The Strand Magazine, September 1927
ANOTHER Sunday was drawing to a close, and Mr. Mulliner had come into the bar-parlour of the Angler’s Rest wearing on his head, in place of the seedy old wideawake which usually adorned it, a glistening top-hat. From this, combined with the sober black of his costume and the rather devout voice in which he ordered hot Scotch and lemon, I deduced that he had been attending Evensong.
“Good sermon?” I asked.
“Quite good. The new curate preached. He seems a nice young fellow.”
“Speaking of curates,” I said, “I have often wondered what became of your nephew, the one you were telling me about the other day.”
“The fellow who took the Buck-u-Uppo.”
“That was Augustine. And I am pleased and not a little touched,” said Mr. Mulliner, beaming, “that you should have remembered the trivial anecdote which I related. In this self-centred world one does not always find such a sympathetic listener to one’s stories. Let me see, where did we leave Augustine?”
“He had just become the Bishop’s secretary and gone to live at the Palace.”
“Ah, yes. We will take up his career, then, some six months after the date which you have indicated.”
IT was the custom of the good Bishop of Stortford—for, like all the prelates of our Church, he loved his labours—to embark upon the duties of the day (said Mr. Mulliner) in a cheerful and jocund spirit. Usually, as he entered his study to dispatch such business as might have arisen from the correspondence which had reached the Palace by the first post, there was a smile upon his face, and possibly upon his lips a snatch of some gay psalm. But on the morning on which this story begins an observer would have noted that he wore a preoccupied, even a sombre, look. Reaching the study door, he hesitated as if reluctant to enter; then, pulling himself together with a visible effort, he turned the handle.
“Good morning, Mulliner, my boy,” he said.
Augustine glanced brightly up from the pile of letters which he was opening.
“Cheerio, Bish. How’s the lumbago to-day?”
“I find the pain sensibly diminished, thank you, Mulliner—in fact, almost nonexistent. This pleasant weather seems to do me good. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. Song of Solomon ii. 11, 12.”
“Good work,” said Augustine. “Well, there’s nothing much of interest in these letters so far. The Vicar of St. Beowulf’s in the West wants to know how about incense?”
“Tell him he mustn’t.”
The Bishop stroked his chin uneasily. He seemed to be nerving himself for some unpleasant task.
“Mulliner,” he said.
“Your mention of the word ‘vicar’ provides a cue, which I must not ignore, for alluding to a matter which you and I had under advisement yesterday—the matter of the vacant living of Steeple Mummery.”
“Yes?” said Augustine, eagerly. “Do I click?”
A spasm of pain passed across the Bishop’s face. He shook his head sadly.
“Mulliner, my boy,” he said, “you know that I look upon you as a son, and that, left to my own initiative, I would bestow this vacant living on you without a moment’s hesitation. But an unforeseen complication has arisen. Unhappy lad, my wife has instructed me to give the post to a cousin of hers. A fellow,” said the Bishop, bitterly, “who bleats like a sheep and doesn’t know an alb from a reredos.”
Augustine, as was only natural, was conscious of a momentary pang of disappointment. But he was a Mulliner and a sportsman.
“Don’t give it another thought, Bish,” he said, cordially. “I quite understand. I don’t say I hadn’t hopes, but no doubt there will be another along in a minute.”
“You know how it is,” said the Bishop, looking cautiously round to see that the door was closed. “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house. Proverbs xxi. 9.”
“A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike. Proverbs xxvii. 15,” agreed Augustine.
“Exactly. How well you understand me, Mulliner.”
“Meanwhile,” said Augustine, holding up a letter, “here’s something that calls for attention. It’s from a bird of the name of Trevor Entwhistle.”
“Indeed? An old schoolfellow of mine. He is now Headmaster of Harchester, the foundation at which we both received our early education. What does he say?”
“He wants to know if you will run down for a few days and unveil a statue which they have just put up to Lord Hemel of Hempstead.”
“Another old schoolfellow. We called him Fatty.”
“There’s a postscript over the page. He says he still has a dozen of the ’87 port.”
The Bishop pursed his lips.
“These earthly considerations do not weigh with me so much as old Catsmeat—as the Reverend Trevor Entwhistle seems to suppose. However, one must not neglect the call of the dear old school. We will certainly go.”
