Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 15 January 1916

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-07-21

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A BROAD-SHOULDERED, hefty-looking boy of about sixteen stood near the top of the breezy common above St. Dunstan's and stared back across the playing fields which lay between the common and the school.

"I don't see Claud," he said, turning to his companion, who was a smaller edition of himself.

"Did he say he'd come with us to-day, Clem?" asked the other.

"Yes," answered Clem Colvin. "I saw him just after dinner, and he told me he'd be up here at half-past two."

"I say, Derek," he added with an anxious expression on his clean-cut face, "I only hope Marden hasn't got hold of him again."

"I hope so, too," agreed his brother. "Marden's an awful rotter."

Clem nodded.

"Yes; and he makes up to Claud just because he knows that it annoys you and me. He'll get him into some poisonous row one of these days. All the same, Clem, I don't believe he's out with Claud this afternoon. I spotted him loafing in the Upper Fourth Class Room just before we came out."

"Likely as not he was doing that just to put us off the scent," growled Clem. "The chances are that he spotted us off the place, and then went off with his pocket full of cigarettes to catch Claud. Claud's so weak that Marden can do anything with him."

"Yet he's such a good chap one can't help liking him," said Derek Colvin.

"You're right, Derek. I'm very fond of Claud. But what worries me most is Claud's old dad. You know Claud's mother was killed when he was a kid, and his father was crippled in the same accident. The old man's never been able to look after Claud properly, and he relies on me to keep the youngster running straight."

Derek shook his head.

"It's all very well, Clem, but you can't be expected to dry-nurse the chap. Anyhow, he's not coming, so let's get on. I want to go round by Barton's Spinney and look at that nest of young magpies. I'm going to take one as soon as they're old enough."

BARTON'S SPINNEY was four miles away, and by the time that Derek had overhauled his magpie's nest and several others, it was past four. Call-over was at five, and it would not do to be late.

"Let's cut across Finchcombe," Derek suggested. "It's a lot shorter."

"It's out of bounds," objected Clem. As a youngster he would not have thought twice about risking it, but now he was in the Upper Fifth, and hoping for promotion to the Sixth next term. Doctor Mannering, the Head, was particularly down on senior boys who went out of bounds. He said they were big enough to know better, and not play lower school tricks. "We shall be late if we don't," insisted Derek. "And we shan't do any harm, and there's no one to see us."

He was right. Clem knew it, and allowed himself to be persuaded.

They were half-way across, and just at the head of a big pasture, when Derek pulled up short.

"Look at that chap. See how he's running?"

He pointed as he spoke to a boy in a St. Dunstan's School cap who was racing across the bottom of the field. They caught hardly more than a glimpse of him, for he was through a gap next moment and out of sight.

"It was Claud!" said Clem sharply.

"It was Claud all right. Someone must be chivying him. Hold on, Clem. Keep down a minute."

They both dropped into a ditch, but no other figure appeared in sight.

"Just hurrying to get back for call-over, I expect," said Derek. "It's all right, Clem. Come on!"

They were nearly across the field when they heard a shout from away to the left, beyond a tall hedge.

Both glanced round.

"Hallo, a fire!" exclaimed Derek.

"A fire it is," said Clem, pausing a moment. "A rick, by the look of it."

He was right. The next field was a plough and at the far side, half hidden by some trees, stood a wheat-stack, from which an ominous coil of thick smoke was rising.

"That's a bad job," added Clem. "We'd better go and help."

Derek clutched his brother by the arm.

"No. We're out of bounds. It won't do, Clem. Besides—"

He stopped short.

"Besides—what?" demanded Clem.

"Why—why, it may be one of our chaps,"

Derek answered uncomfortably.

Clem started badly.

"Great Caesar! You don't mean Claud Elliott?"

"'Fraid I do. You saw him running."

"You think he's been smoking under that stack?"

"Hope not, but it looks horrid like it."

At this moment came another and louder shout from the direction of the burning stack.

Clem, glancing across, saw two men running towards it.

"Bunk!" he said sharply. "Won't do for us to be seen here."

