“Well, I’ve got an order for L1 this morning, envelope stamped St. Amory, and it could only come from some one who knew I was stumped, and you’re the only fellow who knew that, unless, indeed, you’ve been kind enough to tell some of the fellows.”
“I’ve told no one; and anyway, I didn’t send the order.”
“Thanks! I don’t tell lies as a rule, and I say I know nothing whatever about your order. I think you’d better cut now, instead of wasting my time with this rotten foolery.”
“You didn’t send it?” said Gus, finally, with more than a dash of irritation in his voice at the continued boorishness of Cotton.
“No, I tell you! Shall I get a foghorn and let you have it that way?”
“Then, look here, Cotton. If you didn’t send it, your underscoring of my name on the house list because I couldn’t subscribe was the act of an arrant cad.”
Cotton winced at Gus’s concise definition, but he said, “Oh, get out, you fool!”
“Fool, or not,” said Gus, becoming more angry every moment as he thought of his wrongs, “I’m not an underbred loafer who cleans a fellow out of his cash and then rounds on him because he can’t pay his way. Why, a Whitechapel guttersnipe——”
“Can’t appreciate the allusion,” said Jim; “I’ve never been to Whitechapel. But anyhow, Todd, there’s the door. I think you had really better go.”
“Not till I’ve said you’re the biggest bounder in St. Amory’s.”
“Now you’ve said it you really must go, or I’ll throw you out!”
Gus was too taken up with his own passion to notice that Cotton was also at about the limit of his patience, and that Jim’s lips had set into a grim and ugly sneer. Todd was furiously trying to find some clinching expression which would quite define Jim’s conduct, when that gentleman took one stride forward and caught him by the collar. The grip, the very touch of Cotton’s fingers maddened Gus beyond all bearing. His anger broke loose from all control; he wrenched himself out of Cotton’s grasp and passionately struck him on the mouth.
Cotton turned grey with passion as bitter as Todd’s and repaid Gus’s blow with interest. Gus dropped to the floor, bleeding villainously. Cotton thereupon jerked him to his feet, and threw him out of the room.
Gus picked himself up from the corridor floor and went to his own room, his face as white as a sheet and his heart as black as ink. What Gus suffered from his passion, his shame, his hatred, and the pain of his old friend’s blow, for the next few hours words will not tell. He attended morning school, his head in a whirl of thought. Cotton was there too, and, could looks have killed, Jim Cotton would not have been in the land of the living for very long. When Merishall went, Gus waited until all the form had filed out, and, still dizzy and sick, he wearily followed suit and turned in at his own door. As Gus came into the room some one rose up and faced round to meet him, and Todd found himself once more face to face with Cotton.