“I shall require your company. I think you will like Harchester, Mulliner. A noble pile, founded by the seventh Henry.”
“I know it well. A young brother of mine is there.”
“Indeed? Dear me,” mused the Bishop, “it must be twenty years and more since I last visited Harchester. I shall enjoy seeing the old, familiar scenes once again. After all, Mulliner, to whatever eminence we may soar, howsoever great may be the prizes which life has bestowed upon us, we never wholly lose our sentiment for the dear old school. It is our Alma Mater, Mulliner, the gentle mother that has set out hesitating footsteps on the——”
“Absolutely,” said Augustine.
“And, as we grow older, we see that never can we recapture the old, careless gaiety of our school days. Life was not complex then, Mulliner. Life in that halcyon period was free from problems. We were not faced with the necessity of disappointing our friends——”
“Now, listen, Bish,” said Augustine, cheerily; “if you’re still worrying about that living, forget it. Look at me. I’m quite chirpy, aren’t I?”
The Bishop sighed.
“I wish I had your sunny resilience, Mulliner. How do you manage it?”
“Oh, I keep smiling, and take the Buck-u-Uppo daily.”
“It’s a tonic my uncle Wilfred invented. Works like magic.”
“I must ask you to let me try it one of these days. For somehow, Mulliner, I am finding life a little grey. What on earth,” said the Bishop, half to himself and speaking peevishly, “they wanted to put up a statue to old Fatty for, I can’t imagine. A fellow who used to throw inked darts at people. However,” he continued, abruptly abandoning this train of thought, “that is neither here nor there. If the Board of Governors of Harchester College has decided that Lord Hemel of Hempstead has by his services in the public weal earned a statue, it is not for us to cavil. Write to Mr. Entwhistle, Mulliner, and say that I shall be delighted.”
ALTHOUGH, as he had told Augustine, fully twenty years had passed since his last visit to Harchester, the Bishop found, somewhat to his surprise, that little or no alteration had taken place in the grounds, buildings, and personnel of the school. It seemed to him almost precisely the same as it had been on the day, forty-three years before, when he had first come there as a new boy.
There was the tuck-shop where, a lissom stripling with bony elbows, he had shoved and pushed so often in order to get near the counter and snaffle a jam-sandwich in the eleven o’clock recess. There were the baths, the fives courts, the football fields, the library, the gymnasium, the gravel, the chestnut trees, all just as they had been when the only thing he knew about Bishops was that they wore bootlaces in their hats.
The sole change that he could see was that on the triangle of turf in front of the library there had been erected a granite pedestal surmounted by a shapeless something swathed in a large sheet—the statue of Lord Hemel of Hempstead which he had come down to unveil.
And gradually, as his visit proceeded, there began to steal over him an emotion which defied analysis.
At first he supposed it to be a natural sentimentality. But, had it been that, would it not have been a more pleasurable emotion? For his feelings had begun to be far from unmixedly agreeable. Once, when, rounding a corner, he came upon the captain of football in all his majesty, there had swept over him a hideous blend of fear and shame which made his gaitered legs wobble like jellies. The captain of football doffed his cap respectfully, and the feeling passed as quickly as it had come; but not so soon that the Bishop had not recognized it. It was exactly the feeling he had been wont to have forty-odd years ago when, sneaking softly away from football practice, he had encountered one in authority.
The Bishop was puzzled. It was as if some fairy had touched him with her wand, sweeping away the years and making him an inky-faced boy again. Day by day this illusion grew, the constant society of the Rev. Trevor Entwhistle doing much to foster it. For young Catsmeat Entwhistle had been the Bishop’s particular crony at Harchester, and he seemed to have altered his appearance since those days in no way whatsoever. The Bishop had had a nasty shock when, entering the Headmaster’s study on the third morning of his visit, he found him sitting in the Headmaster’s chair with the Headmaster’s cap and gown on. It had seemed to him that young Catsmeat, in order to indulge his distorted sense of humour, was taking the most frightful risk. Suppose the Old Man were to come in and cop him!
Altogether, it was a relief to the Bishop when the day of the unveiling arrived.
THE actual ceremony, however, he found both tedious and irritating. Lord Hemel of Hempstead had not been a favourite of his in their school days, and there was something extremely disagreeable to him in being obliged to roll out sonorous periods in his praise.
