A DEAD SECRET
'NOT a word to Bunter!'
Billy Bunter grinned.
Really, Billy Bunter could not help grinning. Every word uttered in No. 12 study in the Remove came to a fat ear, glued to the keyhole of that study door.
Inquisitiveness was Billy Bunter's besetting sin. He always wanted to know, and he had his own methods of doing so, which were not at all popular in the Greyfriars Remove.
After classes that day, Bunter had been surprised to see Harry Wharton & Co. come up to the studies. Generally, these strenuous youths were keen on the open spaces, after Mr. Quelch had finished with them, but now, instead of streaming out with the rest, when Quelch dismissed his form, they had gone to Lord Mauleverer's study, No. 12. That had caused Bunter's present inquisitiveness. He wanted to know why.
The matter did not, of course, concern him. What did concern him, such as his form-master's tuition in class, Bunter never wanted to know. This, however, was someone else's business, and quite different! So he put his ear to the keyhole-and heard his own name.
'Not a syllable!' It was Johnny Bull's voice, 'but about what?'
'What I'm goin' to tell you fellows now,' answered Lord Mauleverer. 'I simply could not put up with him all that time! It's enough to have to put up with Quelchy!'
'Still, he won't be too much of the schoolmaster on a holiday, I hope.'
'You're taking Quelch with you on a holiday?' exclaimed Harry Wharton.
'The holidayfulness with the esteemed Quelch would not have the terrific joyfulness,' observed Hurree Jamset Ram Singh.
'Is that the news you've brought us up here to tell us?' demanded Johnny Bull, 'that you're going away on a holiday with Quelch? Of all the silly asses—!'
'I'm not goin' away with him.'
'Good!' exclaimed Frank Nugent.
'He's comin' with me. My uncle suggested it,' continued Mauly, 'after he found he couldn't come himself. I told him we'd be all right, everything bein' fixed up, but he said that goin' all that way, there must be an elder in charge of the party. So he asked Quelch. Jolly good of Quelchy to agree, I suppose. Might have had other plans. You fellows don't mind?'
'Mind you having a holiday under Quelchy's gimlet eyes? Oh, suffering crocodiles!' exclaimed Bob Cherry. 'Rather you than me, Mauly! Doesn't your uncle think you're learning enough in term time? Is Quelch giving you extra toot?'
'My dear chap, of course not! And I don't think you'll find him in the way!'
'We shan't find him in our way, if he is going with you,' said Harry Wharton. 'Nothing to do with us.'
'But you'll be there too.'
It was a chorus of voices.
'On my uncle's yacht,' said Lord Mauleverer. 'You aren't goin' to turn it down, are you? I was relyin' on you chaps-I mean goin' all that way with Quelch alone-not so bad if we share him out, so to speak!'
'What are we supposed to be turning down?' demanded Johnny Bull.
'This trip on my uncle's yacht. Don't say you've thought better of it?'
'Fathead!' exclaimed Bob Cherry. 'You haven't asked us to come on any trip yet!'
'Haven't I?' said Lord Mauleverer. 'I believe you're right. I meant to, but what with worryin' about Bunter gettin' on to it—'
Bunter, at the keyhole, grinned again.
'I couldn't stand him for whole weeks on holiday, and if he got to know beforehand, I'd have him pesterin' me for an invitation all the rest of term! I'd have to lock my study door to keep him out, and dodge round corners,' continued Lord Mauleverer, plaintively. 'So not a word to him! I suppose you fellows have all got passports? Better get 'em, if not. And any visas wanted? There's almost bound to be some of those things needed!'
'Passports?' exclaimed Bob Cherry. 'Visas? Are you inviting us to a cruise on your uncle's yacht? If so, the invitation's accepted! Even if we do have to put up with Quelchy.'
'Mauly, you're a brick!' said Harry Wharton. 'Isn't he, you chaps?' The rest of the Famous Five agreed heartily. A voyage on the steam-yacht of Mauleverer's uncle, Sir Reginald Brooke-even in the company of Henry Samuel Quelch-was something which they would certainly not turn down!
'You're comin' after all then?' asked Lord Mauleverer, cheerfully.
