope, or, if there was not time for that, get out a boat and come after them. And while their derelict craft was swept helplessly down the centre of the rushing flood, he tried to impress this view on Ferguson.
But Ferguson had got the wind up properly. He did not answer, but sat huddled up in the stern, white-faced, scared, and so miserable that Ray, though he was angry at the boy's cowardice, had not the heart to tell him so.
The current was running at a tremendous pace—so fast that it was but a very short time before the bridge was in sight. It was a massive, stone-built structure with a double arch, so solid that the very look of it was comforting.
Ray stood up to see if anyone were in sight, but, just as he did so, the boat spun so violently in an eddy that he lost his balance and fell heavily into the bottom.
Ferguson gave a scream of dismay.
"Be careful!" he gasped. "You'll upset her."
Ray got up bruised and rather breathless.
"Shout, you idiot!" he said. But Ferguson did not seem to have spirit left even to shout.
All this time the sky had been darkening, though Ray had been too busy and anxious to notice it; and now, all of a sudden, a blast of cold wind swept across the valley and down came the rain in sheets, driving across in a great grey veil, so thickly that it hid everything beyond a radius of fifty or sixty yards.
Almost in an instant the bridge ahead had vanished, and so had the village. Only the banks were visible, and even they showed dimly in the rushing smother.
Bitter cold stuff it was, too, and it drove through Ray's jersey and shorts, so that in half a minute he was soaked to the skin. But this he hardly noticed in his dismay at losing sight of the bridge. For if he could not see it, it followed that neither could anyone on the bridge or the road see the boat—at least, not in time to stop it.
"Ugh!" gasped Ferguson—"ugh, how cold it is!"
"Cold!" snapped Ray. "You'll be a bit colder if we're swept out into the bay. Shout, you idiot! Shout, I tell you! We've got to make someone hear." As he spoke he raised his own voice. "Hi!" he yelled—"hi! help! someone. We're adrift!"
"Help!" shrieked Ferguson, in a high-pitched scream. Again and again they shouted, but there was no answer.
As Ray realised only too plainly, the pelting storm had driven everyone to cover, and the last place where anyone was likely to remain was on the arch of the bridge, exposed to the lashing rain.
Another moment, and he could see the bridge looming up grey and indistinct through the smother. Ray's heart beat thickly, for he did not believe for a moment that his strength would be sufficient to fend the boat off from the sharp-edged buttress toward which she was flying broadside on.
He saw the flood wave piled high against the green-stained masonry. Then, at the very last moment, when all seemed lost, the cross-current caught the boat, wheeled her sideways, spun her like a chip in a whirlpool, and sent her racing down through the centre of the black arch.
"Phew!" gasped Ray, as he dropped back on the thwart. "That was a close call."
He turned to Ferguson.
"Can you swim?" he demanded.
"N-no," was the shivering answer.
"Bah!" retorted Ray in despair. "What good are you, then?"
Ferguson did not answer. Only his teeth chattered.
"Shout!" ordered Ray again. "Shout for all you're worth! This is our last chance of being heard."
He yelled himself at the pitch of his lungs; and Ferguson, too, did his best. But there was no reply; and next moment the bridge was out of sight again and the boat was being swept at increasing speed down the ever-widening river.
RAY sat still. He was conscious of a feeling which came very near to panic, and he knew that he must fight it down. This was no time to give way to anything of the sort. He knew that he and Ferguson were in a very tight place, and that, as Ferguson was utterly useless, it depended entirely on himself to get them out of it.
It was ten or twelve miles down to the sea, but he knew that before half the distance would be covered the Var opened out to a width of half a mile or more, and with this wind blowing it was pretty certain that the water would be too rough for the boat to live in it—at least; without any way of steering or handling her.
Ray saw that there might be a chance to wrench a thwart out and use it as a paddle; but without tools that was going to be no end of a job.
Still, there was nothing else for it, so, turning to Ferguson, he told him bluntly what he intended to do and ordered him to help.
"B-but we can't," objected Ferguson. "It—it's nailed in tight."
"It's that or drown," returned Ray curtly. "Here, take hold!"
Ferguson was almost collapsed with terror, and, though bigger and stronger than Ray, his help was precious little use.
Ray tugged with all his force, but the thwart was not nailed but screwed down on to the cleats, and the only result of his efforts was to make the seams gape so that the boat began to leak.
At last Ray gave it up. By this time he was really very near to despair. It was still raining, though not so heavily, but the wind was stronger than ever, and they had now come to a broad reach where the short, steep little waves began to lap over the boat's low sides. Luckily there was a tin in the boat, and Ray set to baling hard.
By this time Ferguson was green with fright. Ray had never seen anyone so scared.
"We shall be drowned," he gasped between chattering teeth.
"Oh, we shall be drowned!"
In spite of his contempt, Ray was almost sorry for the wretched fellow.
"Hold up!" he said. "We're not drowned yet. And the wind seems to be changing, or else the river runs a different way."
Ferguson paid no attention to Ray's words.
"We shall be drowned," he repeated. "Oh, I'm not fit to die!"
Ray bit his lip. It was all he could do not to turn on Ferguson and tell him exactly what he thought of him. But he managed to keep silence, and later he had good reason to be glad that he had done so.
The waves were getting higher, but now the rain had almost stopped. Ray looked round and suddenly caught, sight of the shore.
It was the right-hand bank, and to his amazement was only about fifty yards away. What was more, he saw that the boat was driving toward it. He realised, all of a sudden, that they had come round a big bend in the river, so that the wind, which was north-west, was now driving the boat toward the southern bank.
He gave a shout.
"Cheer up, Ferguson! There's a chance for us still! The wind's taking us ashore, and if we can keep her afloat a bit longer we shall be all right."
"B-but she'll swamp," chattered Ferguson. "She'll swamp before she gets there."
"She will if we don't bale," replied Ray grimly. "Here! Give me the tin."
As he took it a wave bigger than any yet splashed over the side, leaving inches of water washing to and fro in the bottom. Ray baled frantically, but the boat was drifting broadside to the wind, and the water came aboard faster than Ray could bale it out.
"Bale, Ferguson!" he shouted. "Use your cap, your hands—anything."
For once Ferguson really did obey orders; but it was no use. Every moment the boat sank lower and lower in the water.
Ray glanced desperately toward the shore. It was still thirty yards away, for the boat was not drifting straight upon it, but in a sort of sideways fashion. And the bank itself was showing smooth grey mud bared by a falling tide.
"We'll never do it," he said beneath his breath, and he was right. A big wave lopped over the side, and Ferguson screamed as the boat began to sink.
But Ray kept his head. "Hang on, Ferguson!" he shouted. "Hang on tight! The boat will keep us up. She'll float us ashore."
Next moment the boat sank beneath them, and Ray gasped at the chill of the water as he went under.
THE end of the boat to which Ray clung rose slowly, and to his great relief he saw Ferguson holding on to the other end.
"It's all right," he shouted encouragingly. "We shall be in our depth in another minute or two. We're going to get out of it all right."
If Ferguson heard he paid no attention. Ray saw that his very lips were blue, that his eyes were half shut, and that between cold and fright the boy was almost insensible.
"If he lets go, we're done," thought Ray. "And I can't help him, for, if I let go this end of the boat the other will go under."
The next few minutes were dreadful. The boat seemed barely to crawl and the worst of it was that the waves broke clean over her so that the two boy's were almost as much under water as above it.
As each wave washed over them Ray fully expected to see Ferguson go, but he held on. The bank was only ten yards away when the keel of the overturned boat gave a sudden tilt, and Ray gasped with horror as he saw that Ferguson had at last released his hold.
There was only one thing to do, and Ray did it. Letting go himself, he struck out fiercely and managed to get behind Ferguson just as he was disappearing under the mud-coloured waves. He caught him from behind and managed to drag him up.
Luckily Ferguson was too far gone to struggle, and swimming with all his might, Ray slowly dragged him toward safety.
But he himself was nearly done. The waves beat over his head, the water roared in his ears, and in spite of every effort he began to sink.
And then, just as all seemed lost, his hand gripped the bank. Painfully he raised himself, and hauling up the insensible Ferguson, he dropped, absolutely exhausted, beside him.
It was five minutes before he could recover, and when he did struggle up, so stiff that he could hardly move, it was to find Ferguson lying with his eyes shut and insensible.
Ray was badly scared. For the moment he quite thought that the boy was dead.
He looked round. From a clump of trees at some distance he saw smoke rising. There must be a cottage there. Yet he knew he could never drag Ferguson that far. The only thing was to go for help. But he hardly dared leave Ferguson, for, if he did so, when he got back it might be too late.
And while he hesitated, racking his brain for what was best to do, a square figure in soaking flannels came charging down through some reeds along the bank.
"J-Jimmy!" he gasped.
Jimmy Clayton came straight up, and there was the oddest look on his face.
"I saw the boat going under the bridge," he panted. "I ran after her. I saw you get Ferguson ashore. Is he dead?"
"N-no, but pretty near it," stammered Ray.
All of a sudden he knew that he himself was chilled to the marrow and on the verge of collapse.
"There's a cottage along there," said Jimmy. "Can we get him that far?"
Ray set his teeth.
"Yes," he answered hoarsely.
They did it between them, but when, with the help of a kindly woman, a fisherman's wife, they had laid Ferguson on a couch by the fire, Ray simply dropped all in a heap. He was not quite unconscious, but he could neither move nor speak.
"The poor lad!" he heard the woman say pitifully. "He's had as bad a time as the other, but he's got more pluck in him. Here's some hot tea, young sir. You give it him while I strips the other and rubs him."
The scalding tea put new life into Ray; and Jimmy lugged him into a big chair close to the fire, then helped him get his sopping clothes off and wrap himself in a big blanket.
Meantime, the woman was busy with Ferguson, and presently got him to bed in the next room.
"You sit with him, sir," she said to Jimmy. "I'll get some tea for you and the other young gent."
Ray sat still. It was everything to be warm and to rest. He was already half asleep when Jimmy came out of the other room—Jimmy, with a curious light in his eyes.
He walked straight up to Ray.
"Ray—Ray, old chap," he said, in a queer strained voice—"Ray, he's told me. Ferguson has told me. What an idiot I've been! Can you ever forgive me?"
RAY stared. His brain was dulled with exhaustion, and for the moment it was quite beyond him to understand what Jimmy was talking about.
Jimmy himself stopped short. All the life went out of his face.
"I—I couldn't expect it," he said dully. "Not after the way I've treated you the last fortnight."
He was turning away when Ray suddenly woke up, and, slipping forward, seized him by the arm.
"What do you mean?" he demanded. "What did Ferguson tell you? I don't understand."
For a moment the two stood opposite one another, gazing in each other's eyes. Then Jimmy spoke.
"Don't you know? Didn't he tell you?"
"He told me nothing. He could not. He was scared stiff. Not that I blame him, for so was I. But what did he say to you, Jimmy?"
"He—he told me about the crib," said Jimmy, and stopped.
Ray's face lit up.
"The crib! What had Ferguson to do with it? I thought it was Arden or Hogan."
"It was. But Ferguson did it. They made him. He hid the crib in your Ovid. At least, he thought it was your Ovid. He never noticed it was mine. You know you had mine in your locker over Sunday."
"Then he picked the lock?"
"No, he didn't. He sneaked the key out of the pocket of the trousers you wore on Saturday while you were out at footer."
Ray drew another long breath.
"So that was it. I might have known if I'd had any sense."
"You! It was I who ought to have known," said Jimmy, with bitter self-reproach. "If I hadn't been the biggest ass alive I should never have believed that you could do a thing like that. What a beast you must have thought me!"
"I didn't, Jimmy—I didn't!" cried Ray. "I lost my own wool about it. I was as angry as you were. If I hadn't been, I should have explained to you."
"That's all nonsense. You'd got a perfect right to be riled. It was all my fault," vowed Jimmy.
"Don't talk rot!" snapped Ray; then stopped short and suddenly burst out laughing. "If we're not careful we shall have another row," he said.
He put out his hand, and Jimmy gripped it with a force which spoke more than words. And just then Mrs. Godsell, their kind hostess, came out of the little back kitchen with a tray on which was a loaf of new bread, a big pat of butter, and a pot of jam.
"The tea's brewed, young gentlemen," she said. "And I'm sure you're right down hungry."
Ray turned to her with a smile.
"I am, Mrs. Godsell," he assured her. "I'm going to make a dreadful hole in that lovely crusty loaf."
"I'm sure you're very welcome," she answered, and began to pour out tea.
