Chapter I In Ambush - Stalky & Co by Rudyard Kipling
In summer all right-minded boys built huts in the furze-hill behind
the College--little lairs whittled out of the heart of the prickly
bushes, full of stumps, odd root-ends, and spikes, but, since they
were strictly forbidden, palaces of delight. And for the fifth summer
in succession, Stalky, McTurk, and Beetle (this was before they
reached the dignity of a study) had built like beavers a place of
retreat and meditation, where they smoked.
Now, there was nothing in their characters as known to Mr. Prout,
their house-master, at all commanding respect; nor did Foxy, the
subtle red-haired school Sergeant, trust them. His business was to
wear tennis-shoes, carry binoculars, and swoop hawklike upon evil
boys. Had he taken the field alone, that hut would have been raided,
for Foxy knew the manners of his quarry; but Providence moved Mr.
Prout, whose school-name, derived from the size of his feet, was
Hoofer, to investigate on his own account; and it was the cautious
Stalky who found the track of his pugs on the very floor of their
lair one peaceful afternoon when Stalky would fain have forgotten
Prout and his works in a volume of Surtees and a new briar-wood pipe.
Crusoe, at sight of the footprint, did not act more swiftly than
Stalky. He removed the pipes, swept up all loose match-ends, and
departed to warn Beetle and McTurk.
But it was characteristic of the boy that he did not approach his
allies till he had met and conferred with little Hartopp, President
of the Natural History Society, an institution which Stalky held in
contempt, Hartopp was more than surprised when the boy meekly, as he
knew how, begged to propose himself, Beetle, and McTurk as
candidates; confessed to a long-smothered interest in
first-flowerings, early butterflies, and new arrivals, and
volunteered, if Mr. Hartopp saw fit, to enter on the new life at
once. Being a master, Hartopp was suspicious; but he was also an
enthusiast, and his gentle little soul had been galled by chance-heard
remarks from the three, and specially Beetle. So he was gracious to
that repentant sinner, and entered the three names in his book.
Then, and not till then, did Stalky seek Beetle and McTurk in their
house form-room. They were stowing away books for a quiet afternoon
in the furze, which they called the "wuzzy."
"All up," said Stalky, serenely. "I spotted Heffy's fairy feet round
our hut after dinner. 'Blessing they're so big."
"Con-found! Did you hide our pipes?" said Beetle.
"Oh, no. Left 'em in the middle of the hut, of course. What a blind
ass you are, Beetle! D'you think nobody thinks but yourself? Well, we
can't use the hut any more. Hoofer will be watchin' it."
"'Bother! Likewise blow!'" said McTurk thoughtfully, unpacking the
volumes with which his chest was cased. The boys carried their
libraries between their belt and their collar. "Nice job! This means
we're under suspicion for the rest of the term."
"Why? All that Heffy has found is a hut. He and Foxy will watch it.
It's nothing to do with us; only we mustn't be seen that way for a
"Yes, and where else are we to go?" said Beetle. "You chose that
place, too--an'--an' I wanted to read this afternoon."
Stalky sat on a desk drumming his heels on the form.
"You're a despondin' brute, Beetle. Sometimes I think I shall have to
drop you altogether. Did you ever know your Uncle Stalky forget you
yet? _His_rebus_infectis_--after I'd seen Heffy's man-tracks
marchin' round our hut, I found little
Hartopp--_destricto_ense_--wavin' a butterfly-net. I conciliated
Hartopp. 'Told him that you'd read papers to the Bug-hunters if he'd
let you join, Beetle. 'Told him you liked butterflies, Turkey.
Anyhow, I soothed the Hartoffles, and we're Bug-hunters now."
"What's the good of that?" said Beetle.
"Oh, Turkey, kick him!"
In the interests of science bounds were largely relaxed for the
members of the Natural History Society. They could wander, if they
kept clear of all houses, practically where they chose; Mr. Hartopp
holding himself responsible for their good conduct.
Beetle began to see this as McTurk began the kicking.
"I'm an ass, Stalky!" he said, guarding the afflicted part. "_Pax_,
Turkey. I'm an ass."
"Don't stop, Turkey. Isn't your Uncle Stalky a great man?"
"Great man," said Beetle.
"All the same bug-huntin's a filthy business," said McTurk. "How the
deuce does one begin?"
"This way," said Stalky, turning to some fags' lockers behind him.
"Fags are dabs at Natural History. Here's young Braybrooke's
botany-case." He flung out a tangle of decayed roots and adjusted the
slide. "'Gives one no end of a professional air, I think. Here's Clay
Minor's geological hammer. Beetle can carry that. Turkey, you'd
better covet a butterfly-net from somewhere."
"I'm blowed if I do," said McTurk, simply, with immense feeling.
"Beetle, give me the hammer."
"All right. I'm not proud. Chuck us down that net on top of the
"That's all right. It's a collapsible jamboree, too. Beastly luxurious
dogs these fags are. Built like a fishin'-rod. 'Pon my sainted Sam,
but we look the complete Bug-hunters! Now, listen to your Uncle
Stalky! We're goin' along the cliffs after butterflies. Very few
chaps come there. We're goin' to leg it, too. You'd better leave your
"Not much!" said Beetle, firmly. "I'm not goin' to be done out of my
fun for a lot of filthy butterflies."
"Then you'll sweat horrid. You'd better carry my Jorrocks. 'Twon't
make you any hotter."
They all sweated; for Stalky led them at a smart trot west away along
the cliffs under the furze-hills, crossing combe after gorzy combe.
They took no heed to flying rabbits or fluttering fritillaries, and
all that Turkey said of geology was utterly unquotable.
"Are we going to Clovelly?" he puffed at last, and they flung
themselves down on the short, springy turf between the drone of the
sea below and the light summer wind among the inland trees. They were
looking into a combe half full of old, high furze in gay bloom that
ran up to a fringe of brambles and a dense wood of mixed timber and
hollies. It was as though one-half the combe were filled with golden
fire to the cliff's edge. The side nearest to them was open grass,
and fairly bristled with notice-boards.
"Fee-rocious old cove, this," said Stalky, reading the nearest.