'Good!' observed Lord Mauleverer. 'And if there isn't time to return by sea for next term, my uncle will send you home by air. Better still, might be able to get a bit of an extension of the holidays in the circs.,' added his lordship, thoughtfully. 'Quelch, our form-master bein' with us, you know! May find him comin' in useful after all! Lookin' after us while we broaden our minds by seein' the world.'
'Back by air-or an extension of the hols?' exclaimed Wharton. 'Where on earth are we going then? How far?'
'Oh, not more than about seven or eight thousand miles away. I think,' replied Mauly, cheerfully. 'Takes about five weeks, more or less by a liner. More for us, perhaps, if we put in here and there, as we're minded. Yes, I expect we'll have to come back by air, or get permission to turn up late next term—'
'But where are we going?' roared Johnny Bull.
'Oh, Malta, first. That's an island in the Mediterranean.'
'Yes, so we've heard,' said Bob Cherry, gravely, 'but that's not so very far away! What's the next port of call, then?'
'Cairo isn't a port,' said Harry Wharton.
'Isn't it? Are you sure?'
'Old Nasser's going to dam the Nile, and cause floods all over the place,' observed Johnny Bull. 'He may yet turn Cairo into some sort of a port-whether he means to or not-but it hasn't happened so far. Big ships can't call at Cairo.'
'I'm sure I heard my uncle mention Cairo,' said Mauleverer, thoughtfully. 'Perhaps he hasn't looked at an atlas recently!'
'Ass! I daresay he did mention it,' said Nugent. 'You have to land at Alexandria or Port Said and go to Cairo by rail or road-but I say! This is something of a summer holiday, Mauly, old man!'
'You like the idea?' Mauleverer looked pleased as there was a chorus of approval. There was no doubt that the Famous Five did like the idea! 'We can go and have a look at the Pyramids. They're in Egypt, if you don't know.'
'As it happens, we do,' observed Johnny Bull, with heavy sarcasm.
'Then there's Bombay!'
'Bombay? Are we going on to Bombay?'
'Yes. That's in India.'
'You're an informative chap, Mauly,' said Harry Wharton, laughing. 'It will be a real treat, having you as a guide. He's right, isn't he, Inky?'
The Nabob of Bhanipur smiled. 'He is, indeed, my esteemed chum. I have been throughfully there, on my way to my home. Bombay has not been removed Pakistan-fully, and remains in India.'
'You're right again, Mauly. And then—?'
'Then we wind up at Hong Kong.'
'Hong Kong?' It was a chorus of voices.
'Yes. I believe that's on the coast of China.'
'Your belief's well-founded, Mauly,' said Bull. 'You're coming on in your geography.'
'What a tour!' exclaimed Bob Cherry. 'Mauly, old boy, you may not know all the geography there is to know, but you are a trump! Gentlemen, chaps and fellows, I propose that we put up with Quelchy's company on this trip, on condition that Malta, Cairo, Bombay and Hong Kong are thrown in!'
'Carried unanimously,' agreed Nugent, 'but not Bunter.'
The Owl of the Remove frowned on the other side of the keyhole.
'He mustn't get wind of it on any account,' said Lord Mauleverer, earnestly. 'You know how he fastens on to a man, when he thinks there's somethin' to be got by doin' so. So don't talk about this where he can overhear you.'
Bunter ceased to frown and smiled again.
'Not a word!' promised Wharton. Bunter smiled even more broadly, in ignorance of the fact that, at that moment, Vernon-Smith had come into the Remove passage to go to his study, and stopped short on seeing the fat Owl with his ear to the keyhole of No. 12!
'Fine!' said Lord Mauleverer. 'Now, you fellows will look after your passport business, won't you? Can't order those for you; chaps have to get their own. We'll go on my uncle's yacht after breaking up here; she'll probably come round to Pegg Bay. I hope so. Much more convenient than goin' to Southampton where she is now. Especially as I've ordered a lot of light clothes and things for tropical climates to be packed in a big trunk and sent here, ready to take with us. Lots to go round, so you won't need to buy much. Plenty of room on the yacht for anythin' you do bring.'
'Not so packed as the usual Remove study, eh?' Harry Wharton laughed. 'Are we your only guests, Mauly?'
'Yes. 'I've made a few cautious inquiries-so that nothin' should get to Bunter's ears, of course-and most of the chaps are fixed up already-those I'd like to invite anyway.'
'You haven't invited Skinner or Snoop?' asked Bob Cherry, laughing, 'Or Fishy?'