In addition to this, he had suffered from the very start of the proceedings from a bad attack of stage fright. He could not help thinking that he must look the most awful ass, standing up there in front of all those people and spouting. He half expected one of the prefects in the audience to step up and clout his head and tell him not to be a funny young swine.
However, no disaster of this nature occurred. Indeed, his speech was notably successful.
“My dear Bishop,” said old General Bloodenough, the Chairman of the College Board of Governors, shaking his hand at the conclusion of the unveiling, “your magnificent oration put my own feeble efforts to shame, put them to shame, to shame. You were astounding!”
“Thanks awfully,” mumbled the Bishop, blushing and shuffling his feet.
The weariness which had come upon the Bishop as the result of the prolonged ceremony seemed to grow as the day wore on. By the time he was seated in the Headmaster’s study after dinner he was in the grip of a severe headache.
The Rev. Trevor Entwhistle also appeared jaded.
“These affairs are somewhat fatiguing, Bishop,” he said, stifling a yawn.
“They are, indeed, Headmaster.”
“Even the ’87 port seems an inefficient restorative.”
“Markedly inefficient. I wonder,” said the Bishop, struck with an idea, “if a little Buck-u-Uppo might not alleviate our exhaustion? It is a tonic of some kind which my secretary is in the habit of taking. It certainly appears to do him good. A livelier, more vigorous young fellow I have never seen. Suppose we ask your butler to go to his room and borrow the bottle? I am sure he will be delighted to give it to us.”
“By all means.”
The butler, dispatched to Augustine’s room, returned with a bottle half full of a thick, dark-coloured liquid. The Bishop examined it thoughtfully.
“I see there are no directions given as to the requisite dose,” he said. “However, I do not like to keep disturbing your butler, who has now doubtless returned to his pantry and is once more settling down to the enjoyment of a well-earned rest after a day more than ordinarily fraught with toil and anxiety. Suppose we use our own judgment?”
“Certainly. Is it nasty?”
The Bishop licked the cork warily.
“No. I should not call it nasty. The taste, while individual and distinctive and even striking, is by no means disagreeable.”
“Then let us take a glassful apiece.”
The Bishop filled two portly wine-glasses with the fluid, and they sat sipping gravely.
“It’s rather good,” said the Bishop.
“Distinctly good,” said the Headmaster.
“It sort of sends a kind of glow over you.”
“A noticeable glow.”
“A little more, Headmaster?”
“No, I thank you.”
“Well, just a spot, Bishop, if you insist.”
“It’s rather good,” said the Bishop.
“Distinctly good,” said the Headmaster.
Now you, who have listened to the story of Augustine’s previous adventures with the Buck-u-Uppo, are aware that my brother Wilfred invented it primarily with the object of providing Indian Rajahs with a specific which would encourage their elephants to face the tiger of the jungle with a jaunty sang-froid; and he had advocated as a medium dose for an adult elephant a teaspoonful stirred up with its morning bran-mash. It is not surprising, therefore, that after they had drunk two wineglassfuls apiece of the mixture the outlook on life of both the Bishop and the Headmaster began to undergo a marked change.
Their fatigue had left them, and with it the depression which a few moments before had been weighing on them so heavily. Both were conscious of an extraordinary feeling of good cheer, and the odd illusion of extreme youth which had been upon the Bishop since his arrival at Harchester was now more pronounced than ever. He felt a youngish and rather rowdy fifteen.
“Where does your butler sleep, Catsmeat?” he asked, after a thoughtful pause.
“I don’t know. Why?”
“I was only thinking that it would be a lark to go and put a booby-trap on his door.”
The Headmaster’s eyes glistened.
“Yes, wouldn’t it?” he said.
They mused for awhile. Then the Headmaster uttered a deep chuckle.
“What are you giggling about?” asked the Bishop.
“I was only thinking what a priceless ass you looked this afternoon, talking all that rot about old Fatty.”
In spite of his cheerfulness, a frown passed over the Bishop’s fine forehead.
“It went very much against the grain to speak in terms of eulogy—yes, fulsome eulogy—of one whom we both know to have been a blighter of the worst description. Where does Fatty get off, having statues put up to him?”
“Oh, well, he’s an Empire-builder, I suppose,” said the Headmaster, who was a fair-minded man.