"Rather not!" answered his brother as he started to run at the top of his speed.

Both the brothers were fast and fit, and they wasted no time at all in reaching the nearest hedge. They made for the very gap through which Claud Elliott had disappeared, and Derek took it first.

"Look out!" Clem heard him cry warningly. And as he followed he caught sight of a great hulking lout coming up along the other side of the hedge as hard as he could run.

Derek ducked right under the fellow's outstretched arm and escaped. The man, with a angry snarl, spun round and grabbed at Clem.

It was not a very wise thing to do. Clem Colvin played three-quarter for the school Rugby team, and had tackled many a man as big as this great lump of beef.

He never attempted to avoid him, but, collaring him round the waist, lifted with all his might, and sent him flying through the air, to land head foremost in the thick brambles of the hedge.

Long before the men could disentangle himself from the thorny embraces of the tangled stems the two brothers were half-way across the next field.

They gained the shelter of a small wood and checked to a steady jog.

"I expect he's wondering where he's at," said Derek, glancing back with a chuckle.

"That's just what we shall be wondering if we miss call-over," rejoined his brother dryly. "Don't talk. Keep going."

Keep going they did, and reached the school just in time to save their bacon. Then, as they were hot and muddy, they went to their dormitory to change.

"We got out of that rather well," said Derek.

"Glad you think so. I don't half like it. There'll be the mischief to pay about that rick."

Derek's grin faded.

"I suppose there will. I say, I hope it wasn't old Claud."

Clem shook his head.

"I'm afraid it was. I'm going to tackle him in the morning. If he did it, his best chance is to go straight to the Head and own up."

Clem fully meant what he said, but when morning came Claud Elliott was not to be found. On inquiry Clem heard that he was in the sick house with a bad chill.

THEN things began to move. That very afternoon, just before evening school, a message went round that the whole school were to assemble in the great classroom known as Big School.

"It's the rick," whispered Derek uncomfortably to his brother as they met in the crush at the door.

Clem nodded.

"Looks like it," he muttered, and moved away to take his place with his own form.

The school at large was ignorant of the cause of the sudden summons. There was much whispering among the boys, Derek sitting quite near Marden watched his face, and saw that he was not altogether comfortable. His eyes, set very wide apart, had an anxious expression, yet he was smiling and talking in a low voice to the boy next on his left.

Doctor Mannering came in, and went quickly to his place on the dais. He was in cap and gown, and a hush fell as he stood facing the school, his keen eyes running over the serried ranks of nearly three hundred boys.

"I have a very unpleasant business to speak to you about," he began abruptly. "Yesterday afternoon a wheat-rick belonging to Mr. Gillard, of Finchcombe, was set afire and burnt out. Mr. Gillard himself saw a boy in a school cap running away from the spot. He naturally suspects that he was the culprit.

"I have told him that I would inquire into the matter, and my own idea is that some boy or boys were using the rick as a hiding place where they were indulging in cigarettes. I now ask the culprit to stand up."

He paused.

Absolute silence reigned in the great room. The boys looked from one to another, but no one moved.

The master's face grew, sterner.

"What! Can it be that the guilty boy refuses to confess? Surely that cannot be the case! Let him rise and take his punishment like a man. Otherwise—" He paused again, and once more his eagle eyes roved over the long lines of boys.

"Otherwise," he resumed harshly, "I shall be obliged to punish the whole school by cutting off the Wednesday half-holiday for the rest of the term."

A gasp went up. The punishment, was such as the oldest boy in the school had never heard of.

"I give you one more chance," said the doctor, and his voice was very stern. "If the culprit owns up, he will be caned and gated, but not expelled. If he does not, I shall leave him to the mercy of his fellows, and I do not think that his lot will be a happy one."

The uncomfortable silence lasted for a full minute. Then the Doctor spoke once more.

"You have disappointed me. I did not think there was a boy so base as to permit all his fellows to suffer for his fault. I have no choice but to do as I have said, and punish the whole school. The Wednesday half-holiday will be stopped."