In spite of the fact that every muscle in his body was sore, Ray felt so happy that he quite forgot his aches.
He laughed and joked as he tucked into bread and jam, so that Jimmy soon got over all his feeling of awkwardness, and within the next half hour the two had got back on to their old footing and had almost forgotten the whole wretched business of their quarrel.
Presently Mrs. Godsell got up.
"I'll just see if the other young man can take a little tea," she said, and went into the bedroom.
She came back with rather a grave face.
"I'm feared he's got a chill on him," she said. "He's awake, but he's got no appetite. He seems to me pretty queer. I don't like the looks of him."
Ray whistled softly.
"Jimmy, we'll have to get him back to the school. He ought to have a doctor."
"I'm quite rested. See here, Ray, you stay where you are, and I'll run back. It's not two miles by the road."
"I'll come too," declared Ray.
"No, I'm blest if you will. You stay here by the fire. I mean it, Ray. . Honestly, I can go a lot faster alone."
Ray could not help feeling that Jimmy was right, for he knew that he himself was not fit to run a hundred yards, let alone two miles.
"All right, Jimmy," he agreed. "You go ahead. It's stopped raining. That's one good job, anyhow."
Jimmy merely nodded. Next minute he was running, with a long steady stride, toward the main road leading up to Charminster.
IT seemed to Ray that he had hardly settled down comfortably into the big old chair in front of the fire before there came from the direction of the road the sharp honk! honk! of a motor horn.
He went to the door and looked out, and there came Jimmy racing back.
"Great luck!" exclaimed Jimmy. "I ran into the Head, coming down the road in his old bus. Seems that someone besides myself saw your boat go under Charminster Bridge, and took word to the school. The doctor's coming himself, so mind your p's and q's."
Ray looked, and, sure enough, there was the big, square- shouldered figure of Dr. Glennie striding down the path leading to the cottage, and with him a younger man whom Ray recognised as the school doctor.
He turned back to Jimmy.
"You haven't told him how Ferguson got into the boat?" he said swiftly.
"Why, bless you, I don't even know," replied Jimmy. "And you had better not either."
"I don't know a thing," replied Ray, and next moment Dr. Glennie was in the room.
Ray was dreadfully afraid that the Head would start asking questions, but the master merely gave him one searching glance, then asked Mrs. Godsell where Ferguson was.
She took him and Dr. Richardson into the bedroom, and the boys waited.
"Ferguson has a bad chill," they heard Dr. Richardson say. "The sooner he is in the school hospital the better."
"Is it safe to move him?" asked the Head.
"Yes, if we wrap him in blankets. After all, it is only a couple of miles, and we can have him in bed at the school within a quarter of an hour."
There was a short pause while Ferguson was wrapped in blankets; and Ray was glad to see that the Head called Mrs. Godsell aside, and, after thanking her, slipped some money into her hand. Then out came Dr. Richardson, carrying Ferguson.
"You boys can drive back with us," said the Head. And, after Ray and Jimmy had shaken hands with Mrs. Godsell and promised to see her again, they hurried after the Head and the doctor.
The "bus," which was a big limousine, soon landed them back at the school.
"Go and change and have a hot bath, both of you," said the Head. "Then come to my study, Cartwright."
Ray was not happy.
"If he asks me what Ferguson was doing with the boat what am I to say, Jimmy?" he asked, as they scrambled quickly into warm, dry clothes.
"Just say he took the boat to cross the river," advised Jimmy. "The old Head's a decent sort. He won't put the screw on."
There was a twinkle in Jimmy's eyes as he spoke, but this escaped Ray's notice. A few minutes later he was in the Head's study, a big room with a good fire and lots of nice, comfortable, old-fashioned furniture.
"How are you, Cartwright?" asked the Doctor; and his voice was so kind that Ray felt better at once. "I hope you haven't caught cold over this business?"
"Not a bit, sir, thank you. I'm quite all right."
"I am very glad to hear it. Sit down by the fire."
Ray sat down. He wondered what was coming.
"So it seems that Ferguson owes his life to you?" said the Head.
Ray started. The Head smiled.
"Oh, I have heard all about it from Clayton! And I am very pleased with you, Cartwright. Ever since that dormitory match in which you distinguished yourself I have known that there was good stuff in you. But what you did this afternoon shows that you possess real courage and resource, and I feel that you are going to be a credit to the old school."
Ray went as red as fire. The Head gave him time to recover.
"And now," he said, "I wish you would tell me how you came to be in this boat with Ferguson."
Ray told him quite simply. The only thing he omitted was what Ferguson had told him about how he had taken to the boat in order to escape from someone, that someone being, as Ray had shrewdly guessed, Beaky Sharp.
But it was quite clear that the Head had already seen his assistant master and had heard about this, and Ray was thankful when he found that there was no need for him to say more.
The Doctor kept him chatting for about ten minutes, and then let him go; and Ray went off in the best of spirits to find Jimmy. But on the way a new idea came to him, and his beaming face turned suddenly grave.
THE tea-bell rang before Ray could find Jimmy, and he had to hurry off to Hall.
When he reached his seat he found everyone was staring at him, and he had hardly sat down before they all began peppering him with questions.
Every boy at the table seemed to have heard about his rescue of Ferguson, but, though they bluntly approved of Ray's part in the business, more than one suggested that it wouldn't have been much loss to the school if Ferguson had been left in the river.
The only boys who for once had nothing to say were Arden, Hogan, and Bulmer; and Ray, glancing at them, realised that, though they pretended to be very high and mighty, they were really more than a bit scared.
As soon as tea was over Ray got Jimmy off into a quiet corner.
"Look here, Jimmy," he, said, "I've been thinking."
"Don't do it. It's a bad habit," chaffed Jimmy, who was quickly getting back into his old form.
"Don't chaff, Jimmy. I mean it. Look here! Ferguson told you about this business, but the question is, will he tell anyone else?"
"What's it matter whether he does or not?" returned Jimmy.
"It matters a whole lot. It was you who got into this poisonous row about the cribbing. And Slogger has still got a down on you about it. It's about time it was cleared up."
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.
"My dear chap, what does it matter? So long as you and I know all about it, who cares?"
"I care," declared Ray. "I want to see you cleared. Besides, if the truth were known, Hogan would catch it, and he jolly well ought to."
A graver look crossed Jimmy's face. "That's true enough. If Slogger knew about it Foxy would get it in the neck. Probably they wouldn't let him go in for the scholarship." He paused. "But what's the use of worrying? We can't sneak."
"Of course we can't! But I was just wondering if I could see Ferguson and put the thing to him. He might perhaps have the decency to own up."
"Not he! He only told me because he was scared stiff. I believe he thought he was going to die. Now that he's snug and warm in bed you can be jolly certain he's sorry he has said anything at all."
"I'm not so sure about that," said Ray. "I believe Ferguson is only weak, and if he could be kept clear of Arden's crowd he might be all right. Anyhow, I shall go over to the sick-room directly after breakfast and ask to see him. That can't do any harm."
"Do anything you like," replied Jimmy. "Only don't worry on my account. Now that it's all right between you and me I don't care two pins about Ferguson or the whole boiling of 'em."
Ray did not say anything more, but he went off, more determined than ever to clear Jimmy.
Next morning he woke as fresh as a lark, and with a feeling of happiness to which he had been a stranger for many days past. The minute morning school was over he went off to the sick-room.
Boys at Charminster who wanted to see friends in the sick-room had to apply in the matron's room, and that was where Ray made for. The matron was not there, but someone else was waiting. It was Hogan, and at sight of Ray his thin lips curled in a snarl.
"So you're after Ferguson," he sneered. "You won't get much out of him. I've given him a bit of friendly advice."
When Ray joined Jimmy again, half an hour later, he had a strange, hard look on his face.
"You were right," he said. "The little beast isn't going to say a word. Hogan's been at him and scared him stiff."
RAY had one pot of jam left in his play-box, and when he was dressing next morning he remembered it, and made up his mind to bring it in for breakfast by way of celebrating the occasion.
Being now well on in the term, luxuries of this sort were scarce, and he knew how Jimmy would enjoy it. So he got up early, and before morning school rushed off to the box-room.
He had just unlocked his box, and was lifting out the pot, when someone came pushing past up the narrow alley-way between the boxes, and bumped against him heavily—so heavily that the pot was knocked out of Ray's hand, and, falling on the flagged floor, was smashed to pieces.
"Can't you be a bit more careful?" said Ray sharply, and turning, found himself face to face with Hogan.
On Hogan's thin lips, was a grin which told Ray at once that what had happened was no accident.
Ray felt as if every drop of blood in his body boiled but his solitary life had taught him self-control, and his voice was steady enough as he spoke.
"Did you do that on purpose, Hogan?"
"And if I did, what are you going to do about it?" sneered Hogan.
There was not another soul in the long, low, iron-roofed shed; and Hogan, knowing that neither Jimmy Clayton nor Bob Dane was near, felt able to indulge his ugly temper as much as he pleased.
"I'm going to tell you, first, that it was a low, caddish thing to do," was Ray's answer.
Hogan could hardly believe his ears. For a week past Ray had hardly opened his mouth; and Hogan had thought he could do as he liked with him. Then his nasty temper flared up.
"You dare talk to me like that, you cheeky brat!" he growled. "Apologise at once, or I'll treat you as I've treated your beastly jam-pot." As he spoke he seized Ray by the shoulder.
It was not a wise thing on Hogan's part, for the boy he was trying to bully was a very different person from the nervous, shrinking youngster who had arrived at Charminster at the beginning of the term. Hard football and running had made Ray tough and wiry; but, much more than that, Jimmy's friendship—and more particularly its reconciliation on the previous day—had given Ray confidence in himself.
On the spur of the moment he hit out with all his might, and his small but hard fist caught Hogan full on the nose.
Taken completely by surprise, Hogan staggered back. Ray's box, which he had lifted down off the shelf, was just behind him, and catching his heels against it, Hogan lost his balance and went over backwards, coming down on the flags with a thump that made him see stars.
The shock jarred every tooth in his head, and, into the bargain, knocked most of the wind out of his body.
Ray, almost as much surprised as Hogan at the result of his blow, stood over his enemy.
"I'll kill you for that!" snarled Hogan as he dragged a handkerchief from his pocket and applied it to his nose, which was beginning to bleed.
"I'm waiting," replied Ray curtly.
Hogan, however, showed no inclination to get up, and Ray, after watching him for a moment, stooped to pick up what he could of the broken jam-pot. It was badly smashed, but as it was in a paper cover Ray thought he might save some of it.
Hogan saw his chance, or thought he did. As Ray stooped he jumped up quickly and made a grab at Ray's collar. He meant to get him down and then thrash him till he cried for mercy.
Ray felt rather than saw what was happening, and jerked away just in time. Then, quick as a flash, he picked up the pulp of jam which lay on the floor and flung it full at Hogan.
It caught him just below the chin and burst like a shell. Not only Hogan's waistcoat, tie, and collar were filled with the stuff, but it splashed all over his face and into his eyes. He staggered back, gasping and choking, but quite helpless, to hear Ray's laugh as he ran lightly away.
RAY had little more than time to get his books and reach his form before the hour struck and Slogger Flower came in. Ray, watching the master, saw presently that his eyes were on Hogan, and he himself grinned inwardly as he noticed that both the bully's eyes were beginning to blacken.
Jimmy had spotted it, too, and so had others. As for Hogan, his sharp features looked sour as vinegar, and his thin lips were as tight as a rat-trap.
Hogan was badly off his work; but Ray, on the contrary, was suddenly on it again. He never missed an answer, and up he went a place or two at a time until he was above Hogan. Jimmy noticed it, and secretly rejoiced.
Jimmy also watched Slogger, and saw that he was pleased, but also slightly puzzled. At the end of the hour Ray sat top of the form, while Hogan had gone, down ten places.
The minute the hour was over Jimmy had Ray by the arm and was lugging him off to a quiet corner of the quadrangle.
"What's up with Hogan? Who's been pasting him in the eye?" he demanded eagerly.
"I did," said Ray simply, and Jimmy nearly sat down on the gravel in sheer astonishment.
When he had at last got the story out of Ray, Jimmy gave a whoop of delight.
"Oh, why wasn't I there?" he cried. "Ray, I'd have given a month's pocket-money to see it. You knocked down Hogan and pasted him all over with jam! Oh, it's the richest joke I've heard in many moons!"
Ray did not smile.
