Concerning two boys, a goat, a dog, an amateur Sherlock Holmes and the strategy of comedy
BASIL G. PARTRIDGE
MR. RANDOLPH TERRY, head master of Horrox School, turned from surveying the oil painting over the study fireplace and called: “Come in!” Ralph Hopkins entered.
This was a meeting of extremes in rank, Ralph Hopkins being the junior of all the masters at Horrox School; but the head master with suave courtesy quickly put him at ease. “Sit down, Mr. Hopkins, please.” Ralph Hopkins sank down into a well-worn, comfortable old leather chair, bravely suppressing the desire to stretch out his legs.
The movement did not escape the head master. The faintest of smiles touched his lips. “Try one of those cigarettes,” he said pleasantly. “My brother sends them out to me.”
“You are wondering, of course, why I sent for you at this hour of the day,” went on the head master. “I want you to do something for me. Something that will require considerable finesse. It concerns one of the boys . . . Roger Blenkarn.”
“Seems a decent youngster, sir. A bit old for his years.”
By way of reply the head master swung around in his chair. “Do you see that, Mr. Hopkins?” He pointed dramatically to the oil painting. “A battery of Canadian Field Artillery in action.”
“I’ve admired it before, sir. It’s marvellous.” “Clatworthy, I believe, painted it. The value is probably five hundred guineas. Roger Blenkarn senior sent it to me . . . out of a clear sky, accompanied by his business card. Across the face of the card he had written: ‘Hang this over your study fireplace.’ ” “Interesting.”
“Exasperating,” corrected the head master. “Obviously the place for that oil is on a gallery wall. Stretch the limits of a study setting as you will, they’ll never permit inclusion of a ten-by-four painting of a battle scene.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way, sir.”
The head master went on. “I made room for that magnificently brutal oil by taking down a steel engraving of which I am inordinately fond. One doesn’t argue, even across oceans, with Roger Blenkarn.”
Ralph Hopkins’ blue eyes reflected his rising interest. The head master continued. “Roger Blenkarn and I went to the same public school in England. We are great friends—in a most detached sort of way. I never pretended to understand him. I doubt whether he understands himself.”
“Rather a character, sir.”
“Quite,” said the head master dryly. “You appreciate that I have been establishing the status of Roger Blenkarn’s son as of more than ordinary importance in my eyes ... a confessional by the way.”
“I understand, sir—imperfectly.”
“Good.” The head master leaned forward and spoke earnestly. “It has come to my ears—and to mine alone, I sincerely trust—that young Roger Blenkarn supposedly has been into rather serious mischief down at The Cove. A valuable bull terrier belonging to the Reverend Denis Trevalyan has disappeared. Young Blenkarn and the dog were seen together shortly before this happened. In fact, there seems to have been a noticeable entente cordiale between the terrier, Roger and Roger’s fidus Achates, Alfred Reed.
“Secondly, Mr. Wellman, the grocer at The Cove, is up in arms about the disappearance of a goat belonging to his son.”
“They’re not laying the goat against young Blenkarn, sir?”
The head master chuckled in spite of himself. “Yes and no. The real trouble is that somebody in the Reverend Denis’ household has gossiped. And gossip is always thoughtless and generally cruel.
“I want you to find out whether Roger Blenkarn really has been up to mischief. The matter, of course, is beyond the prefects and I can’t—or rather I don’t care to—ask one of the senior masters. I don’t want Roger Blenkarn even to suspect that he has been suspected.”
“I see, sir.”
“I felt that you would,” said the head master quietly. “Only once have I had to expel a boy from Horrox for stealing and the memory is painful yet. When a boy is expelled from a school like ours, the school is most at fault. I don’t care a snap of my fingers for great genius in my boys. I’m trying to teach them the common sense of courtesy, honesty, courage and tolerance . . . Now if young Blenkarn has misbehaved—even conceded that his actions are governed by boyish thoughtlessness—and his misdoings become common knowledge, I’ll have no choice but to expel him.”