He turned and left, and the school buzzed like a stoned wasps' nest.

"I'd give something to know who the swab was," growled Herford, a big Fifth Former, just in front of Derek Colvin.

Marden turned to him.

"It may have been a cad in a school cap," he suggested. "That's a notion old Mannering's never thought of."

"If it's one of our chaps he'll be slain first and sacked afterwards," said Herford angrily, as he turned and stamped out of the room.

Clem met his brother outside.

"This is a rotten business," he said seriously. Derek shook his head.

"I half thought of getting up and telling the Head that we saw the fire," he answered.

"I'm glad you didn't," said Clem quickly. "He'd have asked if we'd seen anyone else."

"Claud, you mean? Yes, I thought of that. That's why I didn't speak."

Clem considered a moment.

"I shall go and see Claud in sicker, and ask him straight out," he said at last.

"That's the best thing to do," agreed Derek, "Old Claud will own up all right, and then we'll get this business straightened out."

"I'll go now," said Clem. "Wait for me in our study."

Twenty minutes later Clem Colvin was back, and his face was graver than ever.

"I've seen him," he said. "He vows he had nothing to do with it."

"What—when we saw him?"

"Oh, he was there right enough. He owned up to that at once. It seems he was looking for us. Then, he says, he spotted the smoke, and hooked it just as we did."

Derek frowned. He glanced at his brother.

"You—you think it's straight goods?"

Clem's face showed his doubts.

"I—I hardly know," he answered.

Just at that moment came the clang of the bell. Both boys had to snatch up their books and run.

THE school was in an ugly temper. There was no doubt about that. Every boy seemed to eye his neighbour with suspicion. The bigger fellows declared openly that they meant to find the culprit; the lower forms held indignation meetings.

As for the two Colvins, they kept their mouths shut about what they had seen, but both—and Clem in particular—were very unhappy. Claud Elliott was a neighbour of theirs at home; they had known him all their lives, and although they hardly suspected him of telling a lie about the rick, yet they could not help feeling that he knew more than he admitted.

Next morning Clem, on his way to the playing ground for half an hour's net practice, saw a figure approaching which seemed familiar.

A second glance, and he realised that the big, rough-looking fellow with the muffler round his throat, was no other than the lout who had tried to stop them at the boundary fence of Finchcombe Farm.

A queer gleam came into the fellow's eyes as he saw Clem, and he slouched quickly up to him.

Clem faced him.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"No use your playing innocent," returned the other in a threatening tone. "I spotted yer as soon as I seed you. Nah then, what are ye going to do abaht it?"

"If you'll kindly explain, perhaps I shall understand what you are talking about," said Clem quietly.

"Come orf it. You knows as well as I do. What are ye going to give me to keep my mouth shut about you setting light to that there rick?"

Clem laughed.

"Seeing that I was never within a quarter of a mile of the rick. I'm afraid you'll have to try again."

"I seed yer come over the fence," retorted the other. "Running like a 'are you was, and t'other kid, too. I can swear to that, and that you was that scared you took an' tripped me so that I wouldn't hold ye."

"I've told you I never was near the rick," returned Clem sharply, "nor my brother either. As for tripping you, I'd do it again if you tried to lay your dirty hands on me."

The man eyed him venomously.

"I'll take ten bob to keep my mouth shut," he growled.

"For ten pence I'd knock your head off, you blackguardly blackmailer. Get out. I'm going up to the field."

Clem looked so dangerous that the fellow gave way. But when Clem had passed he shouted, after him:

"Orl right, my fine feller. I'll be even with yer. You mind that. I'll be even with yer."

Clem paid no attention. He had half an hour's practice, then went into school. When he came out at twelve he found his brother waiting for him. Derek looked much disturbed.

"Clem, what's up?" he asked sharply. "They've put me in Coventry."

"Put you in Coventry! You're crazy!"

"You think so," replied Derek bitterly. "Look about you."

At that moment two fellows named Rouse and Macklin, both in their own house, came by.

Clem turned to them quickly.