'No!' Lord Mauleverer looked quite startled. 'Pulling my leg, I suppose?' He relaxed into a smile. 'Why, I'd prefer Bunter—' The 'almost' his lordship was about to add was at that moment stopped by a loud yell at the study door, followed by a heavy bump.
'Ow! Wow! Beast! Whoop!'
The Famous Five and Mauly turned round as the study door was pushed open, and they saw the grinning face of Herbert Vernon-Smith looking at them, over the reclining form of Billy Bunter.
'You fellows discussing anything specially confidential?'
'We were-but what?' Harry looked at the fat Owl on the passage floor.
'Well, it isn't confidential any longer,' the Bounder laughed. 'I found Bunter with his ear to your keyhole. Don't know how long he's been there. He stopped when I kicked. You heard him?'
'Beast!' Bunter scrambled to his feet, eyeing the Bounder warily. 'I just stopped to-to-to-sie up my toolace-I-I mean, tie up my shoelace. I-I wasn't listening. I didn't hear a word you were saying. Mauly. I don't know anything about your uncle's yacht. I didn't even know he had one-and-and as for going to Hong Kong, I'd be very pleased to join you.'
'Oh, gad!' exclaimed Lord Mauleverer. 'He knows all about it now!'
'Boot him!' Johnny Bull made a move forward. "You fat tick! Thanks. Smithy, for what you've done, but we'll do it again. Me first—'
'Come on you chaps!'
'Ow! Keep off!'
The Famous Five seemed determined to give Billy Bunter a lesson, but the fat Owl had no desire to wait to receive it. Like the guests in Macbeth he stood not upon the order of his going but went at once-but not quick enough to escape a boot from Bob Cherry, which felt as though its owner was scoring a goal.
'Ow, wow! Stop it!'
The hapless Owl put on speed, the juniors following, with the exception of Lord Mauleverer, who stopped where he was, grinning ruefully. Despite all the precautions he had taken to prevent a word getting to Bunter, it seemed that the fat Removite had now all the words he wanted! It was some consolation that he had also collected a number of kicks which he had not wanted. Lord Mauleverer could not help feeling, as he visualized having to dodge Bunter for the rest of the term, that it would have been as well if he had collected a few more.
AN IMPORTANT LETTER
'How many 'z's are there in 'visa', Toddy?'
Peter Todd looked up from his prep in Study No. 7. He had been surprised, on coming into the study with Tom Dutton, to find Bunter busy writing at the table, instead of reclining in Peter's armchair, as he usually did. Bunter always began prep in that armchair. Only the fear of what his form-master might say-and do-if he called on Bunter next day to construe, and found that he had prepared nothing, ever brought him out of that armchair to do anything.
Yet this evening he had, apparently, begun work promptly!
Peter stared at the industrious Bunter.
'Never heard of the word! What does it mean?'
'You're ignorant, Toddy,' said Bunter, loftily. 'Of course, you haven't travelled much, and don't know about these things. Travel broadens the mind, but it requires a lot of money to travel these days. Only people of standing can afford it, and you're hardly—' He broke off, as Peter reached out for the inkpot. 'Stoppit! It's the thing they have on passports!'
Peter stared, then chuckled and put down the inkpot. 'Oh, you mean a visa?'
'That's what I said, Peter.'
'Well, there isn't any 'z' at all in it. Visa is the way to spell it.'
Bunter regarded the paper on which he was writing.
'I don't think that's the proper spelling, Toddy-and I can't do all this letter again. Much too much trouble.'
'You'll get some more trouble if a prefect comes in and finds you writing a letter in prep-especially if you spell 'visa' with a 'z'-but what—?'
'You're inquisitive, Toddy,' said Bunter, shaking his head, sadly. 'I don't like people who pry into other people's business. It's low.'
'You should know,' observed Peter.
'I do, Peter. However, I won't tell you mine. I may have been invited by Mauly to take a summer cruise in his uncle's yacht, and—'
'You may not,' concluded Peter. 'Is that what Mauly's doing these holidays? He asked me the other day if I had made any plans, and I told him I was going to Norway with my Uncle Benjamin. You won't be found on any yacht with Mauly, Bunter-unless you go as a stowaway! He wouldn't have you with him at any price. Better stop wasting your time on that letter, and get on with your prep.'
