The Pothunters/Chapter 2
It was always the custom for such Austinians as went up to represent the School at the annual competition to stop the night in the town. It was not, therefore, till just before breakfast on the following day that Tony arrived back at his House. The boarding Houses at St Austin's formed a fringe to the School grounds. The two largest were the School House and Merevale's. Tony was at Merevale's. He was walking up from the station with Welch, another member of Merevale's, who had been up to Aldershot as a fencer, when, at the entrance to the School grounds, he fell in with Robinson, his fag. Robinson was supposed by many (including himself) to be a very warm man for the Junior Quarter, which was a handicap race, especially as an injudicious Sports Committee had given him ten yards' start on Simpson, whom he would have backed himself to beat, even if the positions had been reversed. Being a wise youth, however, and knowing that the best of runners may fail through under-training, he had for the last week or so been going in for a steady course of over-training, getting up in the small hours and going for before-breakfast spins round the track on a glass of milk and a piece of bread. Master R. Robinson was nothing if not thorough in matters of this kind.
But today things of greater moment than the Sports occupied his mind. He had news. He had great news. He was bursting with news, and he hailed the approach of Tony and Welch with pleasure. With any other leading light of the School he might have felt less at ease, but with Tony it was different. When you have underdone a fellow's eggs and overdone his toast and eaten the remainder for a term or two, you begin to feel that mere social distinctions and differences of age no longer form a barrier.
Besides, he had news which was absolutely fresh, news to which no one could say pityingly: 'What! Have you only just heard _that_!'
'Hullo, Graham,' he said. 'Have you come back?' Tony admitted that he had. 'Jolly good for getting the Middles.' (A telegram had, of course, preceded Tony.) 'I say, Graham, do you know what's happened? There'll be an awful row about it. Someone's been and broken into the Pav.'
'Rot! How do you know?'
'There's a pane taken clean out. I booked it in a second as I was going past to the track.'
'First Fifteen. The window facing away from the Houses.'
'That's rum,' said Welch. 'Wonder what a burglar wanted in the First room. Isn't even a hair-brush there generally.'
Robinson's eyes dilated with honest pride. This was good. This was better than he had looked for. Not only were they unaware of the burglary, but they had not even an idea as to the recent event which had made the First room so fit a hunting-ground for the burgling industry. There are few pleasures keener than the pleasure of telling somebody something he didn't know before.
'Great Scott,' he remarked, 'haven't you heard? No, of course you went up to Aldershot before they did it. By Jove.'
'Why, they shunted all the Sports prizes from the Board Room to the Pav. and shot 'em into the First room. I don't suppose there's one left now. I should like to see the Old Man's face when he hears about it. Good mind to go and tell him now, only he'd have a fit. Jolly exciting, though, isn't it?'
'Well,' said Tony, 'of all the absolutely idiotic things to do! Fancy putting--there must have been at least fifty pounds' worth of silver and things. Fancy going and leaving all that overnight in the Pav!'
'Rotten!' agreed Welch. 'Wonder whose idea it was.'
'Look here, Robinson,' said Tony, 'you'd better buck up and change, or you'll be late for brekker. Come on, Welch, we'll go and inspect the scene of battle.'
Robinson trotted off, and Welch and Tony made their way to the Pavilion. There, sure enough, was the window, or rather the absence of window. A pane had been neatly removed, evidently in the orthodox way by means of a diamond.
'May as well climb up and see if there's anything to be seen,' said Welch.
'All right,' said Tony, 'give us a leg up. Right-ho. By Jove, I'm stiff.'
'No. There's a cloth sort of thing covering what I suppose are the prizes. I see how the chap, whoever he was, got in. You've only got to break the window, draw a couple of bolts, and there you are. Shall I go in and investigate?'
'Better not. It's rather the thing, I fancy, in these sorts of cases, to leave everything just as it is.'
'Rum business,' said Tony, as he rejoined Welch on terra firma. 'Wonder if they'll catch the chap. We'd better be getting back to the House now. It struck the quarter years ago.'
When Tony, some twenty minutes later, shook off the admiring crowd who wanted a full description of yesterday's proceedings, and reached his study, he found there James Thomson, brother to Allen Thomson, as the playbills say. Jim was looking worried. Tony had noticed it during breakfast, and had wondered at the cause. He was soon enlightened.