Ralph Hopkins said nothing. The head master drummed lightly upon the desk top with his fingertips. “I dislike intensely asking a master to play detective. Understand this thoroughly, Mr. Hopkins . . . but still more would I dislike receiving a cheque for a thousand pounds, to install a set of chimes, their silvery sweetness to offset the ‘stench of my son’s iniquity’ . . . and this might easily happen. Blenkarn senior would blame his-son, not me, in his heart. Boys are too often blamed.” The head master rose to his feet. “I am entirely at your mercy, Mr. Hopkins.”
PSST!” The door of the Blenkarn-Reed study, already ajar, moved inward, propelled by an unseen force . . . “Psst!” This time Roger Blenkarn, perched knees up on the window seat, lifted his blond head leisurely from Radio—What is it? Roger’s eyes, which were hazel and guarded rather than blue and frank to match his ruddy complexion, shifted focus to the door. The tip of a freckled, turned-up nose appeared, followed by a head even blonder than Roger Blenkarn’s; then, snakily, the apparently boneless rest of Alfy Reed.
“Ass!” Radio—What is it? missed Alfy’s nose by an inch.
“Heh!” protested Alfy plaintively, “what’s the big idea, Rajah?”
Alfy’s challenge, however, lacked force. Within his breast had sprung to life the spark of suspicion. A certain coolness showed in the Blenkarn eyes. A note of austerity as it were. There were times when to live with Roger Blenkarn was awkward . . . when the six months between Alfy’s age and Roger’s fourteen years seemed six centuries.
“To scrag or not to scrag,” murmured Roger. He moved from the window seat. “Whether it be better to smack you for leaving your beastly fags all over the place where any snoop can see ’em, or ...”
“I never ...” began Alfy weakly.
“Four of ’em I picked up,” went on Roger placidly, while Alfy, taken in sin, squirmed. “Come yield ye, Master Reed. The gibbet stands stark against the sky.” “Aw, Rajah!”
“Now ... or later?”
Alfy grimaced. He knew those laters. Argument was futile. Rueful of face he bent over, bent until both hands and feet were on the floor. It was an undignified posture, but not nearly so undignified as it presently became.
“Ooch! You’ve got lead in your shoes.” From his blazer pocket Roger Blenkarn produced a somewhat damaged bar of chocolate. He broke the bar in two and tossed Alfy the larger piece. Justice was done; malice there was none—on the part of either boy.
■“Bright Eyes is down with the Head,” Alfy stated, soothing his ruffled spirits by depositing the entire section of chocolate bar sidewise into his mouth, swelling his cheek out to startling proportions.
“The Head probably feels like indulgin’ in a little platitoodinous hooey, my son.”
“Platy . . . what?” Alfy’s eyes widened in admiration. “That’s a , hot cup of tea.”
“Hooey,” repeated Roger. “Bunk . . . piffle . . . harmless rot!”
“Hooey!” Alfy mouthed the word lovingly . . . “The Head sent for Bright Eyes specially. Martin told me. You don’t suppose anyone’s wise to . . .”
“Shut—the—door!” Roger Blenkarn mouthed the words with such intensity that Alfy tripped over the rug in his haste to obey.
“Jingo,” said Roger warmly, “I can just feel that I’ll have to fetch you a real one, Alfy. One that’ll bring your wisdom teeth through.
Don’t you ever do anything with your head except put it on a pillow, you dodo?”
At most times this would have drawn from Master Reed a flow of eloquent repartee. He was not without his flowering moments was Alfy, but this wasn’t one of them. He swallowed the chocolate at one gulp and mumbled resentfully, “High hatting me won’t do any good if the Head is wise. Darn Bombo anyway.”
Roger Blenkarn regarded his lieutenant unwinkingly for a moment.
“Just what would you do, Alfy, if you came down a street suddenly and saw a couple of chaps waiting there to have a go at you?” he enquired softly.
“How big?” Alfy enquired cautiously.
“Oh, my size—or larger.”
Alfy massaged his seat. “I’d run like a hound that had sat down on asaucerful of turpentine,” hedeclared.
Roger Blenkarn surveyed his study mate with disdain. Then he slid off the window seat. “Come on!”
“Wherever I jolly well say, you jelly-belly flotsam.” “Is that an insinuation?” demanded Alfy hotly.
“My eye, you don’t know what an insinuation is.” “It’s . . . it’s . . . you know ruddy well what it is,” declared Alfy, seeing himself in the minority again. “You loose livin’ dumbum.”