"It's all very well for you to laugh, Jimmy," he answered coldly, "but the fat's in the fire. Hogan won't rest until he's got square with me."
A quick change came over Jimmy's face, and instantly he was as grave as Ray himself.
"He'll never dare touch you again," he said sharply.
"Perhaps he won't, but he'll do something worse," snapped back Ray.
"I don't see what he can do," replied Jimmy.
"Nor do I—not now, at least. But he'll try something ugly. I feel it in my bones."
"Rats!" replied Jimmy curtly. "Sit tight and keep your eyes open. You and I can handle Foxy between us."
Ray went off on another tack. "If Ferguson isn't going to own up, what are we going to do about that crib business?"
"Oh, shut up about that!" returned Jimmy. "I've told you I don't care twopence about it."
"But I do," insisted Ray.
Jimmy made an impatient movement of protest.
"If you don't stop worrying about that silly business you'll mess up your chance for the scholarship. And I tell you straight I'd rather see you lick Hogan for that than anything you could do for me." He paused. "See here, Ray. Hogan's pretty badly dipped. This betting game of his has landed him in debt, and from what I've heard lately I believe he owes pounds. He's counting on the scholarship to bring him a good tip from his father so that he can square up, so if you can beat him I believe that there will be such a row that he will have to leave in a hurry."
Ray whistled softly.
"Bad as that, is it? I say, I'm almost sorry for the chap."
"Don't be," retorted Jimmy. "You know, just as well as I do, that the school would be a lot cleaner without him."
Ray nodded. He could not help feeling that Jimmy was right.
There was a pause, then Jimmy spoke again.
"Talking of the scholarship, Ray, we've lost a horrid lot of time, and we've just got to make it up. We'd better go down to the old house and do a bit of mugging up."
"Rather!" agreed Ray. "We'll have a turn this afternoon."
They did, and for the next few days both worked harder than ever before.
Ray was so busy that he even neglected his beloved violin. The result was that he continued to remain in his old place near the top of the form. Jimmy, too, began to rise again.
Slogger saw it, and puzzled inwardly at the change. It did not escape him that Jimmy and Ray were pals again after their estrangement. But though he knew nothing of the reasons for this state of things he began to have certain suspicions. He did not, however, follow them up, for just then he had other things to think of.
As for Hogan, Arden, and Bulmer, they lay very low. But Ray watched them constantly. As he had told Jimmy, he was certain that fresh trouble was brewing. But what form it would take, of that he could not form the faintest idea.
JIMMY CLAYTON came into hall rather late one morning, to find Ray deep in a letter that he had just had. And the look on Ray's face checked the cheery greeting which was on Jimmy's lips and caused him to slip quietly into his place without saying a word.
Bob Dane, too, had spotted that there was something wrong, and he and Jimmy exchanged quick glances.
Ray hardly ate any breakfast, but Jimmy was too wise to ask questions. He knew Ray would tell him sooner or later.
He had not long to wait. As soon as they were out, Ray caught Jimmy by the arm and drew him off to a quiet corner under the trees.
"Dad's ill," he said briefly.
A serious expression crossed Jimmy's freckled face.
"Bad?" he asked quickly.
"No; not dangerous or anything like that. It's a nervous breakdown, and the doctors tell him he's got to chuck his work and come home and live quietly. But he says that means that he loses more than half his income, and he's afraid he can't keep me on here."
Jimmy's whistle had a note of absolute dismay.
"Oh, I say, Ray, that would be the mischief!" Then suddenly he brightened up. "But if you got the scholarship," he exclaimed, "wouldn't that put things right?"
"That's just what Dad says. It would just make the difference."
"Then you've simply got to get it," declared Jimmy.
"I shall do my best," said Ray soberly. "But Hogan is really working now, and he's ever so much ahead of me in most things. And Bailey's got a good chance, too."
"Don't worry about Bailey. Hogan's the only one to think about. And Hogan hasn't a notion how you've been working at stinks."
"That's all your help, Jimmy. You've been a brick about it."
"Rot! I haven't helped you half as much as you've helped me. Look here! We'll get an hour this afternoon. Four o'clock. That suit you?"
Ray said it would, and after the usual footer practice he changed quickly, and went round to the old house.
Jimmy was a long time in coming.
"Couldn't get away," he said breathlessly. "That fellow Hogan was watching me. I say, Ray, you don't think he has ever followed you down here?"
"Not he!" answered Ray. "I've taken jolly good care of that, I hope you didn't let him see where you were going."
"No; I waited till he sheered off," said Jimmy; but all the same he didn't look happy.
"Well, let's get to work," said Ray, and for the next hour the two stuck to it like Trojans.
Ray was secretly astonished to find how much Jimmy knew about chemistry. The fact was that it was the one thing Jimmy was really keen about. At last Jimmy stood up and stretched his arms above his head.
"That's enough for today, Ray. Let's go back to the class-room and make a cup of cocoa. I vow we've earned it."
"Right oh!" said Ray, and, first blowing out the candle, he cautiously pulled back the thick old curtain that covered the window. Then he took hold of the sash to open it. He pulled and strained, but nothing happened.
"The wretched thing is stuck. Give us a hand, Jimmy," he said.
Jimmy took hold, but then united strength failed to make the window budge an inch.
Panting, Jimmy stood back. Then he lit a match and had a look at the sash.
"Here's a joke," he said grimly. "Someone has screwed up the window from outside."
RAY looked very grave indeed.
"It must be Hogan," he said.
"But I tell you he wasn't in sight when I started!" retorted jimmy.
Ray shook his head.
"He must have waited somewhere round the corner and sneaked after you, Jimmy. It's exactly what Foxy would do."
Jimmy was very much upset.
"I'd have vowed he was nowhere near me. I looked round more than once as I came along, and I never saw a sign of a soul."
"Well, if it isn't Hogan, who is it?" asked Ray, and Jimmy could find no answer.
Suddenly Ray laughed.
"He thinks he's boxed us up. He doesn't know we've got another way out. Nasty sell for him, eh, Jimmy?"
But Jimmy was not to be comforted.
"Now that he knows about this place we shan't be able to use it any more!" he growled. "And where am I to have my laboratory?"
"Why, down in my cellar, of course. He doesn't know a thing about that, any more than he knows about our secret way there."
Jimmy brightened a little.
"Yes, we could manage that, I suppose. Perhaps we'd better cart the stuff down there at once."
Ray agreed, and, pulling the curtain so that no one could see it from outside, he struck a match to light the candle again. The match was hardly struck before there was a loud crash, a clatter of splintering glass, and some round object dropped with a thud in the middle of the room.
Jimmy was the first to recover from his amazement, and quick as a flash he made a dash for the window.
"It's no use," cried Ray. "You can't get out that way. And look—look! That thing he's thrown in! It's all afire!"
A frightful cloud of smoke was rising, and quickly filling the whole of the old kitchen. Ray made a dash at the thing on the floor, whatever it was, to try to stamp it out, but the smoke was so thick that he could not even find it. He began to choke and cough.
Jimmy's voice came but of the smother.
"Light the candle! Quick! We've got to get out of this, or we shall be choked."
A match glimmered faintly through the gloom, and Ray got a fresh candle-end out of his pocket, and lighted it.
"Come on, Jimmy!" he gasped hoarsely, as he stumbled up the stairs.
He heard Jimmy following. Above, the smoke was awful. Ray could hardly breathe. A horrible thought flashed through his mind. Suppose the door above was also screwed up?
He reached it, his groping fingers touched the handle, he turned it, and to his intense relief the door opened. He flung himself into the passage; Jimmy stumbled after and banged the door behind him.
For a moment the two could only stand still, gasping for breath, trying to get the smoke out of their lungs, while the tears streamed from their smarting eyes. Jimmy was the first to get his voice back.
"The pig! I'll get even with Hogan for that!" he said hoarsely.
"Then we've got to be quick about it," answered Ray. "See here, Jimmy. What we have to do is to get back into court, and reach the school gates before Hogan has a chance to get there!"
"You're right," said Jimmy, and, flinging open the second door, dived down the stairs. Ray waited only long enough to fasten the door behind him, and caught up Jimmy as he was bolting into the underground passage.
THE two beat all records through the passage and up the well, and it certainly was not more than three minutes from leaving the old house before they had reached the school- gates.
It was nearly dark—a dull, heavy evening, and not a soul in sight. They could not even see Slade, the porter.
"Think Foxy can have beaten us back here?" whispered Jimmy to Ray.
"Not likely! He has ever so much farther to go," was Ray's answer. "He'll be along in a minute."
"What are we going to do?" asked Jimmy.
"Tackle him straight," replied Ray.
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.
"What's the good? He'll swear black and blue he doesn't know what we're talking about!"
"Hist!" whispered Ray, sharply. "There's someone coming."
Someone was coming, but with a long, heavy stride. Certainly not Hogan. Next moment the tall, broad figure of Slogger Flower hove in sight, and he came quickly through the gates.
He nodded to the boys, and passed on in the direction of his rooms. Before he was out of sight more steps were heard.
"Is that Foxy? muttered Jimmy.
"Doesn't sound like him," said Ray. "No, it's Slade."
As he spoke, the gate-porter came through the gates. He was walking fast and breathing hard, as if he had come quickly. There was a curious expression on his dark, unpleasant face. He turned sharply into the porch of the gate lodge, and came face to face with the two boys.
The result was distinctly odd. The man pulled up short, he gave a queer, strangled gasp, and pressed his hand tightly over his heart. Then he stood staring at the boys with a look of something like terror in his deep-set eyes.
But in a matter of seconds he was himself again.
"I beg your pardon, gentlemen," he said. "I didn't know there was anyone here. You startled me."
Ray looked hard at him.
"You certainly did jump," he said, sharply.
"Yes; my heart is not very strong," replied Slade, quietly, "but I hope you won't repeat that, sir?" he added. "I wouldn't like to lose my position."
"I shan't say anything," replied Ray, rather curtly, and walked out into the road. Jimmy followed.
They looked up and down, but there was not a soul in sight.
"You aren't going out, sirs?" came Slade's voice from behind them. "I'm shutting up in less than five minutes."
"No, we're not going out," replied Jimmy, and, catching Ray by the arm, drew him away under the trees beyond.
"We'll hang round till he shuts up," he whispered. "We can see if anyone comes in."
Just before gates closed two boys did come in. But neither was Hogan. They were two prefects. Jimmy and Ray walked away towards their class-room.
"This beats everything!" growled Jimmy.
Ray did not answer at once. Then he said:
"What was Slade so scared about?"
"Slade? Oh, I don't know! It's Hogan we're after, not Slade."
Ray did not answer, but he was frowning in puzzled fashion as he followed Jimmy into the room.
The very first person they saw was Hogan, seated by the fire with a book in his hands.
Jimmy fairly gasped.
"How on earth did he get back?" he muttered under his breath.
Ray noticed Bob Dane just across the room, and beckoned to him. Bob got up and followed Ray and Jimmy into the passage.
"Bob," said Ray, "how long has Hogan been in the class- room?"
"I don't know. He was here before I came in, and that's a good half-hour ago."
Ray looked at Jimmy. Jimmy whistled.
"Well, this beats all!" he said softly.
"WHAT'S the matter with you chaps?" demanded Bob. "What tricks has Hogan been up to?"
Ray turned to Jimmy.
"Jimmy," he said, "I vote we tell him. Do you mind?"
Jimmy looked disturbed. In the whole school Ray was the only boy who shared with him the knowledge of his secret laboratory. But Jimmy had a lot of confidence in Ray, and knew he would not have made the suggestion lightly. Also he knew that Bob Dane was staunch.
"Right you are," he said. "Tell him all you like, only we can't talk here."
"Come up to the dormitory," said Bob, who was keen as mustard. "There won't be a soul there."
They went and found the big room quite deserted. Perching himself on his bed Ray started in and told Bob all about the business.
Bob was hugely interested.
"I always wondered where you chaps slipped off to," he said. "You might have trusted me. I'd never have said a word."
Jimmy looked rather remorseful, but Bob went on quickly.
"Well, it wasn't Hogan," he said, "that's one sure thing. And it wasn't Arden or Bulmer, for they were round in the box-room half an hour ago, and then they came into our class-room and were there till just before you came. So it's up to us to find out who it was that screwed you in and then chucked the smoke-bomb."
"It must have been one of their crowd," said Jimmy.
"I'd like to know who," said Bob. "Ferguson is still in bed, and Crale hasn't been out of the Fourth Form room since I came in. I don't know anyone else they'd trust with a job like that."
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.