"'_Prosecuted_with_the_utmost_rigour_of_the_law_. G. M. Dabney, Col.,
J.P.,' an' all the rest of it. 'Don't seem to me that any chap in his
senses would trespass here, does it?"
"You've got to prove damage 'fore you can prosecute for anything!
'Can't prosecute for trespass," said McTurk, whose father held many
acres in Ireland. "That's all rot!"
"Glad of that, 'cause this looks like what we wanted. Not straight
across, Beetle, you blind lunatic! Anyone could spot us half a mile
off. This way; and furl up your beastly butterfly-net."
Beetle disconnected the ring, thrust the net into a pocket, shut up
the handle to a two-foot stave, and slid the cane-ring round his
waist. Stalky led inland to the wood, which was, perhaps, a quarter
of a mile from the sea, and reached the fringe of the brambles.
"_Now_ we can get straight down through the furze, and never show up
at all," said the tactician. "Beetle, go ahead and explore. Snf! Snf!
Beastly stink of fox somewhere!"
On all fours, save when he clung to his spectacles, Beetle wormed into
the gorse, and presently announced between grunts of pain that he had
found a very fair fox-track. This was well for Beetle, since Stalky
pinched him _a_tergo_. Down that tunnel they crawled. It was
evidently a highway for the inhabitants of the combe; and, to their
inexpressible joy, ended, at the very edge of the cliff, in a few
square feet of dry turf walled and roofed with impenetrable gorse.
"By gum! There isn't a single thing to do except lie down," said
Stalky, returning a knife to his pocket. "Look here!"
He parted the tough stems before him, and it was as a window opened on
a far view of Lundy, and the deep sea sluggishly nosing the pebbles a
couple of hundred feet below. They could hear young jackdaws
squawking on the ledges, the hiss and jabber of a nest of hawks
somewhere out of sight; and, with great deliberation, Stalky spat on
to the back of a young rabbit sunning himself far down where only a
cliff-rabbit could have found foot-hold. Great gray and black gulls
screamed against the jackdaws; the heavy-scented acres of bloom round
them were alive with low-nesting birds, singing or silent as the
shadow of the wheeling hawks passed and returned; and on the naked
turf across the combe rabbits thumped and frolicked.
"Whew! What a place! Talk of natural history; this is it," said
Stalky, filling himself a pipe. "Isn't it scrumptious? Good old sea!"
He spat again approvingly, and was silent.
McTurk and Beetle had taken out their books and were lying on their
stomachs, chin in hand. The sea snored and gurgled; the birds,
scattered for the moment by these new animals, returned to their
businesses, and the boys read on in the rich, warm, sleepy silence.
"Hullo, here's a keeper," said Stalky, shutting "Handley Cross"
cautiously, and peering through the jungle. A man with a gun appeared
on the sky-line to the east. "Confound him, he's going to sit down."
"He'd swear we were poachin', too," said Beetle. "What's the good of
pheasants' eggs? They're always addled, too."
"Might as well get up to the wood, I think," said Stalky. "We don't
want G. M. Dabney, Col., J.P., to be bothered about us so soon. Up
the wuzzy and keep quiet! He may have followed us, you know."
Beetle was already far up the tunnel. They heard him gasp
indescribably: there was the crash of a heavy body leaping through
"Aie! yeou little red rascal. I see yeou!" The keeper threw the gun to
his shoulder, and fired both barrels in their direction. The pellets
dusted the dry stems round them as a big fox plunged between Stalky's
legs, and ran over the cliff-edge.
They said nothing till they reached the wood, torn, disheveled, hot,
"Narrow squeak," said Stalky. "I'll swear some of the pellets went
through my hair."
"Did you see him?" said Beetle. "I almost put my hand on him. Wasn't
he a wopper! Didn't he stink! Hullo, Turkey, what's the matter? Are
McTurk's lean face had turned pearly white; his mouth, generally half
open, was tight shut, and his eyes blazed. They had never seen him
like this save once in a sad time of civil war.
"Do you know that that was just as bad as murder?" he said, in a
grating voice, as he brushed prickles from his head.
"Well, he didn't hit us," said Stalky. "I think it was rather a lark.
Here, where are you going?"
"I'm going up to the house, if there is one," said McTurk, pushing
through the hollies. "I am going to tell this Colonel Dabney."
"Are you crazy? He'll swear it served us jolly well right. He'll
report us. It'll be a public lickin'. Oh, Turkey, don't be an ass!
Think of us!"
"You fool!" said McTurk, turning savagely. "D'you suppose I'm thinkin'
of _us_? It's the keeper."
"He's cracked," said Beetle, miserably, as they followed. Indeed, this
was a new Turkey--a haughty, angular, nose-lifted Turkey--whom they
accompanied through a shrubbery on to a lawn, where a white-whiskered
old gentleman with a cleek was alternately putting and blaspheming
"Are you Colonel Dabney?" McTurk began in this new creaking voice of
"I--I am, and--" his eyes traveled up and down the boy--"who--what the
devil d'you want? Ye've been disturbing my pheasants. Don't attempt
to deny it. Ye needn't laugh at it." (McTurk's not too lovely
features had twisted them. selves into a horrible sneer at the word
pheasant.) "You've been birds'-nesting. You needn't hide your hat. I
can see that you belong to the College. Don't attempt to deny it. Ye
do! Your name and number at once, sir. Ye want to speak to me--Eh?
You saw my notice-boards? Must have. Don't attempt to deny it. Ye
did! Damnable, oh damnable!"
He choked with emotion. McTurk's heel tapped the lawn and he stuttered
a little--two sure signs that he was losing his temper. But why
should he, the offender, be angry?
"Lo-look here, sir. Do--do you shoot foxes? Because, if you don't,
your keeper does. We've seen him! I do-don't care what you call
us--but it's an awful thing. It's the ruin of good feelin' among
neighbors. A ma-man ought to say once and for all how he stands about
preservin'. It's worse than murder, because there's no legal remedy."
McTurk was quoting confusedly from his father, while the old gentleman
made noises in his throat.
"Do you know who I am?" he gurgled at last; Stalky and Beetle
"No, sorr, nor do I care if ye belonged to the Castle itself. Answer
me now, as one gentleman to another. Do ye shoot foxes or do ye not?"