“I’ll mangle you.”
“Try it—cockney!” Alfy shot out the door. After him went Roger. They disappeared around the southern corner of Patterson Hall just as Mr. Ralph Hopkins entered at the north end. The study door was wide open. On the sill lay Radio—What is it?
“Normal enough,” murmured Ralph Hopkins. He was about to turn away when something caught his eye, a cigarette protruding from beneath the corner of a rug. Alas for the Blenkarn eagle eye! The master stepped forward and picked up the forbidden fag. He turned the rug over. No more. He put the cigarette into his pocket and went out frowning.
TT WAS decidedly a warmish day. Roger and Alfy discovered this fact as they made for their favorite short-cut which led through the fields that rolled away westward from Horrox School. Here daisies and clover provided natural cover. Before tackling the field path, however, both boys yielded to the lure of the velvety bank shaded comfortably by an old elm tree.
Roger Blenkarn drew up his knees and squinted at the sun through the leaves. “It’ll stink,” he said suddenly and with immense conviction. “Stink ’orrid!” Apparently Alfy knew what he meant. Alfy grimaced. “Stinkadoros awfulissimos,” he agreed. He stretched out lazily on the cool grass.
“Sst! Worm in!” breathed Roger warningly. They slid into the abundant cover. “Bright Eyes,” whispered Roger. Sure enough Mr. Hopkins presently appeared, swinging down the road. “I told you,” Alfy began.
“Shut up. I’m thinkin’.” Alfy rended a daisy petal by petal savagely, and in the face of two long moment’s of silence, burst out, “Rajah, let’s leave it.”
“Now? ’tain’t sportin’ toward ol’ Bombo.”
“Well it’s a stinkin’ business,” complained Alfy.
“Want to dig back?”
“Oh, blah!” replied Alfy, who would have perished before openly admitting how much the idea appealed to him.
“Come on then.” The ovenlike heat of the field swallowed them.
“Whew! panted Alfy. “You’re balmy if you call this fun.” They pulled out of the natural Turkish bath. Finally at the edge of a stream. “Gosh, I’d like to lie down in it, Rajah.”
“Bilge,” grunted Roger. He eyed the stream calculatingly. “It runs down back of the church. How’re your feet?”
“Goin’ to wade?” Alfy’s eyes lighted up. He liked variety.
“It’s Monday,” cried Roger suddenly.
“N—o—o—o!” Alfy’s tone was positively insulting.
“Wash day. Clothes on the line. Oodles of clothes. Sexton’s wife’s clothes . . . my aunt!”
“Blotto,” murmured Alfy happily. He knotted his boot laces and hung the boots around his neck. “Blotto as a stinkoed bee.”
Roger came out of his thought cloud swiftly. “You need a nurse. Untie those gunboats. Carry them under your arm where you can put ’em on in a hurry if you have to.”
“You’re smarter’n a skinned shin,” retorted Alfy, but obeyed. And as Roger hesitated, “what you stewin’ over now?”
“A bas les stinks.”
“Going to pass it up?” This hopefully.
“Don’t be so gutless Those clothes. She hangs
’em thickest near the water. We can reach ’em in a jiffy. Listen.” Alfy listened. “Yes or no?” Roger’s eyes were shining.
“Come and kiss me, sergeant,” said Alfy. “Let’s go.” They splashed into the stream and followed it downhill, in and out, through depth and shallow. Presently a bridge showed and the chimneys of houses nestling among trees. The boys scanned the landscape. Satisfied, they slid down under the bridge, slithering on the stones.
“Look! breathed Roger. “I told you. Never mind your boots. Follow me. Then back down under the bridge. Come on.” Roger caught at a bush and pulled himself up the steep bank. Alfy, less sturdy and shorter of arm, grabbed for the same bush and missed. “Rajah!” A wail of woe—then a resounding splash!
T TPON an atmosphere placid enough to resent a dragonfly’s sneeze, Alfy Reed’s aquatic number burst like a hand grenade carrying to many ears, among them those of Mr. Ralph Hopkins who was standing by the Rectory’s cedar hedge meditating upon the complexity of things.