"It beats me," he said.
There was silence for a moment or two; then Ray spoke.
"Whoever it was, he'll have been pretty well puzzled to find out how we got out and back into the school. None of Hogan's lot know about our secret passage through the well, so the chap will probably go down there again as soon as he can to try and find out."
"And, by Jove, he'll go and meddle with my stuff!" exclaimed Jimmy, in sudden dismay. "I say, what are we going to do?"
"That's what I was coming to," went on Ray. "He can't go down tonight because the gates are closed, so he'll probably take his chance after morning school tomorrow. My notion is to take Bob down there and hide him somewhere. Then Jimmy and I will go up into the playing-fields and take good care that everyone sees us go, and Bob will lie low and find out who it is."
Bob Dane gave a sudden chuckle.
"You've hit it first shot, Ray," he exclaimed. "That's the notion. If there's any place to hide, I'm your man."
"There's my cupboard," said Jimmy, "the place where I keep my chemicals. Heaps of room in there. Only I'm going to take the things out first and hide them in Ray's cellar."
Ray agreed that this was the best plan, and as it was just on tea-time they went off to Hall.
Nothing happened that evening, and at twelve next morning the three met in the box-room, and, seizing their chance, slipped unnoticed over the wall of the old yard and through the trees to the old Manor House.
It was not until they got there that they remembered the window was screwed down, but Jimmy had the screw out in quick time with a pocket screw-driver. Then they slipped in, and all three set to work to shift the chemicals into the cellar.
The job was finished in about fifteen minutes, and Bob took his place in the cupboard. The other two nipped out of the window, and Jimmy carefully replaced the screw. Then, by Ray's advice, they went back by the secret passage, and presently marched out of the gates, carrying a practice football, and went up to the field.
"That ought to do the trick," said Jimmy, who was in high feather.
"I hope it will," Ray answered quietly—so quietly that Jimmy looked at him rather hard.
They punted about till dinnertime, then went back. But when they got to Hall there was no sign of Bob. They waited anxiously, but the big doors closed, dinner began, and a master took Bob's name as absent without leave.
When they got out there was still no sign of Bob, and now, feeling very anxious indeed, the two waited only till the crowd of boys had passed out and gone to their dormitories to change. Then they made tracks as hard as they could for the old court, slipped down the well, and presently found themselves in the cellar. From there it took only a minute to reach Jimmy's laboratory.
The first thing they saw was Bob lying flat on the floor, horribly still and quiet.
THE sight of Bob Dane lying there on the floor gave Ray and Jimmy such an ugly shock that for the moment they stood quite still, not moving or speaking.
Ray was the first to recover. He dashed forward, and flung himself on his knees beside Bob.
"Is—is he dead?" gasped Jimmy.
"Not a bit of it," replied Ray. "He's breathing all right. Get some water."
Jimmy sprang to the sink and filled an old jam-pot with cold water. Ray dipped his handkerchief in this and bathed Bob's face, and in a minute Bob's eyes opened.
For a few seconds he stared vacantly at Ray, then, as recollection came back, he sat up quickly.
"Where is he?" he demanded hoarsely.
"Where's who?" demanded Ray.
"Slogger! What's he got to do with it?" demanded Jimmy.
"Why, he hit me! He was in an awful wax. He did catch me a welt over the head," replied Bob, as he put one hand up and felt his head gingerly.
"You're talking through your hat," growled Jimmy, "or else you're still muzzy from that clip on your head."
Bob was indignant.
"Think I'm an ass?" he exclaimed. "Think I don't know Slogger when I see him?"
"You saw him, then?" put in Ray quickly.
"Plain as I see you," snapped Bob. "Of course it's not too light in here, but I couldn't mistake his big body and his great shock of hair."
Jimmy was about to speak again, but Ray checked him.
"Tell us what happened, Bob," he said.
"Why, I stuck in the cupboard till I was pretty well fed up, then at last I heard someone moving about. Jolly heavy footsteps. So I pushed the cupboard door just about half an inch open and squinted out.
"There was Slogger standing with his back to me. His ears must be jolly quick, for somehow he heard me and whirled round. He was round like a flash, and grabbed hold of the cupboard door.
"I hung on, but it wasn't a bit of good. Next moment he had me out and spun me round, and caught me a clip on the head that made me see stars. And that's all I knew until I felt you dabbing cold water in my face."
"Wait," said Ray, as Jimmy was about to burst out afresh. "Did he speak, Bob?"
"He didn't say a word," replied Bob. "But, I say, what on earth was Slogger doing here? I didn't know he knew of this place."
"I don't believe he does," said Ray soberly.
Bob got indignant again.
"I tell you it was Slogger or his double," he snapped out.
"His double. That's what I think. I believe it was someone got up to look like him."
Jimmy gave a long, low whistle.
"I never thought of that. What do you think, Bob?"
"If it was, it was a jolly good imitation," he said. "But what put that into your head, Ray?"
"Why, because I don't believe for a moment that Slogger would do such a thing as hit you over the head. It isn't like him, is it?"
"No," agreed Bob, "perhaps it isn't. But he does get into a fearful wax sometimes, you know."
"Then it wasn't Slogger we saw before," burst out Jimmy.
"What! You've seen him here before?" cried Bob.
Ray explained about the man who had knocked Jimmy silly that day weeks ago when Ray had played his violin in his secret cellar and whom for a while they had thought was Slogger.
Bob's eyes widened.
"This is a funny business," he declared. "What are we going to do about it?"
"Make another shot to find out who it is," said Jimmy quickly. "I, for one, don't believe it can be Slogger. He's much too decent to play tricks like this. If he really knew we were using this old house he'd simply give us a jawing or a caning. Ray, what's to be done?"
Ray frowned thoughtfully.
"Tell you one thing we might try," he said. "We might see if we can find any footprints outside. Slogger wears number ten boots. We ought to be able to spot his footsteps."
"IT'S a topping idea," said Jimmy and Bob in one breath. "And the ground's pretty soft under the trees," added Jimmy. "Come on! Let's see who's the best scout."
"Be careful about getting out of that window," said Ray warningly. "Look first, and see there's no one about."
"Not a soul in sight," answered Jimmy, peering out. "Come on!"
All three got out quietly; and almost at once Ray pounced upon a footmark.
"Phew! It's a big one," declared Jimmy. "Yes; it's a ten all right."
Bob looked grave.
"I say, is there anyone else about the school who wears a boot as big as Slogger's?" he asked.
"Arden wears a pretty big one," suggested Jimmy.
"Not a ten, though," answered Bob. "I'm sure his foot isn't as big as this."
"It would be quite easy for him or anyone else to get a big boot," said Ray. "I wonder if it is Arden?"
"Follow the footprints, and then we shall see," answered Jimmy, in his practical way. "Look, here they go."
For some little distance the marks were clear enough, and the three boys followed them without much trouble around the outer wall of the school buildings, until they came to the bit of rough wood known as the Wilderness. Here the ground was covered with dead leaves, and tracking became more difficult.
All three boys had their heads close to the ground when suddenly a sharp, sneering voice broke the quiet of the foggy afternoon.
"Look at Sherlock Holmes, Hogan! Holmes and Watson; and who's the other sleuth?"
There was no mistaking that voice; and Ray started up sharply, to see Arden, Hogan, and Bulmer standing arm-in-arm at a little distance, and, judging by the sneers on their respective faces, delighted at having discovered their much-hated opponents in such a ridiculous position.
For the moment Ray could find nothing to say, but Jimmy was quick with his tongue.
"I'd rather be a detective than a criminal," he remarked calmly.
Arden took a step forward, and the nasty glare which Ray knew so well shone in his narrow eyes.
"What do you mean by that, you brat?" he demanded.
"Anything you like," responded Jimmy airily. "If the cap fits, wear it."
Arden's fists clenched and his thin lips tightened.
"You'll jolly well tell me what you mean!" he said harshly.
"I should think you knew well enough without my telling you," replied Jimmy. "Ferguson will remember if you don't."
Arden's face went dull red; the veins on his forehead swelled. Ray fully expected to see him spring at Jimmy, but Arden did not do so.
"Go on," he said, in a sort of snarl. "Let's hear what lie Ferguson told you."
"Chaps don't lie much when they think they are dying," retorted Jimmy. "And Cartwright and I both know it's true that you or Hogan, or both of you, put Ferguson up to shoving that crib into my book."
"It's a lie," burst out Hogan. "Slay the young brutes, Arden."
Arden stepped forward, and aimed a swinging blow at Jimmy's head, but that was just what Jimmy had been expecting, and he ducked like a flash. At the same moment Ray made a rush at the big fellow, caught him round the waist as if tackling him, tripped him, and brought him down to earth flat on his face.
Bulmer and Hogan ran in to help their chief, and Bulmer's big fist caught Jimmy on the forehead and sent him spinning. Bob tried to dodge Hogan's rush, but he was still a little giddy from the effects of the bad blow on his head, and he was not quite quick enough. Hogan got his arms round him, and the two went down together with a crash.
Ray meantime was standing over Arden. As Jimmy said afterwards, he would have done much better to sit on his head. Anyhow, Ray paid dearly for his mistaken sense of fair play, for Arden, who was only shaken and not much hurt, suddenly grabbed Ray by the leg and brought him down, then, rolling over on top of him, got him by the throat and set to work to bang his head against the ground.
The ground was not very hard, but Arden was quite beside himself with fury, and there was every prospect of Ray being badly hurt.
"I'll teach you!" growled Arden between each bump. "I'll teach you!"
"But not that way!" came a deep voice; and all of a sudden Arden was seized by the collar of his coat and the seat of his breeches and lifted bodily off Ray. And Ray, half dazed, saw the bully dangling absurdly in the grasp of Slogger himself.
SLOGGER set Arden on his feet with a bump that must have jarred every tooth in his head.
"No, Arden," he said; "I don't like your way of giving lessons Let's see how you like it yourself."
As he spoke he lifted the big fellow about a foot in the air and bumped him down again. He did this two or three times, and did it as easily as if Arden had been a mere child instead of a big, lanky fifteen-year old boy. Never before had Ray quite realised the immense muscular strength of Mr. Flower.
As for Arden, he was so confused and dismayed that he looked a perfect idiot. Hogan and Bulmer had sheered off a bit, and were standing gaping, as unhappy as two cats caught stealing cream.
Slogger, still holding Arden firmly, turned to them.
"Your ideas of amusement do not commend themselves to me," he said. "It is quite evident that you three have not enough to do. Go and get into your shorts and jerseys, and run six times round the field. You're not to stop once, and if you do you may be sure I shall know about it. You can do that every short school day for the next week," he added, grimly. "Cut along."
Arden made an effort to pull himself together.
"It's not a proper punishment, sir," he burst out. "It's not in the school rules."
"I know it isn't in the rules, but for myself I consider it an eminently proper punishment. Of course, if you object, I will give you the alternative of being reported to the headmaster for gross bullying."
Arden collapsed like a pricked bladder. He slunk away, and his two companions were only too glad to follow him.
Slogger watched them with a grim smile on his lips.
"I thought they would prefer my punishment to a public birching," he remarked. Then he spoke to Ray. "And what was it all about?" he questioned him.
Ray faced him.
"I can't tell, you, sir," he answered firmly, but very respectfully.
Slogger still smiled. Then he shrugged his broad shoulders.
"Perhaps I know more about it than yon imagine, my young friend," he said. "I'm afraid that scholarship is causing bad blood."
"This isn't the scholarship, sir," said Ray.
Slogger looked at him keenly for a moment.
"Has there been any more stealing?" he demanded sharply.
"Not that I know of, sir," Ray answered.
Slogger nodded, and was silent a moment.
"By the by," he said suddenly, "I suppose you boys know that you are out of bounds?"
"Yes, sir," said Ray.
"Any excuse to offer?"
"Then you'll each write me out fifty lines," said Slogger, and, nodding, walked off.
The three gazed after him.
"Fifty lines," said Jimmy, "and he might have given us five hundred." He turned to Bob. "And that's the chap you think knocked you silly?"
Bob shook his head vehemently.
"It couldn't have been, Jimmy. No; I don't care what I saw, it couldn't have been."
"We'll soon make sure about that," said Ray.
"How?" questioned Jimmy, puzzled.
"Why, you duffer, don't you see? Here are Slogger's own footprints. We've only got to compare them with the ones we've been following from the old house."
A VERY brief examination of the footprints was enough.
"No; they're quite different," said Jimmy. "Both are about the same length, but Slogger's are broader and ever so much cleaner cut."