And four years before Stalky and Beetle had carefully kicked McTurk
out of his Irish dialect! Assuredly he had gone mad or taken a
sunstroke, and as assuredly he would be slain--once by the old
gentleman and once by the head. A public licking for the throe was
the least they could expect. Yet--if their eyes and ears were to be
trusted--the old gentleman had collapsed. It might be a lull before
the storm, but--
"I do not." He was still gurgling.
"Then you must sack your keeper. He's not fit to live in the same
county with a God-fearin' fox. An' a vixen, too--at this time o'
"Did ye come up on purpose to tell me this?"
"Of course I did, ye silly man," with a stamp of the foot. "Would you
not have done as much for me if you'd seen that thing happen on my
Forgotten--forgotten was the College and the decency due to elders!
McTurk was treading again the barren purple mountains of the rainy
West coast, where in his holidays he was viceroy of four thousand
naked acres, only son of a three-hundred-year-old house, lord of a
crazy fishing-boat, and the idol of his father's shiftless tenantry.
It was the landed man speaking to his equal--deep calling to
deep--and the old gentleman acknowledged the cry.
"I apologize," said he. "I apologize unreservedly--to you, and to the
Old Country. Now, will you be good enough to tell me your story?"
"We were in your combe," McTurk began, and he told his tale
alternately as a schoolboy and, when the iniquity of the thing
overcame him, as an indignant squire; concluding: "So you see he must
be in the habit of it. I--we---one never wants to accuse a neighbor's
man; but I took the liberty in this case--"
"I see. Quite so. For a reason ye had. Infamous---oh, infamous!"
The two had fallen into step beside each other on the lawn, and
Colonel Dabney was talking as one man to another. "This comes of
promoting a fisherman--a fisherman--from his lobster-pots. It's
enough to ruin the reputation of an archangel. Don't attempt to deny
it. It is! Your father has brought you up well. He has. I'd much like
the pleasure of his acquaintance. Very much, indeed. And these young
gentlemen? English they are. Don't attempt to deny it. They came up
with you, too? Extraordinary! Extraordinary, now! In the present
state of education I shouldn't have thought any three boys would be
well enough grounded. But out of the mouths of--No--no! Not that by
any odds. Don't attempt to deny it. Ye're not! Sherry always catches
me under the liver, but--beer, now? Eh? What d'you say to beer, and
something to eat? It's long since I was a boy--abominable nuisances;
but exceptions prove the rule. And a vixen, too!" They were fed on
the terrace by a gray-haired housekeeper. Stalky and Beetle merely
ate, but McTurk with bright eyes continued a free and lofty
discourse; and ever the old gentleman treated him as a brother.
"My dear man, of course ye can come again. Did I not say exceptions
prove the rule? The lower combe? Man, dear, anywhere ye please, so
long as you do not disturb my pheasants. The two are not
incompatible. Don't attempt to deny it. They're not! I'll never allow
another gun, though. Come and go as ye please. I'll not see you, and
ye needn't see me. Ye've been well brought up. Another glass of beer,
now? I tell you a fisherman he was and a fisherman he shall be
to-night again. He shall! Wish I could drown him. I'll convoy you to
the Lodge. My people are not precisely--ah--broke to boy, but they'll
know you again."
He dismissed them with many compliments by the high Lodge-gate in the
split-oak park palings and they stood still; even Stalky, who had
played second, not to say a dumb, fiddle, regarding McTurk as one
from another world. The two glasses of strong home-brewed had brought
a melancholy upon the boy, for, slowly strolling with his hands in
his pockets, he crooned:--" Oh, Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news
that's goin' round?"
Under other circumstances Stalky and Beetle would have fallen upon
him, for that song was barred utterly--anathema--the sin of
witchcraft. But seeing what he had wrought, they danced round him in
silence, waiting till it pleased him to touch earth.
The tea-bell rang when they were still half a mile from College.
McTurk shivered and came out of dreams. The glory of his holiday
estate had left him. He was a Colleger of the College, speaking
English once more.
"Turkey, it was immense!" said Stalky, generously. "I didn't know you
had it in you. You've got us a hut for the rest of the term, where
we simply _can't_ be collared. Fids! Fids! Oh, Fids! I gloat! Hear
They spun wildly on their heels, jodeling after the accepted manner of
a "gloat," which is not unremotely allied to the primitive man's song
of triumph, and dropped down the hill by the path from the gasometer
just in time to meet their house-master, who had spent the afternoon
watching their abandoned hut in the "wuzzy."
Unluckily, all Mr. Prout's imagination leaned to the darker side of
life, and he looked on those young-eyed cherubims most sourly. Boys
that he understood attended house-matches and could be accounted for
at any moment. But he had heard McTurk openly deride cricket--even
house-matches; Beetle's views on the honor of the house he knew were
incendiary; and he could never tell when the soft and smiling Stalky
was laughing at him. Consequently--since human nature is what it
is--those boys had been doing wrong somewhere. He hoped it was
nothing very serious, but...
"_Ti-ra-ra-la-i-tu_! I gloat! Hear me!" Stalky, still on his heels,
whirled like a dancing dervish to the dining-hall.
"_Ti-ra-la-la-i-tu_! I gloat! Hear me!" Beetle spun behind him with
"_Ti-ra-la-la-i-tu_! I gloat! Hear me!" McTurk's voice cracked.
Now was there or was there not a distinct flavor of beer as they shot
past Mr. Prout?
He was unlucky in that his conscience as a house-master impelled him
to consult his associates. Had he taken his pipe and his troubles to
little Hartopp's rooms he would, perhaps, have been saved confusion,
for Hartopp believed in boys, and knew something about them. His fate
led him to King, a fellow house-master, no friend of his, but a
zealous hater of Stalky & Co.
"Ah-haa!" said King, rubbing his hands when the tale was told.
"Curious! Now _my_ house never dream of doing these things."
"But you see I've no proof, exactly."
"Proof? With the egregious Beetle! As if one wanted it! I suppose it
is not impossible for the Sergeant to supply it? Foxy is considered
at least a match for any evasive boy in my house. Of course they were
smoking and drinking somewhere. That type of boy always does. They
think it manly."