Mr. Hopkins had been born a. . had lived many years in a sman township. He knew the ways of such localities well . . . the swiftness with which talk circulates . . . the impossibility of secrecy. The very hedgerows had eyes and ears. It dawned upon Mr. Hopkins that manoeuvring in The Cove would prove no easy task. There flitted into his mind a foolish prep, school ramble:
“Are you a detective? Yes, I am a detective. Where is your badge? On my suspenders. Where are your suspenders? I haven’t any!
. . . Then you’re not a detective. Yes, I AM a detective. But where is your badge? ...”
“Ugh!” Mr. Hopkins wrenched himself free from the nonsense. “Where and what next? . . . Hello!” His blue eyes, lazily surveying the surrounding properties, widened. From the middle of a sea of white clothes a boy’s head suddenly popped up—a familiar head. A pair of peppermint-striped pyjamas vanished from the line. Almost in the same breath came a shrill treble wail of despair and the sound of a splash.
“Oho!” exclaimed the junior master. He had placed the owner of the head— Roger Blenkarn . . . First a dog and a goat—now pyjamas. But why pyjamas?
Two opposite emotions leaped to life simultaneously in Mr. Ralph Hopkins. Instinct warned against entering that labyrinth of newly washed clothes. But something had to be done quickly. There was no gate to enter by—surely a warning. Even this, however, prevailed not. Mr. Hopkins took the fence with all the airy grace of an Ethel Catherwood, hot on the trail of Roger Blenkarn.
Immediately things happened. From beneath Mr. Hopkins’ feet rose an unseen foe. His feet spurned it. Whereupon it rose and bit deep into his shins, winding itself about his ankles, bringing him down.
To give him credit, Mr. Hopkins resisted. Like a drowning man who clutches at a straw, he, too, clutched—at a billowy bedspread, which promptly came away from its moorings. Mr. Hopkins was half-smothered; his wild efforts to shake off the bedspread only made matters worse. Muffled sounds of wrath penetrated to him, then blows—blows that stung. Somehow he got to his feet. Got one arm free. Shook off the bedspread. Hot and peeved, he emerged into daylight . . . face to face with the
ruddiest, homeliest matron he had seen in many a moon. She was fat and she was forty; in fact, forty-three or forty-four . . . and she was angry.
“I’ll learn you,” she panted . . . “brat . . . school . . thieves!”
The sight of Mr. Hopkins’ flustered face cut short this staccato fusillade. The woman’s face turned purple. “Saints!” she sputtered. “Saints!”
There was certainly no justification for this. Mr. Hopkins neither looked nor felt saintly. Automatically, he straightened his tie and cast a wary eye about for the demon which had brought him low. Almost at his feet it stood revealed, lean and malicious ... a clothes basket. Mr. Hopkins’ eyes glowed fiercely. His lips moved.
The shrew opposite now came to life as slumbering coals do when fanned by a bellows. “Who the divil are you?” she demanded. She eyed him up and down shrewdly . . . “From that den of thieves I’m thinkin’ . . . first the boys and then the . . ”
But here Mr. Hopkins cut in. At all costs he had to keep the school out of this mess ... by lies, conspiracy, battle, murder—or by any other means that offered. “What in the world are you talking about?” he demanded coldly.
Amid the many sentiments flowering in his bosom one came rapidly to the surface, a lusty desire to torpedo this fat fury and her condemned clothes basket ruthlessly in ninety feet of water.
A butterfly flew past just above Mr. Hopkins’ head. A trifling thing. Yet the bright coloring of the insect’s wings was no brighter than the idea which flashed into Mr. Hopkins’ agile mind. He aimed a lean index finger after the butterfly.
“Look, look!” he cried dramatically. The fat shrew obeyed. She had to. “Gone,” groaned Mr. Hopkins . . . “the chance of a lifetime vanished ... a perfect specimen of the abiosis penetratus.”
“That butterfly?” The gleam of cheap suspicion shone in the fat female’s eyes.
“That butterfly,” Mr. Hopkins waved a clenched fist. “THE butterfly, woman . . . the true abiosis penetratus sic semper tyrannus, to be correct,” he boomed . . “Do you know there are only seven like it born each year upon this continent?” He took a menacing step forward. The woman took a step backward . . . “and you, and your—your inexpressible clothes basket, prevented me from capturing it.