"And there's another difference," added Ray. "The other man is wearing rubber soles, and Slogger isn't."
"Well, that settles it," said Bob.
"It settles it that the man in the Manor House wasn't Slogger," said Jimmy; "that is—unless he had changed his boots. But it doesn't make us any wiser as to who the chap really is."
"It isn't Arden, either," put in Bob. "His boots are a whole lot smaller. And I don't believe he'd risk having a big pair kicking about in the school."
"No; I'm pretty sure it's not Arden," agreed Ray. "For one thing he wouldn't have had the strength to lug Bob out of the cupboard in the way Slogger's double did."
"I'm jolly sure he wouldn't," agreed Bob.
There was a moment's silence. Then Jimmy spoke.
"We're taking a lot of trouble to find out who it wasn't," he growled; "but we're not getting any nearer finding who it was."
"The only thing to do is to try to follow up the prints," said Ray.
"And that's just what we haven't time for," replied Jimmy, glancing at his watch. "If we want to get our prep done for afternoon's work we've got to skip along this minute."
"Then we must come down here again tomorrow," said Ray. "We've got to get to the bottom of this somehow or other."
"All right," said Jimmy; "but we simply can't wait now. You mustn't lose a mark to Hogan, Ray."
"No; you've got to get above him, Ray," added Bob, as they started back. "We're all backing you for the scholarship, old chap, and don't you forget it."
Ray did not answer. Not even Bob Dane knew how very urgently Ray needed that scholarship, for Ray had told no one except Jimmy of his father's illness and its serious consequences from a money point of view.
Short as the time was for preparation, Ray managed more than to hold his own that evening. As for Hogan, the events of the afternoon seemed to have upset him completely, for he broke down badly and missed questions and lost several places.
Ray and Jimmy had no chance for any further talk during that day; and next morning Ray, without saying anything to Jimmy, went off and interviewed Mrs. Hood, the matron, with whom he was rather a favourite.
But when he asked again to see Ferguson he was met with an absolute refusal.
"No, Mr. Cartwright, the doctor won't let anyone see him. Yes; he is better, but he is very weak, and as soon as he can travel he is going to be sent home. He got very excited the other day when you came, and it won't do." She paused. "Why are you so anxious to see him?" she asked.
Ray shook his head. "I can't tell you that, Mrs. Hood," he said, and went away.
He went straight off for a long walk by himself to think things over.
As a matter of fact, this business at the Manor House was getting on his nerves. For the moment he had almost forgotten Jimmy's trouble with Slogger, but he had a sort of notion that Ferguson might be able to throw some light on the mysterious visitant, or at any rate to tell him whether Arden and Co. did or did not know anything of what was going on there; but as things were he couldn't ask him.
As he walked slowly back toward his class-room Ray was racking his brain over the mystery.
It was not Slogger; it was apparently not Arden. Could it be some friend of Arden's?
Glancing at the big clock in the turret, he saw that he had nearly half an hour before school. He had already prepared his work, and on the spur of the moment he made up his mind to run down to the Wilderness and see if he could make out where those tracks led. As there were very few people about he risked going out through the gates and made his way round without anyone spotting him.
It was a dull, foggy morning, and the mist hung thick above the low ground behind the school. Then just as he got near the trees he heard steps and saw someone coming. It was Beaky Sharp, the modern language master.
RAY knew that if he were caught out of bounds by Mr. Sharp he would not escape so easily as on the previous day, and he instantly ducked into the thickest of the undergrowth.
He crept cautiously in among some heavy laurels and crouched there motionless.
Mr. Sharp came past within twenty paces, but evidently he had not seen anything; and Ray breathed a sigh of relief as he saw him pass on and gradually disappear in the mist.
He waited a while to be sure he was gone, then, just as he was coming out of his hiding-place, he heard fresh footfalls on the other side, and at once dropped down again.
Two people were coming, but who they were he could not see, for the laurels were as thick as a hedge.
The two came to a stop under a big yew tree not much more than a dozen feet from his hiding-place, and suddenly he heard Hogan's voice.
"Yes; we can talk here," he said sullenly. "Not that it's any good your worrying me. You can't get blood out of a stone."
"Can't get blood out of a stone, eh?" retorted Hogan's companion in a deep, harsh voice. "No; but I can break the stone."
"I'm broke already. I've told you so," answered Hogan. "And, anyhow, you know very well that I'm under age and you can't get money out of me."
"I know that well enough, you young scamp. So that's your idea of playing the game, is it? When you win I'm to pay you, but when you lose I can whistle for my money."
"It isn't that at all," retorted Hogan fiercely. "I've promised to pay you the three pounds just as soon as I have the money. But what I keep on telling you is that I haven't got it."
"You and your promises!" sneered the other. "I'm fed up with them. I've a mind to go straight to your master and tell him how you have been behaving."
"Then you won't get a penny," said Hogan fiercely.
"But you'll get the sack out of this school, Master Hogan," jeered the other.
Hogan was silent.
As for Ray, he felt horribly uncomfortable. But he could not move without being heard or seen, and there was nothing for it but to stay where he was.
"Well," said the stranger to Hogan, "if I hold my hand a while yet, when can you pay me?"
"Before the end of term," said Hogan. "As I told you before, I'm in for the scholarship, and I'm sure of it. When I get it I can pay you at once."
"But even if you do get this scholarship they don't pay you the money. It goes against your bills," said the man suspiciously.
"Yes, of course; but my father has promised me a tip of five pounds when I get it," replied Hogan.
"Five pounds, eh?" repeated the other. "Well, see here, my young gentleman, if I agree to wait I've got to have the whole of that precious fiver. That's only fair for the risk I take and by way of interest."
"Oh, anything you like!" replied Hogan wearily. "I can't kick."
The other laughed, and it wasn't a pretty sound.
"No; you can't, young fellow, and that's a fact. And I'll be here for my money the day after you get it, and don't you forgot it. And if you fail me next time I'll have you up before your master. Sure as my name's Milsom, I will!"
"You aren't exactly improving my chances by all these threats, Milsom," replied Hogan. "And now sheer off and leave me alone. If anyone caught me down here with you there wouldn't be any need for you to go to the Head."
The man Milsom laughed again and made some sneering remark; then to Ray's great relief he went off, and Hogan walked quickly away in the direction of the school.
Ray crept out of his hiding-place, and got a glimpse of the stranger before he disappeared. He was a big, bulky fellow; and Ray at once began to wonder if it could be he who had made the old Manor House his headquarters.
But the school bell was already ringing, and there was no time left to find out.
THE moment school was over Ray gave Jimmy a signal which meant that they were to meet at once in Ray's cellar, and a few minutes later Ray was eagerly telling his friend all about the conversation he had overheard in the Wilderness.
"It's just what I thought," said Jimmy, grimly. "Master Foxy has been betting and getting into trouble. No wonder he's so keen to collar the scholarship."
"But what about this chap Milsom?" asked Ray. "Can he be the man who is using this place? He's a big chap with big feet."
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't quite see why he should come here," he answered. "There's no object in it so far as I can see."
"There's no object in anyone using it except us," said Ray, in a sort of despair—"that is, unless it's got anything to do with the thefts. And we've searched the whole place over and over and found nothing."
"It is a rum go," allowed Jimmy. "I say, suppose we go round and look at my laboratory and see if anyone else has been in? I left a thread tied across the window last time just to make sure."
Ray agreed, and they went quietly to the upper passage, and then down into the old kitchen.
Jimmy went straight to the window.
"Hulloa!" he exclaimed sharply. "Someone has been here. The thread's broken."
"That's right enough," replied Ray. "Look at this!" He pointed as he spoke to a large, dirty piece of paper fastened against the wall. It was roughly printed in pencil, and read as follows:
IF YOU KNOW WHAT'S GOOD FOR YOU, YOU'LL CLEAR OUT AND STAY OUT.
"Well, I'm jiggered!" gasped Jimmy. "If that doesn't beat the band! I never heard such cheek!"
As he spoke he tore the notice down angrily and was about to crumple it up, but Ray stopped him.
"Don't do that, you idiot, Jimmy! Keep it carefully. If we can only find out who wrote it we've solved the mystery."
"I forgot that," said Jimmy rather sheepishly. "Here! You keep it."
Ray examined the paper carefully, but could make nothing of it, while Jimmy stood frowning, his forehead creased in puzzled lines.
Suddenly his face cleared.
"Ray," he said, "I've got an idea."
He was so serious that Ray did not chaff, as he was at first inclined to do.
"Come back to your place," said Jimmy, and Ray followed him.
When they got back to the cellar jimmy began rummaging among his chemicals, of which he had a lot. Indeed, he spent nearly all his pocket-money on buying them.
"You know I'm frightfully keen on coal tar dyes, Ray," he began.
Ray nearly smiled, but managed not to. Jimmy had talked coal tar to him by the yard ever since he had known him. At the same time Ray was a bit puzzled, for he did not quite make out what Jimmy was after.
Jimmy went on.
"You've heard me speak of methylene dyes?" he said.
"Yes, rather," said Ray. "But how does that help us?"
"Wait, and I'll tell you. There's one of them that has no colour at all until it gets wet. Moisture, even touching it with a warm hand, brings it out a beautiful bright blue. Now do you see?"
Ray's eyes widened.
"I've got a sort of notion," he said.
"You'll have more than a notion before I'm through," Jimmy assured him. "I believe I can make some of this stuff. Then what price putting some on the window-sill of the laboratory and seeing on whose clothes it shows up? What do you think of that for an idea, Ray?"
"It's a jolly good idea," said Ray.
"Yes, Jimmy; it's a topping idea. But are you sure you can make it?"
"I can make it all right," declared Jimmy. "I've got the formula. It's the same one that Scotland Yard uses. The police trapped a thief in a big hospital with this dye stuff. It's a very fine powder when it's dry, and looks just like dust. It isn't till it gets wet that it shows up."
"Then you'd better make some as soon as you can," said Ray. "Can I help?"
"You needn't bother. You sit down and get on with y our work. I'll get to it at once."
JIMMY did get to it, and soon the cellar was full of queer fumes and hissing sounds, and Ray found himself watching rather than studying his text-book.
Presently there was a loud hiss and a pop, a clatter of breaking glass, and Jimmy staggered back against the wall.
Ray jumped up.
"Hurt yourself, Jimmy?" he asked anxiously.
"Not a bit," growled Jimmy, "but I've broken my retort. I shall have to start all over again."
"I know you'll blow up the whole show one of these days," said Ray, with a laugh; but Jimmy merely grunted indifferently and went on with his experiment.
The job, however, took longer than he had reckoned, and it was not till late the next afternoon that he was able to show Ray the powder.
He sprinkled a few grains of the fine dust on a bit of blotting paper, then held the blotting paper in the steam of boiling water. Like magic the paper was stained with big marks of a rich violet colour.
"How's that?" asked Jimmy triumphantly, and Ray readily admitted that it was splendid.
The next thing was to sprinkle the powder on the window-sill of Jimmy's original laboratory in such a way that it must be touched by anyone getting in or out, and at the same time to avoid getting any of it on their own clothes.
Safeguarding himself with an old pair of gloves, Jimmy managed this successfully, covering the inside ledge so that anyone getting in or out would be sure to get the stuff on his hands or his coat.
The work had taken a long time, and it was nearly dark before they had finished.
"We shall have to go out the other way," said Jimmy, as he drew aside the rough curtains which they had fixed up to hide their light. "We mustn't use this window ourselves until we've trapped the trespasser."
"I do hope we shall catch him," said Ray. "I'm sick and tired of this mystery business. And I can't help thinking that it's got something to do with all that beastly stealing that's gone on this term. I—"
He stopped short as Jimmy grabbed him by the arm and pulled him down behind the sill.
"What's up?" he whispered sharply.
"Hush!" answered Jimmy, in an equally low voice. "Someone is coming!"
Though it was almost pitch-dark inside the room, there was still a grey twilight outside. A cold wind moaned among the branches of the big trees which surrounded the old Manor House, and it was only the sharpness of Jimmy's ears that had enabled him to hear the stealthily approaching footfalls.
Crouching below the window-sill, and just peering over it, the two boys saw a figure come toward the window—a big, bulky figure; and, dark as it was, they could see that the man was wearing a rough, greyish tweed suit and had a cap pulled down over his eyes.
He paused for an instant opposite the window, and Ray's heart missed a beat, for he thought that the man was coming in. But no! Almost at once he passed on, and disappeared under the low, sweeping branches of the big trees.