"But they've no following in the school, and they are distinctly--er
brutal to their juniors," said Prout, who had from a distance seen
Beetle return, with interest, his butterfly-net to a tearful fag.
"Ah! They consider themselves superior to ordinary delights.
Self-sufficient little animals! There's something in McTurk's
Hibernian sneer that would make me a little annoyed. And they are so
careful to avoid all overt acts, too. It's sheer calculated
insolence. I am strongly opposed, as you know, to interfering with
another man's house; but they need a lesson, Prout. They need a sharp
lesson, if only to bring down their over-weening self-conceit. Were I
you, I should devote myself for a week to their little performances.
Boys of that order--and I may flatter myself, but I think I know
boys--don't join the Bug-hunters for love. Tell the Sergeant to keep
his eye open; and, of course, in my peregrinations I may casually keep
mine open, too."
"_Ti-ra-la-la-i-tu_! I gloat! Hear me!" far down the corridor.
"Disgusting!" said King. "Where do they pick up these obscene noises?
One sharp lesson is what they want."
The boys did not concern themselves with lessons for the next few
days. They had all Colonel Dabney's estate to play with, and they
explored it with the stealth of Red Indians and the accuracy of
burglars. They could enter either by the Lodge-gates on the upper
road--they were careful to ingratiate themselves with the Lodge-keeper
and his wife--drop down into the combe, and return along the cliffs;
or they could begin at the combe and climb up into the road.
They were careful not to cross the Colonel's path--he had served his
turn, and they would not out-wear their welcome--nor did they show up
on the sky-line when they could move in cover. The shelter of the
gorze by the cliff-edge was their chosen retreat. Beetle christened
it the Pleasant Isle of Aves, for the peace and the shelter of it;
and here, the pipes and tobacco once cache'd in a convenient ledge an
arm's length down the cliff, their position was legally unassailable.
For, observe, Colonel Dabney had not invited them to enter his house.
Therefore, they did not need to ask specific leave to go visiting;
and school rules were strict on that point. He had merely thrown open
his grounds to them; and, since they were lawful Bug-hunters, their
extended bounds ran up to his notice-boards in the combe and his
Lodge-gates on the hill.
They were amazed at their own virtue.
"And even if it wasn't," said Stalky, flat on his back, staring into
the blue. "Even suppose we were miles out of bounds, no one could get
at us through this wuzzy, unless he knew the tunnel. Isn't this
better than lyin' up just behind the Coll.--in a blue funk every time
we had a smoke? Isn't your Uncle Stalky--?"
"No," said Beetle--he was stretched at the edge of the cliff spitting
thoughtfully. "We've got to thank Turkey for this. Turkey is the
Great Man. Turkey, dear, you're distressing Heffles."
"Gloomy old ass!" said McTurk, deep in a book.
"They've got us under suspicion," said Stalky. "Hoophats _is_ so
suspicious somehow; and Foxy always makes every stalk he does a sort
"Scalp," said Beetle. "Foxy's a giddy Chingangook."
"Poor Foxy," said Stalky. "He's goin' to catch us one of these days.
'Said to me in the Gym last night, 'I've got my eye on you, Mister
Corkran. I'm only warning you for your good.' Then I said: 'Well, you
jolly well take it off again, or you'll get into trouble. I'm only
warnin' you for your good.' Foxy was wrath."
"Yes, but it's only fair sport for Foxy," said Beetle. "It's
Hefflelinga that has the evil mind. 'Shouldn't wonder if he thought
we got tight."
"I never got squiffy but once--that was in the holidays," said Stalky,
reflectively; "an' it made me horrid sick. 'Pon my sacred Sam,
though, it's enough to drive a man to drink, havin' an animal like
Hoof for house-master."
"If we attended the matches an' yelled, 'Well hit, sir,' an' stood on
one leg an' grinned every time Heffy said, 'So ho, my sons. Is it
thus?' an' said, 'Yes, sir,' an' 'No, sir,' an' 'O, sir,' an'
'Please, sir,' like a lot o' filthy fa-ags, Heffy 'ud think no end of
us," said McTurk with a sneer.
"Too late to begin that."
"It's all right. The Hefflelinga means well. _But_ he is an ass. _And_
we show him that we think he's an ass. An' _so_ Heffy don't love us.
'Told me last night after prayers that he was _in_loco_parentis_,"
"The deuce he did!" cried Stalky. "That means he's maturin' something
unusual dam' mean. Last time he told me that he gave me three hundred
lines for dancin' the cachuca in Number Ten dormitory.
_Loco_parentis_, by gum! But what's the odds as long as you're 'appy?
_We're_ all right."
They were, and their very rightness puzzled Prout, King, and the
Sergeant. Boys with bad consciences show it. They slink out past the
Fives Court in haste, and smile nervously when questioned. They
return, disordered, in bare time to save a call-over. They nod and
wink and giggle one to the other, scattering at the approach of a
master. But Stalky and his allies had long out-lived these
manifestations of youth. They strolled forth unconcernedly, and
returned in excellent shape after a light refreshment of strawberries
and cream at the Lodge.
The Lodge-keeper had been promoted to keeper, _vice_ the murderous
fisherman, and his wife made much of the boys. The man, too, gave
them a squirrel, which they presented to the Natural History Society;
thereby checkmating little Hartopp, who wished to know what they were
doing for Science. Foxy faithfully worked some deep Devon lanes
behind a lonely cross-roads inn; and it was curious that Prout and
King, members of Common-room seldom friendly, walked together in the
same direction--that is to say, northeast.
Now, the Pleasant Isle of Aves lay due southwest. "They're
deep--day-vilish deep," said Stalky. "Why are they drawin' those
"Me," said Beetle sweetly. "I asked Foxy if he had ever tasted the
beer there. That was enough for Foxy, and it cheered him up a little.
He and Heffy were sniffin' round our old hut so long I thought they'd
like a change."
"Well, it can't last forever," said Stalky. "Heffy's bankin' up like
a thunder-cloud, an' King goes rubbin' his beastly hands, an'
grinnin' like a hyena. It's shockin' demoralizin' for King. He'll
burst some day."