'You're jealous, Peter,' said Bunter, sorrowfully. 'I actually heard Mauly say, this very afternoon, that he'd prefer me to come with him rather than-some other fellows. His very words. I won't mention names-I don't want to hurt your feelings-but he has to draw the line somewhere—'
Peter Todd's hand hovered over the inkpot again, and then, reluctantly, withdrew.
'Shut up, Bunter! I want to get on with my prep. Any more from you, and you'll get this ink!'
The Owl of the Remove snorted. However, he kept silent. That beast, Toddy, might empty the inkpot over him, and as Bunter wanted to use the contents for his letter, instead of on himself, discretion was indicated.
Time was getting on, but Bunter decided to finish his letter instead of tackling anything so sordid as prep. There might be trouble with Mr. Quelch in the morning, but Bunter rarely worried about trouble until it was almost upon him! He knew little of the works of Quintus Horatius Flaccus, despite his form-master's painstaking efforts, but the worthy Horace's injunction to reap today's harvest and trust tomorrow as little as may be, was whole-heartedly followed by the Owl of the Remove.
Bunter completed his letter and regarded it with satisfaction. There might be one or two blots-or even more - but he felt that its literary value outweighed them. He read it through again.
You will be pleesed to hear that I have been invited by Lord Mauleverer to take a cruse with him on his uncle's yot, during the summer hollydays. I herd him say this very afternoon, that he would prefer my kompany to that of several other chaps here, whose names I wont menshun!
I shall have to have a passport as we are going to Malter and Kiro and Bombay and HongKong. Would you mind getting one for me, with all the necsessary veezers? And perhaps you will let me have some extra pocket munney for the cruse as I shall not be any eggspense to you during these hollydays?
Your affeckshunate sun,
This seemed to William George Bunter to be a very satisfactory, beautifully written and business-like letter, which could hardly fail to appeal to his father. Naturally, as he would not be put to the expense of keeping his son during the holidays, he would be only too willing to give him a generous amount of extra pocket-money, especially when he received a well-written epistle of this sort.
Billy Bunter's hopes rose. Hope was one commodity of which he never ran short. It cost nothing. Of course, his father was always complaining about the income tax and the rising cost of living, instancing those modern plagues of Britain as reasons why he should not be expected to supply his son with any increase in pocket-money! However, in this instance, Bunter trusted that his father might approve the melting of some of the pay freeze!
It was not every man whose son was chosen by a peer of the realm to be his guest on his yacht on a long sea voyage in preference to several others. By this time, Billy Bunter had almost convinced himself that he had been invited by Lord Mauleverer to join him on that splendid cruise-almost, but, not quite! There were still lingering doubts.
'I suppose, Peter,' Bunter broke a long silence in which he had done nothing, 'Mauly could hardly let a fellow down? I mean, if a fellow thought he had been invited on a steam-yacht in preference to several other chaps, as being a bit above them-and made all arrangements for his summer holidays—'
'Mauly hasn't invited you to spend the summer holidays with him on his uncle's yacht,' interrupted Peter Todd. 'So if you're trying any spoof, forget it! You won't get away with it. And now shut up! How can I do any prep with your yapping?'
'Blow prep!' snorted Bunter.
'Quelch may blow you, in the morning, if you do.'
'I have more important things to think about than old Quelch and his prep, Toddy!'
'Don't blame me, then, if he gives you something else to think about that'll engage all your attention,' said Toddy, 'and now-shut up, or I'll give you a bit on account.'
Billy Bunter snorted in what he hoped was a dignified manner-but he shut up! A man of affairs, planning his activities for a long sea voyage, really did not want a brawl with a fellow like Toddy. Nor-Bunter, rather uneasily, remembered Mr. Quelch and his cane-did he want a brawl with Mr. Quelch. Reluctantly, and with the greatest distaste, Bunter decided to remain shut up, and reached out his hand for a book. Anyway, prep would be over soon, and he could then post that important letter.
JUST LIKE BUNTER
Mr. Quelch's stentorian tones brought Bunter to a halt as he entered the form-room. He was the last to enter, but not late, and he really could not see what was disturbing Quelch.
That morning Bunter had had important business to attend to before class. Coker of the Fifth had received a hamper, no doubt from his loving Aunt Judy. Those hampers were always well-filled; so well-filled that cynics had been heard to declare that it was only because of them that his study-mates, Potter and Greene, could manage to put up with Horace Coker.
