“Are you all there is, you three?” I asked, after considering them a moment.
“We’re all the boarders. My name’s Ted Bates—they call me Doggy Bates—and my father’s a captain out in India; and these are Bob Pilkington and Scotty Maclean. You may call him Redhead, being too big to punch; and, talking of that, you’ll have to fight Bully Stokes.”
“Is he a day-boy?” I asked.
“He’s cock of Rogerses up the hill, and he wants it badly. Stimcoes and Rogerses are hated rivals. If you can whack Bully Stokes for us—”
“But Mrs. Stimcoe told me that you were taking a walk with the butler,” I interrupted.
Master Bates winked.
“Would you like to see him?”
He beckoned me to an open window, and we gazed through it upon a bare back kitchen, and upon an extremely corpulent man in an armchair, slumbering, with a yellow bandanna handkerchief over his head to protect it from the flies. Master Bates whipped out a pea-shooter, and blew a pea on to the exposed lobe of the sleeper’s ear.
“D—n!” roared the corpulent one, leaping up in wrath. But we were in hiding behind the yard-wall before he could pull the bandanna from his face.
“He’s the bailiff,” explained Master Bates. “He’s in possession. Oh, you’ll get quite friendly with him in time. Down in the town they call him Mother Stimcoe’s lodger, he comes so often. But, I say, don’t go and blow the gaff on the old girl.”
On our way to the coach-office that evening I felt—as the saying is—my heart in my mouth. Miss Plinlimmon spoke sympathetically of Mr. Stimcoe’s state of health, and with delicacy of his absent-mindedness, “so natural in a scholar.” I discovered long afterwards that Mr. Stimcoe, having retired to cash a note for her, had brought back a strong smell of brandy and eighteen-pence less than the strict amount of her change. I knew in my heart that my new schoolmaster and his wife were a pair of frauds, and yet I choked down the impulse to speak. Perhaps Master Bates’s loyalty kept me on my mettle.
The dear soul and I bade one another farewell, she not without tears. The coach bore her away; and I walked back through the crowded streets with my spirits down in my boots, and my fists thrust deep into the pockets of my small-clothes.
In this dejected mood I reached the Market Strand just as Captain Coffin came up it from the Plume of Feathers public-house, cursing and striking out with his stick at a mob of small boys.
A STREET FIGHT, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
He emerged upon the street which crosses the head of Market Strand, and, dropping his arms, stood for a moment us if in doubt of his bearings. He was flagrantly drunk, but not aggressively. He reminded me of a purblind owl that, blundering Into daylight, is set upon and mobbed by a crowd of small birds.