That day came a little sooner than they expected--came when the
Sergeant, whose duty it was to collect defaulters, did not attend an
"Tired of pubs, eh? He's gone up to the top of the bill with his
binoculars to spot us," said Stalky. "Wonder he didn't think of that
before. Did you see old Heffy cock his eye at us when we answered our
names? Heffy's in it, too. _Ti-ra-la-la-i-tu_! I gloat! Hear me! Come
"Aves?" said Beetle.
"Of course, but I'm not smokin' _aujourd'hui_. _Parceque_je_ jolly
well _pense_ that we'll be _suivi_. We'll go along the cliffs, slow,
an' give Foxy lots of time to parallel us up above."
They strolled towards the swimming-baths, and presently overtook King.
"Oh, don't let _me_ interrupt you," he said. "Engaged in scientific
pursuits, of course? I trust you will enjoy yourselves, my young
"You see!" said Stalky, when they were out of ear-shot. "He _can't_
keep a secret. He's followin' to cut off our line of retreat. He'll
wait at the baths till Heffy comes along. They've tried every blessed
place except along the cliffs, and now they think they've bottled us.
No need to hurry."
They walked leisurely over the combes till they reached the line of
"Listen a shake. Foxy's up wind comin' down hill like beans. When you
hear him move in the bushes, go straight across to Aves. They want to
catch us _flagrante_delicto_."
They dived into the gorse at right angles to the tunnel, openly
crossing the grass, and lay still in Aves.
"What did I tell you?" Stalky carefully put away the pipes and
tobacco. The Sergeant, out of breath, was leaning against the fence,
raking the furze with his binoculars, but he might as well have tried
to see through a sand-bag. Anon, Prout and King appeared behind him.
"Aha! Foxy don't like the notice-boards, and he don't like the
prickles either. Now we'll cut up the tunnel and go to the Lodge.
Hullo! They've sent Foxy into cover."
The Sergeant was waist-deep in crackling, swaying furze, his ears
filled with the noise of his own progress. The boys reached the
shelter of the wood and looked down through a belt of hollies.
"Hellish noise!" said Stalky, critically. "'Don't think Colonel Dabney
will like it. I move we go into the Lodge and get something to eat.
We might as well see the fun out."
Suddenly the keeper passed them at a trot. "Who'm they to combe-bottom
for Lard's sake? Master'll be crazy," he said.
"Poachers simly," Stalky replied in the broad Devon that was the
"I'll poach 'em to raights!" He dropped into the funnel-like combe,
which presently began to fill with noises, notably King's voice
crying: "Go on, Sergeant! Leave him alone, you, sir. He is executing
"Who'm yeou to give arders here, gingy whiskers? Yeou come up to the
master. Come out o' that wuzzy! [This is to the Sergeant.] Yiss, I
reckon us knows the boys yeou'm after. They've tu long ears an' vuzzy
bellies, an' you nippies they in yeour pockets when they'm dead. Come
on up to master! He'll boy yeou all you're a mind to. Yeou other
folk bide your side fence."
"Explain to the proprietor. You can explain, Sergeant," shouted King.
Evidently the Sergeant had surrendered to the major force.
Beetle lay at full length on the turf behind the Lodge, literally
biting the earth in spasms of joy. Stalky kicked him upright. There
was nothing of levity about Stalky or McTurk save a stray muscle
twitching on the cheek.
They tapped at the Lodge door, where they were always welcome. "Come
yeou right in an' set down, my little dearrs," said the woman.
"They'll niver touch my man. He'll poach 'em to rights. Iss fai!
Fresh berries an' cream. Us Dartymoor folk niver forgit their
friends. But them Bidevor poachers, they've no hem to their garments.
Sugar? My man he've digged a badger for yeou, my dearrs. 'Tis in the
linhay in a box."
"Us'll take un with us when we're finished here. I reckon yeou'm busy.
We'll bide here an'--'tis washin' day with yeou, simly," said Stalky.
"We'm no company to make all vitty for. Never yeou mind us. Yiss.
There's plenty cream."
The woman withdrew, wiping her pink hands on her apron, and left them
in the parlor. There was a scuffle of feet on the gravel outside the
heavily-leaded diamond panes, and then the voice of Colonel Dabney,
something clearer than a bugle.
"Ye can read? You've eyes in your head? Don't attempt to deny it. Ye
Beetle snatched a crochet-work antimacassar from the shiny horsehair
sofa, stuffed it into his mouth, and rolled out of sight.
"You saw my notice-boards. Your duty? Curse your impudence, sir. Your
duty was to keep off my grounds. Talk of duty to _me_! Why--why--why,
ye misbegotten poacher, ye'll be teaching me my A B C next! Roarin'
like a bull in the bushes down there! Boys? Boys? Boys? Keep your
boys at home, then! I'm not responsible for your boys! But I don't
believe it--I don't believe a word of it. Ye've a furtive look in
your eye--a furtive, sneakin', poachin' look in your eye, that 'ud
ruin the reputation of an archangel! Don't attempt to deny it! Ye
have! A sergeant? More shame to you, then, an' the worst bargain Her
Majesty ever made! A sergeant, to run about the country poachin'--on
your pension! Damnable! Oh, damnable! But I'll be considerate. I'll
be merciful. By gad, I'll be the very essence o' humanity! Did ye, or
did ye not, see my notice-boards? Don't attempt to deny it! Ye did.
Twenty-one years in the army had left their mark on Foxy. He obeyed.
"Now. March!" The high Lodge gate shut with a clang. "My duty! A
sergeant to tell me my duty!" puffed Colonel Dabney. "Good Lard! more
"It's King! It's King!" gulped Stalky, his head on the horsehair
pillow. McTurk was eating the rag-carpet before the speckless hearth,
and the sofa heaved to the emotions of Beetle. Through the thick
glass the figures without showed blue, distorted, and menacing.
"I--I protest against this outrage." King had evidently been running
up hill. "The man was entirely within his duty. Let--let me give you
"He's in flannels!" Stalky buried his head again.
"Unfortunately--most unfortunately--I have not one with me, but my
name is King, sir, a house-master of the College, and you will find
me prepared--fully prepared--to answer for this man's action. We've
"Did ye see my notice-boards?"
