An Unsavoury Interlude
Problem in The Castle tonight - when I converted the attic to bedrooms I "runned all the watter-pipes.. all along under the ’ang of the heaves, like... And well I hope it is a only a mouse and not, well I will let Rudyard take up the story..
To the left Stalky wriggled, and saw a long line of lead-pipe disappearing up a triangular tunnel, whose roof was the rafters and boarding of the College roof, whose floor was sharp-edged joists, and whose side was the rough studding of the lath and plaster wall under the dormer.
‘Rummy show. How far does it go?’
‘Right along, Muster Corkran—right along from end to end. Her runs under the ’ang of the heaves.
They crawled out, brushed one another clean, slid the saloon-pistols down a trouser-leg, and hurried forth to a deep and solitary Devonshire lane in whose flanks a boy might sometimes slay a young rabbit. They threw themselves down under the rank elder bushes, and began to think aloud.
‘You know,’ said Stalky at last, sighting at a distant sparrow, ‘we could hide our sallies in there like anything.’
‘Huh!’ Beetle snorted, choked, and gurgled. He had been silent since they left the dormitory.
‘Did you ever read a book called The History of a House or something? I got it out of the library the other day. A Frenchwoman wrote it—Violet somebody. But it’s translated, you know; and it’s very interestin’. Tells you how a house is built.’
‘Well, if you’re in a sweat to find out that, you can go down to the new cottages they’re building for the coastguard.’
Hi! There’s a bunny. No, it ain’t. It’s a cat, by Jove! You plug first.’
Twenty minutes later a boy with a straw hat at the back of his head, and his hands in his pockets, was staring at workmen as they moved about a half-finished cottage. He produced some ferocious tobacco, and was passed from the forecourt into the interior, where he asked many questions.
‘I’ve found out how houses are built. Le’ me get up. The floor-joists of one room are the ceiling-joists of the room below.’
‘Don’t be so filthy technical.’
‘Well, the man told me. The floor is laid on top of those joists—those boards on edge that we crawled over—but the floor stops at a partition. Well, if you get behind a partition, same as you did in the attic, don’t you see that you can shove anything you please under the floor between the floorboards and the lath and plaster of the ceiling below?
‘An’ then . . . They’ve been calling us stinkers, you know. We might shove somethin’ under—sulphur, or something that stunk pretty bad—an’ stink ’em out. I know it can be done somehow.’ Beetle’s eyes turned to Stalky handling the diagrams.
‘Stinks?’ said Stalky interrogatively. Then his face grew luminous with delight. ‘By gum! I’ve got it. Horrid stinks! Turkey!’ He leaped at the Irishman. ‘This afternoon—just after Beetle went away! She’s the very thing!’
‘Come to my arms, my beamish boy,’ carolled M‘Turk, and they fell into each other’s arms dancing. ‘Oh, frabjous day! Calloo, callay! She will! She will!’
That night was the first of sorrow among the jubilant King’s. By some accident of under-floor drafts the cat did not vex the dormitory beneath which she lay, but the next one to the right; stealing on the air rather as a pale-blue sensation than as any poignant offense. But the mere adumbration of an odour is enough for the sensitive nose and clean tongue of youth. Decency demands that we draw several carbolised sheets over what the dormitory said to Mr. King and what Mr. King replied. He was genuinely proud of his house and fastidious in all that concerned their well-being. He came; he sniffed; he said things.
The cat had gained in the last twelve hours, but a battlefield of the fifth day could not have been so flamboyant as the spies reported.
‘My word, she is doin’ herself proud,’ said Stalky. ‘Did you ever smell anything like it?
Next day Richards, who had been a carpenter in the Navy, and to whom odd jobs were confided, was ordered to take up a dormitory floor; for Mr. King held that something must have died there.
‘We need not neglect all our work for a trumpery incident of this nature; though I am quite aware that little things please little minds. Yes, I have decreed the boards to be taken up after lunch under Richards’ auspices. I have no doubt it will be vastly interesting to a certain type of so-called intellect; but any boy of my house or another’s found on the dormitory stairs will ipso facto render himself liable to three hundred lines.’
The boys did not collect on the stairs, but most of them waited outside King’s. Richards had been bound to cry the news from the attic window, and, if possible, to exhibit the corpse.
‘’Tis a cat, a dead cat!’ Richards’ face showed purple at the window. He had been in the chamber of death and on his knees for some time.
Down in the basement, where the gas flickers and the boots stand in racks, Richards, amid his blacking-brushes, held forth to Oke of the Common-room, Gumbly of the dining-halls, and fair Lena of the laundry.
‘Yiss. Her were in a shockin’ staate an’ condition. Her nigh made me sick, I tal ’ee. But I rowted un out, and I rowted un out, an’ I made all shipshape, though her smelt like to bilges.’
‘Her died mousin’, I reckon, poor thing,’ said Lena.
‘Then her moused different to any made cat o’ world, Lena. I up with the top-board, an’ she were lying on her back, an’ I turned un ovver with the brume-handle, an’ ’twas her back was all covered with the plaster from ’twixt the lathin’. Yiss, I tal ’ee. An’ under her head there lay, like, so’s to say, a little pillow o’ plaster druv up in front of her by raison of her slidin’ along on her back. No cat niver went mousin’ on her back, Lena. Some one had shoved her along right underneath, so far as they could shove un. Cats don’t make theyselves pillows for to die on. Shoved along, she were, when she was settin’ for to be cold, laike.’
‘Oh, yeou’m too clever to live, Fatty. Yeou go get wed an’ taught some sense,’ said Lena, the affianced of Gumbly.
‘Larned a little ’fore iver some maidens was born. Sarved in the Queen’s Navy, I have, where yeou’m taught to use your eyes. Yeou go ‘tend your own business, Lena.’
‘Do ’ee mean what you’m been tellin’ us?’ said Oke.
‘Ask me no questions, I’ll give ’ee no lies. Bullet-hole clane thru from side to side, an’ tu heart-ribs broke like withies. I seed un when I turned un ovver. They’m clever, oh, they’m clever, but they’m not too clever for old Richards! ’Twas on the born tip o’ my tongue to tell, tu, but . . . he said us niver washed, he did. Let his dom boys call us “stinkers,” he did. Sarved un dom well raight, I say!’
Richards spat on a fresh boot and fell to his work, chuckling.
If you haven't got it in Hardback may I recommend Stalky&Co as a Christmas read - I enjoy the stories, though some don't;
'An unpleasant book about unpleasant boys at an unpleasant school'. [Concise Cambridge History of English Literature (Cambridge, 1942), p. 959.] Comments like this one of George Sampson's have dogged Stalky & Co. since the stories first appeared in book form in 1899. And this was by no means the harshest. From Wells's condemnation of the heroes as self-righteous bullies and A. C. Benson's description of them as `little beasts' to Maugham's magisterial `a more odious picture of school life can seldom have been drawn', [See Kipling, The Critical Heritage, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green (London, 1971), pp. 306-7, 318; A Choice of Kipling's Prose (London, 1952) p. vi.] the disapproval of Kipling's contemporaries was made thunderously clear. `Mr Kipling obviously aims at verisimilitude; the picture he draws is at any rate repulsive and disgusting enough to be true,' wrote Robert Buchanan, his most virulent critic. `Only the spoiled child of an utterly brutalised public could possibly have written Stalky & Co. ... It is simply impossible to show by mere quotation the horrible vileness of the book describing these three small fiends in human likeness; only a perusal of the whole work would convey to the reader its truly repulsive character ... The vulgarity, the brutality, the savagery ... reeks on every page.'