Bunter would have been willing to put up with a great deal for a share in the contents of that hamper, and he had hovered round the Fifth Form passage in the hope that Coker might be in a benevolent mood. Coker wasn't. It was his boast that he had a short way with fags, and he proceeded to demonstrate that with his boot when he saw Bunter peering through the doorway.
Bunter had yelped and fled round the corner. The bell had then gone for classes and Coker, accompanied by Potter and Greene, had left for the Fifth form-room, and the ministrations of Mr. Prout. The fat Owl had then just time to pop into Coker's study and collect a large box of chocolates, which he felt served Coker right for kicking him. There was no time to take that box to his own study and leave it there. Besides that might not be safe. There were some fellows who thought nothing-simply nothing-of taking other fellows' tuck. So he had to take that box with him to the Remove form-room, buttoned under his jacket, and now Quelch was calling him to order for something.
The Owl halted.
'What is that you have under your jacket, Bunter?'
'Bunter! I can see a considerable bulge.'
'Yes, sir-I-I'm afraid I must be getting fat. I-I shall have to do something about it. I-I've always been slim before.' Bunter edged towards his desk, as his remarks were drowned in a roar of laughter from the Remove. Even Mr. Quelch's lips curved in a quick smile. Bunter thought that he had managed the matter rather well. It required a man of quick intelligence to carry off such a situation. It was a pity he had had to plead fatness, which was a slur on a well-developed figure. However, if he put that box of chocolates inside his desk until break—
'Silence!' Quelch's glance swept round his form. 'Bunter-bring me that box immediately.' He took it from a reluctant Owl. 'Why are you bringing a box of chocolates into the form-room? You did not, I trust, intend to eat them, surreptitiously here?'
'Oh, nunno sir. The fact is-the fact is-it's a-a present, sir. I-I had just before class-and I-I hadn't time to take it to my study.'
'There is plenty of time. Bunter, to take anything received by the post, to your study before classes.'
'It-it didn't come by post, sir. The fact is-it was given me by Coker, sir-Coker of the Fifth.'
'You were given this box of chocolates by Coker of the Fifth?'
'Yes, sir. He had a hamper from his Aunt Judy this morning. I heard him telling Potter and Greene. And he said to me, "Take this box of chocolates, Bunter. You are the-the best fellow in the Remove. I-I wouldn't give them to anyone else"'
Mr. Quelch stared at the fat Owl. Had it not been for Bunter's concluding remarks, he might have accepted the story. It was just possible that a Fifth-former with a well-filled hamper could have made a present of a box of chocolates to a Remove boy. What was not possible, however, was that Horace Coker, unintelligent as Quelch knew him to be, could have been quite so unintelligent as to have addressed those remarks to Bunter!
'May I-may I have my box of chocolates, sir?' mumbled the fat Owl.
'For the time being-no, Bunter. I shall make inquiries into this matter. I cannot forget that you have before now been punished for purloining comestibles from other boys. If what you have said is correct the box will be returned to you.' The glance which Mr. Quelch gave Bunter implied that if it were not correct, other and much more unpleasant things would happen. 'The class will now commence.'
Bunter subsided at his desk, uneasily. For the time being he was safe, but what would happen when old Quelchy began those inquiries? About that time, probably in break, that beast Coker might be beginning his inquiries, too, as to what had happened to his chocolates.
Of course, Coker couldn't sneak about another fellow to a beak! If he could get hold of Coker in break first and appeal to him as a sportsman-fortunately it was quite easy to pull Coker's leg.
At morning break Bunter raced into the quad. Breathing hard with this exertion he looked round to see if he could find Coker. It was not difficult to do so. Coker had a loud voice and he was talking with Potter and Greene - at least Coker was doing the talking, and Potter and Greene listening, or pretending to. Probably nothing but the remembrance of Aunt Judy's hamper kept them there. Coker was speaking of his summer holiday arrangements.
'We're going on the river,' Coker was saying. 'I'll tell you fellows when to turn up and where. You'll just stand by for instructions. It's not the Thames, this time; it's the Wye. I've been reading a book about it, Coming Down the Wye, by a man called Gibbons—'
'Gibbons?' Potter regarded Coker. 'That's the chap who wrote the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - but—'
'I know that, George Potter. He also wrote Coming Down the Wye—'
'That was Gibbings', said Greene, 'not Gibbons. There's more than a century between those two men and their books.'