"I say, you chaps, Colvin minor says he's been sent to Coventry. What—?"

He stopped, horror-stricken. Rouse and Macklin walked straight past. They gave the Colvins no more attention than if they had not existed.

"We're both in the same boat," said Derek grimly.

"But what does it mean?" gasped Clem.

"Ask me another. Unless, indeed, they think it's us. I mean, that we burnt the rick."

Clem gasped.

"That's it. That lout who tackled us the day before yesterday by the hedge tried to blackmail me this morning."

"But how? No one would listen to him."

"Marden would," said Clem between set teeth.

"Then the only thing is to find Marden and tackle him," answered Derek.

"I'll thrash the skin off him!" growled Clem.

Easily said, but to do it was quite another thing. Marden was careful not to be seen alone. And as a boy who is sent to Coventry is regarded as everyone's enemy, Clem could get no chance at him.

THAT day and the next were horrible for the two Colvins. They were treated like lepers. Not a soul would speak to them, or even look at them. They were barred from football, and left entirely to themselves.

"I can't stick this any longer," said Clem on the third morning, as he came into their study after early school. "I shall go crazy. I'd rather go and swear that I did burn the rick than carry on like this."

Derek did not answer. He was looking white and odd, and his eyes had a nasty shine.

Neither of them could settle to anything. Presently Clem got up.

"I'm going for half an hour's walk," he said; and, flinging on his cap, went out.

It was a dull, chilly day. It suited his mood and he hurried across the quadrangle, anxious to escape meeting any of his former friends. Instead of going through the main gate he turned to the left, behind the fives' courts, where a smaller gate gave direct on the playing fields.

"No yer don't! I've 'ad enough o' your humbug. Fork out, or I'll blow the gaff, I will, sure as my name is Sam Drabble."

These words, spoken in a hoarse, threatening tone, came plainly to his ears as he rounded the corner, and next moment he was in plain view of a surprising scene.

The lout—the big, ugly-looking brute whom he had encountered already twice during the past few days—was standing close under the shelter of the back wall of the fives' courts, and before him was Marden.

Marden looking sulky and very uneasy, yet apparently without anything to say.

"You 'ear me," went on. Drabble. "I done your dirty, work for yer, and now I'm a-going to 'ave my pay. Out with it, or—" He made a threatening gesture with his great fist.

"But I gave you ten bob," snarled Marden.

"Ten bob!"—this in a tone of intense contempt. "Wot's that? Think I'm a-going to tell lies like that fer ten bob. It's a quid this time, young feller, and don't you forget it."

"I haven't got a quid. I haven't any money at all," returned Marden desperately.

"That won't work," said Drabble threateningly. "All you young gents has got plenty o' cash. Fork up, I tells yer."

This time his huge paw dropped heavily on Marden's shoulder.

Marden tried to wrench himself free, but Drabble seized him by the left wrist.


"Fork up, I tells yer." This time Drabble's huge
paw dropped heavily on Marden's shoulder.

Clem, who for the moment had been standing stock still, strode swiftly round the corner, and as he did so became aware that half a dozen of Marden's particular pals were standing some fifty yards away, watching, yet making no effort to interfere.

He himself was just in that sick and savage frame of mind when any sort of a row is a relief to the feelings. He had not the slightest liking for, nor sympathy which Marden.

At the same time he disliked Drabble as much as he did Marden; and, anyhow, it was a tradition of the school that no lout might lay hands on a colleger. If he did, it was a case for rescue by any other colleger.

The one thought that came to him was that he would show Marden's cowardly friends that, even if he was in Coventry, he was not afraid of the big brute; and almost before be realised what he was doing he was on the scene.

"Drop him!" he ordered Drabble curtly.

The reply was unprintable.

"Drop him, you rotter!" said Clem Colvin again; and his voice had now become curiously low, while a tiny white spot appeared in the centre of each cheek.

It was a danger signal, if Drabble had known it. But he did not.

"Get out o' this, or I'll give ye some o' the same," remarked Drabble, garnishing his threat with coarse language.

