“Facilis descensus Averni”—you know the old tag.
By insensible gradations Jack Bourne found himself with a ruin of broken rules behind him, and still tied to the chariot-wheels of Raffles, who dragged him wherever he would. Jack’s pockets, too, began to feel the drain, but luckily—or unluckily, if you look at it properly—he was rather flush this term, and as he had more than the usual allowance, he was not so short as he might have been.
One thing bothered Jack, though he did not exactly put the idea that worried him into words. There was not much fun really in this shooting, billiards, etc., since Jack broke all the rules alone. Now, if Poulett, or Wilson, or Rogers, or Grim had been with him, that would have been jolly. Besides that, since he could give his old chums so precious little of his time, and had perforce to head them off when they offered to bear him company on half-holidays, they called him many choice names.
“I hear they sample all the public-houses between here and Westcote,” said Rogers. “Look what a dissipated eye Mr. Bourne’s got.”
“Yours will soon be groggy, Rogers, my pet, though you are cock of your beastly water-lilies.” After Sharpe’s memorable poem, Biffen’s house were always “water-lillies” to the rest of St. Amory’s.
“Ah?” said Poulett, “Jack carries Acton’s notes to some yellow-haired dolly down at Westcote. She gives him milk whilst he’s waiting for the answer.”
“Go and poach eggs, Poulett.”
“Don’t do anything too mean, dear Jack, so that you’ll make us blush for you.”
“Keep Acton out of mischief, Jack, remember he’s only a poor forsaken monitor. Show him the ropes.”
“Good-bye, you chaps,” said Jack, hopping on his bike, “here’s Acton coming.” The two would then pedal the well-known road to the Lodestone, and the elevating company of the Coon and Raffles.
“Don’t let Raffles bore you, young ’un,” said Acton to Bourne one day as the owner of Warmint hove in sight. “Make him useful, but keep out of mischief.”
Jack, had he thought about the matter, might have reasonably asked Acton how he could make Raffles useful and yet keep out of mischief, but the Coon appearing at the stable-door in all the glory of a fur-lined coat, with a foot of fur round the collar and half a foot round the sleeves, and a bigger cigar than ever in his mouth, drove Jack’s thoughts in another direction.
Acton had really made marvellous progress under the Coon’s coaching, and as Jack watched the usual concluding three rounds, he was puzzled in his own mind as to who could hold a candle up to his friend. This particular afternoon was to be the final appearance of the Coon, who was going to figure shortly as principal in some contest at Covent Garden, and Jack determined to miss no opportunity of catching the last wrinkles of the great professor’s skill. Therefore, instead of sallying out as usual halfway through the performance in the stable, he sat on the corn-chest until Hill came in.