'When I want you to teach me English literature, Greene, I'll let you know,' said Coker, calmly. 'Now—' He noticed Bunter for the first time. 'Clear off, you fag. I don't want any cheeky fags hovering round—'
'But-but I say old chap-'
'If you call me "old chap" again—'
'But I want to appeal to you as a-as a sportsman, Coker. All Greyfriars knows that you're a sportsman. There isn't any other chap in the school like you.'
'Thank goodness,' murmured Potter.
'What did you say, Potter?'
'Nothing, Coker. Clear off, Bunter—'
'That will do, Potter,' interrupted Coker. 'If this fag has something to say to me, it is right that I should listen to him. It is only natural that he should come to a man in a responsible though unofficial position in the school. What do you want, Bunter?'
'Well, it's like this, Coker. I know you'd never sneak on another man.'
'I should think not, indeed,' said Coker, loftily.
'Well, I went into class this morning with your-with a box of chocolates, Coker,' said Bunter, keeping at a cautious distance, 'and Quelch noticed them, and-and asked me why I had brought them in-and I told him that you had given them to me. And-and-he's going to ask you if you did, you won't give me away and-and say you didn't, will you, Coker? Being a sportsman?'
'But I didn't give you any box of chocolates!' Coker stared at Bunter and a grim look came over his face as he remembered the contents of Aunt Judy's hamper, the unpacking of which had been interrupted by first bell. 'You were nosing round my study this morning, you fat tick - Did you—?'
Potter and Greene burst into laughter.
'He's snaffled your chocolates,' said Greene, 'and now comes here to stuff you with a yarn. Ha, ha, ha! '
Pulling your leg properly,' said Potter.
Coker gave Potter a freezing glance and turned to Bunter.
'I-I didn't pull your leg, Coker,' howled the Owl. 'I-I wouldn't dare to. A man like you. You're-you're too much respected in this school,' continued Bunter, laying it on with a trowel, so to speak, and delighted to notice that Coker's countenance was softening under the treatment. 'I came to you as a sportsman. There may have been a mistake about those chocolates-but if you give them to me now-and tell Quelch so when he asks you-I could give them back-if you really want them. And-there's no one else in Greyfriars who's—who's majestic enough to do such a thing,' concluded Bunter, applying it still more thickly.
'Clear off, you spoofing fat humbug,' said Greene.
'I'm dealing with this, Greene,' said Coker. 'I'd like to see the fag or anyone else who'd spoof me-don't interrupt, George Potter, Very well, Bunter. I have given you those chocolates-and if your form-master asks me if I have done so, I will advise him, accordingly.' Coker, who had never been termed 'majestic' before, had almost tried to act up to it. He now came down from the heights. 'I don't want them back again after your grubby fag's fingers have handled them. And I've a good mind to give you something more now—'
'Oh, thank you, Coker,' Bunter retreated hastily out of any reach of the something more. 'You-you really are a sportsman. There's no one else like you at Greyfriars-no one at all.' Bunter turned and fled into more secluded parts of the quad.
JUST LIKE BUNTER AGAIN!
'WAS that not Sir Reginald Brooke I saw leaving you last night, my dear Quelch?'
The voice of Mr. Prout, the Fifth form-master, came to Billy Bunter's ears. Bunter, on leaving Coker, had dodged out of sight behind one of the old elms in the quad. It seemed expedient for the moment not to see Coker any more. The elm was an old tree, and had become sufficiently wide in the course of the years to hide even Bunter.
Billy Bunter snorted as he heard Prout's voice.
Inquisitive old beast-always wanting to know other people's business. However, if anything was said about Mauly's uncle and guardian, and that voyage on the yacht, Bunter felt he ought to listen. Mauly himself seemed very badly informed about that trip-quite vague when a fellow tried to get him to talk about it-even to the extent of forgetting that he had asked Bunter to join the party! Old Brooke must have come to see Quelchy about it. A week had passed since Bunter had been invited. It might be as well to know more.