"I admit we did; but under the circumstances--"
"I stand _in_loco_parentis_." Prout's deep voice was added to the
discussion. They could hear him pant.
"F'what?" Colonel Dabney was growing more and more Irish.
"I'm responsible for the boys under my charge."
"Ye are, are ye? Then all I can say is that ye set them a very bad
example--a dam' bad example, if I may say so. I do not own your boys.
I've not seen your boys, an' I tell you that if there was a boy
grinnin' in every bush on the place, _still_ ye've no shadow of a
right here, comin' up from the combe that way, an' frightenin'
everything in it. Don't attempt to deny it. Ye did. Ye should have
come to the Lodge an' seen me like Christians, instead of chasin'
your dam' boys through the length and breadth of my covers.
_In_loco_parentis_ ye are? Well, I've not forgotten my Latin either,
an' I'll say to you: '_Quis_custodiet_ipsos_custodes_.' If the
masters trespass, how can we blame the boys?"
"But if I could speak to you privately," said Prout.
"I'll have nothing private with you! Ye can be as private as ye please
on the other side o' that gate an'--I wish ye a very good afternoon."
A second time the gate clanged. They waited till Colonel Dabney had
returned to the house, and fell into one another's arms, crowing for
"Oh, my Soul! Oh, my King! Oh, my Heffy! Oh, my Foxy! Zeal, all zeal,
Mr. Simple." Stalky wiped his eyes. "Oh! Oh I Oh!--'I _did_ boil the
exciseman!' We must get out of this or we'll be late for tea."
"Ge--Ge--get the badger and make little Hartopp happy. Ma--ma--make
'em all happy," sobbed McTurk, groping for the door and kicking the
prostrate Beetle before him.
They found the beast in an evil-smelling box, left two half-crowns for
payment, and staggered home. Only the badger grunted most marvelous
like Colonel Dabney, and they dropped him twice or thrice with
shrieks of helpless laughter. They were but imperfectly recovered
when Foxy met them by the Fives Court with word that they were to go
up to their dormitory and wait till sent for.
"Well, take this box to Mr. Hartopp's rooms, then. We've done
something for the Natural History Society, at any rate," said Beetle.
"'Fraid that won't save you, young gen'elmen," Foxy answered, in an
awful voice. He was sorely ruffled in his mind.
"All sereno, Foxibus." Stalky had reached the extreme stage of
hiccups. "We--we'll never desert you, Foxy. Hounds choppin' foxes in
cover is more a proof of vice, ain't it?... No, you're right.
I'm--I'm not quite well."
"They've gone a bit too far this time," Foxy thought to himself. "Very
far gone, _I'd_ say, excep' there was no smell of liquor. An' yet it
isn't like 'em--somehow. King and Prout they 'ad their dressin'-down
same as me. That's one comfort."
"Now, we must pull up," said Stalky, rising from the bed on which he
had thrown himself. "We're injured innocence--as usual. We don't know
what we've been sent up here for, do we?"
"No explanation. Deprived of tea. Public disgrace before the house,"
said McTurk, whose eyes were running over. "It's dam' serious."
"Well, hold on, till King loses his temper," said Beetle. "He's a
libelous old rip, an' he'll be in a ravin' paddy-wack. Prout's too
beastly cautious. Keep your eye on King, and, if he gives us a
chance, appeal to the head. That always makes 'em sick."
They were summoned to their house-master's study, King and Foxy
supporting Prout, and Foxy had three canes under his arm. King leered
triumphantly, for there were tears, undried tears of mirth, on the
boys' cheeks. Then the examination began.
Yes, they had walked along the cliffs. Yes, they had entered Colonel
Dabney's grounds. Yes, they had seen the notice-boards (at this point
Beetle sputtered hysterically). For what purpose had they entered
Colonel Dabney's grounds? "Well, sir, there was a badger."
Here King, who loathed the Natural History Society because he did not
like Hartopp, could no longer be restrained. He begged them not to
add mendacity to open insolence. But the badger was in Mr. Hartopp's
rooms, sir. The Sergeant had kindly taken it up for them. That
disposed of the badger, and the temporary check brought King's temper
to boiling-point. They could hear his foot on the floor while Prout
prepared his lumbering inquiries. They had settled into their stride
now. Their eyes ceased to sparkle; their faces were blank; their
hands hung beside them without a twitch. They were learning, at the
expense of a fellow-countryman, the lesson of their race, which is to
put away all emotion and entrap the alien at the proper time.
So far good. King was importing himself more freely into the trial,
being vengeful where Prout was grieved. They knew the penalties of
trespassing? With a fine show of irresolution, Stalky admitted that
he had gathered some information vaguely bearing on this head, but he
thought--The sentence was dragged out to the uttermost: Stalky did
not wish to play his trump with such an opponent. Mr. King desired no
buts, nor was he interested in Stalky's evasions. They, on the other
hand, might be interested in his poor views. Boys who crept--who
sneaked--who lurked--out of bounds, even the generous bounds of the
Natural History Society, which they had falsely joined as a cloak for
their misdeeds--their vices--their villainies--their immoralities--
"He'll break cover in a minute," said Stalky to himself. "Then we'll
run into him before he gets away."
Such boys, scabrous boys, moral lepers--the current of his words was
carrying King off his feet--evil-speakers, liars, slow-bellies--yea,
He was merely working up to a peroration, and the boys knew it; but
McTurk cut through the frothing sentence, the others echoing:
"I appeal to the head, sir."
"I appeal to the head, sir."
"I appeal to the head, sir."
It was their unquestioned right. Drunkenness meant expulsion after a
public flogging. They had been accused of it. The case was the
head's, and the head's alone.
"Thou hast appealed unto Caesar: unto Caesar shalt thou go." They had
heard that sentence once or twice before in their careers. "None the
less," said King, uneasily, "you would be better advised to abide by
our decision, my young friends."
"Are we allowed to associate with the rest of the school till we see
the head, sir?" said McTurk to his house-master, disregarding King.
