`They deliberately outraged Mason's best feelings,' said Prout. `A word to me on their part would have saved the whole thing. But they preferred to lure him on; to play on his ignorance of their characters -- '

`That may be,' said King, `but I don't like Mason. I dislike him for the very reason that Prout advances to his credit. He means well.'

`Our criminal tradition is not theft -- among ourselves, at least,' said little Hartopp.

`For the head of a house that raided seven head of cattle from the innocent pot-wallopers of Northam, isn't that rather a sweeping statement?' said Macrea.

`Precisely so,' said Hartopp, unabashed. `That, with gate-lifting, and a little poaching and hawk-hunting on the cliffs, is our salvation.

`It does us far more harm as a school --' Prout began.

`Than any hushed-up scandal could? Quite so. Our reputation among the farmers is most unsavoury. But I would much sooner deal with any amount of ingenious crime of that nature than -- some other offences.'

`They may be all right, but they are unboylike, abnormal, and, in my opinion, unsound,' Prout insisted. `The moral effect of their performances must pave the way for greater harm. It makes me doubtful how to deal with them. I might separate them.'

`You might, of course; but they have gone up the school together for six years. I shouldn't care to do it,' said Macrea.

`They use the editorial "we,"' said King irrelevantly. `It annoys me. "Where's your prose, Corkran?" "Well, sir, we haven't quite done it yet. We'll bring it in a minute," and so on. And the same with the others.'

`There's great virtue in that "we,"' said little Hartopp. `You know I take them for trig. M`Turk may have some conception of the meaning of it; but Beetle is as the brutes that perish about sines and cosines. He copies serenely from Stalky, who positively rejoices in mathematics.'

`Why don't you stop it?' said Prout.

`It rights itself at the exams. Then Beetle shows up blank sheets, and trusts to his "English" to save him from a fall. I fancy he spends most of his time with me in writing verse.'

`I wish to Heaven he would transfer a little of his energy in that direction to Elegiacs.' King jerked himself upright. `He is, with the single exception of Stalky, the very vilest manufacturer of "barbarous hexameters" that I have ever dealt with.'

`The work is combined in that study,' said the chaplain. `Stalky does the mathematics, M`Turk the Latin, and Beetle attends to their English and French. At least, when he was in the sick-house last month--'

`Malingering,' Prout interjected.

`Quite possibly. I found a very distinct falling off in their "Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre" translations.'

`I think it is profoundly immoral,' said Prout. `I've always been opposed to the study system.'

`It would be hard to find any study where the boys don't help each other; but in Number Five the thing has probably been reduced to a system,' said little Hartopp. `They have a system in most things.'

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