“Then here’s your blackmail.”
“Correct to the figure, sir, and I think it’s a settle, nice and comfortable for all parties.”
“If it’s any comfort for you to know you’re an utter blackguard you can hear it. A fellow like you isn’t on the same level as your filthy mongrel.”
“I never said we was,” murmured Raffles, as he shuffled away.
Acton now felt pretty safe as regards young Bourne. He held him fast in the double bonds of indebtedness and of gratitude, and with Jack the gratitude was by far the greater. Acton had saved him from disgrace, from a lengthened stringing up, from the scorn of his brother, from the jeers and laughter of the rest of the fellows. Like others, he could have stood Corker’s rage better than the jokes of his cronies. He was received back into the fold of his own particular set with more eclat than he felt he deserved.
“Here’s old Bourne gone and sacked Acton,” said Grim.
“Sure Acton hasn’t sacked him?” suggested Rogers.
“Best fellow breathing,” said Bourne, fervently.
“Still, he’s Biffen’s.”
“I don’t care whether he’s a water-lily or not—he can’t help that, you know, poor fellow.”
“Why should he? Aren’t we cock house?”
“Where would you have been if Acton hadn’t lifted you out of your muddy pond, and let you see a little sunlight?”
“You should be his fag,” said Grim.
“I’d jolly well like to,” said Jack. “I’d black his boots almost.”
“He’s a dozen pairs,” said Grim.
“Write a poem on his virtues,” suggested Rogers.
“Shut up this rot,” said Wilson. “Let’s try a run round the Bender—last fellow stands tea at Hoopers.”
“Carried, nem. con.,” said Grim, who was pretty speedy.
And the reunited half-dozen cronies ran the three miles out and ditto home, Wilson subsequently standing tea, for, as he pathetically explained, “I was overhauling Rogers hand over hand when I slipped my shoe, else he’d have had to fork out.” Thus Jack became again for a while the common or garden variety of school-boy, and he enjoyed the change.
* * * * *
Phil Bourne came into my room the same evening that saw Jack Bourne released from the toils of Raffles.
“Busy, old man?”
“Not at all,” said I, pushing away my books. “Jolly glad you’ve come in.”
“There’s a bit of news for you. I’ve just been in the gym. I fancy the old school will pull off the ‘Heavy’ at Aldershot.”
“Has Hodgson turned out so jolly well, then?”
“Hodgson! Oh no! Hodgson isn’t going to be the school’s representative this year, I fancy.”
“Why, have you been in form to-night?”
“Look here, old man, you are quite out of it. You sit here reading up all that ancient lore about the cestus, and you could tell me the names of all Nero’s gladiators, and yet here at this establishment we’ve got a gladiator who is going to make history, and you don’t know it.”