This at once lifted the situation to its loftiest plane. Moreover, it
meant no work, for moral leprosy was strictly quarantined, and the
head never executed judgment till twenty-four cold hours later.
"Well--er--if you persist in your defiant attitude," said King, with a
loving look at the canes under Foxy's arm. "There is no alternative."
Ten minutes later the news was over the whole school. Stalky and Co.
had fallen at last--fallen by drink. They had been drinking. They had
returned blind-drunk from a hut. They were even now lying hopelessly
intoxicated on the dormitory floor. A few bold spirits crept up to
look, and received boots about the head from the criminals.
"We've got him--got him on the Caudine Toasting-fork!" said Stalky,
after those hints were taken. "King'll have to prove his charges up
to the giddy hilt."
"Too much ticklee, him bust," Beetle quoted from a book of his
reading. "Didn't I say he'd go pop if we lat un bide?"
"No prep., either, O ye incipient drunkards," said McTurk, "and it's
trig night, too. Hullo! Here's our dear friend Foxy. More tortures,
"I've brought you something to eat, young gentlemen," said the
Sergeant from behind a crowded tray. Their wars had ever been waged
without malice, and a suspicion floated in Foxy's mind that boys who
allowed themselves to be tracked so easily might, perhaps, hold
something in reserve. Foxy had served through the Mutiny, when early
and accurate information was worth much.
"I--I noticed you 'adn't 'ad anything to eat, an' I spoke to Gumbly,
an' he said you wasn't exactly cut off from supplies. So I brought up
this. It's your potted 'am tin, ain't it, Mr. Corkran?"
"Why, Foxibus, you're a brick," said Stalky. "I didn't think you had
this much--what's the word, Beetle?"
"Bowels," Beetle replied, promptly. "Thank you, Sergeant. That's young
Carter's potted ham, though."
"There was a C on it. I thought it was Mr. Corkran's. This is a very
serious business, young gentlemen. That's what it is. I didn't know,
perhaps, but there might be something on your side which you hadn't
said to Mr. King or Mr. Prout, maybe."
"There is. Heaps, Foxibus." This from Stalky through a full mouth.
"Then you see, if that was the case, it seemed to me I might represent
it, quiet so to say, to the 'Ead when he asks me about it. I've got
to take 'im the charges to-night, an'--it looks bad on the face of
"'Trocious bad, Foxy. Twenty-seven cuts in the Gym before all the
school, and public expulsion. 'Wine is a mocker, strong drink is
ragin','" quoth Beetle.
"It's nothin' to make fun of, young gentlemen. I 'ave to go to the
'Ead with the charges. An'--an' you mayn't be aware, per'aps, that I
was followin' you this afternoon; havin' my suspicions."
"Did ye see the notice-boards?" croaked McTurk, in the very brogue of
"Ye've eyes in your head. Don't attempt to deny it. Ye did!" said
"A sergeant! To run about poachin' on your pension! Damnable, O
damnable!" said Stalky, without pity.
"Good Lord!" said the Sergeant, sitting heavily upon a bed.
"Where--where the devil _was_ you? I might ha' known it was a
"Oh, you clever maniac!" Stalky resumed. "We mayn't be aware you were
followin' us this afternoon, mayn't we? 'Thought you were stalkin'
us, eh? Why, we led you bung into it, of course. Colonel
Dabney--don't you think he's a nice man, Foxy?--Colonel Dabney's our
pet particular friend. We've been goin' there for weeks and weeks, he
invited us. You and your duty! Curse your duty, sir! Your duty was to
keep off his covers."
"You'll never be able to hold up your head again, Foxy. The fags 'll
hoot at you," said Beetle.
"Think of your giddy prestige!" The Sergeant was thinking--hard.
"Look 'ere, young gentlemen," he said, earnestly. "You aren't surely
ever goin' to tell, are you? Wasn't Mr. Prout and Mr. King in--in it
"Foxibusculus, they _was_. They was--singular horrid. Caught it worse
than you. We heard every word of it. You got off easy, considerin'.
If I'd been Dabney I swear I'd ha' quodded you. I think I'll suggest
it to him to-morrow."
"An' it's all goin' up to the 'Ead. Oh, Good Lord!"
"Every giddy word of it, my Chingangook," said Beetle, dancing. "Why
shouldn't it? _We've_ done nothing wrong. _We_ ain't poachers. _We_
didn't cut about blastin' the characters of poor, innocent
boys--saying they were drunk."
"That I didn't," said Foxy. "I--I only said that you be'aved uncommon
odd when you come back with that badger. Mr. King may have taken the
wrong hint from that."
"'Course he did; an' he'll jolly well shove all the blame on you when
he finds out he's wrong. We know King, if you don't. I'm ashamed of
you. You ain't fit to be a sergeant," said McTurk.
"Not with three thorough-goin' young devils like you, I ain't. I've
been had. I've been ambuscaded. Horse, foot, an' guns, I've been had,
an'--an' there'll be no holdin' the junior forms after this. M'rover,
the 'Ead will send me with a note to Colonel Dabney to ask if what
you say about bein' invited was true."
"Then you'd better go in by the Lodge-gates this time, instead of
chasin' your dam' boys--oh, that was the Epistle to King--so it was.
We-el, Foxy?" Stalky put his chin on his hands and regarded the
victim with deep delight.
"_Ti-ra-la-la-i-tu_! I gloat! Hear me!" said McTurk. "Foxy brought us
tea when we were moral lepers. Foxy has a heart. Foxy has been in the
"I wish I'd ha' had you in my company, young gentlemen," said the
Sergeant from the depths of his heart; "I'd ha' given you something."
"Silence at drum-head court-martial," McTurk went on. "I'm advocate
for the prisoner; and, besides, this is much too good to tell all the
other brutes in the Coll. They'd _never_ understand. They play
cricket, and say: 'Yes sir,' and 'O, sir,' and 'No, sir.'"
"Never mind that. Go ahead," said Stalky.
"Well, Foxy's a good little chap when he does not esteem himself so as
to be clever."
"'Take not out your 'ounds on a werry windy day,'" Stalky struck in.
"_I_ don't care if you let him off."
"Nor me," said Beetle. "Heffy is my only joy--Heffy and King."
