THEY had dropped into the Chaplain's study for a Saturday night smoke -- all four house-masters -- and the three briars and the one cigar reeking in amity proved the Rev. John Gillett's good generalship. Since the discovery of the cat, King had been too ready to see affront where none was meant, and the Reverend John, buffer-state and general confidant, had worked for a week to bring about a good understanding. He was fat, clean-shaven, except for a big moustache, of an imperturbable good temper, and, those who loved him least said, a guileful Jesuit. He smiled benignantly upon his handiwork -- four sorely-tried men talking without very much malice.
`Now remember,' he said, when the conversation turned that way, `I impute nothing. But every time that any one has taken direct steps against Number Five study, the issue has been more or less humiliating to the taker.'
`I can't admit that. I pulverise the egregious Beetle daily for his soul's good; and the others with him,' said King.
`Well, take your own case, King, and go back a couple of years. Do you remember when Prout and you were on their track -- for hutting and trespass, wasn't it? Have you forgotten Colonel Dabney?'
The others laughed. King did not care to be reminded of his career as a poacher.
`That was one instance. Again, when you had rooms below them -- I always said that that was entering the lion's den -- you turned them out.'
`For making disgusting noises. Surely, Gillett, you don't excuse --'
`All I say is that you turned them out. That same evening your study was wrecked.'
`By Rabbits-Eggs -- most beastly drunk -- from the road,' said King. `What has that --?'
The Reverend John went on.
`Lastly, they conceive that aspersions are cast upon their personal cleanliness-a most delicate matter with all boys. Ve-ry good. Observe how, in each case, the punishment fits the crime. A week after your house calls them "stinkers," King, your house is, not to put too fine a point on it, stunk out by a dead cat who chooses to die in the one spot where she can annoy you most. Again the long arm of coincidence! Summa. You accuse them of trespass. Through some absurd chain of circumstances -- they may or may not be at the other end of it -- you and Prout are made to appear as trespassers. You evict them. For a time your study is made untenable. I have drawn the parallel in the last case. Well?'
`She was under the centre of White's dormitory,' said King. `There are double floor-boards there to deaden noise. No boy, even in my own house, could possibly have pried up the boards without leaving some trace -- and Rabbits-Eggs was phenomenally drunk that other night.'
`They are singularly favoured by fortune. That is all I ever said. Personally, I like them immensely, and I believe I have a little of their confidence. I confess I like being called "Padre." They are at peace with me; consequently I am not treated to bogus confessions of theft.'
`You mean Mason's case?' said Prout heavily. `That always struck me as peculiarly scandalous. I thought the Head should have taken up the matter more thoroughly. Mason may be misguided, but at least he is thoroughly sincere and means well.'
`I confess I cannot agree with you, Prout,' said the Reverend John. `He jumped at some silly tale of theft on their part; accepted another boy's evidence without, so far as I can see, any inquiry; and -- frankly, I think he deserved all he got.'
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