The boys lay still as mice until he had quite gone. Then, at last, Jimmy spoke.
"You saw him, Ray?" he asked, in a voice that was not quite steady.
"I saw him all right," replied Ray grimly.
"Who was he, then?"
"It was Slogger," said Ray curtly. "I couldn't be mistaken about his clothes."
"Then what was he doing here?" demanded Jimmy.
"What's the use of asking me?" retorted Ray, almost angrily. "I don't know any more than you."
IT was a very silent and distinctly unhappy pair of boys who took their seats in the Lower Fourth class-room that evening.
Ray in particular was very much upset. Two days earlier, when the footprint test had failed, he had been happy in the belief that, after all, Mr. Flower had nothing to do with the mysterious invasion of the Manor House. He had then quite made up his mind that the intruder was some stranger masquerading as Slogger.
Now all his ideas had to be rearranged. That grey suit! He knew it so well, for he had more than once seen Slogger wear it when out on long country walks, and he felt certain that he could not mistake it.
So, after all, it was Slogger who had been hanging about the old house. But, if so, what was his reason?
And, again, could it possibly have been Slogger who had hit Bob Dane over the head in that brutal way? Ray, of course, knew that Slogger's temper was uncertain. Everyone knew that. Yet he very rarely let himself go, and it did not seem to Ray possible that, under any circumstances, he would have knocked a boy silly.
Could there possibly be two people? Could Slogger have just been passing that afternoon, while the other, who had been inside and left that threatening notice, had been someone got up to represent him? Slogger, at any rate, could never have written that notice.
Oh, the whole thing was a hopeless muddle, and Ray could make neither head nor tail of it.
He felt that his head was beginning to ache, and that the only thing to do was to put the whole business resolutely out of his mind, at any rate for the moment. If he did not he would never be able to do his work.
Slogger was not taking the Form that afternoon. The lesson was English, and the master was Mr. Sharp. Sharp by name and sharp by nature, he was not a popular person with the boys.
The lesson began, and with a great effort Ray managed to fix his attention upon it, and although he did not particularly distinguish himself he managed to get through without serious trouble.
The hour was over at last, and the boys trooped out into the dark courtyard on their way to the dining hall. Ray and Jimmy had a pot of jam between them, and in spite of their troubles managed to make a good meal.
Tea was nearly over when a new surprise awaited them. Slade brought a note to the master in charge, who happened to be Mr. Bracknell, the science master.
Mr. Bracknell read it, and suddenly called for silence. Everyone turned and stared.
"Boys," said Mr. Bracknell, "you will all go straight from Hall into the Big School. The Headmaster has something to say to you."
"And what's up now?" said Jimmy to Ray.
Ray nudged Jimmy.
"Watch Hogan!" he whispered.
"My word, he's as yellow as a guinea!" answered Jimmy. "Is it anything to do with him?"
"Looks very like it!" whispered Ray.
"Phew!" muttered Jimmy.
"Then the Head's got on to his little game with that betting chap. This will clear the air quite a bit, old son."
Ray did not answer, and at that moment the doors were opened and the boys began to troop out, talking excitedly as they went.
In a few minutes Ray and Jimmy were seated with the rest in the big schoolroom. All round them was a low hum of whispering. Everyone was excited, for it was only on rare occasions, and when something really important was to be given out, that the Head assembled the school in this fashion.
They had not long to wait, for almost at once the Head appeared and took his stand on the dais at the end of the great room, while the earnest whispering continued.
"Old man looks pretty sick," observed someone just behind Ray. It was true. Dr. Glennie's face was curiously grey and drawn.
"Close the doors," he ordered briefly.
This was done, and absolute silence fell in the crowded place.
"Boys," said the Doctor, "I have a highly unpleasant communication to make to you." He paused, and Ray glanced towards Hogan. The fellow was as white as a sheet, and fairly shivering. "You all know," went on the Doctor, "that there have been several cases of theft during this term. Money has been taken from the pockets of boys, and money and other valuables from the room of one of the masters. In spite of all efforts on my part and, I think, on yours, the identity of the thief has not been discovered. This is bad enough, but today something more has happened.
"My own house has just been entered, and my wife's jewellery, including her pearl necklace, which is worth several hundred pounds, has been stolen. The matter is so serious that I have thought it only right to call in the police, and, as the story must become public property by tomorrow, I thought it best to call you together and tell you before you see it in the newspapers."
He paused again, but no one spoke or stirred. On Hogan's face Ray thought he saw a look of something like relief.
"The facts are these," Dr. Glennie continued. "The robbery was apparently committed at or about tea-time while we were in the drawing-room and the servants in the kitchen. The house was entered from the garden door, and the thief must have known his way about, for he went straight upstairs to Mrs. Glennie's room, and was probably away again in less than ten minutes."
Ray and Jimmy turned at the same moment, and their eyes met. There was no time for words, but in both their minds was the same thought. It had been just on half-past five when Slogger Flower had passed by the window of the old Manor House.
THE Head went on again, but for the moment Ray was so upset that he hardly heard what he was saying. Presently, however, he found himself listening again.
"If any boy can throw light upon this abominable series of thefts," said Dr. Glennie impressively, "I need hardly say that it is his duty to tell me. I know the feeling in the school against tale-bearing or sneaking, and it is a very right and proper feeling. But a case like this is different. A series of such crimes as these are a smirch upon the good name of Charminster, and it is most important for each of you individually and for the school at large that the mystery should be cleared up as soon as possible.
"From the fact that all these thefts have taken place within the school buildings, it seems clear that the culprit is someone connected with the school.
"Now, I do not for a moment want any of you to attempt any detective work. What I do ask is that any one of you who thinks he can throw a light upon the matter should come to me quietly and tell me what he knows.
"I urge this very strongly for the sake of the reputation of the old school, of which we are all so fond."
He stopped and stood looking down at the throng of boys. His keen eyes seemed to dwell on every face, and never in his life had Ray felt more uncomfortable.
Then, with a brief nod, the Doctor turned and left the room, and the boys poured out into the quadrangle, all talking eagerly. All, that is, except Ray and Jimmy and Bob Dane. These three, as if by one consent, moved oft together to the quiet corner under the trees near the chapel, where of one accord they stopped.
Bob spoke first.
"Well, you chaps, I suppose you're going to the Head?"
"No!" growled Jimmy. "We're not!"
"But why not? From what you've told me I should say that beggar who was dressing up like Slogger most likely had something to do with it."
Jimmy shook his head.
"I can't help that, Bob. Ray and I are not going to say anything about it."
Bob looked blank.
"Surely you're not scared that you'll get into a row for being out-of-bounds?" he said sharply. "Or is it that you're afraid of getting kicked out of your laboratory, Jimmy?"
A flash of anger crossed Jimmy's face, and his lips tightened, but he held himself in.
"You ought to know me better than that, Bob," he answered. "If you want to know the real reason why we can't go to the Head, it is that we've found out that it really is Slogger after all."
"Who is taking my name in vain?" came a deep voice, and the big frame of Slogger himself loomed above the three. Deep in their discussion, the boys had neither seen nor heard him as he came up from the direction of his rooms in the Gate Lodge.
Ray's knees shook under him. He could not have uttered a word, however badly he wanted to.
Jimmy and Bob were equally stricken speechless.
How much had Slogger heard? That was the thought uppermost in the mind of each of the three boys.
FLOWER stood looking down at them. There was a somewhat puzzled look on his big, strong face. At last he spoke again.
"Don't be scared," he said, with a smile. "Of course, I know my nickname. As a matter of fact, I am rather proud of it."
A huge weight rolled off Ray's heart. So, after all, Slogger had not heard. As the wind was making so much noise in the trees this was perhaps not wonderful. He forced himself to speak.
"It—it was cheek of us, sir," he said. "We—were talking about you, sir. But—but—" He stopped.
Slogger laid a big hand on his shoulder.
"But you'd rather not tell me what disrespectful remarks you were making about your Form master?" he said with a laugh. "Well, never mind. I'll forgive you."
The blood rushed to Ray's cheeks He blushed scarlet. It was on the tip of his tongue to blurt out the whole truth, and beg the master to tell him what he knew about the matter. The only reason that he hesitated was on Jimmy's account. Knowing, as he did, that Jimmy was still in Slogger's black books over the cribbing affair, he felt he could not let him in for fresh trouble. And, of course, there would be trouble if it came out that Jimmy and he had been using the Old House as they had been all the term.
Before he could make up his mind what to do Slogger was speaking again.
"This is bad business, boys, about Mrs. Glennie's pearls."
"We had been talking about that, sir," said Jimmy, looking up suddenly in the master's face. "We wondered if it were someone in the school or outside."
Did Slogger start slightly? It almost seemed to Ray that he did. Ray's heart beat so hard that it almost choked him.
Slogger spoke quickly.
"Have you seen or heard anything that makes you think it is anyone in the school, Clayton?" he asked sharply.
Quick steps crunched on the gravel, and there was Mr. Sharp coming up quickly.
"Yes," he said. "What is it?"
"Have you forgotten that you are dining with me tonight, and going to the Debating Society?"
Slogger said something under his breath which did not sound like a blessing.
"I did not know it was so late, Mr. Sharp," he answered, "but I will come at once. Good-night, boys," he said, and the two masters walked off together.
Bob Dane drew a long breath.
"Were you going to tell him, Jimmy?" he demanded.
"I—I don't know. I almost believe I was," replied Jimmy slowly.
"I wish you had," said Ray sharply. "I would have, only I didn't want to get you into a row."
"Row," repeated Jimmy scornfully. "The father of all rows would be jam compared with all this beastly hole-and-corner business."
"And you still think it's Slogger?" put in Bob breathlessly.
"I don't know what to think," said Jimmy, in despair. "I'd pretty nearly as soon suspect myself, yet Ray and I saw Slogger down by the Old House just before dark and just at the very time the thief must have been coming out of the Head's house."
Bob gasped in amazement.
"You're sure it was Slogger and not that disguised chap who nearly slew me the other day?"
"He was wearing Slogger's clothes," said Jimmy grimly. "Ray can swear to the suit."
Bob shook his head.
"It beats me," he said. "But you can't make me believe that old Slogger goes round prigging shillings out of chaps' trousers or bagging pearl necklaces from other people's bedrooms."
The other two shook their heads helplessly, and at that moment the bell for evening preparation rang.
NEXT day, Friday, the school hummed with excitement.
A detective from local headquarters had arrived; he had searched the Doctor's house, he had interviewed all sorts of people, and thoroughly upset all the servants. Finally, he had gone away, saying that he had a clue.
"All rot!" growled Jimmy, meeting Ray in the box-room. "I don't believe the beggar has any clue at all. He only said so to keep his end up."
Ray shrugged his shoulders.
"I believe you're right, Jimmy. It's a horrid mix-up. I say, have you been down to your lab."
"No, I didn't dare to with all this excitement on. I'll slip down some time this evening."
"I wonder if that detective chap has been in the place?"
"Phew! I never thought of that. What a joke if he were caught in the methydene dye trap!"
"Not much use to us if he were," said Ray. "Still, you'd better have a look. But he's not likely to have found your lab, because we always keep that passage door locked, and you have the key."
"Of course I have the key, and the door's bolted as well," said Jimmy. "I'm particularly keen to keep my show dark for a bit. While I was mixing that methydene I got on to a new stunt. Do you know, Ray, I believe I've found a new dye."
"Have you, by Jove? I say, that might be valuable, Jimmy."
"It might. Anyhow I'm going to try hard to work it out. Tomorrow is Saturday, and I shall go down in the afternoon and have a shot at it."
"I'll come along too."
"Better not," grinned Jimmy. "The place, will reek. You'll be smothered."
"I'll look in, anyhow," said Ray, and then they parted.
It was not until tea-time that they met again. Then Ray saw by Jimmy's face that something had happened, and as soon as the meal was over the two hurried out of the room and away to the quiet corner of the Quad.
"Someone's been there," announced Jimmy. "I put a black thread across the window, and I found it broken."
Ray drew a long breath.
"Then someone has got the stuff on him."
"Absolutely certain," replied Jimmy emphatically. "Whoever he was he couldn't get in or out without getting marked."
"Then we shall find out who it is," said Ray.
"We ought to if it's someone in the school," was Jimmy's answer.
"Keep your eyes wide open, Ray. Watch Arden particularly. I can't help thinking that he has something to do with it."
"Or Hogan," said Ray. Then an idea occurred to him. "But he's got to get wet first," he said quickly.