“Just the sort of thing he would be,” grumbled the Bishop. “Shoving himself forward! If ever there was a chap I barred, it was Fatty.”
“Me, too,” agreed the Headmaster. “Beastly laugh he’d got. Like glue pouring out of a jug.”
“Greedy little beast, if you remember. A fellow in his house told me he once ate three slices of brown boot-polish spread on bread after he had finished the potted meat.”
“Between you and me, I always suspected him of swiping buns at the school shop. I don’t wish to make rash charges unsupported by true evidence, but it always seemed to me extremely odd that, whatever time of the term it was and however hard up everybody else might be, you never saw Fatty without his bun.”
“Catsmeat,” said the Bishop, “I’ll tell you something about Fatty that isn’t generally known. In a scrum in the final House Match in the year 1888 he deliberately hoofed me on the shin.”
“You don’t mean that?”
“An ordinary hack on the shin,” said the Bishop, coldly, “no fellow minds. It is part of the give-and-take of normal social life. But when a bounder deliberately hauls off and lets drive at you with the sole intention of laying you out, it—well, it’s a bit thick.”
“And those chumps of Governors have put up a statue to him!”
The Bishop leaned forward and lowered his voice.
“Do you know what?”
“What we ought to do is to wait till twelve o’clock or so, till there’s no one about, and then beetle out and paint that statue blue.”
“Why not pink?”
“Pink, if you prefer it.”
“Pink’s a nice colour.”
“It is. Very nice.”
“Besides, I know where I can lay my hands on some pink paint.”
“Gobs of it.”
“Peace be within thy walls, Catsmeat, and prosperity within thy palaces,” said the Bishop. “Psalms cxxii. 7.”
IT seemed to the Bishop, as he closed the front door noiselessly behind him two hours later, that Providence, always on the side of the just, was extending itself in its efforts to make this little enterprise of his a success. All the conditions were admirable for statue-painting. The rain which had been falling during the evening had stopped; and a moon, which might have proved an embarrassment, was conveniently hidden behind a bank of clouds.
As regarded human interference, they had nothing to alarm them. No place in the world is so deserted as the grounds of a school after midnight. Fatty’s statue might have been in the middle of the Sahara. They climbed the pedestal; and, taking turns fairly with the brush, soon accomplished the task which their sense of duty had indicated to them. It was only when, treading warily lest their steps should be heard on the gravel drive, they again reached the front door that anything occurred to mar the harmony of the proceedings.
“What are you waiting for?” whispered the Bishop, as his companion lingered on the top step.
“Half a second,” said the Headmaster in a muffled voice. “It may be in another pocket.”
“Have you lost your key?”
“I believe I have.”
“Catsmeat,” said the Bishop, with grave censure, “this is the last time I come out painting statues with you.”
“I must have dropped it somewhere.”
“What shall we do?”
“There’s just a chance the scullery window may be open.”
But the scullery window was not open. Careful, vigilant, and faithful to his trust, the butler, on retiring to rest, had fastened it and closed the shutters. They were locked out.
But it has been well said that it is the lessons which we learn in our boyhood days at school that prepare us for the problems of life in the larger world outside. Stealing back from the mists of the past, there came to the Bishop a sudden memory.
“If you haven’t been mucking the place up with alterations and improvements, there should be a water-pipe round at the back, leading to one of the upstairs windows.”
Memory had not played him false. There, nestling in the ivy, was the pipe up and down which he had been wont to climb when, a pie-faced lad in the summer of ’86, he had broken out of this house in order to take nocturnal swims in the river.
“Up you go,” he said, briefly.
The Headmaster required no further urging. And presently the two were making good time up the side of the house.
It was just as they reached the window, and just after the Bishop had informed his old friend that, if he kicked him on the head again, he’d hear of it, that the window was suddenly flung open.
“Who’s that?” said a clear young voice.
The Headmaster was frankly taken aback. Dim though the light was, he could see that the man leaning out of the window was poising in readiness a very nasty-looking golf-club; and his first impulse was to reveal his identity and so clear himself of the suspicion of being the marauder for whom he gathered the other had mistaken him. Then there presented themselves to him certain objections to revealing his identity, and he hung there in silence, unable to think of a suitable next move.
The Bishop was a man of readier resource.
“Tell him we’re a couple of cats belonging to the cook,” he whispered.