“What kind of a world is it getting to be,” went on Mr. Hopkins, clenching and unclenching his fists convulsively, “when a decent citizen may not search peacefully for knowledge, for enlightenment, without falling victim to vile entanglements like clothes baskets and bedspreads?”
The virago’s thin lips opened and shut like those of a landed fish. In a straight toe-to-toe-and-slog tongue battle she was wicked but the deadly guile of the inspired Hopkins rendered her helpless.
“Unless my eyes deceive me, you have trespassed on premises where you have no right to be.” Mr. Hopkins’ tone was scathing.
By the flicker of her eyes he perceived that he had scored a bull’s-eye. He hastened to profit from it. “If I chose, my good woman, undoubtedly I could charge you with assault,” he said solemnly. “Let this be a warning to you not to jump at conclusions. I bid you good afternoon.”
Mr. Hopkins lifted his straw hat high and turned away. In that maze of clothes he could be sure of nothing. But somehow he found a path and followed it hopefully. To hurry was out of the question, but it was the one thing Mr. Hopkins wanted to do. Any instant he expected to feel again the butt of that terrible broom.
Mr. Hopkins jumped a foot. He swung around to meet this new menace . . . and beheld a man’s face at the open window. It was a middle-aged face, with wrinkles galore, framing a kindly mouth and deep-set eyes.
The mouth said guardedly: “Ho! ho! First pusson’n twenty years got the best o’ Hezekiah in a argument . . . tch!”
Mr. Hopkins looked deep into the faded blue eyes. They seemed to him to reflect, like the mouth, a deal of quiet humor. This man had endured much, seen much, forgiven much . . . and was not to be fooled.
Mr. Hopkins went right to the point. “Did you see them?” he enquired quite frankly.
“Maybe I did, and maybe I didn’t, son.”
Mr. Hopkins felt that it was now or never. “See here !” he said quietly. “I’m from the school, a master—you know that. There’s been some foolish talk about one of the boys having stolen a dog and a goat . . . have you heard anything about it?”
“Darn nuisance goin’ round
leavin’ callin’ cards on folk’s porches and chewin’ up flowers.”
“No. The plaguey goat.” The blue eyes studied Mr. Hopkins leisurely. Finally the mouth said. “I ain’t sayin’ a thing, mind you, not a thing, but if I was a young feller, ambitious for a bit of a walk, I’d stroll down that path back to the Rectory until I hit the Mill Road lots o’ butterflies down there tch!
tch! Specially round the ol’ Elliott House.”
“Papa,” said Mr. Hopkins with enthusiasm. “ I pine to walk. Pray excuse me if I seem to hurry away.”
OH ! WHAT is so rare as a day in June,” murmured Mr. Hopkins. He was fairly embarked on the rutty Mill Road which wound through a short stretch of woodland, shady and private. At the foot of a silver birch tree lay an overturned crate. Mr. Hopkins limped over and sat down on it.
From the smarting of his wounded shin he expected to uncover considerable damage . . . seemed even to sense a warm current coursing slowly downward into his oxford. He pulled his pant leg up and undid his garter. Upon the sock, a colorful affair, there was no hint of gore. Mr. Hopkins lifted the sock gingerly. Black and blue welts were revealed; skin was broken. This was all . . all.
For an instant he stared unbelievingly at his shin; then burst into a shout of laughter. A chipmunk on a branch nearby chattered sarcastically.
“Everything you say is quite true,” agreed Mr. Hopkins, wiping away a tear. He fastened up his garter and proceeded onward, pondering on the rank deception of bruised shin bones. Even now he felt as if his sock ought to be bloodstained. Queer, how trifles magnified in one’s mind.
He strolled along thus musing, for perhaps a hundred yards, head down, before he became aware of further developments. Spot—spot—spot—a regular trail on the road.
Mr. Hopkins stopped and stared. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. Water, of course. Where Roger Blenkarn was, there also would be young Alfy Reed. The splash, the shrill cry. Why Alfy had fallen in the brook. Naturally his clothes would be soaked, and whither he wandered he would drip H.,0.