'My dear Prout—' From the initial tone of Mr. Quelch's opening observation, one might almost have thought that his opinion of the Fifth form-master's inquisitiveness was the same as Bunter's. Then he thawed-perhaps the fine summer morning had something to do with that-and Prout was always Prout! 'Ah, yes-that was Sir Reginald. He came to consult me about the yachting party of the boys, which I am to supervise as far as Hong Kong.'
'You are indeed to be envied, Quelch,' said Prout. 'The Far East I do not know. Now, had it been the Far West, I could have given you much valuable information. When I was in the "Rockies"—'
'Yes, indeed, Prout,' interrupted Mr. Quelch, hastily.
Many a time and oft had Paul Pontifex Prout given to all and sundry in Greyfriars, who could not get out of his way, valuable information about his journeys through the 'Rockies' long ago, and even on such a fine summer morning-or, perhaps, particularly on such a fine summer morning-Mr. Quelch had no wish to be given more.
'Those were the days, Quelch. But "consule Planco-"'
'The yacht will anchor in Pegg Bay on the day we break up,' said Quelch, taking hold of the conversation again in order to prevent Prout doing so. He had also no wish to hear from Prout any more about the days when Plancus was Consul! 'You will probably be able to see her. Sir Reginald, however, came to me this morning to entrust a vase-no doubt a rather valuable one-to my personal care-for transit to a friend of his in Hong Kong. He prefers not to risk the hazards of the ordinary mail to the Far East.'
'Very wise! Very wise! The handling of mail overseas can sometimes be devastating-positively devastating. I remember when I was in the "Rockies"—'
'Indeed, Prout. It is in my study now. If you will excuse me, I will go and ask the Headmaster if I may put it in his safe.'
'Is that wise, Quelch? The concussion of a safe door when closing-a valuable vase-it might shatter it.'
'H'm!' It almost seemed as if at last there might be something in Prout's remarks which was worth heeding. 'Perhaps you are right, Prout? Sir Reginald's friend in this country-a Chinese gentleman, now resident here-spoke of it as possibly Ming. Sir Reginald himself, however, expressed some doubt-and he had much experience of China in the old days. He believes that it is late Manchu. Nevertheless—'
'Undoubtedly valuable, Quelch. You must not hazard it'
almost snorted. Anyone would think these old donkeys were talking about a hamper, the fuss they made of it! You could buy all sorts of vases in old Lazarus's shop in Courtfield, for about a shilling! Not that Bunter, if he ever had a shilling, would spend it on a vase!
'I remember once the report of my Winchester repeater completely shattered a window in an hotel. I forget what I was aiming at at the time—'
Bunter grinned. It was very likely that, whatever old Prout had been aiming at, he had hit that window! Mr. Quelch's mind was moving on the same lines.
'There may be something in what you say, Prout. However, it must be packed for the voyage and I shall cover it carefully with cotton-wool, so that-ah-no concussion of any door could possibly hurt it. In the meantime, it will be quite safe in my study and, indeed, until I hand it to—let me see-what was the name?-a Chinese one in Hong Kong.'
Mr. Quelch, who remembered-as Bunter had often unfortunately found out-every word in the Latin tongue, was not, apparently, so much at home in that of the Chinese! Bunter, though he had no wish to be fluent in either, strained his attention. Anything which had to do with Hong Kong-to which he hoped to go in Mauly's yacht-attracted him. If a fellow made himself useful by knowing a lot about the place in advance it might be easier to get on board-and Bunter could not help feeling that there might still be difficulties.
As he leaned forward Bunter heard a slight stir in the shrubbery behind him and turned round. To his great surprise he saw a face of a man amongst the laurels, as though the owner of that face, too, had leaned forward to hear what Mr. Quelch was about to say! It was not a face which Bunter knew or liked-it was in fact, a Chinese face -and the owner of it must, obviously, have come into Greyfriars territory from over the wall. It scowled at Bunter as he turned to look at it, and withdrew. Bunter let out a yell.
'Upon my word, Quelch! What on earth—' It was the booming voice of Mr. Prout.
'BUNTER!' Mr. Quelch caught hold of the fat Owl as he came from behind the tree. 'You have been listening to my conversation with Mr. Prout.'
'Oh, no sir. No I never-I didn't hear a thing. I don't know anything about your mink vase-That man—'
'Ming, you foolish boy! You have had the effrontery to listen and then to-suddenly to yell-Go to my study, instantly!'