"It doesn't need much wet. Perspiration will bring it out on the hand, and a slight fog like we've been getting lately would be enough to show the colour on a chap's clothes."
"All right. I'll keep a sharp look-out," Ray promised.
Next day turned out dull and misty, and by dinner-time it was so thick that a notice was posted that there would be no football that afternoon.
Ray was just leaving Hall after dinner when he met Slogger, who stopped him.
"Like a walk, Cartwright?" said the big man pleasantly.
"Very much indeed, sir," replied Ray, and meant it.
Indeed, there was no boy in the school who would have refused such a chance, for Slogger took them to all sorts of interesting places and always stood them a top-hole tea.
"Then get your mackintosh and meet me at the gate," said Slogger. "I'm asking Dane to come, too."
In spite of the fog the walk was most enjoyable. Slogger, who was wearing his old grey tweeds, took them through Saverton Forest, and they filled their pockets with hazel nuts and chestnuts. At four they had an early tea at a little roadside inn, with heaps of jam and cake, then they started briskly back so as to get home before dark.
Slogger led them by a short cut across country, and here and there were some pretty stiff fences to climb. Not that any of them cared, for they all had on old clothes.
When they reached the top of the hill above the river they struck a big bank with an ox rail on top.
Slogger sprang up the bank and took hold of the rail.
"Too long for even my legs," he said laughingly, and began to climb over.
Ray was just behind him. As Slogger raised one leg over the top of the fence, Ray suddenly noticed on the back of his right trouser leg a splotch of vivid violet, and above that again two or three smaller marks of the same brilliant colour.
He gave a queer strangled gasp, and Slogger heard him and turned.
"Why, what's the matter, Cartwright?" he asked anxiously. "You look as white as a sheet."
"N-nothing, sir," Ray managed to say, but for all that he felt as if his whole world had crumbled suddenly about his ears. Here was proof beyond doubt that Slogger himself had been in the Old Manor House since the dye was put there.
THE cellar was full of queer fumes as Ray entered it, and Jimmy Clayton, in his shirt-sleeves, was boiling something in a fire-clay pot over a blue oil flame.
"Jimmy," said Ray, but Jimmy did not look round.
"All right, old chap," he said quickly. "Can't talk to you for a minute. I'm just in the middle of it. Sit down a bit and wait. I won't be very long."
Ray dropped heavily on the old packing-case in which he kept his treasured violin. He felt suddenly fagged out. The walk itself had not tired him; it was the worry that had upset him.
If Jimmy had turned he would have seen how very pale Ray was, but for the moment he was so engrossed with his experiment that he could think of nothing else.
Ray sat quietly for a few minutes, but Jimmy never moved from his bench, and Ray saw that he was absolutely wrapped up in what he was doing.
And just then there came to Ray's ears a sound which was certainly not the hissing of Jimmy's retort. It was a sound of someone moving up above.
Like a flash Ray was up and off. Forgetting all his fatigue he went swiftly up the stairs, and stood just inside the locked door, listening hard. He was right. Someone was moving in the long passage on the other side of the door, and the steps were exceedingly heavy ones.
Ray found himself shaking with excitement. This time at least there should be no mistake, and he resolved firmly, that he would discover the identity of the mysterious visitant if it were humanly possible to do so.
The steps came nearer. They were so heavy that the old boards creaked loudly, and it flashed across Ray's mind that it might be wiser to go back for Jimmy. But this would take time, and the intruder, as Ray could hear by his footsteps, had passed the door, and was going away in the direction of the hall or the upper stairs.
At once Ray decided to take his chance alone, and, turning the key in the lock, he opened the door and stepped out into the passage.
By this time it was past five and very nearly dark. But a certain amount of light still came through the dusty windows of the passage, enough for Ray to see a man just in the act of pushing open the swing door leading out of the passage into the hall. He was a big man, wearing an overcoat.
Ray paused an instant, doubtful whether to run after him or shout to Jimmy.
At that instant the man, who must have heard the door open, wheeled round and faced Ray. Then, without a word, he came running straight at Ray, and Ray saw that he had a heavy stick in his hand.
Ray remembered the brutal way in which this man had struck down Bob Dane. It was no use waiting for a similar fate to befall himself, so at once he ducked back through the cellar door on to the stairs, and slammed the door.
Next instant the man had reached the door, and Ray heard him growl with rage.
Ray thought discretion the better part of valour, and fled back down the stairs, three steps at a time. He heard the big man thundering after.
"Jimmy!" he yelled, "Jimmy!"
Jimmy had been so deep in his experiment that he had been quite unconscious of what was happening, and, the first he knew of it, here came Ray leaping off the stairs into the cellar and right on top of him, the big man brandishing a club.
Jimmy gave one jump to Ray's rescue, and in doing so upset his retort.
There was a roar like that of a double-barrelled gun exploding; the candles were extinguished, and Jimmy and Ray were both flung to the floor by the force of the concussion. As for Ray, he came down on his head, and that was the last he knew for some time to come.
IT was the splash of cold water in his face that brought Ray to his senses, and he looked up into the scared and blackened face of Jimmy.
"I thought you were dead!" gasped Jimmy.
Ray sat up. He put his hand to the back of his head and gazed round in a dazed way. The cellar was still full of smoke and queer smells. Then all of a sudden memory came back.
"The man—the man who chased me! Where is he?" he demanded.
"I think he's dead," replied Jimmy in a curiously flat voice.
"Dead!" gasped Ray.
"That retort of mine exploded," explained Jimmy, "and a piece must have hit him. He's over there by the stairs."
"And you're not hurt?" said Ray sharply.
"No; I got off cheap. Are you all right?"
Ray hardly heard him. He was looking across through the mist of smoke at the man who lay so uncomfortably still on the floor by the foot of the stairs. Jimmy had re-lighted one candle, but, even so, what with the darkness of the cellar and the smoke it was difficult to see much.
"Who is he?" he asked, in a low voice.
"I haven't looked," confessed Jimmy. "I was thinking of you."
"I'm all right," Ray said. "Quite all right, really. But we must find out who the man is."
As he spoke he struggled to his feet. He was so giddy that he had to catch at Jimmy and hang on to him for a moment. But that only lasted for a few seconds.
"Come on," he said to Jimmy.
Jimmy hesitated. So, to tell the truth, did Ray.
"I don't believe—I'm almost sure it can't be Slogger," said Ray. Then, in a desperate tone, "We've got to see," he ended, and went straight across the room.
The man lay on his face. He was as tall as Slogger, but the very first thing that Jimmy saw was that he was wearing a pair of dark trousers. Forgetting all about his aching head, Ray simply swooped down upon him.
Next moment the cellar rang with a regular shout.
"It's not Slogger, Jimmy! It's not Slogger!"
"Then who is it?" asked Jimmy thickly.
"It's Slade!" cried Ray, as he stooped and, using all his strength, turned the man over.
"Slade!" gasped Jimmy. Then, as he came nearer, "So it is!"
The two boys were so amazed that for several moments neither spoke or moved. They remained gazing down at the still and silent figure of the gate porter.
"Then—then it's Slade has been messing about here all these weeks?" Jimmy said at last.
"Of course it is! And in Slogger's clothes. Don't you see, Jimmy, he's just the one man big enough to wear them?"
"And Slogger's rooms are in the gate lodge, and—and Slade valeted him!" cried Jimmy. "So, of course, he could get his clothes. It all fits in. Why didn't we think of it before?"
"I did once for a minute," confessed Ray, "that day when we waited for Hogan at the school gates and Slade came along in a hurry. Do you remember?"
"And he told us his heart was groggy," agreed Jimmy. "Yes, I remember; but I never had any notion that it was Slade. He never seemed the sort to go creeping about like this. What did he do it for?"
Ray looked at Jimmy quickly.
"Do you mean to say you don't understand?"
"That Slade is the thief, Jimmy," Ray answered quietly.
FOR a moment Jimmy looked staggered. Then he drew a long breath.
"Yes, I suppose you're right," he said. "Why, of course you're right! It's the only thing that explains it. He was stealing and trying to throw the blame on Slogger." He paused, and looked down at Slade with a shiver. "What are we going to do now he's dead?" he asked.
"Dead!" repeated Ray, with some scorn. "My dear chap, he's no more dead than I am! A piece of your retort hit him on the head and stunned him. The best thing will be for one of us to fetch the doctor."
Jimmy at once started for the stairs, then stopped.
"I say, Ray, wouldn't it be better to get Slogger?" he suggested.
"Yes, rather! Much the best idea," agreed Ray. Then he stopped. "We should have to tell him everything, Jimmy," he said.
"Yes; but I'd a jolly sight sooner tell him than anyone else," replied Jimmy, and ran off.
Ray, left alone in the cellar, looked at Slade, saw he was still lying quiet enough, and went to the big pail, which Jimmy always kept filled, to get some water to pull the man round.
As he was dipping a tin mug into the bucket he heard a sound, and turned, to see Slade on his feet. There was blood on the man's face, and he glared wildly at Ray.
"Who was it hit me?" he demanded, in a low, hoarse voice. "Where's the chap that did it? You tell me, or it'll be the worse for you!"
Slade's face and manner were so wild that Ray felt a shiver run down his spine.
"No one hit you," he answered sharply. "There was an explosion."
Slade's eyes roved round the room and took in the broken stuff on the floor.
"Then it was that young Clayton!" he said fiercely. "What was he doing here?"
"For that matter, what are you doing here?" retorted Ray.
"That's my business!" Slade answered. Suddenly he stepped forward. "And, see here," he said threateningly, "I've got to have your promise that you won't say anything about seeing me here, either."
Ray had no notion what to do or say. The man had evidently no idea that Jimmy had gone for help, and thought that if he once got Ray's promise he was safe.
"Speak up!" growled Slade. "Give me your word quick, or—"
He tried to catch Ray by the arm, but Ray dodged back. Slade uttered a savage exclamation and jumped after him.
Quick as a flash, Ray flung the tin of water full in his face, and, as Slade staggered back, bolted past him, and was on the stairs before Slade had stopped choking.
Up the stairs flew Ray like lightning, but before he reached the top he heard Slade behind him. He reached the door, which luckily Jimmy had left open, sprang through it, and slammed it.
But there was no key. This door they had always kept locked and bolted on the inside, and Jimmy carried the key. With a shock of horror Ray realised that he could not keep Slade in. He saw that there was only one thing to do, and, leaping for the next door—that of the kitchen which had been Jimmy's original laboratory—Ray flung it open and darted through. His one chance of escape was the window below.
Slade was in the passage before Ray was through the laboratory door. There was not even time to slam it in his face. The man was quite mad with rage.
Fear lent Ray wings, and he gained the window well ahead of Slade. It was closed, and Ray hardly thought it possible to get it open in time. Luckily for him the sash was loose, and he pushed it up about a foot and plunged head-foremost through. Then he tripped and fell flat on his face on the ground outside.
Came a crash behind him. Slade, unable to get through the narrow opening, had flung the sash up with such force as to splinter the glass. He leaped out almost on top of Ray.
"I've got you," he roared, and Ray felt a pair of great hard hands close upon the back of his neck. He was lifted bodily into the air.
"Put him down, you brute!" came a thundering voice. "You won't? Then take that!"
There was the thud of a heavy blow, Ray felt himself dropped again, and as he rolled over there was Slogger, his eyes blazing, standing over Slade, who lay stunned against the wall. Jimmy was close by.
"ARE you hurt, Cartwright?" asked Mr. Flower, as he lifted Ray to his feet, and his voice was as kind as a moment before it had been hard and fierce.
"N-not a bit, sir," answered Ray; "but you were only just in time, sir."
"I see I was," said the other gravely. "What happened?"
Ray told him. Mr. Flower nodded.
"Well, Slade won't do much harm now," he said grimly, as he looked at the insensible porter. "By the by," he added, "it might be worth while searching him. He may have the pearls on him. Look through his pockets, Clayton."
Jimmy was at work instantly, and next moment he was on his feet again.
"Here they are, sir!" he said, holding up the necklace in triumph.
Slogger took them and glanced at them before slipping them into his own pocket. He was silent for a moment, evidently thinking hard.
"I take it you boys have been using the old Manor House for some time past?" he said at last.
"All the term, sir," replied Ray. "Clayton has been doing his chemical work, and I have been practising my violin here."
"I've got to have the whole story," he said. "You two boys slip off and ask the doctor to come here. And tell Dawkes, the gardener, to get an ambulance. Then go to my room and wait for me."