Mr. Hopkins shook himself gravely by the hand. “ ‘Where is your badge?’ ” he remarked solemnly. He was feeling much more like a young collegian on a spree, a junior master of an ultra-select boys school, on secret service bent. With something akin to joy he now followed Alfy’s watery wandering. Suddenly the trail ceased. Mr. Hopkins was about to continue forward on the chance of picking it up again, when he saw that between the trees there was a slightly beaten path. He took it, skirted some bushes, and found evidence of Alfy again on what had evidently been a private road.
“The old Elliott House,” thought Mr. Hopkins, and suddenly was on top of it, a tumbledown ruin, the sort of place which would attract no one but boys with imagination—boys who wanted to hide something.
Somehow the thought irked Mr. Hopkins . . yet there was a dog, a goat, unaccounted for . . and pink pyjamas. He moved closer. Sniffed.
From nowhere in particular had come a whiff of something most unwholesome. Mr. Hopkins sniffed again and grimaced. It was not exactly a drainy smell . . it was . . .
“Stinkadoso awfulissimos!” moaned a voice. Mr. Hopkins’ heart fairly turned over. The voice seemed to have come right from under his feet. The tone was stifled but the voice was Alfy Reed’s— very plaintive. “Rajah, for Pete’s sake let’s . . .”
“Run away home to nurse,” cut in Roger Blenkarn.
‘“On my suspenders,’ ” murmured Mr. Hopkins.
“Well, you didn’t fall in the brook,” Alfy complained unwisely.
“You’re jolly well right I didn’t,” said Roger Blenkarn. “It’s a wonder you didn’t bring Bright Eyes down on us.”
“Well, I couldn’t help it,” protested Alfy tearfully.
“Of course you couldn’t,” agreed Roger Blenkarn cheerfully, “but it won’t help any to stand there and snivel.”
“Who’s snivelin’?” demanded Alfy fiercely. “You . . . you’re full of hooey, platitoodinous hooey.”
“Oh, Maria. Pull up your socks and take hold.”
“I wish Bombo had broken his darn ol’ neck,” said Alfy feverishly.
“Miserable little piker.”
“Piker!” Alfy’s voice shrilled indignantly. “Who swiped the shovel from the Rectory summerhouse? And what good’s a shovel, anyway? We need dynamite.”
Mr. Hopkins’ head swam. Dogs, goats, pyjamas, shovels . . . and that smell! “The dog. Dead. Great Scott, it’s a burying detail !” He stepped briskly forward to the cellar entrance from which the boys’ voices came.
Just as at the church, things happened immediately. Apparently this was not Mr. Hopkins’ day. The ground gave way, so did the top step, and there were no others. With something like the mass effect of a small avalanche at its peak, Mr. Hopkins shot downward . . . slid . rolled . . and brought up
something that reeked with an abandon hardly guessed at from the safe distance of the outside.
There was deathly silence, save for one ominous note, the buzz of flies. Mr. Hopkins shivered from heel to crown. Unsteadily he fumbled for matches. Found them . one, two, three. Struck them.
They flared up, illuminating the semiI darkness, revealing two white-faced boys I —each with an automatic clothes pin tightly compressing his nose.
Mr. Hopkins got to his knees. Struck more matches. Dry-mouthed, he gazed over his shoulder toward that awful “something” and beheld . . .
One extremely dead Billy Goat!
“Walloof!” mumbled Mr. Hopkins thickly. He waved a hand imperiously. Both boys were away like rabbits. Mr. Hopkins followed nearly as fast. The warm, sweet air took them to its bosom. But still Mr. Hopkins motioned imperatively onward. Not until they had reached the short-cut through the trees did he pause. Mr. Hopkins bent a lowering brow upon Alfy Reed.
“I am trusting for your sake,” he said coldly, “that you are back in your study in exactly twenty-five minutes from . . . from three-thirty. Because if you are not, I shall, I shall . . .”
Alfy literally vanished.
The junior master lighted a cigarette and inhaled deeply. For several moments, only Nature’s voice was heard. Mr. Hopkins smoked on and on. Finally he turned to Roger Blenkarn.
The boy was standing quietly. Respectful but not subservient. The fear of personal misfortune which had sent Alfy scampering had no counterpart here. What could one do with a youngster who thought like a man . . whose father ruled men like Randolph Terry? For a moment Kenneth Hopkins was totally at a loss. In the next he had what amounted to an inspiration.