'Hullo, Jim,' said he. 'What's up with you this morning? Feeling chippy?'
'No. No, I'm all right. I'm in a beastly hole though. I wanted to talk to you about it.'
'Weigh in, then. We've got plenty of time before school.'
'It's about this Aldershot business. How on earth did you manage to lick Allen like that? I thought he was a cert.'
'Yes, so did I. The 'ole thing there, as Dawkins 'ud say, was, I knocked him out. It's the sort of thing that's always happening. I wasn't in it at all except during the second round, when I gave him beans rather in one of the corners. My aunt, it was warm while it lasted. First round, I didn't hit him once. He was better than I thought he'd be, and I knew from experience he was pretty good.'
'Yes, you look a bit bashed.'
'Yes. Feel it too. But what's the row with you?'
'Just this. I had a couple of quid on Allen, and the rotter goes and gets licked.'
'Good Lord. Whom did you bet with?'
'With Allen himself.'
'Mean to say Allen was crock enough to bet against himself? He must have known he was miles better than anyone else in. He's got three medals there already.'
'No, you see his bet with me was only a hedge. He'd got five to four or something in quids on with a chap in his House at Rugby on himself. He wanted a hedge because he wasn't sure about his ankle being all right. You know he hurt it. So I gave him four to one in half-sovereigns. I thought he was a cert, with apologies to you.'
'Don't mention it. So he was a cert. It was only the merest fluke I managed to out him when I did. If he'd hung on to the end, he'd have won easy. He'd been scoring points all through.'
'I know. So _The Sportsman_ says. Just like my luck.'
'I can't see what you want to bet at all for. You're bound to come a mucker sooner or later. Can't you raise the two quid?'
'I'm broke except for half a crown.'
'I'd lend it to you like a shot if I had it, of course. But you don't find me with two quid to my name at the end of term. Won't Allen wait?'
'He would if it was only him. But this other chap wants his oof badly for something and he's leaving and going abroad or something at the end of term. Anyhow, I know he's keen on getting it. Allen told me.'
Tony pondered for a moment. 'Look here,' he said at last, 'can't you ask your pater? He usually heaves his money about pretty readily, doesn't he?'
'Well, you see, he wouldn't send me two quid off the reel without wanting to know all about it, and why I couldn't get on to the holidays with five bob, and I'd either have to fake up a lot of lies, which I'm not going to do--'
'Of course not.'
'Or else I must tell him I've been betting.'
'Well, he bets himself, doesn't he?'
'That's just where the whole business slips up,' replied Jim, prodding the table with a pen in a misanthropic manner. 'Betting's the one thing he's absolutely down on. He got done rather badly once a few years ago. Believe he betted on Orme that year he got poisoned. Anyhow he's always sworn to lynch us if we made fools of ourselves that way. So if I asked him, I'd not only get beans myself, besides not getting any money out of him, but Allen would get scalped too, which he wouldn't see at all.'
'Yes, it's no good doing that. Haven't you any other source of revenue?'
'Yes, there's just one chance. If that doesn't come off, I'm done. My pater said he'd give me a quid for every race I won at the sports. I got the half yesterday all right when you were up at Aldershot.'
'Good man. I didn't hear about that. What time? Anything good?'
'Nothing special. 2-7 and three-fifths.'
'That's awfully good. You ought to pull off the mile, too, I should think.'
'Yes, with luck. Drake's the man I'm afraid of. He's done it in 4-48 twice during training. He was second in the half yesterday by about three yards, but you can't tell anything from that. He sprinted too late.'
'What's your best for the mile?'
'I have done 4-47, but only once. 4-48's my average, so there's nothing to choose between us on paper.'
'Well, you've got more to make you buck up than he has. There must be something in that.'
'Yes, by Jove. I'll win if I expire on the tape. I shan't spare myself with that quid on the horizon.'
'No. Hullo, there's the bell. We must buck up. Going to Charteris' gorge tonight?'
'Yes, but I shan't eat anything. No risks for me.'
'Rusks are more in your line now. Come on.'
And, in the excitement of these more personal matters, Tony entirely forgot to impart the news of the Pavilion burglary to him.