Clem stepped quickly up and struck the man with the flat of his hand on the side of the head. The sound of the blow was like that of a bursting paper bag.

With a howl, Drabble dropped Marden and rushed at Clem. His great arms swung like the sails of a windmill. Clem had been runner-up for the school boxing in the previous Easter term. He slipped aside, and his fists beat a tattoo on Drabble's cheek and jaw.

The lout staggered back, spitting blood from a split lip. Then, with a howl like that of a wild beast, he made a fresh rush, and flung his arms around Clem's body.

They met, but Clem was no longer there. He had ducked like a diving dabchick, and before Drabble could recover himself, one eye was out of active service and his big, bony nose was bleeding profusely.

The man went mad. He kicked out violently, and quick, as Clem was the nailed boot caught him on the hip and staggered, him.

With a yell of triumph Drabble sprang upon him.

But Clem was not done yet. Lame as he was, he managed to hop aside; then, knowing that he could no longer trust to his legs, he came right in under Drabble's swinging arms, and planted a half-arm jolt on the very point of the fellow's nose.

Such a blow is for the moment absolutely agonising. Half blinded, Drabble reeled away. Clem balanced himself, and deliberately choosing his spot propped the lout full on the point.

All his weight was behind the blow. Up went Drabble's arms as though driven by a spring. For a second or two he swayed, then heeled over, and with a thud measured his length upon the gravel. Clem; with a crooked smile on his face, stood over him.

"Want any more?"

Drabble lay still. He did not answer.

"Dirty brute!" growled Marden, who had been standing by, without making the slightest effort to help. And with that he gave the prostrate man a heavy kick in the ribs.

"Stop that!" roared Clem, now suddenly in a real rage. He spun round as he spoke, and planted his fist squarely between Marden's eyes.

Marden sat down with a thump that knocked the breath out of him. He was too hurt and surprised even to speak.

"Served 'im jolly well right," came a vengeful voice. Drabble was sitting up.

"Kick a chap when 'e's down. Yer would, would yer? Orl right, mister. I'm done with you."

"What's up? What does this mean?" came a fresh voice, and Elwes, the senior prefect of Clem's house, came hurrying up.

"I'll tell yer what's up, mister," answered Drabble forcefully. "This 'ere gent"—pointing to Marden—"'e paid me 'arf a quid to say as that one"—indicating Clem—"burnt down Farmer Gillard's rick. That's what's up, mister. And now 'e's down, and a good job too."

There was no mistaking the sincerity which lay behind his words; and Elwes, who was no fool and who had already been strongly against the punishment of Clem and Derek, did the right thing.

"Come with me," he said to Drabble. Then, as he saw the man look frightened, he spoke less sternly.

"I'll guarantee you shan't get into trouble," he said; "that is, if you'll make a clean breast of it to Dr. Mannering."

As the two went off together, Marden, who had risen shakily to his feet, turned to Clem.

"Don't let him tell!" he almost screamed. "I didn't mean to do it. I didn't mean to set the rick alight. It was an accident. I swear it was an accident."

"That's why you tried to shove it off on me, I suppose," said Clem, with biting contempt; and, turning his back on the abject coward, limped away to his study.

THERE was another meeting in the Big School that afternoon, but the Doctor was not on the dais. His place was taken by four of the senior prefects, and it was Elwes who explained in somewhat forcible terms that the school at large had made a fool of itself, and that he hoped they would all have the decency to apologise to the two Colvins.

It appeared that Marden had been smoking on the sly under the rick, and had dropped a match and fired it. Also that Marden would trouble the school no more. He had already been expelled.

The school, not only sorry for its blunder, but proud of the way in which Clem had laid out the big Drabble, replied by cheering him; and Clem, blushing hotly, cleared for dear life.

Later he and his brother met in their study.

"Claud's better," said Derek. "He's coming out to-morrow."

"He'll be better in more ways than one," Clem answered significantly.

Derek nodded.

"Yes, now that Marden's gone," he replied. "With that chap out of the way, Claud and all of us will stand a better chance."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.