“Roger,” he said evenly, “there’s been a lot of silly gossip in The Cove to the effect that Alfred Reed and you stole the Reverend Denis Trevalyan’s dog . and the grocer’s goat. This nonsense has got back to Mr. Terry. He doesn’t believe it. I—may heaven forgive me for this fib, thought Mr. Hopkins—have been hunting you all afternoon to find out what ideas you have on the subject. It seemed the commonsense thing to do'”
For the second time that afternoon Mr. Hopkins perceived that he had scored a bull’s eye. There was a new and decidedly different light in the hazel eyes. Mr. Hopkins followed up his advantage on the run. “Let’s sit down and have a chat. Frankly, I’m curious about Bombo. Who is he?”
“Bombo?” Roger’s eyes showed genuine surprise. “Why Bombo is the Reverend Denis’s dog.”
'-PHE five o’clock study hour, never a joy to Master Alfred Reed, was gloom itself today. The Commentaries of one C. Julius Caesar lay open upon Alfy’s knees . . . but Alfy’s mind was not with the astute and warlike Julius.
A familiar step sounded in the passageway. The study door opened.
“What ho!” cried Roger. “Art ready for the guillotine?”
Alfy wet his lips. The vulture of uncertainty had been vigorously assaulting his innards . . . “Rajah,” he quavered, “did he?”
“A joy to his mama.” Roger kicked off one shoe. “Sweet and clean . . ready to have his picture took.”
“Rajah . . .”
“Would’st interrupt your elders?” The second shoe flew off.
Alfy hurled the Caesar upon the floor and burst into tears. Roger hopped off the bed. “You hopeless ass! I was only spoofin’ you.”
“B-b-blast your b-bones!” sputtered Alfy; “’is fine for you. Y-your old man is a m-million miles away. M-mine’s set me to work . . office boy.” Alfy shuddered. “W-would you like it?”
“Depends on the office,” said Roger cheerfully.
“Is Bright Eyes goin’ ... ?”
“Mister Hopkins is a stout felluh . .
Y ou should have seen him with the shovel, Alf.”
“Yes!” Roger grinned. “The evidence has vanished. Whew, what a whiffy job.” “Gosh!” breathed Alfy, overcome. Roger chuckled. “ I wonder what Bright Eyes will tell the Head?”
ODDLY enough, at that very moment the matter was in way of being settled on the library steps.
“You’re limping . . . anything wrong?” enquired the Head.
“Just a skinned shin, sir. I ... I tried vaulting a fence.”
“Oh,” said the Head.
“Now why in the world couldn’t I have lied sensibly,” thought Mr. Hopkins. Aloud he said: “I’ve found out what you wanted to know, sir.”
“What really happened was this, sir. Bombo—the Reverend Denis’s dog— and the Wellman goat had a fight in a back lot of The Cove. Bombo killed the goat—but not before the goat broke the dog’s leg. Roger and young Alfred saw the battle. The dog was their pal and they were afraid Mr. Wellman might shoot it if he found out. So they removed the goat—Mr. Hopkins felt the goose flesh rising along his back—and hid the dog.”
“With a broken leg?”
“I was coming to that, sir. Roger set Bombo’s leg . . . an amazing youngster.” “He comes by it naturally. Excuse the interruption.”
“The Reverend Denis has his dog, and Mr. Wellman isn’t at all disposed to hold a grudge.”
“I’m tremendously relieved.” Yet there was an unspoken question in the head master’s eyes.
For one vivid moment there sprang to life in Mr. Hopkins’ mind a picture . . . of a woman’s face, fat and red and furious. Then he plunged. “I think I managed it . . . er . . . judiciously, sir,” he said reassuringly.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Hopkins,” said the head master with his lips. His eyes said much more. Kenneth Hopkins felt a warm glow within his breast as he went indoors. Absently, he thrust a hand into his coat pocket.
“Hello!” He drew out a cigarette, considerably damaged . . . property of Alfy, the careless. Oh, the problems of life!
“Ooch!” groaned Mr. Hopkins. “Now what in the deuce am I going to do about this?”