It was painful for one of the Headmaster’s scrupulous rectitude and honesty to stoop to such a falsehood, but it seemed the only course to pursue.
“It’s all right,” he said, forcing a note of easy geniality into his voice. “We’re a couple of cats.”
“No. Just ordinary cats.”
“Belonging to the cook,” prompted the Bishop from below.
“Belonging to the cook,” added the Headmaster.
“I see,” said the man at the window. “Well, in that case, right-ho!”
He stood aside to allow them to enter. The Bishop, an artist at heart, mewed gratefully as he passed, to add verisimilitude to the deception; and then made for his bedroom, accompanied by the Headmaster. The episode was apparently closed.
Nevertheless, the Headmaster was disturbed by a certain uneasiness.
“Do you suppose he thought we really were cats?” he asked, anxiously.
“I am not sure,” said the Bishop. “But I think we deceived him by the nonchalance of our demeanour.”
“Yes, I think we did. Who was he?”
“My secretary. The young fellow I was speaking of, who lent us that capital tonic.”
“Oh, then that’s all right. He wouldn’t give you away.”
“No. And there is nothing else that can possibly lead to our being suspected. We left no clue whatsoever.”
“All the same,” said the Headmaster, thoughtfully, “I’m beginning to wonder whether it was in the best sense of the word judicious to have painted that statue.”
“Somebody had to,” said the Bishop, stoutly.
“Yes, that’s true,” said the Headmaster, brightening.
THE BISHOP slept late on the following morning, and partook of his frugal breakfast in bed. The day, which so often brings remorse, brought none to him. Something attempted, something done had earned a night’s repose; and he had no regrets—except that, now that it was all over, he was not sure that blue paint would not have been more effective. However, his old friend had pleaded so strongly for the pink that it would have been difficult for himself, as a guest, to override the wishes of his host. Still, blue would undoubtedly have been very striking.
There was a knock on the door, and Augustine entered.
“Good morning, Mulliner,” said the Bishop, affably. “I have lain somewhat late to-day.”
“I say, Bish,” asked Augustine, a little anxiously, “did you take a very big dose of the Buck-u-Uppo last night?”
“Big? No. As I recollect, quite small. Barely two ordinary wineglasses full.”
“Why do you ask, my dear fellow?”
“Oh, nothing. No particular reason. I just thought your manner seemed a little strange on the water-pipe, that’s all.”
The Bishop was conscious of a touch of chagrin.
“Then you saw through our—er—innocent deception?”
“I had been taking a little stroll with the Headmaster,” explained the Bishop, “and he had mislaid his key. How beautiful is Nature at night, Mulliner! The dark, fathomless skies—the little winds that seem to whisper secrets in one’s ear—the scent of growing things——”
“Yes,” said Augustine. He paused. “Rather a row on this morning. Somebody appears to have painted Lord Hemel of Hempstead’s statue last night.”
“Ah, well,” said the Bishop, tolerantly, “boys will be boys.”
“It’s a most mysterious business.”
“No doubt, no doubt. But, after all, Mulliner, is not all life a mystery?”
“And what makes it still more mysterious is that they found your shovel-hat on the statue’s head.”
The Bishop started up.
“Mulliner,” said the Bishop, “leave me. I have one or two matters on which I wish to meditate.”
He dressed hastily, his numbed fingers fumbling with his gaiters. It all came back to him now. Yes, he could remember putting the hat on the statue’s head. It had seemed a good thing to do at the time, and he had done it. How little we guess at the moment how far-reaching our most trivial actions may be!
THE HEADMASTER was over at the school, instructing the Sixth form in Greek Composition; and the Bishop was obliged to wait, chafing, until twelve-thirty, when the bell rang for the half-way halt in the day’s work. He stood at the study window, watching with ill-controlled impatience, and presently the Headmaster appeared, walking heavily like one on whose mind there is a weight.
“Well?” cried the Bishop, as he entered the study.
The Headmaster doffed his cap and gown, and sank limply into a chair.
“I cannot conceive,” he groaned, “what madness had me in its grip last night.”
The Bishop was shaken, but he could not countenance such an attitude as this.
“I do not understand you, Headmaster,” he said, stiffly. “It was our simple duty, as a protest against the undue exaltation of one whom we both know to have been a most unpleasant schoolmate, to paint that statue.”
“And I suppose it was your duty to leave your hat on its head?”