"I 'ad to do it," said the Sergeant, plaintively.
"Right, O! Led away by bad companions in the execution of his duty
or--or words to that effect. You're dismissed with a reprimand, Foxy.
_We_ won't tell about _you_. I swear we won't," McTurk concluded.
"Bad for the discipline of the school. Horrid bad."
"Well," said the Sergeant, gathering up the tea-things, "knowin' what
I know o' the young dev--gentlemen of the College, I'm very glad to
'ear it. But what am I to tell the 'Ead?"
"Anything you jolly well please, Foxy. We aren't the criminals."
To say that the head was annoyed when the Sergeant appeared after
dinner with the day's crime-sheet would be putting it mildly.
"Corkran, McTurk, and Co., I see. Bounds as usual. Hullo! What the
deuce is this? Suspicion of drinking. Whose charge??"
"Mr. King's, sir. I caught 'em out of bounds, sir: at least that was
'ow it looked. But there's a lot be'ind, sir." The Sergeant was
"Go on," said the head. "Let us have your version." He and the Sergeant
had dealt with one another for some seven years; and the head knew
that Mr. King's statements depended very largely on Mr. King's
"I thought they were out of bounds along the cliffs. But it come out
they wasn't, sir. I saw them go into Colonel Dabney's woods, and--Mr.
King and Mr. Prout come along--and the fact was, sir, we was mistook
for poachers by Colonel Dabney's people--Mr. King and Mr. Prout and
me. There were some words, sir, on both sides. The young gentlemen
slipped 'ome somehow, and they seemed 'ighly humorous, sir. Mr. King
was mistook by Colonel Dabney himself--Colonel Dabney bein' strict.
Then they preferred to come straight to you, sir, on account of
what--what Mr. King may 'ave said about their 'abits afterwards in
Mr. Prout's study. I only said they was 'ighly humorous, laughin' an'
gigglin', an' a bit above 'emselves. They've since told me, sir, in a
humorous way, that they was invited by Colonel Dabney to go into 'is
"I see. They didn't tell their house-master that, of course?"
"They took up Mr. King on appeal just as soon as he spoke about
their--'abits. Put in the appeal at once, sir, an' asked to be sent
to the dormitory waitin' for you. I've since gathered, sir, in their
humorous way, sir, that some'ow or other they've 'eard about every
word Colonel Dabney said to Mr. King and Mr. Prout when he mistook
'em for poachers. I--I might ha' known when they led me on so that
they 'eld the inner line of communications. It's--it's a plain do,
sir, if you ask me; an' they're gloatin' over it in the dormitory."
The head saw--saw even to the uttermost farthing--and his mouth
twitched a little under his mustache.
"Send them to me at once, Sergeant. This case needn't wait over."
"Good evening," said he when the three appeared under escort. "I want
your undivided attention for a few minutes. You've known me for five
years, and I've known you for--twenty-five. I think we understand one
another perfectly. I am now going to pay you a tremendous compliment
(the brown one, please, Sergeant. Thanks. You needn't wait). I'm
going to execute you without rhyme, Beetle, or reason. I know you went
to Colonel Dabney's covers because you were invited. I'm not even
going to send the Sergeant with a note to ask if your statement is
true; because I am convinced that on this occasion you have adhered
strictly to the truth. I know, too, that you were not drinking. (You
can take off that virtuous expression, McTurk, or I shall begin to
fear you don't understand me.) There is not a flaw in any of your
characters. And that is why I am going to perpetrate a howling
injustice. Your reputations have been injured, haven't they? You have
been disgraced before the house, haven't you? You have a peculiarly
keen regard for the honor of your house, haven't you? Well, now I am
going to lick you."
Six apiece was their portion upon that word.
"And this I think"--the head replaced the cane, and flung the written
charge into the waste-paper basket--"covers the situation. When you
find a variation from the normal--this will be useful to you in later
life--always meet him in an abnormal way. And that reminds me. There
are a pile of paper-backs on that shelf. You can borrow them if you
put them back. I don't think they'll take any harm from being read in
the open. They smell of tobacco rather. You will go to prep. this
evening as usual. Good-night," said that amazing man.
"Good-night, and thank you, sir."
"I swear I'll pray for the head to-night," said Beetle. "Those last
two cuts were just flicks on my collar. There's a 'Monte Cristo' in
that lower shelf. I saw it. Bags I, next time we go to Aves!"
"Dearr man!" said McTurk. "No gating. No impots. No beastly questions.
All settled. Hullo! what's King goin' in to him for--King and
Whatever the nature of that interview, it did not improve either
King's or Prout's ruffled plumes, for, when they came out of the
head's house, eyes noted that the one was red and blue with emotion
as to his nose, and that the other was sweating profusely. That sight
compensated them amply for the Imperial Jaw with which they were
favored by the two. It seems--and who so astonished as they?--that
they had held back material facts; were guilty both of
_suppressio_veri_ and _suggestio_falsi_ (well-known gods against whom
they often offended); further, that they were malignant in their
dispositions, untrustworthy in their characters, pernicious and
revolutionary in their influences, abandoned to the devils of
wilfulness, pride, and a most intolerable conceit. Ninthly, and
lastly, they were to have a care and to be very careful.
They were careful, as only boys can be when there is a hurt to be
inflicted. They waited through one suffocating week till Prout and
King were their royal selves again; waited till there was a
house-match--their own house, too--in which Prout was taking part;
waited, further, till he had his pads in the pavilion and stood ready
to go forth. King was scoring at the window, and the three sat on a
Said Stalky to Beetle: "I say, Beetle,_quis_custodet_ipsos_custodes_?"
"Don't ask me," said Beetle. "I'll have nothin' private with you. Ye
can be as private as ye please the other end of the bench; and I wish
ye a very good afternoon."
"Well, ye should ha' come up to the lodge like Christians instead o'
chasin' your--a-hem--boys through the length an' breadth of my
covers. _I_ think these house-matches are all rot. Let's go over to
Colonel Dabney's an' see if he's collared any more poachers."
That afternoon there was joy in Aves.
The stalky.com Stalky & Co website is written and maintained to allow maximum accessibility. The website design is standards compliant to allow viewing with any browser.