“Jim and I as children played together,
Best of chums for many years were we;
I had no luck—was, alas! a Jonah;
Jim, my chum, was lucky as could be.
Oh, lucky Jim! How I envied him!
“Years rolled by, and death took
Jim away, boys,
Left his widow, and she married me;
Now we’re married oft I think of Jim, boys,
Sleeping in that churchyard by the sea.
Oh, lucky Jim! How I envy him!”
As the words followed on there was a suggestion of oddity in that awful voice singing a comic song, and there were a few suppressed laughs at the idea. As the song progressed, the utter dreary weariness of the voice, and the rather funny words, compelled the fellows to laugh in uncontrollable bursts; but still Acton never turned a hair. When he arrived at the churchyard lines there was one universal howl of delight. Brown stopped dead at the end of the second last line, and Acton stopped dead too. Instantly all the fellows became as mute as fish. The singer straightened himself up, looked round the room with a mocking smile while one might count a dozen, and then winked to Brown, who recommenced softly on the piano. Then Acton sang slowly and deliberately—sang with a voice as clear and as tunable as a silver bell—
“Oh, lucky Jim! How I envy him!”
His croak was a pretence—he had hoaxed us all! Before we recovered from our stupefaction he had vanished. The school clamoured for his return, but though they cheered for three minutes on end Acton did not reappear, and Brown struck up “God save the Queen!” Biffen’s concert was at an end!
Grim held a five minutes’ meeting among the Biffenites before bed.
“There’s never been a fellow like Acton in St. Amory’s. He goes away at nine to-morrow. The Great Midland are going to stop their express to pick up St. Amory fellows, and Acton goes up to his place by that. I vote we all go in a body to the station and cheer him off. We keep it dark, of course.” This staccato oration was agreed to with acclamation, and Biffenites went to bed happy.
On the morrow Acton strolled into the station and espied the Biffenites, who were scattered up and down the platform with careful carelessness. The train came in, and at once the juniors crowded en masse round the carriage in which Acton had secured a corner seat, and stood talking to Grim, who was in fine feather.
At that very moment Phil Bourne and young Jack Bourne bustled into the station. An idea struck Rogers, and he said to all his chums, “Here’s Bourne, you fellows; let him know we see him.”
The fags were delighted, and when Bourne entered the carriage next Acton’s there was a long-drawn-out hoot for his especial benefit.
“Another,” said Rogers, whereat more soulful groans.
“The last,” said Rogers, and Bourne took his seat to a chorus of hisses and tortured howls. He smiled a little and opened his paper, while the people in the carriage looked curiously at him.