“Now there,” said the Bishop, “I may possibly have gone a little too far.” He coughed. “Has that perhaps somewhat ill-considered action led to the harbouring of suspicions by those in authority?”
“They don’t know what to think.”
“What is the view of the Board of Governors?”
“They insist on my finding the culprit. Should I fail to do so, they hint at the gravest consequences.”
“You mean they will deprive you of your headmastership?”
“That is what they imply. I shall be asked to hand in my resignation. And, if that happens, bim goes my chance of ever being a Bishop.”
“Well, it’s not all jam being a Bishop. You wouldn’t enjoy it, Catsmeat.”
“All very well for you to talk, Boko. You got me into this, you silly ass.”
“I like that! You were just as keen on it as I was.”
“You suggested it.”
“Well, you jumped at the suggestion.”
The two men had faced each other heatedly and for a moment it seemed as if there was to be a serious falling-out. Then the Bishop recovered himself.
“Catsmeat,” he said, with that wonderful smile of his, taking the other’s hand, “this is unworthy of us. We must not quarrel. We must put our heads together and see if there is not some avenue of escape from the unfortunate position in which, however creditable our motives, we appear to have placed ourselves. How would it be——?”
“I thought of that,” said the Headmaster. “It wouldn’t do a bit of good. Of course, we might——”
“No, that’s no use, either,” said the Bishop.
They sat for awhile in meditative silence. And, as they sat, the door opened.
“General Bloodenough,” announced the butler.
“Oh, that I had wings like a dove—Psalm lv. 6,” muttered the Bishop.
His desire to be wafted from that spot with all available speed could hardly be considered unreasonable. General Sir Hector Bloodenough, V.C., K.C.I.E., M.V.O., on retiring from the Army, had been for many years, until his final return to England, in charge of the Secret Service in Western Africa, where his unerring acumen had won for him from the natives the sobriquet of Wah-nah-B’gosh-B’jingo—which, freely translated, means Big Chief Who Can See Through the Hole in a Doughnut.
A man impossible to deceive. The last man the Bishop would have wished to be conducting the present investigations.
The General stalked into the room. He had keen blue eyes, topped by bushy white eyebrows; and the Bishop found his gaze far too piercing to be agreeable.
“Bad business, this,” he said. “Bad business. Bad business.”
“It is, indeed,” faltered the Bishop.
“Shocking bad business. Shocking. Shocking. Do you know what we found on the head of that statue, eh? That statue, that statue? Your hat, Bishop. Your hat. Your hat.”
The Bishop made an attempt to rally. His mind was in a whirl, for the General’s habit of repeating everything three times had the effect on him of making his last night’s escapade seem three times as bad. He now saw himself on the verge of standing convicted of having painted three statues with three pots of pink paint, and of having placed on the head of each one of a trio of shovel-hats. But he was a strong man, and he did his best.
“You say my hat?” he retorted with spirit. “How do you know it was my hat? There may have been hundreds of Bishops dodging about the school grounds last night.”
“Got your name in it. Your name. Your name.”
The Bishop clutched at the arm of the chair in which he sat. The General’s eyes were piercing him through and through, and every moment he felt more like a rabbit that has had the misfortune to attract the attention of a snake. He was on the point of protesting that the writing in the hat was probably a forgery, when there was a tap at the door.
“Come in,” cried the Headmaster, who had been cowering in his seat.
There entered a small boy in an Eton suit, whose face seemed to the Bishop vaguely familiar. It was a face that closely resembled a ripe tomato with a nose stuck on it, but that was not what had struck the Bishop. It was of something other than tomatoes that this lad reminded him.
“Sir, please, sir,” said the boy.
“Yes, yes, yes,” said General Bloodenough, testily. “Run away, my boy, run away, run away. Can’t you see we’re busy?”
“But, sir, please, sir, it’s about the statue.”
“What about the statue? What about it? What about it?”
“Sir, please, sir, it was me.”
“What! What! What! What! What!”
The Bishop, the General, and the Headmaster had spoken simultaneously; and the “Whats” had been distributed as follows:—
The Bishop . . . . . . . . . . 1
The General . . . . . . . . . . 3
The Headmaster . . . . . . . 1
making five in all. Having uttered these ejaculations, they continued to stare at the boy, who turned a brighter vermilion.