They went off at once. Twenty minutes later Slogger found them in his room.
"Now let's have it all," he said. "All, mind you, for if there's anything against other boys be sure I will not use it without your permission."
He was so kind and genial that Ray found himself talking as easily as he might have done to Jimmy himself. Now and then Slogger asked a question, but for the most part he listened in silence.
"Well," he said at last, when Ray had finished, "of course I shall have to tell the headmaster. But, under the circumstances, I don't think you need be much alarmed as to consequences. The recovery of the pearls should make up for a good deal. By the by, I suppose you know there is a £50 reward for their recovery?"
The two boys glanced at one another and gasped.
"You will share that," said Slogger. He rose from his chair. "Now I must go and see the Head," he continued. "You had better wait here until he sends for you." And with a nod he left them.
Jimmy looked at Ray.
"And that's the chap we thought was a thief," he said slowly. "I say, isn't he a topper?"
"The best ever," agreed Ray, and sighed.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded Jimmy. "What are you groaning about?"
"That rotten cribbing business. Slogger must still think you did it, Jimmy."
"I believe he's forgotten it, anyhow," said Jimmy. "Just see how decent he was to us both."
Ray's jaw set stubbornly.
"I'm going to get that cleared up some way or other," he said. "That beggar Ferguson has got to own up sooner or later."
Mr. Flower, meantime, was talking to the headmaster, and had very soon given him all the facts of the case. Then he took the necklace from his pocket and handed it over. Dr. Glennie took it with a sigh of relief.
"My wife will be delighted," he said. "And I, too, am delighted, Flower. I was so terribly afraid that some of the boys had been stealing."
"I'm not so sure they haven't," was Slogger's surprising reply.
Dr. Glennie started.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, sir, I'm not yet sure of my facts, but I have certain suspicions which I will endeavour to verify. We may learn something from Slade himself when he is able to talk."
"Where is he?" asked the Head.
"In a cell at the police-station. I'm afraid I hit him rather hard, and it may be some time before he is able to talk. Meantime, perhaps you would like to see Cartwright and Clayton."
"Yes, I will see them after tea. Will you tell them so?"
Mr. Flower hesitated a moment. "You will let them down easily, sir?" he asked. "I know they have broken bounds, but not, I think, with any ill intent."
Dr. Glennie's eyes twinkled.
"Trust me, Flower. They are not a bad pair. Indeed, the only thing against either of them is that case of cribbing in which Clayton was caught by you."
Slogger's face went suddenly grave. He shook his big head.
"I never had any case in my form that worried me more," he said. "Clayton is not the sort to crib. He is as honest as the day. I only hope that I have not made some terrible mistake about that business. If I have I shall find it difficult to forgive myself."
NOT a word did Ray or Jimmy say to anyone when they went in to tea.
Mr. Flower had warned them, and though they were bursting to tell Bob Dane at least, they kept loyally silent. They were to go to the Doctor at seven, and this left them about half an hour to themselves when tea was over.
"Ray," said Jimmy, as they walked together across the quad. "I've left my watch down in the Old House. I think I shall scoot down and get it."
Ray was a little doubtful.
"Is that playing the game?" he asked.
"I think so. We didn't promise Slogger not to go, and I don't want to lose my watch. Ten to one they'll be searching the place tomorrow, and I'd better take the chance while I can. I shan't be more than ten minutes."
"All right, then; and you might bring my violin," said Ray. "I've got some work to do, so I won't come with you."
Jimmy went off quickly. To say truth, the knowledge that he was cut out of his private laboratory had upset him more than a little.
Chemistry was the one thing that he was really keen on, and he had delighted in having this quiet retreat where he could carry out his experiments in peace. Indeed, he would willingly have given his share of the reward for finding the necklace in exchange for being able to keep his cellar.
Of course, it was good business to have caught the thief, but Jimmy wished most heartily that Slade had chosen some other place to lurk in than the Old House.
It was just because Jimmy was so deep in thought that he did not exercise his usual care in crossing from the quadrangle into the old court, and that he never noticed a lurking figure which dogged him.
As Jimmy reached the old well, and, stepping over the low kerb, took hold of the chain and lightly swung himself downwards, the boy who had been following him was peering around the angle of the wall not more than a. score of yards away and watching with goggling eyes.
He waited until Jimmy had disappeared, then ran silently across to the well, and stood listening intently. Then he ventured to peep over.
There was no sign whatever of Jimmy, but from below the watcher heard a slight rustling sound.
"A passage," he muttered softly—"a secret passage. So I'm on to it at last."
He waited a little while longer until the sounds from below had quite died away. Then he, too, got on the kerb, tried the chain, found it was firmly chocked, and after a moment's hesitation set to climbing downwards.
SEVEN o'clock had struck, and Ray was standing at the gate leading down to the headmaster's house.
"Where on earth is Jimmy?" he said, half aloud. "If he doesn't come soon I shall have to go in alone."
At that very moment steps came pattering across the gravel, and there was Jimmy hot and breathless.
"Frightfully sorry to be so late, Ray. There was someone else in the place, and I had to dodge him."
"Who was it?" asked Ray, sharply.
"Haven't a notion, but, whoever he was, he came by the well and the secret passage. If I'd only had time I should have found out, but it was nearly seven and I had to run. I've got your fiddle. Come on."
"Come in," came the Doctor's voice as Ray tapped on the study door, and the tone of it was kindly enough to make the boys feel comfortable at once.
The Doctor himself was standing in front of a big, glowing fire, and there was a twinkle in his eyes which did not escape Ray's notice.
"Well, you young law-breakers," began the Head, "what have you got to say for yourselves?" He pointed to two chairs. "Sit down, both of you. I want to hear all about this business. You tell me, Cartwright. Begin at the beginning. I want to know how you found your way into the Manor House."
This was a bit awkward, and Ray hesitated. Naturally he could not explain how Arden, and Co. had put him in the well. But he had to say something.
"We—we found a secret passage, sir," he began.
"A secret passage?" repeated the Doctor, raising his eyebrows.
"It's from the old well, sir," put in Jimmy. "It takes you into the cellar of the Manor House."
Dr. Glennie seemed to sense that there was something behind this. He did not ask how they had found it.
"So you two took advantage of this to start a chemical laboratory down in the cellar? Is that the fact?"
"Yes, sir," Jimmy answered.
"And I used it for practising my violin, sir," added Ray.
"I had no notion you were a musician, Cartwright. But go on, and tell me what you know about this man Slade."
Ray began his story, and here and there the Doctor threw in a keen question.
"So this man was in disguise?" he said presently.
"He was wearing Mr. Flower's clothes," replied Ray, reluctantly.
By the time Ray had finished he felt as if he had let out a great deal more than he had meant to, and he sat silent, anxiously wondering what would happen next.
The Doctor did not speak for a moment or two. Suddenly he asked a question.
"And how many times have you two been out of bounds down in the Manor House?" he demanded.
Ray's heart sank.
"Almost every day, sir," he confessed.
"And the penalty is half a day's detention for each offence," said the Doctor.
Ray's face lengthened, and so did Jimmy's.
"On the other hand," said the Doctor, "we have the fact that you went there to work and not to smoke cigarettes, and that you have recovered my wife's pearls and caught the thief. Also, I don't mind telling you that Mr. Flower has put in a word in your favour. Well, my sentence is this—that you stay to supper tonight with Mrs. Glennie and myself."
It was a delightful little supper-party. The boys, who had always been rather in awe of the Doctor, found him as kind as Mr. Flower himself. Afterwards, Mrs. Glennie insisted on Ray playing for them.
The others listened in charmed silence, and when it was over the Doctor laid his hand on Ray's shoulder.
"My boy, you have a great gift," he said, "and one that must be cultivated." Then he turned to Jimmy: "And now it's only fair that you should do some chemical experiments for us, Clayton," he continued.
Jimmy went a horrified pink, and the Doctor laughed heartily.
"I am only chaffing, Clayton. But really I am interested, and I shall talk to you further about your chemistry. Also, I will see that you have some place in which to work. Now, before you go, there is this matter of the reward. You have fairly earned it, so what will you like done about it?"
"May my father have my share, if you please, sir?" asked Ray.
The Doctor nodded. He already knew of Mr. Cartwright's troubles.
"And you, Clayton?" he asked; and just then there was a knock and the maid announced Mr. Flower.
THE expression on Slogger's face told everyone at once that something fresh had happened.
"What is it?" asked the Head quickly.
Ray and Jimmy rose to go, but Slogger raised his hand.
"You can stop, boys," he said, "that is, if the headmaster allows you."
"Yes, certainly; let them stop," said Dr. Glennie. "I take it, then, Flower, that you have made some further discoveries in connection with this business?"
"I have, sir. After dinner I went down to the Manor House, with the idea of trying to discover if Slade had hidden any of the proceeds of his thefts about the place. As I passed the door of the cellar where Clayton has had his laboratory I heard someone inside beating on the door. I had to burst it open. To my amazement there was Ferguson."
"Ferguson!" repeated the Doctor in amazement. "What was he doing there?"
"Exactly what I asked him, and what I had much difficulty in finding out, for the boy was beside himself with fright. It seems that he saw someone go down there tonight by the well passage, and—"
"It was I, sir," put in Jimmy quickly. "I went for my watch and Cartwright's violin. I have told the Head, sir."
"Oh, so it was you that Ferguson was tracking?" said Slogger. "Then you locked him in?"
"No, sir. I went back by the well passage, only I pulled the chain up after me."
There was a twinkle of amusement in Slogger's eyes.
"Then, unknowingly, you have done yourself rather a good turn, Clayton," he said. "Ferguson, locked up alone in the dark for a couple of hours, got so thoroughly scared that he has made a clean breast of everything."
"Of the cribbing business, sir?" cried Ray.
"Yes, and more besides. But that will be for Dr. Glennie's ears. Meantime, I have to offer you my sincere apologies, Clayton."
Jimmy got red as fire.
"N-no, please, sir," he stammered. "You c-couldn't help it. The evidence was awfully strong against me."
"It was, Clayton, yet at the same time I judged too hastily. I am very sorry."
Jimmy was scarlet, yet too happy to speak. The Doctor wisely interfered, and, telling the boys it was their bed-time, sent them off. It is safe to say that two happier youngsters were not to be found that night in the Charminster dormitories than Ray Cartwright and Jimmy Clayton.
THOUGH neither Ray nor Jimmy had breathed a word, next morning the school was full of rumours. Ferguson had disappeared. Some vowed he had run away.
Before the day was over, Arden, Hogan, and Bulmer as well had mysteriously vanished.
Excitement ran high when at tea an order was read put for all the boys to attend in Big School.
Then the mystery was solved.
The Head told the boys the full story of the cribbing business as confessed by Ferguson. Then he went on to say that the boys responsible for this abominable plot had also been found guilty of other offences, especially of betting upon horse-races.
"They have been expelled from the school," said the Doctor gravely. "And let their fate be a warning."
Then he went on to speak of the robberies and the discovery of Slade as the thief.
"This discovery and the fact that Slade is now in custody is due to the pluck and cleverness of two boys," he said. "These are Cartwright and Clayton, who will receive between them the £50 reward."
He stopped, and someone jumped up and shouted, "Three cheers for Cartwright and Clayton!"
They were given with a will; and Ray and Jimmy escaped, covered with blushes, and took refuge in their own Form-room.
"And what's become of that beggar Ferguson?" asked Bob Dane, who had followed them.
"He's in detention, but he's going to get another show," replied Jimmy. "Ray asked Slogger, and he went to the Head about it. Just like Ray," he grinned.
"That's Jimmy's chaff," said Ray, "but look here, Bob, give the beggar a chance. He'll be all right now that Arden and his lot are gone."
"And so will you, young Cartwright," came another voice, and here was Searle. "Now, see here, I know you're mugging up for that scholarship, but that's no reason why you should neglect your football, so you'll come up and play in the dormitory match tomorrow—and see you play properly."
"I'll do my best," promised Ray modestly.
"He generally does," whispered Jimmy to Bob. "You can always back Ray as a real trier. He'll get that scholarship, too."
RAY did get the scholarship, and so was able to stay at Charminster. He is now in the top Form, and in the school fifteen, of which, by the by, Jimmy is captain.
The two are, if possible, greater chums than ever. When he leaves Charminster next Easter, Jimmy is going straight into a big technical college, and will no doubt be heard of as a distinguished chemist.
As for Ray he is true to his first love, his music. He hopes to take his music degree at the university, and then to get a position as music master at the old school to which he is so devoted.
Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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