'One moment,' said Mr Lawrie, 'might I ask what is the subject of the
'Death of Dido,' said the Headmaster. 'Good, hackneyed, evergreen
subject, mellow with years. Go on, Wells.'
Mr Wells began.
Queen of Tyre, ancient Tyre,
Whilom mistress of the wave.
Mr Lawrie, who had sunk back into the recesses of his chair in an
attitude of attentive repose, sat up suddenly with a start.
'What!' he cried.
'Hullo,' said Mr Wells, 'has the beauty of the work come home to you
'You notice,' he said, as he repeated the couplet, 'that flaws begin to
appear in the gem right from the start. It was rash of Master Lorimer
to attempt such a difficult metre. Plucky, but rash. He should have
stuck to blank verse. Tyre, you notice, two syllables to rhyme with
"deny her" in line three. "What did fortune e'er deny her? Were not all
her warriors brave?" That last line seems to me distinctly weak. I
don't know how it strikes you.'
'You're hypercritical, Wells,' said the Head. 'Now, for a boy I
consider that a very good beginning. What do you say, Lawrie?'
'I--er. Oh, I think I am hardly a judge.'
'To resume,' said Mr Mortimer Wells. He resumed, and ran through the
remaining verses of the poem with comments. When he had finished, he
remarked that, in his opinion a whiff of fresh air would not hurt him.
If the Headmaster would excuse him, he would select another of those
excellent cigars, and smoke it out of doors.
'By all means,' said the Head; 'I think I won't join you myself, but
perhaps Lawrie will.'
'No, thank you. I think I will remain. Yes, I think I will remain.'
Mr Wells walked jauntily out of the room. When the door had shut, Mr
Lawrie coughed nervously.
'Another cigar, Lawrie?'
'I--er--no, thank you. I want to ask you a question. What is your
candid opinion of those verses Mr Wells was reading just now?'
The Headmaster laughed.
'I don't think Wells treated them quite fairly. In my opinion they were
distinctly promising. For a boy in the Upper Fifth, you understand.
Yes, on the whole they showed distinct promise.'
'They were mine,' said Mr Lawrie.
'Yours! I don't understand. How were they yours?'
'I wrote them. Every word of them.'
'You wrote them! But, my dear Lawrie--'
'I don't wonder that you are surprised. For my own part I am amazed,
simply amazed. How the boy--I don't even remember his name--contrived
to get hold of them, I have not the slightest conception. But that he
did so contrive is certain. The poem is word for word, literally word
for word, the same as one which I wrote when I was at Cambridge.'
don't say so!'
'Yes. It can hardly be a coincidence.'
'Hardly,' said the Head. 'Are you certain of this?'
'Perfectly certain. I am not eager to claim the authorship, I can
assure you, especially after Mr Wells's very outspoken criticisms, but
there is nothing else to be done. The poem appeared more than a dozen
years ago, in a small book called The Dark Horse.'
'Ah! Something in the Whyte Melville style, I suppose?'
'No,' said Mr Lawrie sharply. 'No. Certainly not. They were serious
poems, tragical most of them. I had them collected, and published them
at my own expense. Very much at my own expense. I used a pseudonym, I
am thankful to say. As far as I could ascertain, the total sale
amounted to eight copies. I have never felt the very slightest
inclination to repeat the performance. But how this boy managed to see
the book is more than I can explain. He can hardly have bought it. The
price was half-a-guinea. And there is certainly no copy in the School
library. The thing is a mystery.'
'A mystery that must be solved,' said the Headmaster. 'The fact remains
that he did see the book, and it is very serious. Wholesale plagiarism
of this description should be kept for the School magazine. It should
not be allowed to spread to poetry prizes. I must see Lorimer about
this tomorrow. Perhaps he can throw some light upon the matter.'
When, in the course of morning school next day, the School porter
entered the Upper Fifth form-room and informed Mr Sims, who was engaged
in trying to drive the beauties of Plautus' colloquial style into the
Upper Fifth brain, that the Headmaster wished to see Lorimer, Lorimer's
conscience was so abnormally good that for the life of him he could not
think why he had been sent for. As far as he could remember, there was
no possible way in which the authorities could get at him. If he had
been in the habit of smoking out of bounds in lonely fields and
deserted barns, he might have felt uneasy. But whatever his failings,
that was not one of them. It could not be anything about bounds,
because he had been so busy with cricket that he had had no time to
break them this term. He walked into the presence, glowing with
conscious rectitude. And no sooner was he inside than the Headmaster,
with three simple words, took every particle of starch out of his
'Sit down, Lorimer,' he said.
There are many ways of inviting a person to seat himself. The genial
'take a pew' of one's equal inspires confidence. The raucous 'sit down
in front' of the frenzied pit, when you stand up to get a better view
of the stage, is not so pleasant. But worst of all is the icy 'sit
down' of the annoyed headmaster. In his mouth the words take to
themselves new and sinister meanings. They seem to accuse you of
nameless crimes, and to warn you that anything you may say will be used
against you as evidence.
'Why have I sent for you, Lorimer?'
A nasty question that, and a very favourite one of the Rev. Mr Beckett,
Headmaster of Beckford. In nine cases out of ten, the person addressed,
paralysed with nervousness, would give himself away upon the instant,
and confess everything. Lorimer, however, was saved by the fact that he
had nothing to confess. He stifled an inclination to reply 'because the
woodpecker would peck her', or words to that effect, and maintained a
'Have you ever heard of a book called The Dark Horse, Lorimer?'
Lorimer began to feel that the conversation was too deep for him. After
opening in the conventional 'judge-then-placed-the-black-cap-on-his-head'
manner, his assailant had suddenly begun to babble lightly of sporting
literature. He began to entertain doubts of the Headmaster's sanity. It
would not have added greatly to his mystification if the Head had gone
on to insist that he was the Emperor of Peru, and worked solely by
The Headmaster, for his part, was also surprised. He had worked for
dismay, conscious guilt, confessions, and the like, instead of blank
amazement. He, too, began to have his doubts. Had Mr Lawrie been
mistaken? It was not likely, but it was barely possible. In which case
the interview had better be brought to an abrupt stop until he had made
inquiries. The situation was at a deadlock.
Fortunately at this point half-past twelve struck, and the bell rang
for the end of morning school. The situation was saved, and the tension
'You may go, Lorimer,' said the Head, 'I will send for you later.'
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