“What are you saying?” cried the Headmaster. “You painted that statue?”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
“You?” said the Bishop.
“Sir, yes, sir.”
“You? You? You?” said the General.
“Sir, yes, sir.”
There was a quivering pause. The Bishop looked at the Headmaster. The Headmaster looked at the Bishop. The General looked at the boy. The boy looked at the floor.
The General was the first to speak.
“Monstrous!” he exclaimed. “Monstrous! Monstrous! Never heard of such a thing. This boy must be expelled, Headmaster. Expelled. Ex——”
“No!” said the Headmaster, in a ringing voice.
“Then flogged within an inch of his life. Within an inch. An inch.”
“No!” A strange new dignity seemed to have descended upon the Rev. Trevor Entwhistle. He was breathing a little quickly through his nose, and his eyes had assumed a somewhat prawn-like aspect. “In matters of school discipline, General, I must with all deference claim to be paramount. I will deal with this case as I think best. In my opinion this is not an occasion for severity. You agree with me, Bishop?”
The Bishop came to himself with a start. He had been thinking of an article which he had just completed for a leading review on the subject of miracles, and was regretting that the tone he had taken, though in keeping with the trend of modern thought, had been tinged with something approaching scepticism.
“Oh, entirely,” he said.
“Then all I can say,” fumed the General, “is that I wash my hands of the whole business, the whole business, the whole business. And, if this is the way our boys are being brought up nowadays, no wonder the country is going to the dogs, the dogs, going to the dogs.”
The door slammed behind him. The Headmaster turned to the boy, a kindly, winning smile upon his lace.
“No doubt,” he said, “you now regret this rash act?”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
“And you would not do it again?”
“Sir, no, sir.”
“Then I think,” said the Headmaster, cheerily, “that we may deal leniently with what, after all, was but a boyish prank. Eh, Bishop?”
“Oh, decidedly, Headmaster.”
“Quite the sort of thing—ha, ha!—that you or I might have done—er—at his age?”
“Then you shall write me twenty lines of Virgil, Mulliner, and we will say no more about it.”
The Bishop sprang from his chair.
“Mulliner! Did you say Mulliner?”
“I have a secretary of that name. Are you, by any chance, a relation of his, my lad?”
“Sir, yes, sir. Brother.”
“Oh!” said the Bishop.
THE BISHOP found Augustine in the garden, squirting whale-oil solution on the rose-bushes, for he was an enthusiastic horticulturist. He placed an affectionate hand on his shoulder.
“Mulliner,” he said, “do not think that I have not detected your hidden hand behind this astonishing occurrence.”
“Eh?” said Augustine. “What astonishing occurrence?”
“As you are aware, Mulliner, last night, from motives which I can assure you were honourable and in accord with the truest spirit of sound Churchmanship, the Rev. Trevor Entwhistle and I were compelled to go out and paint old Fatty Hemel’s statue pink. Just now, in the Headmaster’s study, a boy confessed that he had done it. That boy, Mulliner, was your brother.”
“It was you who, in order to save me, inspired him to that confession. Do not deny it, Mulliner.”
Augustine smiled an embarrassed smile.
“It was nothing, Bish, nothing at all.”
“I trust the matter did not involve you in any too great expense. From what I know of brothers, the lad was scarcely likely to have carried through this benevolent ruse for nothing.”
“Oh, just a couple of quid. He wanted three, but I beat him down. Preposterous, I mean to say,” said Augustine, warmly. “Three quid for a perfectly simple, easy job like that! And so I told him.”
“It shall be returned to you, Mulliner.”
“No, no, Bish.”
“Yes. Mulliner, it shall be returned to you. I have not the sum on my person, but I will forward you a cheque to your new address, The Vicarage, Steeple Mummery, Hants.”
Augustine’s eyes filled with sudden tears. He grasped the other’s hand.
“Bish,” he said in a choking voice, “I don’t know how to thank you. But—have you considered?”
“The wife of thy bosom. Deuteronomy xiii. 6. What will she say when you tell her?”
The Bishop’s eyes gleamed with a resolute light.
“Mulliner,” he said, “the point you raise had not escaped me. But I have the situation well in hand. A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter—Ecclesiastes x. 20. I shall inform her of my decision on the long-distance telephone.”
(Next month: “Portrait of a Disciplinarian.”)